By Punch Pacific Correspondent Lindsay Taub
Many years ago, I visited the Vatican. (Bear with meâ€¦ This IS a story about LAâ€¦Iâ€™ll get to itâ€¦.) While standing among the hoards of people waiting for the â€œpickpocket express,â€ otherwise known as bus number 64, I was checking out the postcard stand. One of the postcards featured an image from Michelangeloâ€™s Sistine Chapel ceiling of God and Adamâ€™s hands reaching for one another. I overheard the student next to me say to her friend, â€œI donâ€™t get it â€“ theyâ€™re just fingers!â€
Now, whether you know the work or the history or care either way, the point is that not everyone inherently â€œgetsâ€ art. That said, most of us know what kind of art we like or donâ€™t like. So when I was invited on a private curated tour by Gallery Row founder Nic Cha Kim this past weekend to experience the first Art Weekend LA, I went in with an open mind, knowing that contemporary art isnâ€™t something I always understand. My taste in art happens to be more in the realm of fingers painted on ceilings.
But what I learned through the tour was that Art Weekend LA is vastly more interesting than just the art, contemporary or otherwise. Itâ€™s about the people â€“ the creators, the artists, the visitors, the gallery owners, the street vendors â€“ and the politics.
As we walked gallery to gallery, some on the official guide map and some off the beaten path, the stories got more and more interesting and I found myself alongside some fantastic people, including Tim McNeal, Vice President of Talent Development and Diversity at ABC/Disney, a writer for the FOX hit series â€œHouse,â€ and various entertainment/theatre/creative-types. Together, we were in the middle of what could be LAâ€™s next reality show, or at the very least, a Bravo docu-drama.
Letâ€™s back up. The official story is this: LA Art Weekend, which will take place quarterly and offer free shuttle service to Saturday visitors, is a combination of curated gallery openings, hosted events, and special programming by the top cultural institutions and galleries in Downtown Los Angeles. From the neighborhoods of the Historic Core, Bunker Hill, and Chinatown to the Arts District and South Park, the emphasis is on giving patrons special access to art and a more tailored experience for exclusive VIP attendees.
The bigger picture is to help in the revitalization of Downtown and showcase premier art happenings to existing and potential art patrons, while encouraging the exploration of the cityâ€™s center as a whole. Ultimately, the hope is that it will become an economic engine to keep the revitalization momentum alive and thriving.
Hosted byContemporary Cultural Consultants (CCC) with media partners including American Contemporary Art Magazine, California Contemporary Art Magazine, Flavorpill, Artillery Magazine, DTLAX Magazine and KCRW Radio Station, the event expects to draw smaller numbers than the popular Downtown Art Walk (DAW), but larger numbers of people able and willing to actually purchase the art. And this is where it gets interesting.
The creation of Art Weekend, with managing partners Jay Lopez and Edgar Varela at the helm, was a response to DAW, which is held every month often bringing 20,000 locals to the city center. In recent years, it has become less and less about the art and more and more about the gourmet food trucks. With their huge following on Twitter, food trucks have brought busloads of people to downtown who might not otherwise fight the traffic to see the art. In the process, they have transformed Gallery Row into Food Truck Alley at a time when most of the galleries are already closed, thus creating a street party scene where the only transactions being made are for a $6 taco rather than a $6,000 piece of art. Not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that. Itâ€™s just that for the artists and galleries to survive, they need to be in the business of art and not just the making of art.
Furthermore, as with any competitive niche market, thereâ€™s bound to be some unwarranted inclusion and discretionary exclusion. The official Art Weekend map includes giants like MOCA Grand Avenue, Japanese American National Museum, Geffen Contemporary and REDCAT, and smaller but reputable galleries like Bert Green Fine Art, CB1, Edgar Varela Fine Arts, Morono Kiang, and PYO. But it leaves out some of the more underground but equally qualified galleries like CREWEST, Wally Gilbert, One Cog, and Cotruza Gallery, which is owned and run by a husband and wife team who have a seemingly made-for-Hollywood story of perseverance and beating the odds. (Claudia Cotruza Frenchâ€™s humble beginnings were as a housekeeper in Glendale after immigrating from Romania where she was a published poet and has a daughter with Down Syndrome whom sheâ€™s taught to paint.)
But at the end of the day, even if some are not included on the official guide map, if Art Weekend brings more serious-minded patrons to the neighborhood, isnâ€™t that the point? Either way, the launch was perfectly timed to coincide with the City declaring January Los Angeles Arts Month, an initiative that hopes to uphold a reputation of being â€œa hothouse of culture and creativity where the cutting-edge is neighbored with the historic.â€
Which takes me to Gronk. Perhaps one of the most recognized and renowned artists in the Downtown art scene, Gronk has lived within a three-mile radius of Gallery Row since 1976. He can remember the days when you had to walk a few blocks to a bar without a name to get a cup of coffee during the day, when today, thereâ€™s a Starbuck’s on every corner. He can remember when the intersection of 4th and Grand used to be The Grand Hotel, populated by transients and prostitutes. In the early 80s, he created a set piece for a play directed by Peter Sellers. The play was â€œThe Screensâ€ by Jean Genet. â€œIt was the worst play ever written, so long, horrible,â€ Gronk says, â€œAnd I said â€˜I want to do the set!â€™â€ Today, a part of that set piece hangs in the lobby of the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC), the home to Art Weekendâ€™s information center and where the free shuttles originate. As part of the inaugural event, Gronk was on hand hosting â€œCoffee Talks,â€ with complimentary gourmet coffee served by Don Franciscoâ€™s and selected limited edition prints from his recent book A Giant Claw for sale. (His next project is designing the set for the Santa Fe Operaâ€™s production of Vivaldiâ€™s â€œGriseldaâ€ this spring.)
Of note: one of the best stops of the day included a visit to the Morono Kiang Gallery (they made the official map), where the exhibit â€œEdifice Cacheâ€ was in phase one of its evolution featuring the work of graffiti artist Augustine Kofie. Each stage of the installation will build upon the one before, showing an overarching theme of how artists communicate and connect, but with their own unique execution and style.
The afternoon closed with a shuttle stop at Pitfire Artisan Pizza which was providing a free glass of Sangria with a food purchase and mention of Art Weekend LA. Organizers say the idea is to expand the niche to include other art neighborhoods in the metro area, including Culver City, Santa Monica, and Venice.
I went home with a sense of contemporary appreciation for the niche community in which I was given a warm reception, coupled by the awe at how diverse and vibrant the art making community in LA really is, and oddly nostalgic for the touristy Roman chapel where I actually understood what the fingers meant. That said, there will never be a day I can purchase an original of â€œjust fingersâ€ to hang in my home, but I may one day purchase a piece during LA Art Weekend that I â€œjust like.â€
***Sun, ocean and animal lover Punch Pacific Correspondent Lindsay Taub resides in LA with her pups and for her day job, writes for Cesar Millan â€œThe Dog Whispererâ€, firstname.lastname@example.org***
Lindsay Taub is an LA-based writer/producer/media strategist with a passion for travel, photography, nature, adventure, and wine. She resides in LA with her pups and heads up the soon-to-be-launched Pacific Punch. Follow her on twitter @lindsaytaub58 and @ThePacificPunch. Learn more at www.lindsaytaub.com. Email email@example.com.