March 25, 2007

Urbanism for Knuckleheads


Gawker saw fit to swipe at LA in today's NYTimes article about Los Angeles: The Art?s Here. Where?s the Crowd?, but at least the title of their blogpost is memorable: "In Los Angeles, No One Can Hear You Problematize the Temporality of Performance". So snarky, but good snark has a ring of truth and Gawker has me coming back for more. As for Edward Wyatt's piece for the Times, typically, all such articles must begin with a quote from LA's Jedi master aka "the Yeti":

JOHN BALDESSARI, the conceptual artist who has long made his home here, for years gave his college art students one piece of advice when they graduated: Go to New York, the capital of the art world.

Now, however, Mr. Baldessari has a different view. ?I don?t think it matters,? he said recently. ?More and more young artists leave school and stay here. The opportunities are better, and the cost of living is cheaper. People involved in art regularly come to L.A. It really doesn?t matter if they live in New York or L.A.?

New York will always be the biggest art city in the world but nowadays with artists pushed to the edge of Brooklyn, peering into the Bronx, people over there are beginning to think that if you have to live across the river, it is beginning not to matter just how far across a river you go. Los Angeles has been attracting young artists out of school since the end of the 90's (I was about five years early on the trend, story of my life). Some call it bohemian. I have trouble with the term because of its Marxist heritage, that being bohemian can mean so many other things: good (productive) and bad (the sorrowful waste of human potential, define it as you will). Let's call them knuckleheads in the positive sense, artists who are trying out new stuff, who need time to do it and not be forced to work that time off merely trying to pay the rent.

I've always thought that artists (especially young ones straight out of school) need cheap rent to have the proper... let's call it research and development time... to find their affinities. (P.A.#1). New York had churned out about five or more generations of knuckleheaded funk out into the artworld and my guess is that graduating art students all over the country and increasingly, all over the world, have been considering the possibility that they might find the best bohemian jungle to make their own affinities vivid elsewhere.

Ultimately, an artist's choice of which city or town to settle into is a personal one. Of course there are artworlds in Portland, Seattle, Houston, Chicago... but absent personal issues, it's best to select the biggest one of the bunch. Consider the options. Chicago is the king of the midland ciites and yet they still suffer paralytic self doubt about what they might amount to as an world class art city. Do they know that Houston nips hard at their heels for preeminant art city status in the heartland? With the Glassel school feeding artists into the community with their residency program, Houston has a perennial spring gushing with knuckleheaded activity. (Besides, Chicago is too big of a city to be the king of a mere heartland, and that might be the source of their discontent. ) Dallas has an excellent top end (museums, institutions), a decent middle (higher priced galleries) and no bottom end to speak of. After Angstrom gallery grew up, a couple of galleries has taken position so I've heard... but still, the heartbeat is faint. Actually, Miami is starting to look good with respect to this criteria. And then there's San Francisco... which is probably like Boston, as far as I've heard --that there is an abundance of history and culture and everything except young ones to stir up the muck, trying new things. That's because it's damn expensive to live there and not much going on once you do.

No, the logical choice wouldn't be those exceptional cities, but it might be the exception to exceptional cities, the LA-LA-land of freeway shootouts, crystal meth, car chases... OJ Simpson great and fallen. John Fante nailed the city when he wrote: ?you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town ...?. Heaven and hell in one spot: "Day of the Locust", ashrams, cults and the Case Study Houses. The many reasons why people hate LA are underpinning its advantage: low rent. And low rent adjacent high rent is better.

One would think that with Hollywood and the legacy of the filmic arts, there would be a preponderance of collectors here, but this has not yet... yet... materialized. This is the great hope of this city: that the media people will wake up and discover contemporary art and start competing collections. This, the golden grail of the LA artworld. My theory: Hollywood celebrities don't need to collect art, for they are art, every other art form is in second place. LA is a small art city in terms of the business and New York thunders by comparison. LA has no annual art fair to speak of, the collector base is tiny, and we're 6 hours and a thousand euros farther away as far as Europe is concerned... LA art business sucks. Which is also why LA is most interesting in this respect: the preponderance of artists, we're bottom heavy with them. There's lots of knuckleheaded funk over here.

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(Cute. I wonder if our Jedi Master thinks so?)
Snark aside, Gawker should bear in mind the words of their own chosen "hounddog-eyed" philosopher, Chris North:

"What makes me really sick is how New York now looks like a bad imitation of Sex and the City. Meatpacking is a good example of just how fucked up it is. You can't have a city that's interesting where the only people living in it are rich," Chris Noth told New York mag, echoing his earlier anti-Meatpacking sentiments?you know, the ones we recently used to justify breaking our ban on stalker sightings of the hounddog-eyed 'star.' He's repetitive, yes, but the thing is, he just gets righter!

Of course, there's always Berlin.

UPDATE: Talking to a friend, who has recently moved to New York, and we were comparing the two artworlds, NYv.s.LA.: "People are too closed over here, as they guard their little fiefdoms. In NY, so much is going on, people are making things happen. They're wide open by comparison. LA is like a big high school."

Yup. That, too.

Knuckleheads.

Posted by Dennis at March 25, 2007 10:29 AM

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