Hollywood's Big Art Deal: A Hot Young Crop of Los Angeles Artists Is Spawning a Feeding Frenzy among the City's Mogul-Collectors

Newsweek, December 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

Hollywood's Big Art Deal: A Hot Young Crop of Los Angeles Artists Is Spawning a Feeding Frenzy among the City's Mogul-Collectors


Every Saturday afternoon, the fledgling contemporary-art dealers at 6150 Wilshire Boulevard--just west of the L.A. County Museum of Art on the old "Miracle Mile"--gather in the courtyard outside their cluster of tailored, track-lighted white boxes to enjoy a casual barbecue. These days too many potential customers come by to leave the galleries in the hands of weekend receptionists. There's a steady stream of hipsters and Saturday strollers, but often the sign-in books read like rosters of Hollywood power. As often as not, the black Mercedes of UPN network head Dean Valentine pulls into the adjacent parking lot, sometimes with power broker Michael Ovitz in tow. This is where the rubber meets the road in L.A.'s burgeoning art scene. It's a fusion of a new crop of weirdly clever young artists who've mustered out from the market-savvy art departments at UCLA, Art Center College of Design and the California Institute of the Arts and the showbiz billionaires and millionaires who are plowing through them like whales through plankton--actually buying. Pioneer "6150" dealer Marc Foxx, one of the hippest-to-Hollywood young gallerists around, says, "Out here one powerful person does something, then another wants to and pretty soon they all want to." He adds with satisfaction, "Every major studio is represented in my client base."

What that clientele is after these days is a loosely cohesive young L.A. art that seems to revel in the cacophony of garishly disposable images and ideas offered up by popular culture. It's part pop, part slacker and almost all irony. Among the hot work favored by collectors with clout: Monique Prieto's Teletubbyish abstract paintings, Amy Adler's drawings of herself as a melancholy kid, Kim Dingle's brushy paintings of combative little girls, Laura Owens's parodies of abstraction and Kevin Appel's fey, pastel renderings of blandly modern architectural interiors.

The last big L.A. art moment was about 30 years ago, when Ed Ruscha's sunny pop art and the clean, cool "empty room" installations of Robert Irwin suddenly put southern California on the art-world map big-time with what became known as the "L.A. look." Back then, the scene was also heavily school-based, and many of the '60s stars taught. Some of their students, such as the Young Turk performance-and-installation artists Chris Burden and Mike Kelley and elegantly complex painter Lari Pittman, hit it big and stuck around L.A. instead of moving to New York. Eventually they, too, became professors, and it's their students who are being glommed for the walls of L.A.'s new Medicis.

Valentine is the lead patron (250 works and counting), followed by the corporate program at Creative Artists Agency (about 150 works) and Ovitz, who used to run CAA and collect blue-chip artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. If you stray outside showbiz circles, there's retired software magnate Peter Norton, whose foundation is avidly collecting young L.A. art.

UPN's faux-Floridian headquarters in West L.A. is filled to the brim with Valentine's art. Valentine, who has overseen the network's new flow of cheesy programming, says, "I put wrestling on television; that's what I do." But, he says, "esthetic appreciation is a minor part of my job. Art is an escape, into a different community of people who care about different things." Says Giovanni Intra of the cool little downtown gallery China Art Object, "Dean sees a piece he likes and he breaks out in a sweat."

In his spacious Brentwood home, deliciously crammed with modern art and Chinese furniture, fellow collector Ovitz says, "Dean is the father of this L. …

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