LA’s art enthusiasts wade in on their creative faves

From Milk Studios to MOCA, we speak to the cream of the City of Angels’ art world to find out who’s rocking their creative boats

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Wes Lang
Wes Lang and George Bamford’s collab last year featured grim reaper, birds, skulls and roses, and decorated a new range of Rolex watches

The West Coast has always been a place of exceptional freedom, a haven for the beatniks and hippies of the world to bask in endless summers, wide lands and zero rules. Rising up as the current mecca for creativity, the West (and LA specifically) is beckoning to adventurous artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers and performers, paving fertile birthing ground for collaboration. 

It comes as no surprise that this would be the place Snoop Dogg – a bonafide no–fucks–given pioneer – calls home, as an artist who continually shape shifts and explores pastures new. In light of Snoop’s recent explorations in painting, Dazed spoke to 10 West Coast enthusiasts who have done their own part to shake up the LA art world. Rounding up a wide variety of museum curators, gallery directors, authors, and aficionados, we asked each of them to choose one artist who fully embodies everything West Coast – past, present and future.

GEOFF MCFETRIDGE

Selected by Tyler Gibney, founder and director at HVW8 Gallery

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Tyler Gibney: Geoff McFetridge embodies the simplicity, intelligence and cool of the west coast. He gets inspiration from living in California and it reflects in his work. I love Los Angeles and he is part of the reason why.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Tyler Gibney: Space. There's room in Los Angeles and it also has unique history of a city that was born from an idea, so some of the constraints and boundaries don't apply as they do in the east. I think there's always been a sense to head west, a new frontier. With that comes enthusiasm and an idea of self–determination, youth and new culture. Though I'm currently opening another HVW8 Gallery in Berlin and I enjoy the history, culture, and renewal here.

SAMARA GOLDEN

Selected by Bennett Simpson, senior curator at MOCA

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Bennett Simpson: Samara Golden is not from the West Coast but lives here now and makes work that looks like some kind of experience I associate with Los Angeles: sprawling, grotty, psychedelic, plant–like, media crunk. I like how hard she pushes herself. 

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Bennett Simpson: Everyone says it’s cheap, there’s space, and you can really work. But it’s also easy to get lost, like Chet Baker, which you should resist. I find that New York and LA are pretty unaware of each other. People say ‘less and less’ but I don’t believe them. 

WES LANG

Selected by Mazdack Rassi, co-founder and creative director at Milk Studios

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Right now for me, it would be Wes Lang. It’s that Americana vibe. He’s an artist that has been getting a lot of hype lately, as far as his collaborations and his shows. But if you really look at the context of what his work is, I think it’s what’s been happening in Los Angeles and West LA. When I think about West Coast art, especially Los Angeles, he’s the guy that comes to my mind right away. It’s his attitude. For me, backing up a little bit, when I first started coming out to LA about six years ago when we opened Milk here, the economy was in the shitter. It was like doomsday. But there was this incredible movement of music and art that was starting to happen, sort of below the radar, even though you had serious East Coast people coming here and opening galleries, or curating museums, like [Jeffrey] Deitch.

I think Wes Lang embodies that a bit. He doesn’t give a fuck and he does the collaborations that he wants to do. With the guys from DONDA, Virgil Abloh and Matt Williams – who are really Kanye West’s creative directors – they created an exclusive pop up idea with the Yeezus tour. It was like all of them getting in a room together, these sort of renaissance kids, and just doing whatever the fuck they wanted to do, without worrying about a gallery idea or how to exhibit their work. They just went and took a storefront, and did a pop up idea. And I think that’s something that used to happen a lot in the Lower East Side in New York in the late 70s as well.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

I think that LA, and the West Coast in general, has this thing that it’s very spread out, so what’s unique about it is you have to search for it. I’m one of the lucky few that gets the best of both worlds. When I started coming here, I was that typical New Yorker who was like “Oh, LA, it’s going to be superficial, it is what it is.” It’s funny, that’s what every New Yorker says. And then you start coming here and you realize that you can be on the beach, you can be in the mountains, you can be in the park skating – you all of a sudden realize it’s such an incredible place of experiencing so many different things. I’m loving LA more and more as I come back and forth.

But the main difference between the two for me, is that in New York everything comes to you, and you’re sort of like a transceiver. And in LA, you have to go out there and find it, so you’re more an explorer, and I love that. And if you just sit back in LA, then you don’t get LA, and that’s maybe why some people talk about it in a certain way. But if you want to explore, this city is amazing. I think that that’s something that’s really opened up my eyes to Los Angeles.

JOEL KYACK

Selected by François Ghebaly, founder and director of François Ghebaly Gallery

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

François Ghebaly: Joel Kyack’s high–energy constructions, through his paintings, sculptures and performances exemplify the infinite possibilities offered to artists in the West Coast. Between his epic works, such as taking a shaggy raft at large in the Pacific to burry at sea a palm tree (Old Sailors Never Die), or retrofitting his pick–up truck into a mobile theater to be performed on the LA freeways during rush hour (Superclogger), and the intimacy of a studio practice that allows his paintings, sculptures and drawings to be so unique. LA gives you a gigantic playground that spans from oceans and mountains, to hyper urban spaces, with everything in–between. To me, Joel Kyack takes it all into his artistic practice with a refreshing sense of freedom. Also, our music scene is also thriving, which is another good context for his bands, Landed and Street Buddies.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

François Ghebaly: We are only two hours away from Mexico.

What are your thoughts on the East coast versus West debate within art?

François Ghebaly: We are not rappers unfortunately, and do not master the trash talking that would make this debate entertaining.

 JPW3

Selected by Davida Nemerof, founder and director of Night Gallery

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Davida Nemerof: LA is magical and fucked up. There is no other place like it. The West Coast is unique because it’s so far away, so far removed and so fucking sunny. It’s special because it’s on the fringe, and despite all the traffic and isolation, there is tremendous potential for philosophical and psychic growth. Shifting perspectives through the windshield and a puff of smoke out the window.

BENJAMIN JONES

Selected by Douglas Chrismas, director of the Ace Gallery

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Douglas Chrismas: That’s like asking a parent with the three kids standing there in front of you, and somebody walks in and asks, “Which of these three kids do you like the most?” And the three kids are looking at you, thinking, “Well, Dad?” That’s a difficult question.

Let’s talk about video. I think Benjamin Jones is absolutely one that should be looked at in the most serious way. Not that he hasn’t already been looked at seriously – he’s had an exhibition at MOCA. But he’s young and has extraordinary potential. He works with video, but he’s also a painter and an object maker, and he’s been able to take video and incorporate it into his painting and his sculptures. So it becomes one energy, and a very interesting energy, and a very interesting language. I would say that in Los Angeles, because we’re the movie empire of the world, that industry comes with a number of different elements that make “stuff” for the movie industry. And the artists are very capable of consuming that kind of technology and using it. We have that, which other cities simply don’t have.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Douglas Chrismas: The energy that’s in LA now started in Berlin in 1900, then it moved to Paris, then it moved to New York, and it’s simply moving west. What you have here is just the real essence of creativity, which is artists who have accumulated to a geographical zone at a particular point in time, and create a synergy. Is it any different to what was in New York? Well, yes, because LA is a more spread out city, people are more independent. In New York I would go to a particular bar at night and basically 70 per cent of the artists I knew that were significant to New York would be at that bar.

LA is this unique environment where we have this spread – there’s no barriers here as far as creative thinking. You can really get out there and stretch yourself as an artist, you have that freedom here. I think the environment energizes you in a certain way. We have 20 days of rain a year, so you don’t have to worry about putting a raincoat on. We've eliminated a lot of worries in LA, just with our environment here, and I think because of that, there can be a lot more focus on the issue of making art.

CHRIS BURDEN

Selected by Magnus Edensvard, founder and director of IBID

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Magnus Edensvard: Chris Burden, whose practice, legacy and long commitment to the arts also by way of many years of teaching is one of the unique spirits in the Californian cannon of contemporary art. But also there are unexpected aspects to Los Angeles, in terms of outreach and energy that is also interesting to me. For instance, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), whose practice was re–discovered in the 1986 LACMA exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985, organized by Maurice Tuchman, where af Klint's work came into the public's awareness for the first time since the artist's death in Stockholm the 1940's. It says something about the city and its continuous negotiation and reflection over the local and wider influences from different contexts, contemporary and historical. Seems that LA is a mythological destination in many ways, whether one ever reaches it or not. There are some parts of LA as alluded to in Mulholland Drive (2001) that are possessively unreachable even though one is physically there. It is part of the city's charm and foreboding.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Magnus Edensvard: Space and time, there seems to be an abundance of it in Los Angeles compared to other large world cites. Despite its reputation as the frilly hot seat for the movie and entertainment industry, it's also a place for reflection and thinking. 

What made you decide on Los Angeles instead of New York with IBID?

Magnus Edensvard: For me Los Angeles is more interesting to parallel program exhibitions in alongside London, as the two cites could not be more different. It’s the dynamics of difference that challenges me to operate from these two great cities.

ALLEN RUPPERSBERG

Selected by Marc Selywn, founder and director of Marc Selwyn Fine Art

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Marc Selywn: I would choose Allen Ruppersberg. He is a pioneer of California conceptual art who tapped into the unique imagery and character of Los Angeles. He used posters, cartoons, Hollywood landmarks, film noir, and all kinds of media based imagery as tools in the service of his conceptual practice. In a city that tends to focus on the new and erase its past, Ruppersberg focuses on elements of 20th Century culture that are destined to disappear and incorporates them into his art. His famous early performances Al's Cafe and Al's Grand Hotel incorporated cinematic and pop culture and brought them into the art context. Ruppersberg's fascination for his city is evidenced in his reaction upon his arrival: "L.A. was like a dream come true for a Midwestern boy – it was the land of dreams then.”

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Marc Selywn: LA is a diverse and complex city with a mix of cultures, media, and art practices spread out over an enormous geographic landscape. It is this vast space, this diversity and complexity that makes it unique. The Light and Space artists, the California Pop artists, the Fetish Finish artists, and the pioneers of Conceptual Art all worked simultaneously and created a dialogue among themselves that set the stage for today's melting pot of ideas. In the early days, artists were expected to move to New York to make their mark. Now, there is an influx in the other direction. One could argue that the centre of the American art business remains in New York, but the creative centre has definitely shifted West.

ANDRE MIRIPOLSKY

Selected by Qathryn Brehm, executive director of Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk

What artist do you think sums up the West Coast spirit?

Qathryn Brehm: As an artist, Andre Miripolsky’s work not only reflects the carefree spirit and tone of the City of Angels, but considers the colors and shapes familiar to Los Angelino history. His work embodies the individuality as well as the community that makes California tick.  In the past he created the popular theme “Of Fear No Art”, a more current theme he successfully launched is “Viva LA.”  As an artist and community member he has designed and painted murals up and down the West Coast several of which were pro bono working with at–risk youths.

What do you think makes the West Coast unique in general for the art world?

Qathryn Brehm: The weather is a great factor, the expansive western vistas, the open feeling of the ocean. The focus on image as in the tradition of Hollywood films, moving images seen from the car culture and miles of roads, highways and freeways which create moving images as we travel from place to place. There is an unending source of inspiration. The East Coast has always had the European influence, whether it is music, architecture, painting or sculpture.  The West Coast has the European influence but with very strong additions of Asian, South Pacific, Mexican and Spanish presence.

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