Executive Editor's Letter: California Dreaming

Louise Despont at Art Los Angeles Contemporary: Courtesy Nichelle  Beauchene Gallery, New York. Photo: Magenta.Louise Despont at Art Los Angeles Contemporary: Courtesy Nichelle Beauchene Gallery, New York. Photo: Magenta.

This past January, I visited Los Angeles for the first time. The city was much greener and prettier than I thought it would be, with all the palm tree-lined streets and people’s front gardens full of blooming desert plants. When friends described L.A. as “one big freeway”, I pictured the highways we have up here, on which you drive for hours through wide-open fields or forests between urban centres.

Mike Bayne: Yellow Sign #2 (2010) at Art Los Angeles Contemporary:  Courtesy Katharine Mulherine Contemporary Art Projects, Toronto. Photo:  Magenta.Mike Bayne: Yellow Sign #2 (2010) at Art Los Angeles Contemporary: Courtesy Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, Toronto. Photo: Magenta.

While it is true that L.A. is a freeway, it doesn’t feel that way because you never leave a metropolitan setting. The drive from Venice to Santa Monica or Hollywood or Culver City goes by in one sprawling, billboard-saturated, urban blur.

L.A. feels like it is coming into its own art-wise, what with the Broad collection, commercial galleries popping up all over the city, and the announcement of the first Los Angeles biennial in 2012. Conveniently enough, the second year of the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Fair was on while I was there. It was completely unlike the art fairs in New York. With only about 70 exhibitors, it felt extremely manageable. Unlike at the Armory Show or Art Basel in Miami, it felt like physically smaller and subtler work stood more of a chance of being appreciated here. For example, Toronto’s Katharine Mulherin hung her booth with several of Mike Baynes’ exquisite photorealist paintings of liminal urban spaces and nondescript suburban homes. Most of them no larger than 4 x 6 inches, it looked as if Mulherin’s booth was lined with casual snapshots. At a bustling New York fair, it probably would have been very easy to have overlooked this work. But here, people took the time to really look (and to buy – by the Friday of the fair, there were several red dots alongside Baynes’ paintings).

My favourite booth at the fair was New York’s Nichelle Beauchene Gallery. The gallery showed work by only two artists: Iranian-born Afruz Amighi and American Louise Despont, both based in New York. Their work perfectly complemented each other visually despite coming from two very different places. Amighi’s delicate hanging sculptures draw viewers in with their surface glitter and elegant forms. Her work, however, deals with the recent history of Iran, and the pieces here actually took the form of test missiles launched at the Islamic Republic of Iran during the past two years. And, Despont’s drawings took my breath away. Despont makes her drawings on antique ledger book pages, layering and recasting forms from architectural stencils in soft colours. Although abstract, her drawings are also lyrical; even in a small drawing, there is so much going on. I could have studied these forever. (As an aside, the terrific Canadian painter Kristine Moran is showing at Nichelle Beauchene until April 10.)

Rancourt/Yatsuk: The Switch (performance): Courtesy Kate Werble Gallery, New York.Rancourt/Yatsuk: The Switch (performance): Courtesy Kate Werble Gallery, New York.It was also nice to catch up with friend-of-Magenta, gallerist Kate Werble, who was in L.A. during the fair with two of her artists, performers Justin Rancourt and Chuck Yatsuk. I am a bit wary of performance art; it can be so hit-and-miss. But, these artists had me engaged and entertained for the full hour of their performance, The Switch, at Honor Fraser. A satire of motivational-speaking seminars, which may seem like too-easy a target, Rancourt and Yatsuk saved themselves by committing fully to their characters. Their performance deftly alternated between the seemingly sensible and the amusingly absurd. Mercifully, they also kept the audience participation to a minimum. They are definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Lastly, a few words about our Spring 2011 issue. Although The Magenta Foundation has focused most of its activity on supporting emerging photographers up until this point, we know that there is a lot more than photography out there, which is why this issue’s features focus on painting. We’re really happy to bring you a broad look at some new Canadian painting, with an in-depth examination of Ottawa, Ontario-based artist Martin Golland’s work, as well as a discussion of recent exhibitions of abstract painting in Vancouver. We’re also happy to bring you short profiles of four emerging German artists from Leipzig, a hotbed of intriguing and highly varied approaches to painting.

Bill ClarkeAlso, be sure to mark your calendars for The Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward Festival in Boston this June! We look forward to bringing some of the most exciting new photography from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. to one of America’s oldest cities.

Bill Clarke
Executive Editor, Magenta Magazine Online

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