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The social nonchalance of Los Angeles

Sometimes art goes where it hurts: in uncomfortable environments, characterized by homelessness, heterogeneous.

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The social nonchalance of Los Angeles

Sometimes art goes where it hurts: in uncomfortable environments, characterized by homelessness, heterogeneous. Like Downtown Los Angeles. The young gallery owner Allison Littrell has taken over an old warehouse in order to realize site-specific installations such as "Hidden Pathways" by the artist Benjamin Asam Kellogg in her gallery Murmurs. His large-format floor picture connects space and cosmos. The local architecture of the banal is metaphysically charged.

Kellogg's artwork links the snotty, low-threshold (even if it's the painting on the floor) and the universal. This attitude fits Los Angeles. It also suits the attitude of the gallery owner, herself a native of "Angelena". Littrell says, "Anyone who exhibits in downtown L.A. has to face the reality of the place." She also does this through social interventions. “Community Fridge” is a refrigerator where she and other donors provide fresh food to the homeless. Art and social commitment as a unit saturated with reality.

It is actually surprising that the art world in Los Angeles seeks a connection to the often harsh reality of the metropolis. Our image of L.A. is different: dream factory, privatism, isolation of the elite. But it doesn't correspond to today's reality. Los Angeles does not deny social differences, cannot deny them, lives with them. And so does the local art scene.

This attitude seems to be working well in the art world as a whole. Los Angeles is hip. More and more galleries from New York are opening branches or moving straight over there. Sean Kelly has just commissioned architect Toshiko Mori to design his new Hollywood home. Marian Goodman, Lisson, Hauser

The question arises, why actually? What makes Los Angeles special? A banal reason: the buyers are there. Hollywood has long discovered the joy of contemporary Los Angeles art. The start-up scene, which gathers on "Silicon Beach" on the west side of Los Angeles County, also prefers to buy locally than to constantly fly over to New York. "Of course, purchasing power plays a role," agrees freelance curator Attilia Fattori Franchini.

Another reason: the space available. In Los Angeles there are exciting places for studios – or for innovative gallery concepts, often at affordable prices. In any case, the White Cube model has had its day for art dealers, they are looking for a confrontation with urban heterogeneity. Los Angeles offers a lot of that, as Julie Roberts, founder of Roberts Projects, knows. Together with the architects Johnston Marklee, she and her husband converted a car dealer's showroom into a gallery.

"We love the confrontation of opposites," explains Roberts, adding that the building's vulgar commercial past also reflects the aura and history of the city. This story is currently an important point of reference for many artists or gallery owners. In addition, she wants to do more than just exhibit art. “We don't just see ourselves as a gallery, we want to realize creative projects with our artists. We need space for that – and a place that has character and where we can rub shoulders.”

Places with character abound in Los Angeles. The individual districts in the huge, sprawling metropolis have their own atmosphere. There is no one center. The art world is also not concentrated entirely in one district, but is constantly on the move. Lots of galleries are moving to Hollywood right now, especially in the Melrose Hill neighborhood. But downtown is also fascinating. Another center: Santa Monica and Venice Beach. The trendy photo gallery Danziger has just opened in the Bergamot Station Arts Center. Railway wagons used to stand in the gallery building.

The Frieze art fair just took place at Santa Monica Airport and reported sales in the millions. More and more artists have their studios nearby. And the designers are also drawn to West Los Angeles. Parallel to Frieze, Designworks opened a new branch. At the opening of the BMW subsidiary, its design boss Adrian van Hooydonk discussed the relationship between design and art with the artist Thomas Demand - and the question of why Los Angeles and Santa Monica are good places for both.

Van Hooydonk believes: "It is precisely the urban heterogeneity that is appealing to artists, designers or architects." The step into the city also represents an experiment: How much urban input, how much urban reality can the design process tolerate? In any case, the culture of collaboration is lived in the industrial loft. For example, the designers are working with a skateboard company on recycling-based car seats.

The galleries also rely on networking with specific communities. They also demand this openness for a place, this commitment from the visitors. Kibum Kim of the Commonwealth and Council in Koreatown agrees. "Anyone who comes to us makes a conscious decision to drive to Koreatown." The incredible vastness of Los Angeles, which is often criticized by Eurocentric cultural critics, promotes this effect: If you sat in the car for an hour to drive to Koreatown, he does not disappear immediately after visiting the gallery, but explores the quarter.

"Los Angeles is very organic," says Lester Monzon. "You can choose which local environment suits your art best." He observes that artists from other cities, above all, of course, from New York, are increasingly coming to the West Coast. "They find it attractive that very own creative ecosystems are emerging here in many parts of the city."

It is important to take a critical look at the city's depths, its history of race riots and the cultural distortions caused by Hollywood's production of fantasy. These are not hidden or glorified. Rather, the art leads to Los Angeles confronting its own demons. This is also reflected in the most prominent new museum building in recent years, The Broad. There, Jeff Koons' large-scale sculpture "Balloon Dog" is now flanked by two large-format works of art by Mark Bradford, which allow the Watts riots of the 1960s to be re-read through the glasses of today's Los Angeles.

Here again: a productive contrast of opposites, but combined with nonchalance, nonchalance and a spirit of experimentation. Apparently, there is also a need for this among gallerists and curators who are looking for cumbersome places that are less neutral and perfect and that can be curated actively, playfully and experimentally. Los Angeles offers this. The great art trek to the west should therefore continue.

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