With more than 6,000 works by celebrated artists including Keith Haring, Cindy Sherman and Damien Hirst, the Rubell family boasts one of the world’s leading collections of contemporary art.
Renowned for their ability to spot new talent and their dedication to supporting young artists, Don and Mera, with their children Jason and Jennifer, are among the most influential collectors in the US.
Since 1996 the Rubell Family Collection has been open to the public in a 45,000 sq ft former Drug Enforcement Agency warehouse in Miami. But rather than local east coast artists, it is their peers on the west coast that the Rubells have chosen to celebrate in their latest exhibition, Red Eye: LA Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. Offering a cross-section of work from 36 Los Angeles-based artists, the show features established names such as John Baldessari and Mike Kelley as well as fresh talent including Matthew Monahan and Mike Bradford.
Called Red Eye to reflect the countless overnight flights made by the Rubells to assemble the works, the exhibition is the latest indication of LA’s growing prominence in the art world. To the uninitiated, LA is the last place you would expect to find a thriving art scene. Better known as a playground for Hollywood celebrities, it is in fact home to a community that in recent years has emerged from New York’s shadow to compete as a base for serious artists, serious collectors and world-class museums.
Artists have long been attracted to LA for its space, light and easy-going lifestyle. But more and more students of the city’s highly regarded art schools are choosing to stay on after graduation and make permanent homes for themselves in the city and its suburbs. According to Ali Subotnick, adjunct curator at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Hammer Museum, artists are basing themselves in LA for economic reasons. While New York is still the centre of the art world, “you can’t be a young artist in New York that is living off your work”. A lower cost of living means this is still feasible in LA.
Patrick Painter, owner of Patrick Painter Inc, a gallery based in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station art complex, attributes LA’s growing reputation in the art world to this increase in artists making the city their permanent base. “Paris was happening because artists were living there, then New York was happening with artists like Warhol and others. Los Angeles is happening because artists of stature are living here.” It is their presence more than anything else that “drives the art scene”, he adds.
But even with LA’s lower living costs, struggling art graduates still need to be able to earn a wage. They can do this thanks to the number of wealthy art-loving patrons also living in the city. There are more millionaires in California than in any other US state and they are increasingly choosing to spend their money on contemporary art.
After working at Beverly Hills’ exclusive Gagosian Gallery, former model Honor Fraser last year opened her own gallery in LA’s Venice area. She has witnessed the city’s art scene develop since her arrival several years ago, with new galleries opening and a “much bigger, younger collector base” made up of individuals hungry to invest in local artists and build a serious collection.
Steve Hanson of China Art Objects, one of the first galleries to open in LA’s Chinatown, says local collectors have played a key role in helping the new generation of LA artists establish themselves. “Local collectors support new galleries and artists. They start the buzz, act as an incubator for talent and then move on to the next young thing.”
One such collector is Dean Valentine, an LA-based television executive and media investor. Together with his wife, Amy Adelson, he recently made a sizeable donation to the Hammer Museum of more than 40 contemporary artworks produced in southern California during the last decade. Valentine has been a big influence on other LA-based collectors, says Painter. “If this guy buys a young artist there’s a stampede.”
It is not just local collectors that are buying the work of LA-based artists. Increasingly those from outside California are getting in on the game, with gallerists and collectors from across the country raiding students from the city’s art schools before they have even graduated. The fact that people are willing to travel to LA to buy art was evident during January’s Art Week LA when four art fairs took place in the city: the Los Angeles Art Show, Photo LA, Art LA and the Los Angeles Fine Print Fair. More than 20,000 people attended the LA Art Show and bought more than $10m worth of works. Art LA was also a magnet for collectors, with Painter alone selling almost $500,000 worth of art in four days.
Art LA was the most LA-focused of the fairs and purposely so. “Our concept is to bring together a diverse range of LA’s influential contemporary galleries ranging from the very established to the radical younger spaces in an effort to strengthen the ever-growing LA art community,” says its director Tim Fleming.
Also present, though, were galleries from out of town, busy scouting for LA artists as well as looking to sell to local collectors.
“I want to engage collectors from LA [and I’m] interested in finding LA artists,” says Fred Snitzer, owner of Miami’s Frederic Snitzer Gallery. He says the art being produced in LA is a natural product of the city’s rich cultural mix and history, such as its Asian and Hispanic influences or, as he puts it, ”the variety of stuff in the Petri dish”.
Art fairs conveniently locate galleries in a single space while one of the characteristics of the LA scene is that galleries are springing up far and wide across the city’s urban sprawl – from Beverly Hills to Chinatown to Culver City. This is in contrast with New York and London, where galleries tend to be located in a handful of key districts. This is partly because of LA’s car culture: collectors must be prepared to drive to find their art. A by-product of the artistic community being so spread out is that different cliques form, which makes for a wide range of creative output.
“Los Angeles is an interesting place for collectors because of its diversity,” says Caryn Coleman, owner of Culver City gallery Sixspace.
LA’s art museums, too, have enjoyed a boost in recent times. The Hammer Museum has been attracting attention for its new contemporary collection while the appointment of Michael Govan, the former director of New York’s Dia Art Foundation, as director of the LA County Museum of Art has been well received. The city’s art institutions have also benefited from substantial donations by local super collectors, such as media mogulDavid Geffen, and Eli Broad, the insurance and property billionaire philanthropist.
This combination of better museums and a growing artistic community has brought greater exposure to LA’s vibrant art scene. “The energy feeds off itself,” says Fraser. With shows such as Red Eye and an important LA artist retrospective last year at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tinseltown is finally gaining international artistic recognition.
SEEING AND BUYING
■China Art Objects Galleries, 933 Chung King Road, Los Angeles 90012. Tel: +1 213-613 0384; www.chinaartobjects.com
■Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 2247 NW 1st Place, Miami, Florida 33127. Tel: +1 305-448 8976; www.snitzer.com
■Honor Fraser, 1337 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, California 90291. Tel +1 310-401 0191; www.honorfraser.com
■Patrick Painter Inc, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Units A8 and B2, Santa Monica, California 90404. Tel: +1 310-264 5988; www.patrickpainter.com
■Sixspace, 5803 Washington Blvd, Culver City, California 90232. Tel +1 323-932 6200; www.sixspace.com
■Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90024. Tel +1 310-443 7000; www.hammer.ucla.edu
■Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90036. Tel: +1 323-857 6000; www.lacma.org
■Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th Street, Miami, Florida 33127. Tel: +1 305- 573 6090; www.rubellfamilycollection.com
‘Red Eye: LA artists from the Rubell Family Collection’ runs until May 31 2007