Kenny Schachter Gets Emotional Support at LA’s Art Fairs—and Picks Up Some Intel on Larry Gagosian’s Bedroom Dealings
Our columnist headed to Tinseltown for the second year of Frieze Los Angeles Week, and was surprised how much he liked it.
Los Angeles is its own spiritual, quartz-laden universe, and it takes a little getting used to for a consummate East Coast outsider like my all-but-LA-illiterate self. Take, for instance, the local habit of keeping pigs as pets and walking them like dogs. Doing a little research, I found a helpful primer in “Is a Pig Right for You?“ on the online Pig Placement Network, which revealed that the animals are “stubborn, demanding, and manipulative and can become easily bored, grumpy, depressed, sedentary, and even destructive and aggressive, if not given adequate attention by a loving caregiver.” Sounds like most artists, dealers, and spec-u-lectors I know. And me.
I thought of renting one as an emotional support animal to accompany me throughout the second iteration of Frieze Los Angeles and the Felix Art Fair, where I was an exhibitor as well. A porcine companion certainly would have come in handy, and perhaps even helped raise my kundalini, which my locally sourced assistant kindly alerted me was the latent female energy coiled at the base of my spine. But before I share more about my newly enlightened, self-aware self, here’s some LA lowdown I picked up on my travels.
Firstly, before I settled on the talented Lucrecia Roa as my Felix art-fair boothsitter, salesperson, and spiritual guide (she came to work with curative crystals in hand), it was suggested that I get in touch with Hilde Lynn Helphenstein about being my right-hand woman at the fair. Upon initial email contact to explore a partnership, she responded:
Let’s make a deal.
I am the director of Steve Hash’s studio. If we curate one of his smaller ghost figures in your room (30″ tall) (***HIS WORK IS FUCKING BRILLIANT) and you pay me $500 a day for my time, I’ll help you sell your entire booth and I won’t take a commission.
Sound do-able for you?
Um, not really, I don’t roll like that, even though Steve—who is married to Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter Ally and whose repetitive concrete ghost sculptures ultimately found a home at SPRING/BREAK Art Show Los Angeles, an ancillary ancillary fair—was blameless. Hilde, it turns out, is behind the Instagram meme account Jerry Gogosian, which she initially denied before later admitting it and admonishing me that it was “wack” to disclose her identity and that her memes were “part of a body of work.” What kind of work is that? Not quite the level of a reveal as the Daily Mail’s uncovering of Banksy as Robin Gunningham, a privately educated middle-class Bristol schoolboy, but amusing none the less. Like Banksy, Hilde was also exposed prior to my writing—by an Insta account called @itstimetostopnow—but, as in the case of Santa, I guess people simply like to keep suspending disbelief, even jaded art-worlders.
A few odds and ends: Galerie Gmurzynska was involved in the sale of an artwork by Sophie Taeuber-Arp (Jean Arp’s widow) that turned out to less than meets the eye. Gmurzynska initially sold it to a collector with an attribution that proved incorrect; when that fact became evident, the gallery changed the provenance to another one… which also proved erroneous. Finally, it became clear that the work was a “posthumous recreation” of the original, to use the gallery’s own words. Nonetheless, Gmurzynska refused to refund the proceeds of the initial sale—and, though an attempt at initiating a criminal action was brought by the intermediary sellers, they are not about to relent. The gallery claims no wrongdoing. Stay tuned.
On another front, James Crump, director of the Mapplethorpe doc Black White + Gray, has finished another upcoming documentary on the artist Jordan Wolfson, entitled Spit Earth: Who Is Jordan Wolfson? and produced by Ronnie Sassoon. Though Jordan signed off on the project before filming began and fully participated in its making—to the extent that his parents and ex-girlfriend have major roles—he has since repudiated the searing psychological portrait that resulted. I find it odd that he would do so at this late stage of the film, which is presently in post-production, and which also prominently features his aunt, the infamous Fear of Flying author Erica Jong, who discusses subjects as wide-ranging as Jordan’s penis. I saw a final cut and absolutely loved it. Trust me, you will too—and not just because I figure prominently in it as well.
Before I briefly touch upon the LA fairs themselves—about which more than enough has been said already—let me note that George Condo’s longtime lawyer, none other than my dear friend Richard Golub, has been replaced by entertainment lawyer John Eastman, Linda McCartney’s brother and Paul’s lawyer. This occurred prior to Condo being vacuumed up (like just about every other artist on earth) by Hauser & Wirth. Also, in the increasingly brutally competitive art world, the mad chase to steal Christopher Wool from his age-old but not entirely effectual gallery Luhring Augustine, was thwarted when David Zwirner had an ill-starred studio visit with Wool that floundered—the two just didn’t gel, apparently, and the meeting went nowhere.
In the same vein, the most successful art advisor on earth, Sandy Heller, lost out to Tobias Meyer when it comes to reeling in the richest whale on earth, Jeff Bezos, who could out and out buy the entire art market in any given year. (Or so I was told by the owner of one of New York’s largest galleries, who would know.) Lastly, there’s the dealer who, in a failed effort to gain admittance to Art Basel in Basel, bought an artwork from every gallery on the selection committee and still came up with yet another rejection letter.
Ok, onto the fairs. While I was awaiting the arrival of my Uber in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel one morning, two dealers and an art advisor insisted on cramming into my car when it arrived before theirs did—and the pushy advisor even went so far as to attempt to divert the trip to Frieze, even though I was headed to the opening of Felix. Sorry, no. Then, after I reached my destination, none of them bothered to thank me for the free ride when I exited—so I cancelled before they could reroute. Jeez. Manners must be learned from an early age.
Frieze LA is art-fair lite—perfect for the flighty LA mindset—and though the city is represented by a smattering of local galleries, the fair is a snooze of obvious artworks by obvious people. The smaller scale is not a bad model for fairs the world over—most of them could use a good pruning. But some things never change, and at Frieze LA, as with any other fair, a gallery’s booth was like a self-portrait of its dealer, representing the proprietor’s personality. This was most evident in the presentation of small painted rock sculptures at Galerie Eva Presenhuber (of Zürich and New York), which roped off the entire entrance to its space, barring access altogether. The booth, it turned out, was a no-go zone unless you waived checkbook in hand—a perfect analogy for the art world at large.
PS: if fair stalwart Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t walk around like ET with a hoodie pulled over his lowered baseball cap, no one would recognize him. He was pictured in Artnet in a state of deep contemplation in front of an Avery Singer painting at Hauser’s stand, probably contemplating how best to flip the work before the transfer cleared—which wouldn’t be hard, since the art world is as celeb-obsessed as the rest of the world. He sells more art than I do.
Like the city itself, Felix is a more rambling affair spread out over three floors with more discoveries to be made due to the presence of lesser-known galleries and artists. At first blush, I thought “never again” due to the stress and pressure to produce sales after shipping, installation, an assistant, and hotel expenses are calculated in, but my attitude changed fast after I made a whopping 23 sales. With my keen commercial instincts, I was the only exhibitor to go through the effort of shipping 45 works by 11 artists from six different countries—but still I somehow managed to come out ahead.
Mainly the fair was an opportunity to collect works for myself that I was interested in at half price (there was a 50 percent dealer discount). It’s a truism, passed down from Ernst Beyeler, that you make money by selling art but generate wealth by keeping it—a note to the flippers out there, who seem to be increasingly populous in the art world today. Though for the most part there were none of the bottlenecking issues that convinced busloads of visitors to turn on their heels last year rather than brave 45-minute elevator lines, there was still some minor traffic jams involved in getting to the higher floors, which repelled at least one pharmaceutical heiress over the weekend. Oh well.
What I especially appreciated about my assistant Lucrecia was the cheerful and spritely salutations with which she greeted just about every visitor to the room. She kept a resolute smile in the face of a barrage of inane replies to her hospitality such as, “You sure do have a lot of art in the room” or “Is this the work of one artist?” and “Smells like fresh paint!” When you hear these comments hundreds of times in a day, it begins to weigh on you. I could only muster the reply that the paint odor was emanating from my new cologne. I quickly came to the realization that I was not as much of a people person as I had previously thought—I was definitely still as bad a salesperson as I ever was, however.
The upside of sitting in an open-to-the-public hotel room, exposed like a hood ornament on a car, is that you can glean certain crucial bits of information floating around, such as the dealer who stated she dated Larry G. in the 1980s, and that he voraciously read up on art day and night, with an unrelenting hunger to learn more. Of course, being the child that I am at heart, I couldn’t help but retort, um…how was he in bed? “As good as he deals” came the reply. Hmm. She also recounted working for Doug Chrismas and having a gun pointed at her head by FBI agents in search of the notorious dealer, and an occasion when Richard Serra rammed a knife into her desk seeking payment of overdue funds.
Art fairs are not without concomitant health hazards: I suffered a hyperextension of my finger where the extensor tendon got literally pulled off the bone while I was unpacking and installing, requiring a splint for eight weeks. I set back my tear-repair in order to type this column, against doctor’s orders. Ah, the sacrifices I make. For better and worse, I’ll have more to say about next week’s ADAA Art Show and the Armory, as I will be spectating rather than participating, which saps all your mental energy with or without the application of healing crystals. As an unapologetic art junkie, I’ll admit that LA feels better and better as a prime destination to discover great gallery shows, fairs, and artists. I’ll definitely be back at Felix, if they’ll have me.
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