Editorial: How the West was Won - Publication: Dart Magazine - Issue: Spring 2002

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New York has long been revered as the epicenter of the global artscene, yet LA is emerging from overt associations with body augmentation, car worship and porn to itself qualify as a serious force on a global scale.

In the face of established markets, socio economic and academic elitism and general seniority, big changes are afoot, signaling a reassessment of the traditional power structure and a narrowing gap between the east and west coasts.

For NYC overall, an economic slump spells challenges to both galleries and artists. An established market and old money means works can still fetch higher prices, yet higher rents remain awkward for the financially challenged; effecting both artists and gallerists.

While admittedly a less sophisticated market for dealers, LA offers easier survival, with cheaper gallery rents and living costs overall. Stylistically too, many claim the “new world” veneer of LA defies the stoic conservatism of the east coast.

Meanwhile artists from both NYC and San Francisco are moving to LA to exploit cheaper rents and a bourgeoning gallery scene. LA based tertiary arts institutions are also being cited as some of the best in the country.

Reg Lord, director of Lord Mori Gallery in down town LA’s Chinatown district agrees that while LA is clearly now a major art center, and arguably the number two city for art, New York is still the place to make it. “The logistic differences have not changed and will not change: New York still has a focus, and LA is still geographically the most diffuse city in the country”.

“New York has one contained environment (Manhattan) where finance and Culture are very close,” Lord says. “It's difficult to be involved in Manhattan and completely ignorant of the art world. The residents of LA, in contrast, are almost forced to make a study of pop culture, but it is easy to ignore "high" culture, which is presented in relatively separate locations spread out over vast distances”.

Elizabeth Dee, gallerist at New York’s Dee/Glasoe gallery disagrees that the LA scene is bridging the gap or growing exponentially. “There is no rivalry, they are two distinctly American cultures. Young artists have a better life in Los Angeles than in New York, but the artist population in it's majority remains in Brooklyn, Manhattan etc. The art schools in LA are much more lively and active and generate a community there, but the feeling is still very much "west coast".

Dee believes established artists have moved to LA to teach and enjoy a much more comfortable existence, something not possible, she says ten years ago.

Dee says LA does not have the culture of gallery going like NY. “I think it's a geographical issue. Artists always go to galleries and in LA that's who you'll see there. Collectors in LA have art or images brought to them by their dealers where as collectors in NY always go to the galleries to look at art”.

Eternally irreverent, Matt Gleeson, publisher of the outrageous (though incisive) LA based art journal, Coagula has his own theory, “I have spent time in both places observing the art world, as well as occasionally participating in it. The stereotypes about vapidity in Los Angeles are accurate - and get more accurate the further west you go”.

How does Gleeson see the key differences between LA and NYC ? “A bunch of thin-skinned pansies run the L.A art world and if you say a descriptive phrase that hasn't been approved as curricula in the local art graduate schools you are shunned as an infidel. At least New Yorkers have balls and attitude and stand for something. I can write about a New York gallery being a shitty space with a slimy dealer and get a thank you card and plane tickets to come to their next opening. I can give a lukewarm review to gallery in L.A. and the front desk girl cries when I walk in two months later and the artists get their girlfriends to throw drinks in my face”.

Is this implied rivalry improving standards or creating unnecessary disharmony ? “It is actually better and friendlier now than ever,” Gleeson confides. “New York, in and out of the art world, is finally not obsessed with announcing that it is the "Capitol of - - - " fill in the blank, be it baseball, high tech, whatever, so the minimizing of that attitude overall has diminished the rivalry greatly. In the art world, all of the whiners in the New York art scene have gone to Brooklyn and are masturbating out of view, so Manhattan galleries can show L.A. artists or whatever. In L.A., they buy into the New York mythos, they want Big Apple vitality but at seventy seven degrees year round”.

Gleeson believes many overlook the lack of collectors in L.A. “The rich people - out here (in L.A.) are in the film industry and are so utterly narcissistic that they could never spend a dime on someone else's creativity”.

Tim Slowinski, editor and publisher of NYC art magazine, Direct Art doesn’t feel compelled to boast the parochial spirit. “while it is true that most of wealth and dealings of the art business are in Manhattan, the art isnt any better than it is anywhere else. Some of the best artists live in Iowa and Indiana. Hollywood for example is the economic base and center of the movie business, but there are still great movies made all over the place, including New York.

“From what I have seen of the establishment art scene in LA it is no different from the one in New York, just a bit smaller. The focus in both places in not on art, innovative or otherwise, it is merely concerned with sales. There is no cutting edge, there is only work that sells and everything else. This should come as no surprise since art is supposed to reflect the culture in which it was made, and this culture is one obsessed with money,” Slowinski says.

“I've sold work to collectors in LA and here in New York and know many dealers and collectors who travel freely and even own property in both cities. The business of art is connected and interchangeable between both localities”.

While implied rivalry is a contentious issue, the shifting balance between America’s east and west coast has definite geographic, cultural and socio economic implications, signaling a changing arts environment. In years to come, when LA has become another void of ornate art and old money, may tip the likes of Miami, Washington and Chicago as potential locales for a new strain of visionary and inspiring art.

Written by Craig Stephens

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