In the previous Looking at Los Angeles post, Catherine Wagley explored the still-healing schism of East and West Germany through an Angelino lens. Meanwhile, the premiere last night of Season 5’s Fantasy episode offered us a glimpse of Los Angeles through the eyes of German-born artist Florian Maier-Aichen. Maier-Aichen explains that for him, the landscape of Los Angeles “has a great meaning [because] it’s the end of American pioneerism, it’s the end of the American West.”
Indeed, one could argue that Los Angeles has been an epicenter of creativity, fantasy, and innovation partly because it feels like a perpetual final frontier of the Wild West—the apex of lawless expansion, openness, and freedom. We may be short on some resources, but we’ve got space and we’re not afraid to use it. For a prime example, look to the gallery that discovered Maier-Aichen while he was still an MFA student at UCLA: Blum & Poe.
While galleries around the globe are shuttering or shrinking, native Angelinos Tim Blum and Jeff Poe just moved into a new 21,000-square foot venue–four times the size of their previous space. While they could have opted to open an outpost in another art world hotspot, the gallery decided to focus on expanding within their hometown. In fact, they ended up staying in their home neighborhood and found an ideal property directly across the street from their previous space in Culver City. Blum & Poe is known for being one of the first galleries to set up shop in the since-revitalized Culver City Arts District, which the New York Times backhandedly praised as a “nascent Chelsea” in 2005. When I asked Tim Blum what he liked about Culver City, he highlighted the same feeling of openness and expansiveness that Maier-Aichen alluded to in last night’s Art21 segment, referring to the area as appealingly “airy, flat, and fluid – just the opposite of congested.”
Those words could also easily describe the new space, which is at once expansive and intimate. Designed in collaboration with architects Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWarden, the new complex features three exhibition spaces, private viewing rooms, a spacious atrium and lobby, a 2400-square foot project space, an artist’s apartment, and a lush garden surrounding the rear entrance and parking lot. (Here in Los Angeles, parking lots are a mark of glamor and luxury). Basically it’s a mini-museum, which actually does not seem too lofty or overambitious when you consider that most of the artists on Blum & Poe’s roster have had major museum exhibitions. But unlike so many recently-built museums, the architecture of the new Blum & Poe space does not overshadow the work within it. “We wanted the architecture to be so good that it would disappear at a certain point,” says Blum. “That was the one mantra we had.”
To christen the new space and celebrate Blum & Poe’s 15th anniversary, the gallery has commissioned an exhibition of new work by all of the artists on its (predominantly male) star-studded roster—including Takashi Murakami, Sharon Lockhart, Yoshitomo Nara, Mark Grotjan, and Tim Hawkinson. The exhibition opened at the beginning of this month, and will run until November 14.
Hawkinson’s massive sculpture–a 10-foot-tall face comprised of soda bottles, egg cartons, pill bottles, foil and vinyl—anchors the upstairs gallery. From a distance, the elements come together to create an image that resembles the carved faces made by the Maori (hence the title Koruru). At the same time, the giant amalgam of translucent plastic and foil evokes the feeling of a monstrous orgy of headlights and taillights melded together. Given that Hawkinson told us, back in Season 2, that his work “is about our experience in our bodies, and our bodies’ relationship to the external world,” it might be safe to say that this piece has something to do with the way we (especially Angelinos) over identify with—and even deify—our cars. This leitmotif of mutant automobile sculpture actually begins in the large gallery downstairs, with Matt Johnson’s erotically serpentine twisted bronze tire entitled The Shape of Time, and follows you into the second gallery with Dirk Skreber’s disturbing upturned car, violently bent down the middle.
But the show is not all grand prix-sized gestures—some of the greatest standouts were a bit more subtle. Despite its dark and subtle palette, Slater Bradley’s new painting, Down the Gully, radiates with depth and nuance. Next door, Hirsch Perlman’s mammoth black and white photograph, aptly titled Adamant Cat, returns your gaze with an Olympia-worthy otherworldly stare. Nigel Cooke’s dark sculptures seem to emote all the way across the room, as figures and faces struggle forward from their tiny bases. Friedrich Kunath’s delicate atmospheric watercolors on canvas line the wall of the front gallery, while his haunting videos of single costumed figures lonesomely wandering Western landscapes grace the upstairs space.
Perhaps in an ideal world, Blum & Poe would have made this move at a more prosperous moment. But within the current context, this step forward feels almost heroic. Ever since the opening of the new space was announced, there’s been a general buzz of excitement in the air and a sense of unity within that anticipation. Blum commented to me that almost all of the gallery’s artists attended the opening reception. Indeed, almost everyone I know has come out to see the show and support the big move…to the point where it’s feeling like a bizarre art world Kumbaya moment.