First an admission. Since LA is the only place I've lived in the USA, I didn't realize that the rest of the country refers to its freeways as I-whatever. For me, it's The 10 and The 405 that delineate my life here. Apparently other cities find the definite article hilarious. They are older and maybe more mature. The definite article in LA reflects the structure of the city of Los Angeles. A city that, even more than Detroit, is rooted in car culture.
So when Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis, decides to mount a show called This Side of the 405, it immediately calls to mind the cliches about LA - that we are obsessed with traffic; that we live in our cars and houses; that we do not connect in real ways. At first I thought it was a lamebrain idea (sorry Meg and Jeseca), but when I saw the show I realized it was a stroke of genius.
The project raises questions about what it means to live and work in a certain geographic location.
The Westside of LA, (West of the 405) ie Santa Monica and Venice, has a reputation as a significant location for artists. The artists who worked here in the 1960s and 1970s have become artworld stars. And they are still here. Chuck Arnoldi, Ed Ruscha, Frank Gehry all retain their original studios. Attracted initially by cheap rents and the quality of the light, then sustained by Venice's famous cameradrie, the artists stood - while all around them changed. Their studios are now worth millions of dollars. The scummy places of Venice now made high, who can afford studio space here? Suddenly the conceit of topography begins to show the seismic shifts of demographics and economies in LA's social fabric.
Research took the curators to 83 studios across the Westside and resulted in an exhibition of 43 artists working in totally different styles. What holds them together? You figure it out.
Charles Arnoldi is represented by a huge piece of wood, painted vibrant blue and hewn - by a chain saw I would guess - into an abstract whose raw edges suggest both power and finesse. Next to him Natalie Arnoldi, his daughter, with a small grayscale canvas in which subjects are viewed through the fog of the Westside's famous marine layer - a salving mist that rescues the coastal regions from the brutality of the desert sun.
Sam Watters shows a watercolor of a tapir, tiny in the midst of a white field, claiming that he has moved from "east of Eden to west of the 405". While Pontus Willfors grows wooden branch/root structures from the walls and skylight of the space, reminding us that the common plank has come from origins elsewhere as a rooted entity, now transformed by it's journey to LA.
Many of the artists have in fact begun elsewhere and become rooted in LA. The exhibition asks, is there an identifiable commonality in the concerns of the artists of this sector? And have they, or their shared environment, influenced the work they make?
Curators visit artists' studios all the time. It's their job. This exhibition shows their attention to, and interest in, the grassroots nitty-gritty of art production in this city. They open it up to us, the viewing public, and in doing so shed light on the reality of artists at work. They live here, among us, in our neighborhoods, down the street. They respond to the particularities of here and now that we share. It's valuable.
The next exhibition in the series covers the area of Culver City - recent boomtown of contemporary art - and Inglewood, a poverty-ridden area with a funeral home on each intersection. Can't wait!
Artists taking part in This Side of the 405 are: Charles Arnoldi, Natalie Arnoldi, Alex Becerra, Larry Bell, Karen Carson, Greg Colson, Meg Cranston, Tony De Los Reyes, Steve Galloway, Joe Goode, Scott Grieger, Deborah Hede, Tom Knechtel, Lies Kraal,Rachel Lachowicz, Lauren Marsolier, Renee Petropoulos, Phranc,Vincent Ramos, Lucas Reiner, Liza Ryan, Kim Schoenstadt, Kiki Seror, Alexis Smith, Barbara T. Smith, Jim Starrett, Jon Swihart, Shirley Tse, Sam Watters, Chris Wilder, Pontus Willfors, Suzan Woodruff, Jody Zellen.