The past and present join voices to tell the story of L.A.’s modern art scene as well as the story of the little gallery that could — and did — in “45 at 45,” a show of 45 artists celebrating L.A. Louver’s 45th anniversary at 45. N. Venice Boulevard through Jan. 16.
Founded in 1975, L.A. Louver has weathered peaks and troughs in the city’s art market, bringing giants such as David Hockney to collectors, as well as distinct contemporary voices like Alison Saar, Gajin Fujita and Heather Gwen Martin. Doing so has made L.A. Louver something more than a gallery, it has made it an institution.
Viewings are by appointment only, two per half-hour with a max capacity of eight (four upstairs and down), but you better hurry. In previews, the show averaged 27 bookings a day, and by early October had a 120, according to L.A. Louver founding director Peter Goulds, who shares responsibilities with Kimberly Davis and Elizabeth East. “We’re seeing people who clearly are very interested in our gallery,” he notes with satisfaction. “Almost all the people, it’s the first trip they’ve made to a gallery (during lockdown), and they’ve chosen to come to us.”
The main room is centered by a hilariously obscene sculpture, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” by Ed and Nancy Kienholz. It features life-sized doom-faced suits gathered around a faded stars and stripes, naked from the waist down in a joyless circlejerk. Dour and derisive, it stands in stark contrast to the lush white thread and woven glass beads of Liza Lou’s “Afternoons” on the opposite wall. Also included are works by Marcel Duchamp, an inspiration to Goulds, as well as Hockney, Alice Neel, Nick Cave, Tacita Dean, Jimmie Durham and others.
In the landing of the upstairs gallery, Alison Saar’s sculptural homage to Nina Simone, entitled “Torch Song,” features earth tones standing in stark contrast to Heather Gwen Martin’s “Touch” on the wall behind it. An abstract colorist, Martin seduces the eye into losing track of where the linen’s surface begins with a shade of blue that upstages burnt orange swashes and amorphous blobs of pastel green, crimson and white in dazzling light-bending contrasts.
In the administration area through the glass doors on the left hangs a new cityscape, “Home Field LA,” by Gajin Fujita, whose mix of Japanese gold leaf and contemporary L.A. graffiti is unmistakable. The view is from his mother’s front porch in Boyle Heights. The silhouetted figure with the spray paint can makes it a self-portrait.
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” takes viewers back to the early days of the city’s modern art scene when Keinholz was Ferus Gallery co-owner with Walter Hopps in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He left the gallery to focus on his artwork, often grimey installations expressing the seedier side of American life. If Kienholz reflects the past, Fujita speaks to the city’s current diversity, mixing Asian, Latino and local references throughout his body of work.
“We came to see that if we don’t widen our reach to subsequent generations, we’re going to die on the vine,” Goulds says about a turning point for the gallery that occurred roughly 20 years ago when they launched their first Rogue Wave show featuring up and coming local artists. L.A. Louver has had five such shows between 2000 and 2013.
Click through below to see more works from the exhibition.
Fujita had been on Goulds’ radar since the artist’s undergrad commencement at Otis College of Art and Design. “We went to the studio in his mother’s house and he became one of our 11 artists in the first Rogue Wave, and it was such an extraordinary experience,” Goulds recalls. “He came with his crew and they came in very particular attire, like Noh theater.”
“L.A. reflects the migrant nature of our country almost better than any other city."<br>Peter Goulds
The son of an art restorer and an artist, Fujita ran with taggers in the downtown area while skipping classes at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES). His career has grown in demonstrable ways over the years, as he’s been featured at numerous art fairs (eight Art Basels), as well as Frieze Los Angeles in 2019 where he sold three paintings for $40,000, $45,000 and $250,000. That same year, he was commissioned to design the L.A. Public Library membership card, which now features Golden Boy, the giant child of Japanese myth, clothed in an L.A. Dodger jersey.
“All of what I’ve done has been possible because I’ve been at L.A. Louver for so long,” says Fujita. “It’s the type of gallery where they’ll leave you alone and get the artwork out. I feel grateful that I’ve been able to keep myself and my family afloat.”
Joining the gallery in 2016, Martin emerged from Rogue Wave Projects, a later iteration focusing on individual artists. Like Fujita, she seeks precision in her shapes, curves of vibrant colors that butt up against each other on a razor’s edge, achieved not with masking but with the artist’s patience and her naked eye.
“It’s made it easy for me to do what I want to do, or do what I need to do, to be an artist,” says Martin about her association with the gallery. “To have the freedom to wake up every day and do what I want to do, you can’t ask for more. I feel truly honored and grateful being in this situation.”
Through Rogue Wave and other outreach efforts, L.A. Louver didn’t just cultivate new artists, but new audiences as well, bringing their average buyer age down to the mid-forties and taking a bite out of the discretionary cash that has washed ashore on Silicon Beach over the past decade. “Start up companies,” says Goulds, “that’s who owns all these Venice houses. When they first appeared in 2010, they were late teens. Now they’re in their thirties.”
Looking to the future, L.A. Louver’s guiding principle is what it’s always been — to show contemporary L.A. artists in an international context. Being situated on the West Coast removes the city from the Eurocentric pull that New York is subject to, instead encouraging an eastward gaze.
“L.A. reflects the migrant nature of our country almost better than any other city,” Goulds explains. “It has its foot increasingly on the Pacific Rim. So, the gallery’s long-term prospects are going to increasingly be in an Asian-centric history. And Latin America.”
As for determining which artists to represent, he’ll do what he always does: trust his instincts and his wallet. “If you feel the compulsion to buy, you better start paying attention,” he says about visiting an artist’s studio for the first time. “And if you represent the artist, you can’t compete with your client. It’s until you represent them that you’re free and clear to become involved in their work.”
While 45 is a ripe old age for a Los Angeles art gallery, Goulds just turned 72, a time in life when questions of legacy start to resonate. “If we’ve made a contribution that is significant,” he reasons, “by and large we’ve enabled our artists to stay in the studio and work.”
Top Image: Alison Saar’s “Torch Song,” 2020 in wood, copper, ceiling tin, enamel paint, leather belts and vintage piano keys (72 x 22 x 26) next to Heather Gwen Martin’s “Touch” from 2020. Oil on linen, 60 x 56 in. | Jordan Riefe