Creators, Collectors, and Benefactors: LA's Artistic Identity Is Reinforced by the Strength of Each Faction
By Adam Gross
Los Angeles is experiencing an unprecedented period of strength in its local art scene. There are more artists doing more interesting things here that are profoundly influencing the global dialogue in contemporary art than in virtually any other comparable metropolis - worldwide. With some of the world's most respected art schools located in Southern California, a strong local arts community, great light, and relatively affordable studio space, the stage has been set for creativity to thrive. This art economy, in its simplest form, runs something like this: artists supply the galleries and museums; galleries and museums support the local artists; and collectors and philanthropists support the local galleries and museums (thus supporting the artists). Everyone plays their part and each role is crucial to the healthy operation of the whole.
As a student of modern and contemporary art, collector, native Angeleno, and the executive director of Art Platform – Los Angeles (sister fair to New York's storied The Armory Show), I would like to share my perspective on the local and global implications of LA's new-ish status as a cultural powerhouse. For artists and gallerists to thrive and transcend the local scene, they generally set their sights on the broader art market outside their local region, aiming for nothing less than national and global recognition. Based on the quality of work coming out of Los Angeles, this aspiration is warranted. But what is lost in this description is that to aspire to something beyond regional survival - to truly thrive - they MUST pursue goals outside of their region. The reality is that many members of the art community cannot afford to fund their needs and their dreams without tapping into a broader, more global network of collectors and philanthropists.
Contemporary art is a global phenomenon. Galleries are expanding their presence via new locations and exhibiting in myriad art fairs that are opening every weekend somewhere on the planet. These galleries all require two things: collectors and art. The difference for LA galleries is the creative and economic richness of our home turf. The material (art) and the capacity (collectors) are here.
The Southern California region is one of the wealthiest in the world. As the center of a global creative industry (film, television, and most recently art), our collective creative outlook and sensibility, coupled with the capacity to spawn international interest in art from LA, should afford us the opportunity for an extended period of artistic growth. What we need to truly grow, however, is a larger population of local collectors and philanthropists. To be sure, LA enjoys the benefits of being home to some of the world's great collectors; there are just not enough of them to support the scale and import of our local art community.
In my experience, support for the arts is inspired mostly by a direct involvement. You (or someone close to you) saw or experienced something that had invoked a profound effect. You tell two friends, which imparts more enthusiasm, and perhaps this inspires a purchase or donation. This action begets more opportunities for transformative experiences and translates into, we hope, a greater involvement. These transformative experiences can happen anywhere: galleries, museums, public art sites, art fairs, and so on. What is important is that they DO happen and in environments that are conducive to, and inspire, greater involvement. Those environments may be transactional (e.g., galleries and art fairs where an acquisition can be made). Or they may be more esoteric and social (e.g., museums, performances, and public art). But what is important is that they are reinforced by thought, dialogue, and participation––that there is a physical reminder (painting, friend, or social network) that serves as a memento of that unique and memorable experience.
What can we do to extend LA's status as one of the world's great art centers? How can we expand our local audience for the arts? Grab a friend and take him to see some art at a museum, gallery, public art, or yes, even art fair. Talk about it. Think about it. Be a part of it.
Adam Gross is the executive director of Art Platform LA.