The West Coast
When my plane broke through the Los Angeles smog on an afternoon in early spring, I imagined I had willed the town into existence by nothing more than my arrival. It’s the city’s foundational myth—perpetually born yesterday. I was there to cover an art fair called Paris Photo, which was being held at that most mythic of L.A. landmarks—Paramount Studios—and to report on the city’s art world. If New York had a say in the matter, it was something of an accident of history that there were ever artists in Los Angeles at all. The dealers and collectors were always in New York. And who could force the entertainment industry to care? For decades, the most noteworthy thing about successful Los Angeles artists—aside from a core group—was that they left for the East Coast.
The reality is more complicated. New York changed. Downtown ceased being a squatter’s free-for-all and became an outdoor shopping center. The S&M clubs and taxi garages of Chelsea gave way to galleries stacked on top of one another. Increasingly, the creatively minded transplants who migrated each day to New York from all over the country came with expiration dates. Ten years would go by, if you were lucky, before the inevitable fatigue set in. So many migrants have gone to California as a solution to some problem that it’s become an American trope. But in a town where the front page of the largest daily newspaper reports the unsubstantiated rumor that industry blogger Nikki Finke would be fired from Deadline Hollywood, the arts have quietly carved out a home. New York just got more and more expensive.
When the artist Elad Lassry was asked to design an image for the billboard that overlooks the High Line park, he had to put aside some of his usual working methods. “I don’t normally do commissions,” he told The Observer over the phone from his Los Angeles studio, “or make work for a specific occasion.” But the invitation also presented an issue of scale. Normally, Mr. Lassry’s photographs are roughly 11 x 14 inches, proportions derived from a conventional headshot. Even when he presents his short films, as he did for his solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 2009, he projects them at roughly the same headshot size. The High Line billboard, on the other hand, is 75 x 25 feet, wider than the average IMAX screen.
The New York branch of the heavy hitting international gallery Hauser & Wirth is not, right now, very large. It occupies two floors in a bright, narrow townhouse on East 69th Street, the former home of the Martha Jackson Gallery and, after that, the offices of boxing promoter Don King.
Last Wednesday, the 33-year-old artist Rashid Johnson, a rising star in the New York art world, arrived at the crowded opening of his debut show with the gallery in a white shirt and with his dreads tied in a neat bow down his back, his 4-month-old son on his shoulder.
A quick glance over Israeli artist Elad Lassry’s work of the past few years suggests that dance has become more than a passing fascination for him. In a short film included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 “New Photography” show, Mr. Lassry cast actor Eric Stoltz as a choreographer, and his contribution to the Venice Biennale this summer was a mysterious, haunting film of dancers, including a translucent woman, silently, steadfastly performing.