Matthew Marks on lure -- and challenges -- of showing art in L.A.
Knowing that New York art dealer Matthew Marks would be busy Thursday night with the debut of his L.A. gallery, which opens with a small but serious Ellsworth Kelly show (above), Culture Monster caught up with him during a calmer moment last week.
Despite a reputation for being a touch formal or reticent in person, Marks seemed talkative and relaxed. In fact, the dealer who helped start the art scene in Chelsea in the 1990s sounded happily, if temporarily, ensconced in Los Angeles. He has bought a 1920s Spanish house in the Hollywood Hills that he is decorating in part with finds from the Rose Bowl flea market, and he has chosen Adrian Rosenfeld from his New York gallery as the director of his new L.A. space.
A few L.A. galleries have reason to be nervous about the competition. (L.A. Louver for one, because it shows Ken Price, as does Marks.) But he says he is not following the footsteps of L&M Arts, whose L.A. operation has landed several artists who have not previously worked with the gallery. "That's not my plan, or my sensibility," Marks said.
Rather, he said his main reason for opening an L.A. branch is because so many of his gallery artists, like Kelly, Bob Gober, Nan Goldin and Fischli and Weiss have not had gallery shows here in more than a decade, while others like Katharina Fritsch and Brice Marden have never had a one-person gallery show in L.A.
Next up, after Kelly: a show of new work by Charley Ray, the L.A. sculptor who gave Marks reason to visit the city before he started spending several weeks here each winter.
Click below for more from Marks, in his own words:
Jori Finkel: Why L.A., why now?
Matthew Marks: We considered London very seriously but my artists already show in Europe. One of the reasons to have a gallery here is that almost all my artists have either never shown here at all, or haven't shown here in a very, very long time. It was also a question of where my artists really wanted to show. They know that if they do a show in Los Angeles, it will be seen by a lot of other artists -- their peers and younger artists. And conversely, if they never show their work in Los Angeles, a lot of artists will never see their work or only see it from reproduction or on the Web, and that's not the same thing.
JF: You picked an odd, off-beat location in West Hollywood [1062 North Orange Grove], not part of a gallery neighborhood or high-end shopping area. Did you consider Culver City?
MM: I did, but it never seemed really charming to me. I liked the Blum & Poe space but what am I going to do: get a great big building right across the street? That's not my thing. . . . What I like about this is that it's not on the main streets, Santa Monica Boulevard or Fairfax. Here I'm the last commercial building on a residential street, a quiet little street. It was instinctual. I thought to myself I would like to live in this area. I asked a couple of clients who live in Beverly Hills and Bel Air if they would be able to drive here, and they said it's really easy, no problem. And that was it: I did it.
JF: Do you have visitor parking?
MM: We're working on that.
JF: A lot of people from the art world in New York are surprised to discover how shallow the collecting base in L.A. really is. Will you still be selling primarily to East Coast and European clients?
MM: I sent out announcement cards for our exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly and took the ads out in the art magazines, and all the phones ring and everyone wants to buy all the paintings. And of course all those people calling are from New York, Europe, San Francisco. I am artificially trying to hold some pictures back, because I think for my first show in my Los Angeles gallery, it would be nice to have something left for Los Angeles collectors. Then I think: They're adults; they could call just as well as everyone else. So I'm not under any illusions, but on the other hand I think that if you show really good work consistently, there is the possibility that you will be educating people and a market could be developed.
JF: Were any of your artists or staff nervous about your expansion here?
MM: Everybody loves Los Angeles or the idea of Los Angeles. The only possible negative feeling was that I would get a little too excited about the city and move here. Every December, I'd call my artists to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and I'm going to Los Angeles for the month of January, and you know how to reach me if there are any issues. Everyone was always: I hope you're coming back.
JF: Could you ever see yourself moving here?
MM: Not really. My whole family is in New York, and I have a great big gallery in New York, with a lot of responsibility and 30 employees.
Images, from top: Installation shot of "Ellsworth Kelly: Los Angeles," from Jan. 19 to April 7 at Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles, Artwork © Ellsworth Kelly, Photography by Joshua White,
Courtesy Matthew Marks; portrait of Matthew Marks © Inez van Lamsweerde + Vinoodh Matadin.