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Artist Vanessa Prager shows her spare side with solo show 'Love You Too'

June 15, 2010 | 12:25 pm

Phone The 25-year-old artist Vanessa Prager traffics in empty space. Her latest solo show, “Love You Too,” which opened last week at the boutique/gallery Em & Co on West 3rd Street, features more than 30 Bic Cristal ballpoint pen drawings on yellowed music sheets. More impressive than the hundreds of tiny lines and crosshatches that litter each page are the crude circles of untouched white space placed at strategic focal points within each drawing.

The pictures are created in assured strokes of blue and red. The subject matter is simple: women, cats, television screens, horses. The more straightforward the object in the drawing the better a vessel it is to convey Prager’s patented sense of pensive apprehension.

Since her first show in 2003, Prager’s profile has steadily risen alongside that of her older sister, photographer Alex Prager (whose work is being shown at the Museum of Modern Art later this year). The women were raised in Los Angeles, but Vanessa was sent to boarding school in Oregon during high school. It was during those long, frustrating years that she began drawing.

“They had this measly art class where you could do whatever you wanted for 45 minutes,” Vanessa recalls of her boarding school. “So I just taught myself to draw, I read a million books. It was trial and error.”
When Vanessa returned from the north at 17 she moved in with Alex and they set about living the unstable life of artists, scraping up shows and cultivating collectors.

With “Love You Too,” Vanessa was surprised to discover that between a private opening earlier in the month at the exclusive Soho House and the public opening at Em & Co she sold out of all of her work.

“Collectors were e-mailing me saying they didn’t get a chance to choose the one they wanted,” Prager said. “Everything was gone in one second.”

Vanessa There was a indeed a sense of urgency at Em & Co last week as red dots rapidly appeared next to nearly every piece. The well-dressed crowd — including actors and Prager fans such as Erika Christensen, Bridget Moynahan, Luis Chávez, Olivia Crocicchia and Tyler Neitzel — mingled, sipped vodka and grapefruit juice and listened to live music played by the LA Contemporary Ensemble and composed by the up-and-coming young classical music virtuoso Ali Helnwein (son of artist Gottfried Helnwein).

The evening’s host, actor Michael Peña, walked amicably around the room, shaking hands and posing for photos while Vanessa, dressed in a short black dress, her thick blond hair cascading around her slender neck and shoulders, smiled, giggled and chatted with her guests.

The most remarked-upon piece in the show had been purchased by Alex before it ever touched the gallery wall. It depicts a woman, nude and languid save for erect shoulders and sharp eyes. She holds a red telephone to her ear. Where her mouth should be there is a gaping white hole. The same holds true for the middle of her chest. The effect is unsettling — like the sudden scratch of a tree branch against a bedroom window on a windy midnight.

The piece possess a spirit similar to that of Alex’s photos, and although Vanessa admits that she and her sister share an aesthetic sensibility, she says that she has gone to lengths to be thought of as a separate and very different artist.

“We’ve always been artists together and our art bounces of off each other,” Vanessa said. “But I have settled into my own space.”

Vanessa Prager's work will be at Em & Co through July 7. 7940 W.3rd St., L.A. (323) 782-8155; Daily 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photos: Top, a drawing by Vanessa Prager; bottom, Vanessa Prager at the opening of her show "Love You Too." Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times