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May 25, 2015
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Go West: artists flee exorbitant New York for LA

May 25, 2015

The Los Angeles art scene is exploding thanks to a wave of artists and galleries escaping New York, which has become over-crowded and too expensive for young creative types.

"An enormous number of artists are coming to set up in LA," said Philippe Vergne, director of the West Coast city's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), citing exorbitant real estate costs in the Big Apple in particular.

Philippe Vergne, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) - AFP PHOTO / VERONIQUE DUPONT

"In art, it is like in real estate: you have to follow the artists, that's where it's going to develop," he said, asserting that LA is "the city with the highest density of artists in the world."

Martha Kirszenbaum, director and curator of the Fahrenheit arts center, which opened just over a year ago in a booming area of downtown LA, added: "LA's strength is the artists, and the schools which have trained generations of artists."

The City of Angels is known for some of the most prestigious art schools in the country, including CalArts, the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California (USC).

It is also already home to leading contemporary artists including John Baldessari, Catherine Opie, James Turrell, Chris Burden, Barbara Kruger, Paul McCarthy, Ed Ruscha and the late Mike Kelley.

Galleries, even if their number remains tiny compared to the hundreds which crowd New York, are popping up in increasing numbers in Los Angeles, with its year-round blue skies and wide open spaces.

"New York is so saturated, we'd be the 700th little gallery, versus in LA it is in a very interesting state of flux," said Karolina Dankow, director of Zurich-based Karma, which has just opened a gallery in Los Angeles.

"Everybody knows the very big galleries are moving here," she added, pointing to figures such as Larry Gagosian, one of the world's biggest art dealers, or Michele Maccarone, Gavin Brown and Matthew Marks, who have moved from New York.

That is without mentioning the new art fairs which flourish beneath the palm trees: Paramount Ranch or Paris Photo Los Angeles, whose third edition wrapped up on Sunday.

Even the Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain (FIAC), one of the biggest contemporary art fairs in the world, has been talking about organizing a Los Angeles version.

The New York Times wrote about the trend over the weekend, noting the irony of creative types including musician Moby moving to a city long sneered at by East Coast types.

"Chased out by rising rents, punishing winters and general malaise, New Yorkers (are heading) west to the city they once poked fun at," it wrote.

The East Coast's arts calendar can be overcrowded with events like the Armory Show in New York or Art Basel Miami.

For this reason, "it makes sense to come to the West Coast," said Jean-Daniel Compain of Reed, which organizes FIAC and Paris Photo.

Admittedly, in terms of institutions, it is difficult to go up against New York with its Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Met, the Whitney, Guggenheim, Dia Art Foundation and New Museum, to mention only a few.

"We don't have the 'Demoiselles d'Avignon' in a permanent collection here," said Vergne, referring to Picasso's famous 1907 painting hung at the MoMA.

- Catching up with East Coast -

"We are sometimes 100 years late compared to some institutions on the East Coast," said Michael Govan, director of the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

"We have a wonderful collection, but in many ways we're still catching up," he said, adding that it has received donations of works by Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol and Claude Monet for its "50 for 50" exhibition.

"There's a little less of the traditional blockbuster big names here," he said.

"But... we enjoy our status of a little bit off-center, and for me it's much more fun to enjoy new topics, projects."

In terms of visitors, LACMA, which welcomes 1.2 million people annually, is way behind MoMA, which opens its doors to 2.5 million people every year. But the Los Angeles museum's numbers have doubled in eight years.

Govan also highlights that his museum hosted a Tim Burton show which was previously at the MoMA, and a retrospective of US artist James Turrell which went on to Asia.

"I've made it a high priority that our shows travel because I think Los Angeles, California has a lot to say," he said.

Meanwhile Los Angeles' artist expansion continues apace: philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad will open a museum in September to house their collection of 2,000 art works including pieces by Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and Cindy Sherman.

The French-Moroccan fashion designer Maurice and Paul Marciano, brothers who made their fortune with the Guess brand, are working on a museum project to showcase their own collection.

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