Purple Magazine
— Los Angeles issue #30

jeffrey deitch

los angeles
art gallery
jeffrey deitch

interview by OLIVIER ZAHM

portrait by JASPER BRIGGS

Deitch Projects produced over 250 exhibitions and public events during its 15-year history, turning Jeffrey Deitch into one of New York’s most unconventional gallerists. When he closed his space, in 2010, to become the new director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, it was the first sign that New York culture would be emigrating to Los Angeles. After his controversial departure from MOCA, Jeffrey Deitch is making his comeback in Hollywood, opening in October a gigantic space where he will push the boundaries of art with his iconoclastic museum-quality exhibitions.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Jeffrey, do you remember the first time you went to LA?
JEFFREY DEITCH — I do, yes. Well, there’s one time that I went to LA that is not relevant to my art experience. That was in the 1970s. The first time that’s really relevant to the art experience is the fall of 1981, when Sherrie Levine invited me to do a guest crit at CalArts [California Institute of the Arts]. I dressed up in my banker’s suit, which blew the kids’ minds. [Laughs] I was the first person, maybe ever, to walk into CalArts and do a crit wearing a banker’s blue suit and tie. And that was a revelation — a very enlightening experience.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did your LA experience begin in art?
JEFFREY DEITCH — The students were really engaging and friendly. There wasn’t a barrier between faculty and students and visiting critics or artists. The students drew you in, wanted you to come to their parties, hang out with them, go around LA. And so, I stayed for a few days, visiting the studios, going out with them. And I made some lifelong friendships out of these visits. Two of the students there were Ashley Bickerton, who’s still a working friend — and I’ve done so much with Ashley, so we kept going after that — and Andy Moses, who is a great friend. Andy is the son of Ed Moses, the great LA artist. Andy and I ended up, a few years later in New York, both being great friends of Jeff Koons — part of that circle. So, a lot came out of that. And just in that short time, I learned a lot of the lay of the land: where the interesting bars and clubs that the students went were. Because of these relationships that began there, I started going back to LA regularly — connecting with the students I met, and they’d connect me with other people.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your love for LA is surprising, as you’re such a New York figure.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Oh, of course, I’m a total New Yorker. But see, what’s happening in LA now — what’s happened for a while — is that New York culture is emigrating to LA and connecting with what was in LA. I think you would agree that many of your New York friends are now living in LA. Or visit regularly. Actually, this has happened going way back to the origins of the movie industry. But now it’s really accelerated. So, for instance, I visited with Santigold a few months back. And Santigold is the quintessential Brooklyn musician: with songs about Brooklyn, the Lower East Side. She’s moved to LA because she said that almost all the music producers are there, the studios, the other musicians she wants to work with. There are many examples like that — of musicians, artists, writers who’ve moved from New York to Los Angeles, particularly in the past five, six years. Between 2010, when I came to be the director of MOCA [the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, which he ran until 2013], and now … it’s a tremendous difference, in this eight-year period.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, this movement — of artists from New York coming to LA — was always there, but was more discreet or secret?
JEFFREY DEITCH — Well, it’s more that people from New York went to LA years ago, shaping the movie industry. Their people went and built finance and the investment industry, the retailing … many things. And so, for a long time, there has been quite a fusion between New York and LA culture, particularly in the entertainment sector, the retailing. But now, it’s a whole different thing. And something that has happened with the art community is … in 2010, the art community was dominated by students, alumni, faculty at Los Angeles’s art schools: CalArts, UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles], ArtCenter [College of Design]. Now, the number of people coming from Europe, China, New York, other places — who had nothing to do with the art schools in LA — has changed the balance of the scene completely.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Okay. And changed the game, in a way? Because when you arrived in 2010, it was like the first — or maybe the most surprising — New York person taking a position of power on the LA scene, which was very much controlled by LA people.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Well, actually, Michael Govan at LACMA [Los Angeles County Museum of Art] came from Dia [Art Foundation] in New York. Annie Philbin at the Hammer [Museum] came from The Drawing Center in New York. So, many people at the museums — at the Getty, the universities — came from New York City. But I think I was a little different in that I was known as someone who was central to the whole New York dialogue. And my gallery in New York was very much about New York.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Completely. So, that shook people up in a way, no?
JEFFREY DEITCH — [Laughs] Well, I don’t know exactly! But it was an interesting episode. What I can say is that a number of very significant artists, writers, other people connected with art, decided to come to LA because of me — people followed me there. And galleries. So, it was interesting. I think I had a significant role in changing the dialogue.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Besides the fact that more people are going to LA, how is the situation changing there? How do you see the change since 2010, or maybe even since before then?
JEFFREY DEITCH — Well, it’s been building: it’s a gradual thing. But now it’s hit this critical mass. That’s what’s different. Many years ago, you’d go to an art opening in Los Angeles, and it would be a very small circle of people there — people connected with the art schools and traditional networks there. And now you go to art openings in LA, and there are a thousand people — very young. And that’s an indication of how many people have gone there, and their desire to connect. Because, unlike a more concentrated city like New York, where you just meet people in the neighborhood, in LA you have to make an effort. And it’s interesting that if you go to Los Angeles galleries in the middle of an afternoon, you might be the only person in the gallery. But if you go to an opening, there’ll be hundreds of people.

OLIVIER ZAHM — People are excited to connect physically, socially — not only on social media. Because it’s the city for social media.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Yes, that’s right. It is. Well, people learn about these events through social media, but they want to connect in person. And because so many people who go are new, without connections, they want to meet to expand their social circle. So, that makes it very fresh. It reminds me of New York in the ’70s, when, for example, with my circle of friends, there were only a few of them, like 5%, who were actually from New York. People were from everywhere. And I came to New York City in 1974. I did not know a single person. But because it was so open, within six months it seemed like I knew everybody in the downtown scene. That’s the way it was: it was very open. And there’s still great discourse in New York City and lots of connections. When you give the Purple dinner parties in New York, it’s great, all the people who come. But the ability to connect here has diminished because the art neighborhoods are so dispersed. In the ’70s, in New York, almost everybody was right here in SoHo, or within a five-minute walk. And then it expanded to the Lower East Side, East Village, Tribeca … and gradually Williamsburg. But that was still quite accessible — one subway stop. Now, it’s much more dispersed and harder for people to connect. The galleries were more welcoming then: it was still kind of a bohemian scene. Now, galleries — the main galleries — are much more corporate. It’s not as conducive to come and hang out. You know how the galleries have these bulky security guards in the suits — we never had anything like that. It’s a very different atmosphere.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Plus, it’s also consumerism. There are boutiques everywhere, in every street, which used to be wilder.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Actually, I wish there were more boutiques. SoHo seems to have one-third empty storefronts. Oh, the other thing that you described — the landlords pushing people out, thinking they can make more money. So, this is not “one person is to blame” — it’s the excesses of this speculative economy. And it’s very hard to do anything about it until it goes too far — and then the economy reverses.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes, exactly. Maybe it’s the comeback of SoHo if there are more spaces to rent?
JEFFREY DEITCH — [Laughs] Well, I hope! I’m encouraging a lot of galleries to come back to SoHo — particularly second-floor, third-floor. But what is happening is that there are very good galleries that opened in Tribeca — on Lispenard Street, White Street, Walker Street. It’s a short walk away.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you tell us about your house in Los Angeles? Is it a famous actor’s house?
JEFFREY DEITCH — Yes, it was Cary Grant’s house in the 1930s — maybe into the ’40s, too. And he lived there with Randolph Scott. It’s at the easternmost extension of the Hollywood Hills, in an area known as Los Feliz Oaks. Great location. It’s between the Hollywood sign and the Observatory, with great views of both.

OLIVIER ZAHM — So, you’re halfway between west and east?
JEFFREY DEITCH — Well, people who live in the west think I’m way east. But in fact, for the new geography of LA, it actually is midway between Beverly Hills and the Westside, and then Downtown, Highland Park. So, where I live in LA, it’s ideal.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it has this Spanish, glamorous old style…
JEFFREY DEITCH — That’s right. I spend most of my life in a modernistic environment: the art that I’m working with, in a white-cube gallery. So, for home, it’s wonderful to have this Hollywood fantasy: this completely fake Spanish revival. Even though it’s fake, it fits in perfectly with the climate of LA, and the whole LA aesthetic. There’s a reason why you have this Spanish Colonial Revival style — the thick walls are very good for the climate, and it fits into the hills very well. Also, the house is built into the hill. And if you’re lucky, it’s so much better to live in the hills with a view … and the views are phenomenal. When people go out on the balcony — you don’t even know that you’re in Los Angeles. It could be a view of the South of France. It’s quite extraordinary.

OLIVIER ZAHM — [Laughs] You’re also opening a new gallery in LA. Is it open already?

JEFFREY DEITCH — The new gallery will open September 29th, with Ai Weiwei. We wanted to open with an artist who had an appeal that went way beyond the inside-art community. He’s possibly one of the most recognized artists in the world — well, the most influential. And so, people who are interested in world affairs and human rights — issues beyond the inside-art issues — are going to be interested in the show. I wanted to start with something that addressed larger issues. And he’ll do a great show for us. There will be one famous work of his — that’s been exhibited in Europe, but not in the United States — and some new work, as well.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you come up with the idea of having a gallery in Los Angeles?
JEFFREY DEITCH — This goes way back to an experience I had in the mid-2000s. I did a great show in New York with David LaChapelle. In the course of doing this project, I went to visit David in his Los Angeles studio, on North Orange Drive. And I was just stunned by how great the space was, how fantastic the neighborhood was. It’s this special area — mostly one-story warehouse-type buildings, where postproduction for films was done for decades because it’s in between Paramount and the old United Artists. And I looked around and thought, “This is where I’d love to have a gallery.” And David was very encouraging. He said, “You’ve got to open a gallery in LA.” This was more than 15 years ago. And he was right — he really understood what was going on.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you pick the location? Because it’s a real LA issue: where do you place a new gallery on th LA map?
JEFFREY DEITCH — And so, ever since then, I have been thinking that if I would have a gallery in LA, that’s where I wanted to have it — in that neighborhood. And then, being at MOCA, it took me all around the city. I would sometimes spend six hours a day driving around because I would have a breakfast meeting with a potential donor, morning meeting, lunch meeting. It went on until midnight. And so, I really learned the city. When it was time to think about the next chapter and opening a gallery in LA, I came back to this neighborhood. I said, “This is the right place.” Because, like my house, it’s midway between east and west. So, the people who live in Bel Air can get there within a half hour. Silver Lake’s a half hour or so. So, it’s ideal. And then I found out that a big real estate development company was buying up every property they could in this neighborhood. And I just gave up. I said: “Oh, okay. Well, forget it. I’m too late.” I dropped the idea for a year or so. And then a very interesting thing happened: a friend of mine — who was working with this real estate company, CIM, developing restaurants — said, “One of the principals of CIM would like to meet you.” So, we put together a meeting. We got along right away. It was Shaul Kuba, who is one of the three principals. Shaul was managing the development of this neighborhood, and he said, “I want to show you a building.” Then we just got in the car, went right over, and I saw the perfect building for an art gallery. Perfect size: 15,000 square feet. Perfect location: on a quiet stretch of North Orange. And he showed me what he was doing around it. And they wanted me there as an anchor, to develop this special neighborhood.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because you will bring interesting people and also create value for the whole environment, I guess.
JEFFREY DEITCH — I hope so. And it’s just a very careful mix of interesting restaurants, cafés. Just One Eye [the LA boutique] curated stores there. And they’re getting interesting tenants for the offices. Sirius Radio is becoming a major tenant in the building they’re putting right there. And it will have parking, landscaping … and so we put a deal together. So, that’s where the gallery is — everything came together.

OLIVIER ZAHM — I didn’t know you’re so personal when you make a professional decision. It’s always connected to your own experience…
JEFFREY DEITCH — That’s right. This building where we are here [in New York City]: when I moved to SoHo in 1974, I was just fascinated by this neighborhood, and almost every night, I would take a walk all around SoHo. It was so interesting.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Like in the movie After Hours?
JEFFREY DEITCH — Exactly. At that age, I had plenty of energy, so I’d walk around at two in the morning and still get to work at 10. I loved to explore. And I remember always walking past this building and thinking, “Wow, this would make a great art gallery.” At the time, almost no galleries were on the ground floor. A few of them were, but most were second- or third-floor. And nobody had a gallery in a garage building like this yet. So, my interest in this building, in this neighborhood, goes way back to my first months in New York. So, yes, with a lot of art decisions that are also business decisions, there is a very personal, emotional element to it. And I just knew that this LA location was right. And I love it that it’s the next block — diagonally across — from David LaChapelle’s studio, which is still there.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What would you say if I asked you, “What’s your favorite thing in LA?” Besides everything we’ve said so far.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Let’s not even talk about the obvious things, like the climate [laughs], which is probably one of the world’s best. Let’s see… I love the underside of LA. When I was at MOCA, I did an exhibition with Kenneth Anger. I did one with Weegee in LA. I began to plan an exhibition with Cameron [the artist, poet, and occult practitioner] — which happened there after I left. But then I brought the exhibition here to New York. So, I’m fascinated by LA noir, and that whole history: the story of the cults, the extreme characters. It’s a place where people can go and construct their own worlds.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What about the LA lifestyle? Do you embrace it as a New Yorker?
JEFFREY DEITCH — That’s really fascinating. I like the way a lot of people in LA structure their time. Most people work equivalent to nine-to-five and commute, but there are very significant numbers of people — particularly in the cultural sector — where, say, somebody writes a screenplay that they sell, and they’re not really actively working for another year or so. So, there are a lot of people who have a much more leisurely, open approach to their lives. In my neighborhood, there are a lot of people there during the day, and people will come by and swim in your pool. If you’re involved in art, see, that’s very interesting. And it’s just great that there are people who have this more open, flexible sense of how to structure your time. Also, it’s not a place where everybody has to be working all the time. Because you’re involved in things where there’s a spurt of activity, and then you don’t need to be hustling constantly.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And what do you dislike, besides the traffic?
JEFFREY DEITCH — That’s it. But you have to get around the traffic. Again, if you’re a commuter, you’re in hell. It’s really awful. But I don’t need to be a commuter. The way I’ve structured it, the gallery is 10 to 15 minutes from my house, and even if it’s rush hour, it’s not that bad. And so, you learn to restrict yourself to certain neighborhoods, and most people I know have figured out a way to avoid a lot of the traffic.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It took me two years to figure out the city a little. But I was very surprised, and I’m still very surprised, that people actually don’t know LA well. They have a very superficial vision of the city.
JEFFREY DEITCH — Yes. A lot of people who live in Beverly Hills, that’s all they know. And that’s where their whole social life… everything is there. That’s where they work, where their friends are, schools… So, it’s actually unusual when people really know the city, and they know the industrial areas and the Valley and…

OLIVIER ZAHM — There’s so much to discover. It’s crazy.
JEFFREY DEITCH — That’s right. I’ll give you an example of something that opened my eyes. It was really a great project to do this big show on the history of graffiti and street art [at MOCA]. And, in the course of the show, Aaron Rose set me up to meet Gusmano Cesaretti. He came to the United States from Lucca, Italy, when he was 19 years old or so, back in the late ’60s. LA is not like New York, where you go into a tough neighborhood in the Bronx and say, “This is a tough neighborhood.” [Laughs] You can go into Highland Park, and it looks so beautiful, with nice lawns, and you have no idea that this is a heavy gang area. Gusmano just went around, oblivious to what might really be going on. But he’s such an engaging guy — he still is now; he’s much older, but he must’ve been even more then — that these tough thugs let him take photographs of them. They brought him into their world. One of the most interesting things I did is, Gusmano took me on a series of tours of the culture of East and South LA. Like going into the projects where there is great graffiti on the walls. And he took me to see the headquarters of this motorcycle gang, Chosen Few, from South LA. It was incredible. And I invited them, the whole gang, to make art in the streets. I was very lucky to meet people like Gusmano. Then a professor at UCLA gave me an Eastside and a Westside architectural tour. And so, there were a number of opportunities I had to learn the city on a much deeper level. To see all the best Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra houses. And then I have some friends who are obsessed with LA noir and took me on their own tours of the houses where murders happened. So, it’s just an endlessly fascinating city.

END

 

JEFFREY DEITCH IN HIS LOS FELIZ SPANISH-STYLE HOME, CARY GRANT’S FORMER RESIDENCE

[Table of contents]

Los Angeles issue #30

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