Michael Werner Gallery to Expand to Los Angeles, with an Aim to ‘Fit the Layers of Culture That Are Specific to LA’ - The World News

Michael Werner Gallery to Expand to Los Angeles, with an Aim to ‘Fit the Layers of Culture That Are Specific to LA’

Michael Werner Gallery, which has spaces in New York, London, and Berlin, will add two locations to its portfolio this spring in Los Angeles and Athens.

The Los Angeles space will be located at 415 North Camden Drive in Beverly Hills, across the street from Gagosian’s LA space and a few minutes’ drive to UTA Artist Space. Courtney Treut, who has worked for several blue-chip galleries like Hauser & Wirth, Anton Kern, and Sean Kelly, will serve as director of the LA Space.

The Athens gallery is located in an apartment building at Leoforos Vasileos Georgiou 10, near the Museum of Cycladic Art and the Zappeion Garden. It will mount two shows each year, with former art adviser Maximos Stergiou serving as director.

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Sigmar Polke, 'Untitled', 1990.

Gordon VeneKlasen, a partner of Michael Werner Gallery, has a long history with Los Angeles, having maintained a part-time home in Los Angeles for 15 years, before selling it when the gallery expanded to London in 2012. But it wasn’t until recently that he decided to set up shop in Los Angeles, despite encouragement from his longtime friend Hammer Museum director Ann Philbin.

“I’ve always had a fantasy about California and you know, which sort of goes back to Joan Didion,” he said.

During the pandemic, VeneKlasen launched a seasonal outpost of Michael Werner in East Hampton that he described as having “only limitations” based on the size of the space and that they couldn’t ship works to the space from outside New York.

“It was enormously gratifying for me to make quick shows based on limitations,” he said. “That was kind of the training ground I have for this space. It made me feel a lot freer—put works together that don’t normally go together.”

As the East Hampton space was drawing to an end, VeneKlasen said, he began work on the gallery’s expansion to Los Angeles. He had originally planned to open in another location in Beverly Hills, where iconic LA fashion and design store Mameg had its location. But Mameg recently vacated that space, and its founder Sonia Eram began browsing Google Earth. She eventually found the space on Camden Drive and invited VeneKlasen to once again consider creating an outpost in LA.

The LA gallery, designed by LA-based architectural firm Johnston Marklee, will have two distinct exhibition spaces, as well as a garden and courtyard that will be programmed by LA dealer Hannah Hoffman and designed by landscape architect Eric Nagelmann.

View of a gallery space with a green floor and two paintings on the wall. A column runs through the room's center.

The interior of Michael Werner’s forthcoming Los Angeles space.

Courtesy Michael Werner Gallery

Over the past three years, the commercial market in Los Angeles has grown exponentially, buoyed by the success of Frieze LA, which will open its fifth edition next week. That has led to an influx of New York galleries setting up shop in the city, like Marian Goodman, Lisson, Sean Kelly, James Fuentes, Sargent’s Daughters, and more. But VeneKlasen said this expansion to LA isn’t quite like other recent arrivals.

“A commercial scene for everybody is a wonderful thing, but I would still do it with or without it in a certain sense because I think of this as a long-term project,” VeneKlasen told ARTnews in a phone interview. “I keep saying it’s grasping rather than trying to dominate. I’m interested in taking it in and developing it around the culture of LA.”

He continued, “It didn’t start like, Oh, we’re going to go out to LA and take over LA—it’s not like that. It’s more a way to make interesting projects that fit the layers of culture that are specific to LA. I think there’s a place for us to exist there that’s not just an outpost that shows the artists that you show everywhere else.”

Instead, VeneKlasen pointed out that the gallery represents “all these artists who have history in LA, and LA doesn’t know about their history.” Among those with ties to LA are A.R. Penck, who traveled to Los Angeles for a solo show in 1984 at Ulrike Kantor Gallery; Per Kirkeby, who had two important solo shows at L.A. Louver in 1997 and 2005; or Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart), who was born and raised in the nearby suburb of Glendale and had one of his last shows mounted during his lifetime at David Kordansky Gallery in 2007.

“Generations have changed, and most of those dealers and collectors are all gone,” VeneKlasen said, noting that younger artists on the gallery’s roster, like Issy Wood and Raphaela Simon, have also expressed interest in showing in LA. “But, I believe there’s a way to graft ourselves back onto to LA in a way that’s interesting—interesting for these artists and interesting for LA.”

Another such artist is James Lee Byars, the conceptual artist who featured prominently in the acclaimed 1971 exhibition “Art & Technology” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art by Maurice Tuchman. Even more curiously, Byars at one point lived in the home of patrons and cofounders of Gemini G.E.L. Stanley and Elyse Grinstein.

“James Lee lived with them, and they let him take over their life in a certain sense. They’d come home from work and find that everything in the house had been moved around because he was doing a Moon Viewing ceremony,” VeneKlasen added.

VeneKlasen also pointed to the beginning days of the gallery’s London space over a decade ago. “We had artists of the gallery who have very little [exhibition] history in the UK, so we started by doing historical shows like we were reinventing a history,” he said. “I think some of that will happen in LA— some historical shows, some shows people will just roll their eyes perhaps I don’t know. But I think artists will find it interesting.”

A case in point are the inaugural shows in LA. One will be dedicated to the 19th-century French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, who has been influential to artists for generations, from Picasso to Markus Lüpertz, who will be the subject of the second exhibition. (The Puvis de Chavannes exhibition will also include loans from museums and private collections.)  

In an email, Treut, the director of the LA space, described the city as being “incredibly open and collaborative,” which the new Werner location will aim to embrace. “Each Michael Werner Gallery location has a personality unique to its particular city, and the LA gallery reflects that intentionality. The first shows set the tone for the program as a whole, which will bring compelling discoveries or rediscoveries to Los Angeles.”

VeneKlasen added, “So many painters I know are excited and interested in Puvis de Chavannes. Markus is 85 years old, and he’s a source for a lot of young painters. So I think it’s an interesting place to start.”

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