Artists hope to re-cre­ate the old Venice scene, but where?

Los Angeles Times - - California -

But a hand­ful of pi­o­neer­ing artists from that raw past — in­clud­ing painter Ed Ruscha and painter-sculp­tor Lad­die John Dill — are hop­ing to help cre­ate, some­where on the West­side, a “Venice art colony” where emerg­ing artists and older men­tors could work and dis­play their wares. Dill en­vi­sions “a self-sus­tain­ing cen­ter for the arts for the next 100 years.”

The long-sim­mer­ing idea is far from fruition, but it is gain­ing sup­port — moral if not yet fi­nan­cial — from the old guard.

“It’s tak­ing on an ur­gency,” said painter Peter Alexan­der, 68. “Younger peo­ple have nowhere to go.”

In­deed, as Venice Art Walk plan­ners pre­pare to wel­come vis­i­tors to their 28th an­nual event this week­end, they are rec­og­niz­ing a harsh re­al­ity: It’s dif­fi­cult to find fresh new artists to fea­ture. To as­sem­ble the 60 stu­dio lo­ca­tions for the tour, or­ga­niz­ers stretched their usual bound­aries and, for the first time, in­cluded artists south of Venice Boule­vard.

“It’s cer­tainly not the bo­hemian bas­tion that it was 40 years ago,” said Alison Dock­ray, co-chair of the event and as­so­ci­ate de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor of its ben­e­fi­ciary, the Venice Fam­ily Clinic.

The seeds of the Venice art colony sprouted in Dill’s Venice stu­dio, a for­mer ware­house on Elec­tric Av­enue that he has leased since 1983.

Dill, whose rent has risen six­fold since that year, has long mused about the changes in the Venice arts com­mu­nity and what they might mean for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of artists, in­clud­ing Kristin Jai Kloster­man, his 30year-old as­sis­tant.

“I’m not naïve,” said Dill, 63. “Things move on. On Ab­bot Kin­ney, old build­ings are all be­ing torn down, and it’s pretty ho­mog­e­nized. There used to be no fran­chises, but now there’s a Pinkberry. How did that hap­pen?”

A model turned artist, Kloster­man paints in her off-hours ei­ther at Dill’s stu­dio or in the easel-filled liv­ing room of the condo she shares with Adrian Kawa, her fi­ance. Kawa dis­cussed Kloster­man’s con­cerns with two long­time pals, Todd Beck, who does pub­lic re­la­tions work in en­ter­tain­ment and tech­nol­ogy, and Dan Ke­ston, who works in real es­tate in­vest­ment and fi­nance.

The three men de­cided to de­velop a so­lu­tion that would ben­e­fit the lo­cal arts com­mu­nity while pro­vid­ing them an en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity. All they needed was a suit­able lo­ca­tion on the West­side.

Kloster­man and Kawa thought they had found just the spot at Playa Vista: four un­used build­ings near the de­vel­op­ment’s south­east cor­ner at the foot of the Westch­ester bluffs. Built in the 1940s and ’ 50s by avi­a­tion mogul Howard Hughes, they in­cluded Hughes Air­craft Co.’s em­ployee cafe­te­ria, a large man­u­fac­tur­ing build­ing and a fire sta­tion.

The build­ings had am­ple room for a flexible mix of small and large stu­dios, ex­hi­bi­tion halls, com­mer­cial space for ar­chi­tects and gal­leries.

Two years ago, the three would-be de­vel­op­ers be­gan meet­ing with Steve Soboroff, pres­i­dent of Playa Vista, and mem­bers of his plan­ning and fi­nance teams. They spent a year de­vel­op­ing a con­cept, aided by Chris Mercier, an ar­chi­tect who had worked for Frank Gehry.

In a 2005 let­ter, Dill urged Soboroff to help stop the real-es­tate-driven “artis­tic cleans­ing” of Venice. Other sig­na­to­ries in­cluded Ruscha; Alexan­der; sculp­tor Robert Gra­ham and ac­tress An­jel­ica Hus­ton, his wife; painters Ed Moses and Charles Arnoldi; and ac­tor-artist Den­nis Hop­per.

Then, in Jan­uary, Playa Vista an­nounced the sale of the com­mer­cial area that in­cluded the Hughes build­ings to two real es­tate in­vest­ment firms, Tish­man Speyer and Wal­ton Street Cap­i­tal. The two com­pa­nies are ex­pected to de­velop an of­fice cam­pus to cater to the area’s bur­geon­ing en­ter­tain­ment and tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses.

Soboroff said re­cently in an in­ter­view that he liked the art colony idea but that “it wasn’t even close to pen­cil­ing out” eco­nom­i­cally.

Mean­while, the part­ners have been in touch with Tish­man Speyer of­fi­cials, who they say are open to the no­tion. “But they are non­com­mit­tal at the mo­ment,” Beck said, “as they have a much big­ger de­vel­op­ment project on their minds.”

Tish­man Speyer said it had no com­ment. But Beck and his part­ners note hope­fully that the firm boasts of its col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art, in­clud­ing works by Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol.

Beck said his team is now scout­ing lo­ca­tions else­where on the West­side.

Whether it would even be pos­si­ble to re-cre­ate the vi­brancy and ca­ma­raderie of the erst­while Venice art scene is a mat­ter of de­bate.

Other places cen­tered on the arts have suc­ceeded: the galleryrich Berg­amot Sta­tion in Santa Mon­ica, the Brew­ery Arts Com­plex in down­town Los An­ge­les, the Santa Mon­ica Art Stu­dios at the Santa Mon­ica Air­port. Such projects have ben­e­fited from un­der­used space at un­der-mar­ket rents.

That’s not the case in Venice. Years ago, the city of Los An­ge­les tore down many of the com­mu­nity’s va­cant com­mer­cial struc­tures. Now the area is rife with mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar bun­ga­lows, ex­per­i­men­tal houses and new live-work lofts that no artist with­out a trust fund could af­ford.

“The crack houses are $2.6 mil­lion now,” quipped Pamela Bar­ish, Dill’s com­pan­ion and a cloth­ing de­signer with a shop on Ab­bot Kin­ney Boule­vard. “It’s cheaper to live in Mal­ibu. It’s kind of messed up.”

Jim Hub­bard, creative di­rec­tor of Venice Arts, a group that pro­vides pro­grams for low-in­come chil­dren, said max­i­miz­ing prof­its is what’s on prop­erty own­ers’ minds, not the latest fine arts trends.

“I know of no one that would give up a prop­erty even at a very re­duced level for a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion or an artist,” he said.

Trans­plant­ing the Venice al­lure could prove dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble.

“Venice is land’s end, and there’s a lot of sig­nif­i­cance to that,” said Larry Bell, a sculp­tor and painter who re­cently re­leased the same Venice stu­dio space he had oc­cu­pied in the 1960s and ’70s.

“The street life here is phe­nom­e­nal,” Bell said. “The board­walk is a mix of carnies and artists and home­less and psy­chotics. I know of no place like it.”

Sculp­tor De Wain Valen­tine misses be­ing close to his old artist mates now that he has leased a large stu­dio and park­ing lot in Tor­rance, where he can store “six transoceanic con­tain­ers full of artist de­tri­tus.” When some­one first pro­posed that he move there, he said: “Where’s Tor­rance?”

“It worked out for me,” Valen­tine said, adding wist­fully, “but I’d still rather be in Venice, Santa Mon­ica or Culver City.”

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