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