SCENE STEAL­ERS Turn­ing the LA art scene on its ear, con­tro­ver­sial col­lec­tor Ste­fan Sim­chowitz takes time out from his ‘trans­par­ent trade’ to fo­cus on the city’s as­cen­dant stars

Turn­ing the LA art scene on its ear, con­tro­ver­sial col­lec­tor Ste­fan Sim­chowitz takes time out from his ‘trans­par­ent trade’ to high­light the city’s as­cen­dant stars.

VOGUE Living Australia - - Contents - AN­NEMARIE KIELY STE­FAN SIM­CHOWITZ By Pho­tographed by

Rev­el­ling in year-round sun­light, ubiq­ui­tous celebrity and the pro­duc­tion means to make mythol­ogy real, the Los An­ge­les art scene has evolved from a mid-20th-cen­tury dust bowl into Amer­ica’s new lo­cus of con­tem­po­rary ex­cel­lence. New York might ar­gue that point, but in the last 10 years, the city’s cen­tre­less sprawl and fron­tier free­doms have fielded a rich diversity of cap­i­tal, com­mu­nity and cre­ator that is push­ing mar­kets and mak­ings be­yond LA’s Down­town nu­cleus. Within this rapidly ex­pand­ing environment, a new species of cultural en­tre­pre­neur is spawn­ing with alarm­ingly adaptive speed. He’s by­pass­ing the art es­tab­lish­ment and bro­ker­ing deals with the best young tal­ent, con­trol­ling its cur­rency and con­sump­tion while cor­ner­ing its mar­kets. He is typ­i­cally brash, boasts an A-list Hol­ly­wood clien­tele, brags more public­ity than Tin­sel­town’s con­stituents and can elicit bile from the best-be­haved gal­lerists. He is Ste­fan Sim­chowitz, the South African-born, Stan­ford­e­d­u­cated col­lec­tor, cu­ra­tor and arts coun­sel­lor who con­sis­tently calls out the art world for be­ing closed. For his out­spo­ken ways, the US press has pegged him the “pa­tron Satan of con­tem­po­rary art”. But is it fair char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of a cultural en­tre­pre­neur who se­ri­ally lets slip that the art em­peror is wear­ing no clothes? How does he de­scribe him­self? Speak­ing by phone while driv­ing through LA, Sim­chowitz first ad­dresses the no­tion that life should be fair. “There just is and there isn’t,” he says with a strained sto­icism that likely seeded dur­ing his South African school days when, re­put­edly bul­lied, he de­ter­mined to “never let peo­ple fuck with me” again. “I think la­bels are a point of de­par­ture and are very im­por­tant to have,” he con­tin­ues. “They are the first step in the jour­ney that in­volves dis­course and crit­i­cal­ity. So I’m strangely quite grateful for them and peo­ple who take the time to elicit their opin­ion. But I don’t like to de­scribe my­self; I like to leave that to oth­ers.” Con­trar­ily, how­ever, Sim­chowitz then snapshots him­self as an en­er­getic sup­porter and in­vestor in cultural pro­duc­tion whose mis­sion is to help artists. This ‘help’, eu­phemised by his de­trac­tors as a Faus­tian pact with the devil, of­ten man­i­fests as the pro­vi­sion of a stu­dio, the pay­ment of home rent and the pur­chase of ma­te­ri­als in ex­change for the bulk acquisition of art (at a healthy dis­count), for which Sim­chowitz then gen­er­ates a mar­ket. He typ­i­cally buys the “overlooked” artists’ work for less than $10,000 and ei­ther sits on it, on­sells it to a high-net-worth col­lec­tor base whose own­er­ship of it in­stantly in­flates its cur­rency, or flips it. It’s a par­a­digm shift you could liken to Face­book’s im­pact on com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ad­ver­tis­ing (all mid­dle agen­cies re­moved). Sim­chowitz doesn’t ››

‹‹ be­lieve that the art world can be dis­rupted in the same sense that Face­book can own ev­ery­thing, but he’s hav­ing a crack. And the art es­tab­lish­ment can’t stand it. Love him or hate him, his in­stincts are im­pec­ca­ble, both for iden­ti­fy­ing the fu­ture ‘hot prop­erty’ and for strate­gi­cally ful­fill­ing its (his) prophecy. To put it into per­spec­tive, Sim­chowitz bought 34 paint­ings by Colom­bian artist Os­car Murillo in the early 2000s for as low as US$1500 per can­vas. In 2015, a sin­gle paint­ing by Murillo fetched £242,500 at Christie’s in Lon­don. The­o­ret­i­cally, that’s a 21,500 per cent re­turn on in­vest­ment for Sim­chowitz. Such as­tute­ness begs the ques­tion of the di­rec­tion in which his art an­ten­nas are cur­rently twitch­ing. “Africa — par­tic­u­larly Ghana and Zim­babwe,” he says. “Not for is­sues of race or iden­tity but for its en­ergy.” Re­ported to be sit­ting on a col­lec­tion of more than 1500 con­tem­po­rary works that Sim­chowitz val­ues at ap­prox­i­mately US$30 mil­lion, the erst­while dealer frames him­self not as an op­por­tunis­tic player but as a pa­tron who seeks to re­di­rect “the hur­ri­canes of big money” that se­ri­ally blow young artists to the mar­gins. He de­spairs about a new col­lec­tor class that is dis­en­gaged from the dis­course of the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous — a group hooked on the high-ve­loc­ity chase of sta­tus through “the old echoes of art great­ness”. Spout­ing philoso­pher Lud­wig Feuer­bach’s think­ing that il­lu­sion is sa­cred and truth is pro­fane, Sim­chowitz says he is sim­ply build­ing new struc­ture, cut­ting through “the crap” to en­cour­age an open con­ver­sa­tion about cul­ture. It is a ve­hi­cle de­signed to crash through corporate states that har­bour out­ra­geously ex­pen­sive art for a se­lect few. “I don’t much care about the shape of that ve­hi­cle, I care about the en­gine in­side,” he says. “Be­cause the en­gine is what drives through time and space and the en­gine is what drives through cul­ture, im­per­vi­ous to fash­ion, im­per­vi­ous to in­cor­rect la­bels… ” Be­fore he can fin­ish the sen­tence, Sim­chowitz’s mo­bile rings, prompt­ing the gar­ru­lous en­tre­pre­neur to park both his metaphor and his au­to­mo­bile. “I’ve gotta take this, will get back to you in 30.” The fast drop is fab­u­lously LA — a land where ‘the sell’ is its own art and Sim­chowitz its dev­il­ish Duchamp-like shaker of the sta­tus quo. When the con­ver­sa­tion fi­nally re­sumes, Sim­chowitz shares his list of LA art lu­mi­nar­ies and his thoughts on their work. Read on... ››

“La­bels are a point of de­par­ture... they are the first step in the jour­ney that in­volves dis­course and crit­i­cal­ity”

Pe­tra Cor­tright She’s a rad­i­cal break­through artist who’s es­sen­tially us­ing the me­dia of digital to make ab­stract paint­ings. I don’t think her work is so much about iden­tity and gender, as many say it is. If there is any­thing about her that is fem­i­nist-agenda driven, it’s the fact that she com­petes head-on with the class of male artist work­ing in the same area. She kicks the arse of ev­ery male artist in her group­ing, with­out apol­ogy and with­out us­ing the crutch of gender or iden­tity politics. She is un­der­es­ti­mated, and she is go­ing to be the first fe­male artist in the world to lead a ‘meta’ move­ment — like the Andy Warhol of Pop or the Don­ald Judd of Minimalism. She is it! pe­tra­cor­tright.com

Marc Horowitz Marc is Pe­tra Cor­tright’s hus­band, and I met him through her. I wasn’t fa­mil­iar with his work, but as I got to know him, I dis­cov­ered this crazy world of mov­ing through Hol­ly­wood as a co­me­dian and per­for­mance artist — like his stint as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant on a [ US home fur­nish­ing giant] Crate&Bar­rel cat­a­logue. He wrote his name, a din­ner in­vi­ta­tion and a con­tact phone num­ber on a white­board [af­fixed to an ar­moire on one of the pages] and it went to print. They un­wit­tingly sent out 12 mil­lion copies of these things. He was fired from his job, but his phone started ring­ing off the hook. He trav­elled across the coun­try hav­ing break­fast, lunch and din­ner with all these peo­ple who got his de­tails from the cat­a­logue. He spent 15 years do­ing these crazy things, and then he started work­ing on pa­per and I said, “I think there is some­thing there; I want to work with you”. Cut to three years later: he’s had shows all over the world and ma­jor col­lec­tors col­lect his work. I call him the Will Fer­rell of the art world. He’s just launched his web­site; you click on a paint­ing and call a 1-800 num­ber to hear him talk about his work. 1833mar­cive.com

Kour Pour Now US-based, this Bri­tish-Ira­nian artist is deal­ing with the tra­jec­tory of cul­ture, trade and com­modi­ti­sa­tion as it flows through the Eastern and Western land­scape and art tra­di­tions. He is a hotch­potch of races and ge­ogra­phies. He asks why the post­war struc­ture of art is so rigid and non-in­clu­sive of the past, and he is do­ing it through the ob­jects of trade for profit — the Ira­nian rug, the Ja­pa­nese wood­block print — us­ing ex­tremely tra­di­tional tech­niques of prac­tice in a con­tem­po­rary at­mos­phere. He ques­tions the ef­fi­cacy, le­git­i­macy and hierarchy of art tra­di­tion and its to­tal­ity in defin­ing what con­tem­po­rary art is. I think he is a giant artist. kour­pour.com Joey Wolf When I met Joey Wolf, he was sleep­ing in his car, shar­ing a stu­dio and mak­ing these like-themed paint­ings — a bunch of guys drink­ing beer on the lawn at night, a bunch of guys go­ing to a pool party in Palm Springs and stay­ing at the cheap­est mo­tel, a bunch of guys pee­ing on the side of the road. It was a series of banal, ba­sic im­ages about the bland ex­pe­ri­ences of many Amer­i­can youth but painted with an ex­tra­or­di­nary pre­ci­sion and un­der­stand­ing of light, shadow, re­flec­tion, ori­en­ta­tion. He builds the sur­face of the paint­ing up into a thick im­pasto — some­times it protrudes an inch. The paint­ings are so time-con­sum­ing that for the last three years, he’s been non­stop in the stu­dio. I try not to sell the paint­ings be­cause I want to build a huge body of work so that when he ex­hibits, they show the full range of his scale. I think he is go­ing to be one of the most promis­ing painters of his gen­er­a­tion. @ joey­wolf_

Ster­ling Ruby Ster­ling Ruby comes out of the struc­ture of art school, where the god­fa­thers were Don­ald Judd — Minimalism, an al­most mil­i­tary­like for­mal­ism — and Mike Kel­ley, who ex­plores themes of con­quest, dream landscapes, films and fig­u­ra­tion. Ruby is try­ing to es­cape the shack­les of con­fine­ment of Don­ald Judd while re­spect­ing his aes­thetic laws and con­di­tions and bridg­ing them with the ideas of Mike Kel­ley. He’s trapped be­tween these two po­lar­i­ties while wrestling with the his­tory of post­war art. So his work is in con­flict with for­mal­ism, rigid­ity and the straight line, in re­la­tion­ship to ab­strac­tion, the an­i­mus and the in­ner spir­i­tual chaos of mankind. He is a giant artist, the­mat­i­cally dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand, sim­ple but com­plex, and he has a uni­fied aes­thetic lan­guage across a broad spec­trum of out­put. I think he is sim­ply the most im­por­tant artist to come out of California since Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari. gagosian.com/artists/ster­ling-ruby

Lazaros Lazaros is a young artist who prac­tices witch­craft. He is gnos­tic, es­o­teric, mys­tic. He makes spells for peo­ple, and his body is cov­ered in tat­toos. I chased him be­cause I bought this weird wood sculp­ture that I found in a small gallery. I went to an­other gallery and bought this weird glass jar filled with ob­jects sus­pended in oil. I ran­domly hap­pened to buy these wildly dif­fer­ent ob­jects by the same artist, so I in­ves­ti­gated fur­ther. He makes these spell jars. You go to him and say, “I need more love and clar­ity in my life”, and he makes the sculp­tural ob­ject and then makes the spell, so they be­come magic po­tions. I hope they work!

Sim­chowitz also cham­pi­ons the work of (from top) Joey Wolf and Lazaros.

from top: Ster­ling Ruby, Marc Horowitz.

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