As he was preparing to take the reins at Céline this season, Hedi Slimane worked with GARAGE to develop an eclectic list of thirteen Los Angeles-based artists, each of whom represents, as writer Kevin McGarry argues below, only one facet of LA's kaleidoscopic creative landscape. Slimane visited nearly all of the artists in their studios for the portfolio that runs below.
Isolation, whether due to traffic, canyons or bizarre self-care regimens, is often thought of as the Achilles’ heel of life in Los Angeles. For artists, however, it’s a secret weapon. The transformation of the city into an artist’s mecca may ultimately squelch the dream of LA as a chiller, cheaper haven—the barrier to entry has already become prohibitively high for most—but it has also highlighted what an anomaly the city is. LA offers the freedom to bite into the pulsing art world one week and to retreat into solitude the next. People are refreshingly unconcerned with what others are doing—or making. To declare some abiding theme or singular movement among LA artists—apart from the notion that they are all living in a rapidly evolving conurbation on the edge of the world, perhaps at the end of the world—would simply be fake news.
You can trace LA’s evolution from “node” to “hub” on the international art circuit back to 2012. That year, the inaugural Pacific Standard Time initiative traced the mythology of Southern California’s art scene across 60 institutions in the region, introducing it to mass culture. A few months later, Shaun Regen reopened her homegrown gallery Regen Projects in a landmark building at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue, setting off a chain reaction of other openings that has rendered a particular strip of Hollywood something almost unthinkable in LA: it’s walkable.
Flash-forward to 2018 and LA feels like a wholly different city. The intervening years have seen lavish openings for a succession of ante-upping private museums and blue-chip galleries. Art became a protagonist of the city’s urban development, drawn out of the shadows of erudition and into the limelight of the entertainment world—for better or worse. Artists can no longer afford not to develop themselves as businesses. But at the same time, LA has developed a paradoxical quality uniquely its own: it’s a perfect place to drop out and plug in at the same time. Come to think of it, maybe it always was? I wouldn’t know, I moved here when Williamsburg got to be too much.
American Timo Fahler refashions found objects into formalist collages and paintings, shaped by hidden personal narratives. Inspired by his Chicano heritage, Fahler’s work examines recycling as an aesthetic and cultural practice, questioning the qualification of objects as waste by refiguring them as abstract compositions.
Rafa Esparza is known for installations of adobe bricks that he makes, in collaboration with his father and others, using clay, straw, horse dung, and water from the Los Angeles River; the banks of the river serve as his de facto studio. By siting these works in museums and galleries, Esparza reflects on the intersection of indigenous and Western cultural production.
In her striking large-scale collages, Kandis Williams draws on personal experience and reflects on culture at large to investigate issues around nationalism and racism, eroticism, and identity. Building visual structure through repetition, Williams meditates on the reinforcement of social roles, especially as they relate to representations of the female body.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Awol Erizku’s work challenges art history’s Eurocentric canon with its focus on portraiture of black subjects and references to African-American history. Best known for shooting Beyoncé’s pregnancy portrait, he has also produced virtuoso photographs that recast works by Vermeer, Caravaggio, and Ingres with black protagonists.
French-born painter Claire Tabouret depicts historically allusive scenes and landscapes in a subdued, earthy palette, punctuated with bright dashes of color, rendered in thick, loose brushstrokes. In her portraits of female subjects, smudges of fuchsia, lavender, and orange float over eyelids and lips, evoking hastily applied makeup.
J. Patrick Walsh, more often known as JPW3, works in sculpture, printmaking, and sometimes performance, transforming found objects and substances into raw materials for art. His works tend to be densely layered, with colorful and highly textured surfaces that suggest an interest in pop art and its offshoots.
New York–born Math Bass was known primarily for performance before she turned to painting and sculpture. Her precisely composed canvases, often paired with architecturally inspired sculptures, constitute a lexicon of recurring forms—alligator jaws, cigarettes, and flowers—that follow an arcane logic, at once playful and subtly evasive.
Self-described "conceptual entrepreneur" Martine Syms explores representations of black and queer identity through performance, video, writing, and other media, making savvy use of the internet to test out her ideas. Her multimedia project at MoMA this year explored blackness, narrative, and surveillance. In 2013, she published The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto, calling on black diasporic artists to establish a more future-facing aesthetic movement for antiracism.
San Francisco–born Buck Ellison, a graduate of Frankfurt’s Städelschule, depicts the exclusive world of white American privilege in photographs that hinge on a critical ambivalence. Sourcing every costume and prop in collaboration with professional set designers, Ellison focuses on the subtle contradictions inherent in a life of metropolitan comfort.
Max Hooper Schneider applies a background in landscape architecture and biology to making sculptures and installations that imagine a world without humans. His staged ecosystems entangle animals, plants, and natural materials with man-made artifacts: neon lights, treadmills, vitrines, and cherry-shaped candies. These post-Anthropocene configurations of nature and machine suggest the absence of human mediation.
Canadian-born sculptor Lukas Geronimas wields his considerable skills as a woodworker and draftsman to carve, reshape, and remake existing objects, placing equal importance on framing and support. Incorporating ordinary construction materials into furniture-like forms, Geronimas makes works that appear outwardly simple but often incorporate unexpected juxtapositions and details.
Delfin Finley, born in Los Angeles, paints emotionally resonant portraits of black subjects, a group that has included Tyler, the Creator. The figures in his paintings often deflect the viewer’s gaze by glancing down or to the side, or by facing away. Finley’s work addresses the violence of racism, and his portraits evoke a sense of both unguarded intimacy and tension.
The sculptures and photographs of Los Angeles native Kelly Akashi give lasting form to the fragile and fleeting. Crumbling cast-bronze hands, tendril-like wax candles, and delicate glassworks capture the vulnerability of the physical world to the effects of time and atmosphere, their organic forms lending each object an implacable animacy.