In the art world, Monika Sprueth and Philomene Magers are known as a complementary duo — a sort of Rizzoli & Isles when it comes to dealing blue-chip artists in their London and Berlin galleries. Sprueth is considered a genius at handling artists, and Magers brings a high level of business acumen.
The duo had a line around the courtyard when they celebrated the opening of their new L.A. gallery (in a 14,000-square-foot, two-level space on Wilshire Boulevard directly across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art) with an exhibition, running through April 9, of 16 new pieces of art by L.A. artist John Baldessari.
“It’s a coup. It’s quite a space and quite a location,” former Dodgers owner and LACMA trustee Jamie McCourt told The Hollywood Reporter while mingling in the upstairs gallery, a former ballet studio.
Baldessari’s new work continues a line of inquiry into juxtaposing images with incongruous text. Entertainment lawyer Alan Hergott and Curt Shepard stood admiring an image, for instance, that shows the head of a hippopotamus emerging from water above a caption that reads: “TOM’S HAND GRIPS THE STEERING WHEEL AS HE APPROACHES A GREEN LIGHT.” Hergott laughed as he took it in. “Love this one,” said Shepard.
Long a leading figure of the Southern California art world, the 84-year-old Baldessari began his career in the 1960s and has influenced generations of artists. One of his most enduring pieces, a repeated scrawling of the phrase “I will not make any more boring art” (1971) remains one of the most iconic pieces from the era of California Conceptualism. That work has been reproduced on the Wilshire-facing side of the Sprueth Magers building, which was built in 1970 by architect William Pereira.
Dozens of artists came out to the opening — Parker Ito, Barbara Kruger, Alexandre Singh, Allen Ruppersberg, Sterling Ruby and Joseph Kosuth among them — a testament to Baldessari’s impact on the L.A. arts community. Circulating around the offices, a cozy mix of Sprueth Magers artists’ work and female-designed midcentury-modern furniture was actor Udo Kier, who features prominently in one of Baldessari’s images.
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A 1969 Baldessari, “Commissioned Painting: A Painting by Edgar Transue,” sold at Adam Sender’s famous Sotheby’s auction in 2014 for more than $2.5 million. But the artist hadn’t had a gallery exhibition in L.A. since his representative gallerist, Margo Leavin, retired in 2012. Baldessari’s work is owned by mega-collectors like Charles Saatchi, ad executive Trey Laird, Audrey Irmas (widow of famed entertainment attorney Sydney M. Irmas), fashion designer Veronica Toub and Eli and Edythe Broad, who strolled around the gallery on Tuesday night, remarking that it was, indeed, a “very nice space.”
One gallerist noted the bevy of power collectors flowing through the doors. “Almost everyone has a Baldessari,” she said.
The opening of Sprueth Magers is the latest in a new inventory of L.A. galleries, both homegrown and transplanted. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will open March 13 in the Downtown Arts District, while New York galleries such as Maccarone, 356 Mission (co-owned by Gavin Brown) and Parrasch Heijnen have invaded Boyle Heights. Sprueth Magers represents many significant L.A. artists, among them Kaari Upson, Andrea Zittel, Lizzie Fitch, Analia Saban, Ed Ruscha, Stephen Prina, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Demand, Ryan Trecartin, Kenneth Anger and the estate of Craig Kauffman.
After the opening, the party moved over to the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where Sprueth and Magers hosted a dinner of wagyu-beef rib eyes and truffle fries by Wolfgang Puck, who entertained with his wife, Gelila Assefa. “The show is fabulous,” Assefa gushed to Bob Gersh. Magers’ speech was mercifully brief, and gallery director Sarah Watson — a Gagosian alum who will oversee day-to-day operations at the gallery with co-director Anna Helwing — came in for an assist.
Tracy Lew, a director at James Corcoran Gallery — a private gallery on the Westside — who works with several Sprueth Magers artists, attended the dinner. “Monika and Philomene are two of the best gallerists in the world,” she said. “They’re such incredibly positive forces. It’s an honor to have them here in L.A.”
After dinner, guests headed to collector and Jumex fruit-juice heir Eugenio Lopez’s modern pad in Beverly Hills, where guests danced and drank deep into the night.
It was surreal to walk through the front entryway, where a Baldessari painting hangs, and find Baldessari himself reclining on Lopez’s couch. “Of course I’m having fun,” said the artist. “It’s hard not to be excited to be able to show here again.”