Art Stars and Power Players Support CalArts' John Baldessari Building

Courtesy of CalArts/Getty Images
(from left) Tim Disney, Neda Disney, Jill Kraus and Peter Kraus

Kim Gordon, OWN vp Tina Perry support the legendary art school, which has ties to Disney, known for developing great artists with its acclaimed tough love program.

“We know a lot about educating at CalArts; we don’t know a lot about selling art,” said Steven D. Lavine, president of CalArts, during a brief speech at the school’s benefit exhibition and auction initiative launched at Regen Projects old space in West Hollywood. It couldn’t be a more honest assessment: California Institute of the Arts, colloquially called CalArts, is the Stradivari of art schools. Its faculty – often successful artists themselves – shape their students into articulate and critical artists, often eschewing even a notion of the business of art.

No matter; the theory is that that stuff comes later after the student becomes a good artist. In fact, the stringent program has molded some of the most accomplished artists working today. Exhibition host Regen Projects, for instance, is a high profile blue chip gallery that represents several CalArts alumni or former teachers. These artists, and a few dozen others donated works, 48 of which were sold outright during the exhibition (which will travel to New York galleries Paula Cooper and Metro Pictures in April) and on art platform Artsy. The other 34 pieces will be sold at a Christie’s auction on May 14.

The benefit proceeds go towards funding the John Baldessari Art Studio Building, the campus’ newest structure, which opened at the end of last year. The building was internally funded, though the benefit will help recoup some of the $3.1 million spent to erect the building, which will mostly be used as art studios for students. The rest of the proceeds from the sale and auction, expected to raise between $4 and $6 million, will also go towards establishing an endowment for scholarships to the school.

Baldessari is perhaps the most prominent figure in CalArts history, having studied at CalArts precursor Chouinard, and teaching a world famous “post-studio” art class from 1970 to 1986 (Chouinard and the L.A. Conservatory of Music merged to become CalArts in the 1960s at the behest of Walt Disney, who initially used the school as a feeder into the animation department at Disney). While there, he taught everyone from Mike Kelley to James Welling to David Salle. “The list of artists that John educated at CalArts adds up to a who’s who of who matters,” said Lavine. After the speech, Baldessari, who has become the elder statesman of the L.A. art scene in recent years, was seen with a glass of champagne, chatting about the state of the school with artist and Sonic Youth founder Kim Gordon, while artists Jim Shaw and Catherine Opie looked on. Across the room, alumni art stars Rodney McMillian and Mark Bradford shared a laugh with Thomas Lawson, an artist and dean of the School of Art at CalArts, while Eva and Michael Chow browsed the sale. Nearby, Tina Perry, senior vice president, head of business & legal affairs for OWN, was seen hobnobbing near CAA’s Thao Nguyen and Valérie Chapoulaud, president and CEO of the Americans for event co-sponsor Louis Vuitton.

Artist Kaari Upson, whose work “Denim 6-Pack” (2013), a confounding silicone cushion, was among the evening’s first works sold, graduated from CalArts’ MFA program in 2007. She praised the rigor that CalArts instilled in her practice from the start. “It was simultaneously the most challenging place, in terms of reading and theory, and the most relaxed, informal place,” she said. “I’m a high school dropout from San Bernardino, but I learned at CalArts that that was valuable. It was about who you really are. But first they would annihilate the shit out of your work in critiques to the point where you didn’t even know if you wanted to go on.”

The notion that you’ll get a difficult education is some of the magic that draws notable people to support CalArts, including benefit co-chairs Sofia Coppola and Ed Ruscha, neither of whom attended the benefit due to scheduling conflicts, and honorary committee members Eva Chow, Larry Gagosian, Neda and Tim Disney, Frank Gehry, Susan and Leonard Nimoy, and Michael Ovitz