UTA Inaugurates New Artist Space With Larry Clark Exhibit

MOCA director Philippe Vergne - UTA Fine Arts head Josh Roth and artist Larry Clark - H - 2016
Courtesy of UTA

The 'Kids' director recalls kidnapping actor Brad Renfro to get him off drugs before 2001's 'Bully.'

Not completely unexpected from the man who directed Kids, sex, drugs and rock 'n’ roll could have been the phrase of the day at the christening of UTA Fine Arts’ new 4,500-square-foot space in Boyle Heights on Saturday. Through Oct. 29, a survey of 50 works from Larry Clark’s career covering the bored debauchery of youth includes never-before-seen black-and-white photos of teens in the early '60s shooting heroin and having sex, as well as photos from Tulsa, Okla., a few years later, where they’re doing the same. Also included are 2014’s set of eight large-scale abstract canvases entitled "Heroin," painted as Clark was recovering from back surgery.

“The initiative to get into the art business was as a way to continue to extend the platform and the kind of artists that we work with,” UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer told The Hollywood Reporter of the agency’s fine arts division, launched in February 2015 with Josh Roth in charge. Since then, the agency has put together exhibits with artist Larry Bell and client Kanye West, among others. “The great thing about going into an area where there’s not a strong existing pattern is you get to make it up as you go along," said Zimmer.

Central to the Clark exhibit are three collages, each featuring actor Brad Renfro. “Out of a thousand junkies and alcoholics I knew, he was the worst,” said Clark, himself an addict who’s been in recovery since 1998. “When he made The Client, he was 11 years old. He used to break into the crews’ hotel rooms when they’re not there and steal all the mini bottles in the fridge and drink them all.”

Clark knew Renfro was a substance abuser but cast him anyway as Marty Puccio, a teen surfer, athletic and fit, in his 2001 movie, Bully. With the crew waiting to begin production in Florida, Clark drove from New York to Renfro’s grandmother’s home in Knoxville, Tenn., where he was greeted by the actor, shirtless, blood streaming down each arm. “He says, Larry, I f—ed up. It’s my birthday. I’ve been shooting coke.”

Taken over three days while Clark lived with Renfro, the photos in the collage show the 18-year-old actor stumbling around in his skivvies and shooting up in a pigsty room. Finally, Clark asked Renfro where he could get a good cup of coffee. Renfro put on a pair of jeans and a filthy T-shirt and got in the director's car with him. “I locked the door and I gunned it to Florida. I kidnapped him,” Clark recalled, adding that Renfro suffered seizures, passing in and out of consciousness on the long drive south with no drugs.

Once he was clean, they got him a trainer and production went smoothly until one night the actor went AWOL from his hotel room and scored some drugs before taking a yacht for a joyride in a much-published incident. “Went to jail, and we lost two days of shooting. I went down and bailed him out with $6,000 in my sock,” Clark said.

"I want a baby before u die," a mixed-media collage, features the front page of the Los Angeles Times from Dec. 23, 2005, with a headline reading: “Skid Row Drug Sting Nets 14.” Below it is a photo of Renfro being carted away. He died from an overdose three years later at the age of 25. “Brad was a good friend and I kept in contact with him through the years," Clark recalled. "And every time he was in California we had lunch.”

Looking around the gallery, the director and artist sees that most of the people in his photos are long gone. He points out the exception, a blackened room where a copy of his rarely-seen 16mm movie, Tulsa, from 1968, plays in a loop, bringing them back to life for awhile.

The work is in keeping with UTA’s mission for the space, which the agency insists is not a gallery. The hope is to bring artists from multiple disciplines — performance, music, dance — to use the space as a platform to explore. “Once the clients realized this was something they could utilize, this kind of resource, they became excited about it,” said Zimmer, who wouldn't reveal who might be lined up from a client roster that includes A-listers like Angelina Jolie, Channing Tatum and Harrison Ford. “We’re trying to add value to the client and add value to the community. And I’m sure we’re going to figure out how to make a few dollars along the way.”