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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Franklin Melendez reports from Los Angeles Art Weekend...

Turns out Los Angeles is more than the glittery backdrop of The Hills; there's at least more on its cultural radar than Spencer and Heidi's cinematic spats on the stairwells of Area. Tucked away in the L.A. basin's massive sprawl is an ever-expanding art and fashion scene that's transforming the land of wayward starlets into a veritable cultural epicenter, helped along with the second annual Los Angeles Art Weekend—a festival of art-related events, exhibits and soirees.

The weekend kicked off with an East Coast seal of approval when fashion mecca Opening Ceremony celebrated its West Coast location with the addition of a second floor, an homage to the Southland's most venerable and ubiquitous landmark: the mini-mall, with in-store shops from Acne, Topshop, Mayle and Nom de Guerre, as well as the boutique's eponymous line. Sporting a rereleased Maui & Sons surf tee, co-owner Humberto Leon explained, “It's something we always wanted to do as part of the original concept of the store. We wanted to showcase our selections with a multi-level, multi-label store. It's a different way of looking at the traditional department store.” Definitely cooler than the Beverly Center, yet still living up to that lovable adage from Clueless—Cher: "I have direction,” Josh: “Yeah, to the mall.”

left: Vogue editor Lawren Howell, designer Katy Rodriguez, Jeremy Scott, Katy's partner Mark Haddaway
right: photographer Vivan Joyner, artist Agathe Snow

Despite its modest La Cienega location, Opening Ceremony has proven to be quite a draw for celebrities, who are notoriously skittish of venturing east of Robertson. The mini-mall launch party was no exception, with a crowd as hand-picked as the store's designer offerings. Jason Schwartzman, demure in glasses, cracked jokes in the back with East Coast fixture Leo Fitzpatrick. Flavie, from neighboring boutique Scout, browsed the Acne offerings, while the Nom de Guerre boys held court in their section, trading nautical tales. The bubbly flowed, with treats provided by Humberto's caterer-extraordinaire mom. New York’s DJ Kingdom waited in the hallway, ready to ambush the egg rolls, while a reveling Jeremy Scott summed things up: “I think it looks amazing! All the super cool kids love it, and all the tabloid sluts love it. I know Lindsay loves it! So you know they should be set!” A truth for the ages.

The intimate in-store reception was followed by a proper bash on Friday night at the Echoplex, in the heart of Echo Park. As expected, madness abounded with a line trailing around the corner, calling to mind the barricades scene from Les Miserables. But before we could launch into an impromptu rendition of “One Day More,” we were rescued, deus ex machina-style, and ushered inside. The trilby-wearing crowd was bouncing along to tunes by Benjamin Cho, as Angeleno designer Brian Lichtenberg, resembling a woodland nymph en route to aerobics class, danced with New York transplant and photographer Brandon Herman. Thanks to an overzealous Voguer with an impressive arm span (weeerk, indeed), I receive a fan-related injury on the dance floor. The rest is a day-glo blur.

Saturday came, which meant it was time for some serious art observing. Or at least something more conceptual, as we started the day with a brunch hosted by Maison Martin Margiela in Beverly Hills. Everyone, it seemed, had received a secret memo to don their L’Incognito sunglasses. I felt naked and defenseless in my Dior Homme aviators, plagued by a gnawing feeling of démodé. The scene inside could best be described as a restrained fembot convention, complete with lab-coated attendants and suitably rigorous cube-shaped hors d'oeuvres. Whitney Museum curator Shamin Momin lounged leisurely with Biennial artist Drew Heitzler. I inquired about her weekend itinerary, but her glowing tan already spoke volumes: “I'm heading back to the beach, yo. And you can quote me on that.” Fair enough. As if to punctuate the point, Visionaire's Cecilia Dean arrived casually at the last minute in linen cargo pants, flip flops and luxurious beach hair.

The festivities continued closer to the shore, on the ever-expanding strip of galleries on La Cienega, near Venice. Kim Light gallery presented a group show featuring Deitch gallery director Kathy Grayson, whose paintings make me swoon. And it seemed Kathy brought along most of the Lower East Side, ever so cool as they hung around outside taking in tacos and cigarettes, a feat of hand-eye coordination. A few doors down, one of Margiela's fembots guarded the door of the Honor Fraser gallery, where the former model was presenting the work of Andre Ethier, most notably a series of miniature clay dioramas that resembled Gumby gone feral.

The final destination was the opening of Royal/T, touted as the first “maid café” in the U.S. I'm still not quite sure what that means, but model/actress Leila Yavari may have put it best when she described it to me as “Colette with a Japanese fetish in Culver City.” The large space featured an exhibit called Just Love Me, which explored the idea of cuteness, a somewhat devious premise that unfolded into an impressive collection of works by major artists including John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage, Mike Kelley, Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami. The scene was a bit surreal as tiny Lolitas pranced about with trays full of goodies (candy, buttons, champagne, art catalogs). And yet, it felt appropriate for Los Angeles and its unapologetic mix of high-culture and Hollywood camp. And as the exhibit showed, surface is anything but shallow.

—Franklin Melendez

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