One of two blue chip European galleries to open Los Angeles outposts this year, Sprüth Magers broadens and deepens the local art scene with the exacting curatorial orientation of its program, one driven by a distinctive European aesthetic and feminist point of view. Sprüth Magers evolved as a counterpoint to the male-dominated contemporary art milieu of Cologne in the 1980s. Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers joined forces there in 1998. The gallery currently has locations in Berlin and London, with its home office still in Cologne.
Even five years ago the choice of LA, rather than New York, as Sprüth Magers’ American outpost might have seemed surprising. Today, LA’s commercial art scene is exploding. An LA location is especially logical for Sprüth Magers, considering its existing deep ties with the city. The gallery’s roster, mostly of established and mid-career artists, includes many Los Angeles luminaries, some of whom have not had local representation for quite a while. John Baldessari, whom Sprüth Magers has represented for some 30 years, lost his local gallery when Margo Leavin closed in 2012.
As such, coming to Los Angeles seemed like a natural move to the European duo. “We have been traveling to LA since the gallery opened (as Monika Sprüth) in 1983, and the decision to open a gallery here grew over many years whilst seeing the city and the contemporary art scene develop,” Sprüth said in an email interview. “We experienced the city together with our artists, as many of them live here, like John Baldessari, Lizzie Fitch / Ryan Trecartin, Barbara Kruger, Analia Saban, Sterling Ruby and Ed Ruscha. It feels like the right moment to open a space in Los Angeles now.”
Located in the Miracle Mile District, opposite the Los Angeles County Museum of Art campus, the new gallery occupies an airy two-story 14,000 square foot space flooded with ambient light. The location was a strategic choice, not only because it’s right on Museum Row. There’s also the provenance of the building in which it is housed. “The building represents an LA aesthetic,” said Sprüth. “Our gallery is located in a midcentury space designed by West Coast architects Pereira & Associates, directly across from LACMA. We were looking for an interesting architectural space with an identity, and found it in a great neighborhood.”
The inaugural exhibit, courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, featured a recent series of storyboard paintings by Baldessari. The works seem thematically fitting for the gallery’s LA launch because of their subtle connection to the world of filmmaking and the perceived hedonistic LA lifestyle. In the paintings, the artist combined found photographs of subjects at leisure with incongruous lines of text extrapolated from film scripts. The captions seem to have been paired arbitrarily with the images. Ben’s Jacket Drapes… (2015, varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint, 70 7/8 x 54 5/8 x 1 5/8 inches), presents the rear view of a female figure reclining on a chaise longue, facing a body of water that meets a distant tree-lined horizon. Below the image is the caption—a non-sequitur in all caps—“Ben’s jacket drapes perfectly over his shoulders.” On top of the photographs, the artist painted bold sections of rugged color, adding planes of contrast and texture. The overall effect, quintessential Baldessari, is playful, wittily tongue-in-cheek, in a characteristic not heavy-handed way, poking fun at the sybaritic lifestyle associated with Southern California.
Launching with Baldessari made sense. At 84, the artist is a revered icon of the LA art community. “It felt natural to debut with John,” said Magers. “He has been so influential on so many of us. He is special.”
In the coming months, the gallery’s Los Angeles program will branch off in new directions. Following the Baldessari launch is the first LA exhibit by New York artist George Condo in more than 15 years. In June, the gallery digs into its feminist roots with an exhibition entitled, Eau de Cologne, borrowed from the name of Sprüth’s 1980s art zine, in which she focused on female artists. The all-female group show will feature works by Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel.
While the gallery offers a home base for its local artists, the partners also intend to give their European artists exposure to a new audience. “We’ll bring the artists from our program to LA, not focusing on, but including LA artists. It is important to us to show the range of artists and we are excited to give the U.S. audience the opportunity, as we feel warmly welcomed in LA,” Sprüth said.