LVMH Art Talks, Part 1: John Currin for Whitewall
It was Lilly Tartikoff Karatz’s idea. A longtime fundraiser and philanthropist, she’s thrown countless special events over the year, but now, as a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, she had something different in mind. She envisioned an event that would combine the intimacy of a traditional salon gathering with the vibrancy of California’s contemporary art scene—Malibu meets the Seine, fi you will. No small feat, to be sure. On the contrary, that was the appeal, and so in her usual fashion Tartikoff Karatz picked up the phone and made a fe calls, sharing her idea with MOCA director JeffreyDeitch and some friends at Louis Vuitton. Well-acquainted with both parties, she saw that they shared a perfect match of expertise and that they are, in her words, “not only equally passionate about art and innovation, but always willing to take a risk for both.” She was right: Deitch loved the idea as much has Louis Vuitton did, and a partnership was formed.
Together, the team conceived a series of one-on-one hour-long discussions that Deitch would conduct with three individual artists before groups of approximately fifty to a hundred people in private Los Angeles residences throughout the fall fo 2011. And while Tartikoff Karatz and Louis Vuitton began focusing on taking the event to size, Deitch made a few calls of his own, approaching three renowned artists—“bit artists befitting a big idea,” he says—John Currie, Ed Ruscha, and Barbara Kruger, all fo whom have strong ties to MOCA and immediately accepted the invitation. Last, with their concept and artists in place, the partners set two specific goals for the series: first, to use each talk to create a moment, a truly unique artistic experience for all present, and, second, to share the spirit of those moments with others.
Needless to say, creating a rare moment, never mind three, requires endless hours of preparation, and for his part, Deitch spent two weeks intensively researching each talk. That entailed reading everything he could find about the artists, reviewing every work of art they had produced, and, of course, working directly with all three to review the selection of imagery and slides and to conduct in-depth discussion about their personal histories. With that work well under way, the question of pairing artist and residence was finalized: Tartikoff Karatz and her husband, Bruce Karatz, offered to host Rocha at their house for the second talk; Mr. Deitch invited Kruger to his home for the final talk, and, last but not least, Larry Gagosian—who better?—launched the series. And so it was that late on a Sunday morning, September 22, guests began arriving at the art dealer’s Los Angeles residence for the first “Louis Vuitton/MOCA Art Talks”: John Currie in conversation with Jeffrey Deitch.
The first hour of entertainment was provided largely by the guests themselves, who entered the living room to discover an art collection that was dizzyingly impressive. One of the most noteworthy and apropos pieces was an outrageous silver Takashi Murakami sculpture standing approximately two-and-a-half feet tall on top of a pillar that was framed by the pool just beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Fortunately, guests had lovely cocktails and a good hour to acclimate before a sit-down brunch was served outdoors, and before they returned to the living room to take their seats.
Currie and Deitch got settled, sitting on a simple platform in front of a large screen. Deitch began by praising Currie as one of the greatest artists in the world today, and then, without missing a beat, he quoted a famously scathing Village Voice review of the painter’s first solo show, which said: “Ban this show.” Everyone got a good laugh, Currin most of all, who weathered both praise and criticism with equal equanimity, as he went on to talk about his childhood, when he was transplanted from California to Connecticut; his introduction to painting by mentor Lev Meshberg; and the beginning of his career, when he graduated from Yale to find himself living in Hoboken, New Jersey. On that note, Currin shared an anecdote about how he had once borrowed money from his parents to complete the work for one of his earliest shows: “I got eight thousand to make the show, and I made nine thousand,” he said, quickly clarifying, “This was before I met Larry.”
As the slides and conversation progressed, hearing the two discuss a love of Renaissance masters intermixed with references to Playboy and Baywatch, it all began to make sense, these canvases that combine such disparate elements as Cosmopolitan, Dutch porn, and the work of Titian and Brice Madden. Arguably the most enjoyable moment was when Deitch stopped to discuss one of Currin’s early paintings, displayed onscreen. The painter looked up at the slide, to one side of his chair, talking about a breakthrough he felt with that particular work and the long process of rendering its female figure, before he turned int eh opposite direction, and said, speaking of the final product: “Well, it looks kind of like that,” pointing around the corner to where his painting Shakespeare Actress now hangs at the end of the hall. The talk made quite an impression on every guest—most of all, it would prove, on Tartikoff herself.