THE HAMMER MUSEUM is currently presenting “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989,” the first museum survey of the Los Angeles-based artist’s early work. The exhibition originated at the Studio Museum in Harlem and includes some rare works, previously presumed to be lost, being shown for the first time. The work of Charles Gaines has been acquired by major museums and important collectors. By any measure, he has had a successful career with wide-reaching economic bearing beyond his practice.
“Both the critical success and the financial success that Charles has received has had a huge impact not only on his career but on the whole art economy surrounding his career. He has been able to rent a much larger studio, hire assistants and these assistants can finance their own beginning art careers,” says dealer Susanne Vielmetter, who represents Gaines, in the above video. “It also has a positive impact on the gallery and then of course crate builders, framers, photographers.”
THE OTIS COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN in Los Angeles is engaging in groundbreaking research examining the intersection of art and commerce, as exemplified by Gaines’s practice. Since 2007, Otis has been reporting on the economic impact of creativity in the Los Angeles region, quantifying how the art, design and entertainment industries have influenced employment and the bottom line in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The 2014 Otis Report on the Creative Economy was released last month. According to the report (based on 2013 data), the creative industry’s output in the LA region is $140 billion; the industry is responsible for 695,100 jobs in the region; 1 in 7 jobs in Los Angeles County are creative based; and 40 percent of California’s creative economy workers are in the Los Angeles region.
In terms of visual art, the Otis report states that LA-region art galleries contributed $93 million and 1,200 jobs to the economy. Its examination of museums is captured in a broad category of Visual and Performing Arts that also includes dance and theater companies and music and performing arts venues that together accounted for $8.2 billion and 57,600 jobs in 2013.
The Otis report states that LA-region art galleries contributed $93 million and 1,200 jobs to the economy.
LOS ANGELES HAS BECOME a bonafide art capital with world-renowned museums, important artists, cholars and curators, a respected cadre of galleries and collectors, the Art Los Angeles Contemporary art fair, Paris Photo Los Angeles, and Made in L.A., the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition. Many critically recognized African American artists live and work in the LA-region including Gaines, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Mark Bradford, Artis Lane, Samella Lewis, Betye Saar, Martine Syms, Henry Taylor and Brenna Youngblood.
The powerful and historic presence of black artists and their social and political impact on the city and the African American community was documented in the exhibition “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980.”
And Otis has had a storied impact on African American artists in their early development. Charles White was an instructor at Otis from the mid-1960s until he died in 1979. White taught David Hammons (1972) and Kerry James Marshall (1978). Los Angeles-based artist Alison Saar (1981, MFA) is also an alum of Otis.
To give real meaning to the statistics in the Otis report and bring its findings to life, an hourlong television program about the creative economy and a series of videos were produced. The above video focuses on visual art, explaining how the successful practice of Gaines has benefited the creative ecosystem around him.
The Otis College video features Gaines, Vielmetter and curator Franklin Sirmans of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
GAINES MAKES PHOTOGRAPHS, drawings and works on paper plotted out on grids. A conceptual artist who emerged during the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s, his investigations of series and systems, cognition and language stood askew against the radical and representational gestures of his counterparts.
“I was converting real things in the world into numbers. A kind of early effort to theorize digital content at the time when nobody knew what digital content meant,” says Gaines, who has been teaching at the California Institute of the Arts since 1989.
“What I was doing that was different from conceptual artists was that I was re-investigating representation. I was exploring issues that were core to women and black artists through the language of conceptualism but didn’t look like work done by a black artist.”
“I was exploring issues that were core to women and black artists through the language of conceptualism but didn’t look like work done by a black artist.” — Charles Gaines
“THE MARKET IS INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT for an artist to provide a financial footing to run a large studio to produce work and to really have the work grow. We as gallerists provide a situation where the artist is protected from market up and downs. We are involved in every step of the artist’s career. Both the reputation of the gallery and the careers of the artists grow together,” says Vielmetter.
“We as gallerists provide a situation where the artist is protected from market up and downs. We are involved in every step of the artist’s career. Both the reputation of the gallery and the careers of the artists grow together.” — Susanne Vielmetter
“Charles had a very important career in the 70s and early 80s and then the art market crashed. When I picked him up he barely had a studio. There was very little output. So we did a show. It was very well received and then he was invited in the Venice Biennale and we have been doing well ever since.”
She continues: “What we do in the gallery has a farther reaching affect on what culture everyone experiences because very often what you see in a museum has been shown in galleries first. The museum acquisitions are the most important acquisitions we can secure for an artist. An important milestone in Charles’s career was when LACMA acquired work.”
LACMA curator Franklin Sirmans says, “In a broad scheme, we believe in Charles and his work and what it means to other artists and other museum collections. What it means to the history of art. And so acquiring this piece [“Trisha Brown Dance, Set 3,” 1980-81] is a testament to its importance.”
This symbiotic relationship didn’t always exist in Los Angeles.
“It used to be that the major museums in the 90s were very often acquiring works from New York galleries and it really meant for artists, if they wanted to have a major career, they had to live and work in New York and all of this has in the most dramtic ways changed in the last 10 years,” says Vielmetter.
INTERESTINGLY, THIS MICRO EXAMPLE of the ways in which galleries may influence museum exhibitions and how museum acquisitions influence an artist’s market value, therefore positively churning the local economy, can go awry when opportunities to participate in the cycle are limited to a few select players.
Earlier this month, The Art Newspaper reported that between 2007 and 2013 among 300 exhibitions at 68 museums, nearly one third of U.S. solo shows featured artists represented by just five major galleries—Pace, Gagosian, David Zwirner, Marian Goodman and Hauser & Wirth. The results of the paper’s research raise serious questions about diversity and the factors driving and influencing museum programming nationwide.
Last year, the Otis report expanded its reach to include an assessment of the economic impact of creativity on the entire state of California. The statewide findings are being presented before the Joint Committee for the Arts in Sacramento on April 15. CT
“Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989” was published to coincide with the exhibition. To explore the historic influence of artists such as David Hammons, John Outterbridge, Betye Saar and Charles White on the city’s art scene, check out “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980.”