By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
AN ISSUE WORTH REVISITING
Thank you for Ben Ehrenreich’s article “Afghanistan Revisited” [October 3–9]. Working as a volunteer for Afghan Women’s Mission, I know most people I come in contact with believe — since they don’t see coverage to show them otherwise — that Afghanistan is “liberated” and that there is peace in that country. Thank you for also printing the story in the issue which fell on the second anniversary of the bombing in Afghanistan. It was the most comprehensive piece done that week.
—Heather Schreck Hollywood
Kristine McKenna’s cover story on Doug Chrismas [“The Ace Is Wild,” October 10–16] was rich, especially for its curious dismissal of his importance as a presenter of contemporary art. Her exposé sang with moral indignation over Chrismas’ financial dealings, but I wonder why any sense of humor or awe about this colorful character was so absent. Her fervor seems peculiar since Chrismas’ (and McKenna’s) industry — the contemporary-art business — is nothing if not riddled with seamless hustlers.
Yes, Doug Chrismas is apparently a compulsive debtor and, as far as his interest in gallery-empire building goes, a compulsive spender. Yes, his financial unaccountability is infuriating for his artists. Chrismas’ tendency to financial manipulation, however, seems more than outweighed by his commitment to the art and to the craft of presentation. In fact, Doug Chrismas has been a crucial enrichment of the art-viewing world for Angelenos and elsewhere. It’s also worth noting that in spite of their hair-pulling over getting paid, a roster of quality artists — including Tim Hawkinson, David Amico, Charles Fine, Mary Corse — remain with Ace. That these talented individuals choose to work with Chrismas says a lot. That McKenna chose not to quote any of them also says a lot.
McKenna takes pleasure in pointing out the grandiosity of Chrismas’ imprudent amassing and development of ever more leased gallery space. However, the recent brilliant Sam Francis show proved that he was exactly right in taking a space with higher ceilings, especially for the one non-edge painting, a glorious 26-foot-by-17-foot work. Where else would the art-loving public have seen that work? And it is precisely because of the size and spectacle of Ace Gallery that it is rendered important enough to attract excellent work by important artists such as Keith Sonnier, James Turrell, Jannis Kounellis and the brilliant large-format photographic prints of Hans Christian Schenk.
McKenna goes on to imply that Chrismas’ spaces are unavailable to female artists. Besides Corse, whose consistent, great work is certain to stand the test of time, McKenna ignored the single most critically praised artist of the last season, Tara Donovan. In a world unreasonably favoring male artists, Chrismas is certainly no worse than any other major dealer in this regard. Ace has, in fact, shown an interesting series of female artists, including China Adams, Patty Chang, Sylvie Fleurie and Teresa Margolies.
Certainly Doug Chrismas is a dreamy, irascible, sometimes brutally difficult character. But his dealings are the business of those who choose to be in business with him. For those of us who view the art (and, I should think, for those who write about it), Doug Chrismas and the Ace Gallery provide lovely, joyous experiences without costing the taxpayer a dime.
—Timothy Ford Hollywood
Having worked for Doug Chrismas for three years in the 1970s, I found Kristine McKenna’s article on him quite interesting. Indeed, those seminal exhibitions by Serra, Heizer et al. were sparsely attended by the general public — not for any good reason except that that Ace Venice was a bit out of the loop for the typical art follower. (By the way, contrary to McKenna’s piece, Serra’s Delineator was at 72 Market, not the Windward gallery, and, while I’m at it, the “uptown” space was at 811 N. La Cienega, not 736.) There were regular visitors, however, and they included Larry Gagosian in his Broxton print-shoppe/bad-haircut period (I always associate his becoming a Big Time Dealer with finding a new barber), the usual gaggle of art writers, and an array of homeless people, who often spent the longest time looking at the exhibitions.
I have to say that, during my tenure as Gallery Gal, I wrote out the checks and, to my knowledge, never bounced any. I’m glad to have missed the litigation fest that followed, though I always associated it not so much with Doug double-selling work to collectors as having gotten caught up in an acquisition mania that necessitated using artwork earmarked for sale as collateral for real-estate and other loans. I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of the man, though beyond the art-fascist persona he could be a bit provincial. (He persisted, in those days, in calling Eli Broad “Ellie.”) And it was not Doug who refused to pay off the Warhol drawing–nappers but me. Doug gave me the cash fully expecting it to be collected, then dispatched me to the den of thieves. I didn’t relish being a bag man, and I think I said as much. I don’t remember the subtext of our conversation, but it was probably something like, “Linda, it’s better for you to get killed than me.” It beat Windexing the counters, so I dutifully drove to Levin’s downscale Wilshire Boulevard offices.
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