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The Art Apartments 

Elk Gallery show at the Regency Hotel

Wednesday, Mar 7 2007
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If you see a security guard upon approaching, do not attempt to enter. Also keep in mind that you will have to climb two five-foot-high walls and that sensible shoes are recommended due to debris and other obstacles in the rooms. Another consideration is exposure to asbestos.The Regency does not have bathroom facilities, though that does not necessarily mean you can’t go to the bathroom there.

This wasn’t your average art-show invitation. But neither was last Sunday’s Elk Gallery your average exhibition. Organized by curator/writer/artist/publisher Jocko Weyland, it was held in the Regency Apartments, a dark, clay-green, midcentury former hotel complex renowned as the site where the actor Divine stayed the night he died, and now abandoned. The building itself sits on a sleepy part of Hollywood Boulevard, just before it winds up into Laurel Canyon. It is slated for demolition as soon as this week.

Weyland, an appealingly energetic man in his late 30s, says he moved to Los Angeles from New York in January in lieu of moving to Beijing. He is the author of The Answer Is Never: A Skateboarder’s History of the World and editor and publisher of the zine Elk as well as many books. Before leaving New York, he curated two shows, one in an old surf shop and one in an office building. He had been trying to get a gallery space in Culver City and nothing was working — yet.

“How about doing it at the Regency?” his friend Rick Charnoski suggested. Charnoski and Coan Nichols, both artists in the show, had been sneaking in to skate the empty swimming pool. Before the New Year, they say, some 25 squatters had taken up residency in the apartments, including an old actor who would recite Shakespeare from the balcony. But now the squatters were gone, thanks in part to the removal of a section of roof to expedite their departure. In its place, the verdant Hollywood Hills peeked out just above what used to be someone’s kitchen.

Artists were still installing work on Sunday past the show’s 1 p.m. opening time. They wore white masks to protect themselves from the beds of asbestos littering the apartment floors. “I just got the cheapest masks they had,” said Weyland. “I don’t think they really do anything.” Art hung everywhere among the debris. Across from the roofless section, Frank Grow, a friend of Weyland’s from their days at UCSD, was putting the finishing touches on a two-floor-length monster face and body made of discarded doors, chest drawers for eyes, and a shag carpet mouth, all painted baby blue.

In room after room, the remnants of past Regency tenants and squatters blended into the artists’ work, much of which stayed on theme — from John Hogan’s photographs of urban campers and Bill Daniel’s pictures of ’80s punk shows (strung from one end of a ripped-out room to the other) to stills from Doug Magnuson’s documentary film on the demise of the Ambassador Hotel, Objects Also Die.

By the end of the day, Daniel Pineda’s looping sound piece of skateboard and water noises was eventually drowned out as most of the show’s contributors and attendees ended up with their boards in the empty pool. The rest of the crowd watched or milled around, salvaging discarded photographs, building scraps and stems of jade plant to take home. When the police showed up almost exactly at 6 p.m., the time the show was scheduled to end, even they were drawn to the skateboarders: “You guys are lucky I just saw that movie Lords of Dogtown,” said one officer. Everyone left the same way they’d come in, by hopping the wall. Perhaps the Regency now was officially dead; but it sure had been a nice wake.

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