@JackSkelley read and get back to me #KeepArtElite RT @LAWeekly Hammer Museum's experiment in art-world democracy http://t.co/cA88Bbdm
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"The day they installed it, I looked at it and I went, 'Holy shit, that's what I want to do,' " he says. "It's almost juvenile. 'This is cool.' 'I like the way it looks.' 'My God, that is beautiful.' "
He sold everything else and zeroed in on New York and California minimalism from the 1960s and '70s — a narrow spectrum that makes his collection unique. His house is littered with works: two neon tubes by Dan Flavin, one red, one green, are next to a ground-floor bathroom. A bulbous oval of pink and orange by Craig Kauffman hangs above a few MTV Video Music Awards on the mantle.
Mohn is a fan of James Turrell, an artist known for his skyspaces — enclosed spaces open to the air through a hole in the roof, with colored lights shining on walls and the outsides of the ceiling. Turrell made one for Mohn in the form of a stunning private movie theater. It has a retractable roof, and the screen seems to float a few inches from the wall. At sunset, Mohn has friends over to watch the lights shining on the walls slowly change colors, contrasting with the hole in the roof as it fades from blue to black.
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Like many collectors, Mohn and his wife began donating to local museums through their foundation, writing the checks and dressing up for the galas. But "it didn't feel right," he says. He wanted to do something more personal.
That's when his entertainment-executive brain kicked in. They would fund projects that "leverage the money so that it's much, much different than if I were to just write a check for the same amount," he says. "It's being creative."
One of those projects was LACMA's rock. When, after planning the project for four decades, artist Michael Heizer finally found the boulder for Levitated Mass, he called LACMA director Michael Govan and urged him to buy it before it was destroyed. Govan wondered who would be crazy enough to fund such a thing — so he called Mohn.
Other donors eventually gave more than Mohn did, but he gave enough early on that the museum had to go through with it. "We got them pregnant," Mohn says.
The publicity around the work has helped leverage its $10 million cost into something monumental — a reward that's intangible but far more valuable. Similarly, the Mohn Award is a way to get people talking about "Made in L.A.," to look at art in a different way, just as the Oscars get people arguing about movies.
"Is it a bit of a trick?" Mohn says. "Yes, it's a trick to get people to think, and I don't think that's a bad thing."
Part of Mohn's mission is to make art more accessible, to show people it's OK to have opinions. "Even as a collector, I walk into a gallery in New York that I don't have a relationship with and the gallerina that's 22 years old, sitting at the front desk, who just got out of art school, if she doesn't look up and smile at me, I'm, like, 'Wow, maybe I shouldn't be here,' " he says.
"It's like my indie band's cooler than yours because my indie band, only three people have heard about it, and your indie band, 10 people know. There's this whole thing in the art world that I think is really not conducive to openness and bringing people in."
And the finalists picked by the Hammer jury were certain to provoke opinions. "It even took my breath away," he says. "The people that come in to vote aren't going, 'Oh, that's so pretty; let's vote for that.' ... They're going to have to think about it. Sorry."
After "Made in L.A." opened on June 2, the art world continued to raise objections to the award. A group of artists from the show met a few times on the lawn at Barnsdall Art Center as a gesture toward community and to commiserate about the award. Performance artist Simone Forti also was there, agreeing with the group; she was later slightly embarrassed to find out she had been named a finalist.
But people also were curious about who would win this thing. Before the jury picked the finalists, a group that included Eric Kim, co-director of alternative space Human Resources, went to dinner one night and decided to create the Mohn Games. It was, in part, an artistic response to their anxiety over the spectacle of the prize, as its poster showed dice, bling and a bow and arrow, à la The Hunger Games. But it was also a legitimate betting pool to predict who would win the award, attracting around 100 entries at $5 each. When Mohn heard about it, he got so excited that he threw in another $500 just for fun.
Liz Glynn proved the pool's favorite, with eight entries, Kim recalls. "The feeling is actually that enough people in our community are going to make up the bulk of the voters to the extent where Liz Glynn probably will win. She's a very popular artist."