L.A. Salons Bring Together Art World Novices and Insiders

A salon at West Hollywood’s De Re Gallery
A salon at West Hollywood’s De Re Gallery

Touring the art collection of Cliff and Mandy Einstein, a longtime ad man and a former tennis pro, is a crash course in world-class collecting. You learn that if you want a collection that impresses contemporary art's biggest patrons (the Rubells from Miami, Dakis Joannou from Athens), you have to balance your passion with good instincts and a sense of art-world relevance.

You also have to have patience. They've been working at this for 30 years.

Fairs such as Art Basel are good places to go if you already know a lot about an artist. There you can get a gem such as the rare Matthew Barney vitrine in their living room.

The Einsteins explained this to the 16 or so aspiring collectors, arts professionals and dabblers who visited their home in early July. They also explained that they had purchased the large Mary Weatherford painting, now dominating an upstairs wall, right out of David Kordansky Gallery's recent show because, although they had been watching Weatherford's work, this was the first time her use of neon felt natural alongside her washes of paint.

They often buy right out of museum shows, however. If wall labels say "on loan" from a gallery or artist, it's probably available.

By 8 p.m., the couple had ushered the group into the James Turrell skyspace in their backyard, one of the first such spaces the light-obsessed artist made, to see the sunset through the thin-edged square in the ceiling.

Only after guests began collecting their belongings and wandering toward the front door did the always gracious Mandy Einstein ask Nicole Garton, integrated marketing manager for online art gallery Saatchi Art and the group's leader, who exactly these people were.

The gathering was part of Gertrude, Garton explained, a venture started in New York by a former Google accounts associate named Kenneth Schlenker.

As a techie newly interested in contemporary art, especially work by young artists grappling with the Internet's effects (Parker Ito, Cory Arcangel), Schlenker found the aloofness of the gallery world frustrating. He wanted to meet artists, other collectors and experts without having to schmooze or read up on art theory.

In October, after a year of holding private salons in homes or artist studios, he launched an online platform where interested people can register for curator-organized events as soon as they are announced, pay a fee that varies according to the venue and show up at places probably unavailable to them otherwise.

Schlenker chose the name "Gertrude" intentionally. "Gertrude Stein helped new artists that were totally different," he says. Picasso, for instance, was barely known when the expat poet began entertaining him in her Paris home. "We want to reinitiate the Stein salon."

He is not the only one citing historical salons as worthwhile models. Claressinka Anderson, who moved to L.A. from London on a whim in 2006, has been running salons for aspiring and more established collectors and others out of her Venice home since 2009. She wants to reinterpret the spirit of 19th-century models through the screenings and discussions she hosts.

The directors of De Re Gallery, newly opened on Melrose in West Hollywood, cite salons as influencing their music, art and literary events.

"For me, it's like a shoe drop for sneaker heads," Garton says of the Gertrude model.

She emailed Schlenker to propose a night at the Einsteins as soon as she heard his operation was expanding beyond New York. Hers was the second L.A. event, though Schlenker has received a dozen other proposals. "You know about something but it's inaccessible," Garton continues. Then as soon as it becomes accessible, you jump at the chance.

One of the guests at the Einsteins' that night had been angling to get into their home for months. "Technology provides the access," Garton says of the Gertrude model. "I think it's something that people are looking for."

The actual Gertrude Stein might squirm a bit in her grave at the thought of her salons being scaled up and streamlined. Although she may not have minded being associated with the Einsteins' practiced taste, she proudly built her salons on her own prescience. She championed Matisse and Juan Gris before anyone else did, and convinced skeptical Hemingway that modern painters were fascinating by plying him with wine and gossiping about painters' lives while showing him her collection. But she was not opaque. "I like to look at it," she said when asked her thoughts on modern art.

Her frankness, coupled with an intimate, direct connection to art and ideas, probably is what makes her salons seem refreshing now, in a moment when, if you leave the computer screen to see the real thing instead of JPEGs, you'll find well-dressed girls behind white desks in white-walled galleries who may not acknowledge you when you walk in. And if they're not making eye contact, you won't be inclined to ask for their help deciphering press releases that read like grad school essays.

You may eventually realize the 22-year-olds behind desks melt easily. But if you have a new perspective to offer or funds to support artists, and you get scared off before giving it, everyone loses.

"If I was only meeting people in the art world, I would miss so much," Marine Tanguy says. She grew up in France and directed a gallery in London before moving here this past spring to partner with Steph Sebbag, a collector who still works at his entertainment agency, Big Picture Group, and open De Re Gallery. Their secondary market business, selling work by established masters, helps them support the younger artists on their roster and host their art and wine or jazz salons.

At their July 9 gathering, Tanguy discussed certain paintings in the gallery's debut show as a group called the Art Trio played standards that related to the same chosen works: a bossa nova for a grassy summer scene, for instance.

"We were looking for quite a geeky look," Tanguy says of that salon. "Everyone involved very much knows their expertise. All I want is people who are passionate and interesting."

Schlenker had to think about what kind of person he wanted to attract when Gertrude began to expand beyond the group of 70 or so aspiring collectors it initially attracted in New York City. He and his team of three decided salons had to cater to people interested in learning about, discussing and/or collecting art, and they had to be relevant to the current art field, something administrators could determine case by case. While curators could hand-pick attendees to an extent, at least five spots had to be left open to the public.

Claressinka Anderson, whose salons are perhaps closest to historical precedents, happening in the same domestic space each time and attracting repeat guests, is planning one for the first weekend in August. Matthias Merkel Hess, an artist represented by ACME gallery, will arrange some of his ceramic replicas of everyday objects around Anderson's kitchen and serve edible, hand-painted pancakes on plates he's made.

"When I started, I definitely felt the need for more relaxed and intimate access to the experience of living with contemporary art in L.A.," Anderson says. "I see the salons as an entryway into the art world, as well as a place for people who are already in it to gather."

Salons in LA.

Gertrude: An online platform that organizes contemporary art salons around the world. Next L.A. event: Sunday, Aug. 10, 5-7 p.m., at the Pit, an artist-run space in Glendale. (347) 470-7167,

Marine Projects: A Venice-based series of salon-style exhibitions and events. Next event: MerkelWare Party; Saturday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: RSVP required for location. (310) 392-3649,

De Re Gallery: A new gallery hosting events that bring together art, music, literature and other art forms. Next event: Art + Wine with wine expert Amelia Singer. Thursday, Aug. 14, 6 p.m. 8920 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd; (310) 205-7959, —Catherine Wagley


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