A Benefit Auction for the Emerging Artists of Los Angeles

On an unseasonably blustery November night in Hollywood, a throng of artists, gallerists, collectors and art world denizens packed Hannah Hoffmann Gallery for a silent auction and party benefitting The L.A. Artists Initiative, a three-year program sponsored by the Rema Hort Mann Foundation and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

In honor of their daughter Rema and her love of the artists in her social milieu, the collectors Susan and Michael Hort have used their foundation to support emerging visual artists in the New York area, among them Kehinde Wiley, Sarah Sze, Erik Parker and Mickalene Thomas. Since 1996 the Foundation has provided unrestricted grants and opportunities for recognition during the critical early stages of their careers.

Sensing that Los Angeles is uniquely suited to the incubation of young artists—with its abundant light, space, and world-class art schools—last year the Foundation launched a similar initiative here, announcing its first round of eight grantees at the 2013 edition of ALAC. (Two of those grantees, Emily Mast and Miljohn Ruperto, were named for inclusion in the upcoming Whitney Biennial.) The second round of grantees will be announced at this year’s fair.

“Los Angeles is a great place to continue the tradition,” Michael Hort told us. That commitment was evident on the walls of the gallery, where works by Los Angeles artists such as Brendan Fowler, Amanda Ross-Ho and Jon Pylypchuk sat next to others donated to the auction by local collectors and galleries.

In the second year of the initiative, Director Quang Bao has broadened the nominating committee to include more artists, curators and writers from local nonprofits, museums, universities, including some suggested by last year’s grantees. The Foundation also sharpened its eligibility criteria, redefining "emerging" to mean an artist who has not had a one-person show in a commercial or for-profit gallery. While artists need support throughout their careers, this criterion attempts to draw a brighter line between artists without institutional support, and those who are being presenting at art fairs, introduced to curators, and receiving sales support from commercial galleries.

“It’s a three-year experiment,” said Bao, “so we’re trying something different. In year three, if we can figure out a way to get at the definition of emerging artist even more precisely, we’ll try it.”

Speaking of experiment—though de rigueur for Paddle8, this was our first brush with the tools of digital auction. Instead of bid sheets mounted next to the lots there were iPads loaded with searchable information, an actual scroll of figures and images. (The digital auction house debuted the interface earlier this year.) For some, it was a thrill, watching prices ratchet up with bids coming from who-knows-where, the numbers jockeying with jpegs for the attention of the bidder as they scrolled through. 

But not for all. “There’s too much anonymity,” said Los Angeles artist Amir Nikravan, who donated his Painting (XXXII) (2013) to the auction. He flipped through the lots to find a picture of a work by Sean Kennedy. He looked across the room to compare the real thing to the digital file. Then pointed out a list of bids marked by initials. “Who’s TQ? Is it a famous collector? I want to know!” 

Moments later it was announced the Foundation had sold the majority of the lots up for auction and exceeded its expected draw. We’ll meet the collectors who made it happen—and the next round of L.A. Artist Initiative grantees—at this year's fair.

Written by Sam Bloch.

Images from top: Christian Rosa with Untitled (2013); guest with York Chang's Uqbar (after Borges) (2013); Michiel Ceulers, Painting about Paintings in a Room, 2013, Oil and spray paint on canvas, artist cardboard frame, 17 x 22 inches.