Interview with Beau Basse, Gallery Owner.
Interview by Gregory Ito.
I’m here with Beau at LeBasse Projects in Culver City. Can you tell us a little history about LeBasse Projects and how it started?
I was in marketing for a big corporate company here in LA and I sort of fell into collecting art – and then around 2005 I curated my first show. So I curated a show with a friend in a warehouse space, and it was wildly successful – more than we ever could have imagined, and then it went to curating small shows almost on a monthly basis while I still had a full-time job to then opening a small space in Culver City in 2007.
What were the cross streets?
Washington and Fay. It was a tiny space, 900 square feet, and then about a year after that I sort of recognized that to truly represent my artists and to really sort of grow the gallery—I had to really upgrade, so we took a risk and moved into a much larger space which has served as well.
Can you tell us a little bit about the esthetic of the work that you show at LeBasse Projects?
I tend to curate work that I like. My taste has clearly changed since I started collecting. I look at the work I collected when I first started and sort of smile. My taste in work has totally changed in the last six, seven, eight years now. But I’ve always curated work I like. I’ve always had a couple of rules though: I absolutely want to work with artists I respond to on a personal level. There is so much work that goes involved in a partnership between an artist and gallerist that if we don’t get along and don’t have the same sort of vision and plan I just know it won’t work long-term. I’d rather sort of focus on artists that one: Aesthetically I really enjoy their work, and two: I like them as people.
Can you name a few of the staple artists in your programming?
From day one we started working with guys like Nate Frizzell and Yoskay Yamamoto, who have gone from complete unknowns to very successful in our program. As the years have grown we’ve added a lot of artists. Like right now in the gallery Joshua Petker has his first solo show with us and Joshua is a guy I’m friends with and collected since 2004. We’ve stayed friends and I’ve watched him grow. We’ve added some really fantastic artists to the program like Seonna Hong, whose internationally well respected. We’ve added German duo Herakut, some of the most creative street artists that I really see as beautiful contemporary artists to thought provoking sculptors like Thomas Doyle.
Can you tell us a little bit about Culver City and the art community that’s out here?
Culver City has sort of become the go-to art destination in Los Angeles. When Blum and Poe bought their new building a few years ago and opened a 22,000 square foot gallery, it’s like the anchor tenant. And everybody has sort of built around them. They get all the credit in the world for really developing Culver City as an art destination. I think at this point there are over 40 galleries in the neighborhood. And really, some of the best galleries in Los Angeles are sort of centered in Culver City.
And they also have an art walk as well.
Culver City, the city itself has actually been very supportive of the art district. They’ve done art walks, they do an annual art walk every year, but has really been supportive in promoting the fact that all the galleries are here and helping us to sort of keep everybody here.
I want to talk a little bit about your practice as a curator. Can you tell us a little bit more about your approach to curating individual shows.
Okay, so with the individual shows, the artists that I work with I really have an incredible amount of trust in, and one of the things we really talk about is that we want it to be a long-term relationship, and with that comes—I always tell the artists that I encourage them to experiment. I don’t want artists to feel like they have to make work that is commercially viable. Obviously it’s a business, it’s a living for artists and for us. We want to be able to sell art work, but I really feel that the best work comes when artists are really allowed to have creative control.
So in terms of curating individual shows, I try to work with artists primarily on the number of works, how things are positioned in the space—we have, I think, a great space here—and being here for four years we have a good understanding of how it works. So the most curatorial I really have involved is how many works are being delivered, where they’re going to be placed and understanding how to build an exhibition for the gallery.
But the actual content of the work I tend to let my artists have full control and support whatever they want to do. That’s paid off. We’ve had artists do some really experimental things outside of their comfort zone and the things that they were known for, and those have ended up being some of the best exhibitions we’ve had here.
Do you encourage artists to do large installations or is it mostly frame work?
It’s expanded. When we first opened it was primarily paintings on canvas, works on paper—I’m not a believer in installations for the sake of installation. I like installations when they’re well thought out and planned and really integral and enhance the exhibition that are on the walls. So we always talk about, I think it’s best to get the work on the wall done and then when there’s time and they’re finished, then spend time focusing on an installation. I just see too many galleries where I go into and there’s great works on the wall and there are installations slapped together. The installations we’ve had here I feel have been really well planned, and enhance the work.
In today’s economic climate, what are your thoughts on the collectors in Los Angeles?
I like collectors. I think they’re a pretty funny bunch. I think there is certainly a vast amount of wealth in this city but I think LA collectors don’t always have the appreciation of art for art’s sake. I think too many collectors are focused on investment purposes. But I think when you find the people that really fall in love with work and really understand and really enjoy the art, you can find some really great collectors that are really collecting for appreciation of the work, versus collecting just for their investment portfolio.
So that’s good. People are buying work.
Collectors in LA are just like LA. It’s made up of 20 plus neighborhoods that are all eclectic and all have different feels and vibes, and the collector base here is really as diverse as the neighborhoods. Some collectors just love the work, some collectors are looking for investment, some people just drop in and want a painting over their couch. So it’s really hard to be generic about an LA collector. Like LA, your collectors are all over the board.
It’s a bag of tricks. Yeah, because one thing I noticed is that Los Angeles has been getting so much attention recently with all the large exhibitions that have been going out. There’s the PST shows recently, as well Made In LA. So with the progression that we’ve seen do you see Los Angeles going in a particular direction or like there’s definitely some progression, so I just want to see what you’re thinking about where Los Angeles would be in years coming.
I certainly think that the New York bias is slowly fading. There’s so much energy in LA. I’m not from Los Angeles, I’m from San Francisco originally, and I can’t imagine ever leaving LA at this point because I always like to say it’s “easy” living here. It’s always warm, the sun’s always out…It’s hard not to be happy every day. The art that’s often shown in LA seems to reflect that. The more you see New York dealers moving to LA and focusing time on LA. Perry Rubenstein just left New York and opened here, L&M moved here, Matthew Marks moved here, so I definitely see the cultural landscape shifting from New York to Los Angeles…but I don’t think New York’s ever going to go away.
Yeah, but you see a shift happening.
I definitely see a shift. LA is getting more credibility than it has had in the past in terms of the value of the work shown here.
I didn’t know that you were from San Francisco originally. Since SFAQ is based in the Bay Area, what are your thoughts between the dialogue between the two cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles? Do you see a dialogue?
It’s funny, I grew up right in San Francisco, Laurel Heights, product of the San Francisco school system, love San Francisco, love the city, but San Francisco seems like a funny art town to me. Definitely every time I visit there are some great galleries and great shops that have amazing aesthetics. People seem to overall appreciate arts and culture more than they generally do in Los Angeles. But I don’t know, I think I would have a hard time running a gallery there. It just seems like there’s the love of art, but on the business side I always worry that there aren’t enough real collectors in the city.
Yeah, well it’s a really small city. And LA is just constantly expanding it seems like. I think that adds to it. Like you said, the cultural landscape is shifting, but San Francisco seems to be in this bubble that’s self contained.
But I love San Francisco. That’s why we do the art fair there every year. It’s an easy excuse to go back and sort of reconnect with people we know in San Francisco. And it’s tough, the artists we represent—it’s unlikely that I—I don’t necessarily like sending them to galleries in San Francisco because we have a lot of collectors in San Francisco and it’s so close, you know, such a close city that it doesn’t always make sense to have our artists showing in San Francisco at other galleries.
So you do participate in other fairs. What are some of the fairs that you participate in?
Last year was the first year that we really jumped into the fair system. We did Pulse in Miami and LA, we did a satellite fair to Frieze in London, and we did some regional fairs in California – San Francisco and San Diego, I think that’s it.
What are your thoughts on fairs? What have your experiences been like?
It’s a nice opportunity to go out, and for a young gallery like ours it’s a good opportunity to go out and meet some other collectors. The numbers need to make sense. I think fairs can be very dangerous. Galleries spend between $10,000-25,000 to participate in even small fairs, and I’ve seen galleries literally do fairs, not do well and close their doors. So it’s a tricky proposition, but the fair system seems to work well for some. The fairs in Miami I think are amazing. I had been visiting Art Basel Miami every year. This past December 2011 was the first year we actively participated, and the Pulse Fair treated us amazingly well. We met one museum curator after another, one consultant after another. I had a full staff at that fair…there were three of us…and we basically didn’t get a rest for five straight days. Which was an amazing thing, that’s not a complaint, that’s why we go, and we had a great experience. Looking forward to going back this year.
How often do you add artists to your programming?
I’m always looking for work. It’s sort of interesting, we opened a space in Chinatown; we have a second gallery where we sort of opened with the idea of bringing some younger artists into the program, bringing more established artists into Culver City, and that sort of has changed to where now all of our artists who are already established want to do experimental things in our Chinatown gallery. So we’re always in transition, we’re always looking at work, but it’s tough. It’s definitely tough. I think we’ve done well for ourselves in the last couple of years. I think we’ve built a good reputation with artists, so we have a lot of artists that I never thought I’d get a chance to work with that we’re working with today. Seonna Hong is a great example, someone that I loved; I collected her work early on, I never really saw that we would be working together, and now we represent her and have done well with her work.
I didn’t even know you had a second space. Can you tell us about that and when it started?
About a year and a half ago we were looking—it was sort of a perfect storm. We had an intern that was graduating from school and we wanted to hire, but didn’t really have a reason to add another body to our staff in Culver City. We had some artists we really liked, but didn’t have the space to work with, and a space became available in Chinatown on Chung King Road here in LA, which is sort of a historic starter gallery district, and it was sort of a perfect storm where I think it was February 2011 we opened a space and have been able to do a series of shows there and it’s just been a great experience. A tremendous amount of work having two spaces and doing five fairs in a year, a lot of work…But it’s been a great experience and I think we will continue to do shows in Chinatown as well as in Culver City.
It’s interesting too because I feel like a lot of galleries start in Chinatown and then eventually they’ll either close or then they’ll move to Culver City. But you opened up here and then you opened up a second space after you opened here, in Chinatown.
It’s actually funny, when we opened the Chinatown space several dealers and art people came by and sort of offered me their condolences because they assumed that I had closed the Culver City space. And it was kind of funny letting people know that no, actually we still have Culver City and we’re opening Chinatown as a sort of project space. But it is, it’s backwards. Most people open in Chinatown hoping to move to Culver City. But Chinatown’s got a great vibe. The gallery is on a private walk street so it’s got a whole courtyard in front. The gallery has got 25 foot ceilings, it’s a really fun space and we’ve done some shows there that we probably would not have done here in Culver City.
Can you tell us more about some of those projects that differ?
Yeah, so I was just talking about Nate Frizell’s oil paintings. Last year he really wanted to do a series of charcoals. He had never worked in charcoal before, but had this idea and conceptual project that he wanted to do, but didn’t want it to be his big solo for the year. We did that in Chinatown, and it was a huge success. Sold out the show, but again, it’s a show that never would have happened if we hadn’t had that space to do it in. Again, I don’t think the artist would have been confident enough to do it as his solo show, but as a sort of experimental show he was happy to do it. Herakut, the German street art duo, we’ve been doing a series of really [white wall] style exhibitions for them in Culver City and then they recently turned Chinatown into a completely immersive installation…floor to ceiling, the gallery was covered with sculpture, painting, installation, they completely wrapped the gallery, and I think it was one of the most exciting shows that we’ve ever had in the gallery. I still hear, and this is six months after, I’m still hearing from people that it was one of the best shows they’ve seen period. So that was a show that, again, would never have happened in Culver City, but having that secondary space allows our artists to do things, and that’s really what Chinatown was for, to let our artists do the kind of projects—give them opportunities to do the projects they want to do.
That’s great, it gives you the space where you can really take a chance. Is there anything-any shout-outs or people you want to thank?
Certainly we always thank our artists. We really feel like we have a family of artists. We do dinners with our artists all the time, and again, that’s what’s so important to me is showing work I feel esthetically good about, and working with people that I feel good about. So certainly thanks to all of them for continuing to be involved with the gallery. My staff is certainly worthy of thanks as well – Kim Luangraj, our Director and Erica Johnson, our Registrar have both been extremely loyal and hard working for years and it does not go unappreciated. And of course we have got a great set of collectors who support our artists and gallery. We’ve got people that really believe in the gallery, trust our vision and have really become great friends. So thanks to the artists and collectors. Keeping us here.
Great. Thanks for meeting with me.
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