The Euphoria of Discovery
The heart of the Venice Art Walk & Auctions is the Studio Tour, on Sunday, May 22. It's the one day all year when Venice's premier artists open their studios—and open up about their inspirations—to raise funds for Venice Family Clinic.
At the back of an ordinary-looking residence in the heart of Venice is an extraordinary space. Vintage streetlamps line the walkway, geometric sculptures ornament the trees, and, inside a converted garage, a metal and glass contraption spins out images unlike anything anyone has seen before.
“Some people are completely freaked out by it,” explains sculptor Alex André, whose Metamorphosis premiered as a special exhibit at Westminster School at last year’s Venice Art Walk & Auctions. “You don’t realize what you have until you see people’s reactions, the laughs that come out of it. When that happens, I feel this euphoria of discovery.”
The piece defies verbal description, but try to imagine a giant steel wheel holding wedges of glass and mirror. Viewers stand on either side, facing each other through the wheel. A hand crank sets Metamorphosis in motion, with the effect of alternating the image each person sees—their own and the other’s—in rapid succession.
“It’s almost like an ego gauge,” André says, noting the range of responses. “It appears that a number of people are not ready to see themselves differently, while some others perceive it as a truly unifying experience, which is in line with my intentions when creating this piece.”
André’s studio, which is filled with dozens of other ingenious metal, wood, and stone creations that explore the perception of three-dimensional space, is just one of more than 50 stops on the Studio Tour—the centerpiece of the annual Venice Art Walk & Auctions—on Sunday, May 22. This year’s lineup features 16 never before on the Studio Tour, including several one-time special exhibits in equally special spaces around town. No one can see all of them in one day, but that’s hardly the point. What attracts art lovers to the event year after year is the unique experience, no matter which route one takes.
A short walk north of Andre’s studio is painter Jennifer Wolf’s. It, too, is tucked invisibly behind a quaint residence. Inside, one encounters a huge collection of works, plus another unique story.
Wolf travels the world to source mineral pigments, which she then grinds by hand and fastens in an acrylic binder to produce a hand-made paint. One of her destinations, the Chauvet Cave in southern France, is the site of the earliest known cave paintings in Western Europe. Although the cave is off-limits to everyone but a small group of scientists, archaeologists, and, recently, filmmaker Werner Herzog, the outside was fair game for Wolf. A pile of earth just outside the steel door and high-tech alarm system produced spoils of a brilliant yellow rock, which she displays in a large glass jar alongside malachite and azurite from Brazil and cochineal from Peru.
“I probably have the biggest rock collection you’ve ever seen,” Wolf says, pointing to ground pigments in hues of carmine, ultramarine, and ochre. “And this one I made from an old rusted pipe from our backyard.”
While there’s plenty of art to view on the Studio Tour, the studios themselves are like enormous didactics, filled with visual cues to the whys and hows of an artist’s work and narrated by none other than the artists themselves.
“Recently, I was preparing wood panels for the Art Within Reach print project and I thought about the landscape format of the particular panel I was sanding. It sparked a recollection of the John Baldessari text painting, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell. The work lists all the painting tropes that sell more easily, like marine pictures and nudes and landscapes. I thought how funny and timely that piece was and still is. So for the print I decided to make a landscape,” Wolf says, referring to Landscape #3, 2011, the piece she contributed to the new Art Within Reach pop-up store.
Art Within Reach, which will run concurrently on Sunday, May 22, will feature signed, limited-edition, archival inkjet prints by 15 internationally recognized and emerging artists. All proceeds from Art Within Reach, like those from the larger Venice Art Walk & Auctions, benefit Venice Family Clinic.
Wolf grew up in a bus in Ventura and relied on clinics for her health care, so the cause behind the event—free, quality health care for the community’s low-income and uninsured residents—is part of her motivation for participating.
“I know the kind of situation one must be in to need access to a clinic like Venice Family Clinic,” Wolf says. “So for me it’s very personal.”
Another artist new to the Studio Tour, sculptor Stephen Glassman, has a similar appreciation.
“My Venice neighbors are hardworking families who have lived here for generations,” he says. “They own their homes and don’t play the whole equity game. The Clinic has always been the neighborhood doctor.”
Glassman, a sculptor whose work often blurs the edges of architecture and landscape, moved to Venice in 1979, when it was a very different place.
“When I came here, it was this great, raw, fertile territory,” he explains. “Stucco and asphalt, weeds and billboards, graffiti and skateboards, and the old [Roger] Corman studios. It all made its way into my work.”
Glassman’s property—also a short walk from Wolf’s and Andre’s—illustrates the point. Outside his house, designed by his longtime friend Charles Ward, it’s a playground of bamboo and stone. His studio, hidden in what appears from the street to be a garage, is filled with smaller works and photos of his latest projects, including White Tail Plaza, a 4,000-square-foot public sculpture plaza on the campus of Warner Center, in Woodland Hills.
“Venice is very much about individual expression, and that comes from a private place,” he says. “It used to be you had to carry a weapon around here. You didn’t want people to know you had tools or that you even lived back here. So the notion of the urban compound, of privacy, became part of the Venice aesthetic.”
That private experience—made public for one day only through the Venice Art Walk & Auctions—is unlike any other in Los Angeles.
“Venice is a place that’s rich with creativity,” Glassman says. “I live here because I can just take a walk and run into someone doing something inspiring. Everybody’s working on ideas. It’s an ever-evolving conversation.”
Visit www.theveniceartwalk.org to view a complete calendar of Venice Art Walk & Auctions events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 20, 21, and 22, including the Studio Tour, the new Skate Surf Auction, the three new Art & Architecture Tours, the Art Within Reach pop-up store, and the 400-piece Silent Art Auction.