Matt Bangser is a Director of Blum & Poe in Los Angeles.
How did you first get interested in contemporary art?
I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with the intention of becoming a practicing artist. My focus shifted relatively early on when I became increasingly interested in the business of the art world and how the market operated. This is something that was largely overlooked in art school. Through a variety of internships with artists and auction houses, I saw there was an equally rewarding opportunity to participate in the contemporary art world without maintaining a studio practice. In fact, the access one has to great artists from the position of gallerist is second to none, and I find myself more immersed in the lives of artists here than I think I would be from any other position.
Since moving to LA, what differences have you noticed in the way people treat contemporary art versus attitudes/approaches in New York?
Since moving to Los Angeles in late 2009, I have seen an enormous surge in interest in the contemporary art community. I think this is in large part due to the number of influential artists of several generations who are based here in southern California. That paired with the strength of the public institutions, the quality of the art schools, and the relatively affordable studios have made L.A. one of the few serious hubs for contemporary art in the world. If I had to generalize, I would say that there is still some catching up to do with regards to the way the public interacts with contemporary art in Los Angeles as compared to New York. This is a by-product of two noticeable things. One, the history of contemporary art in Los Angeles, has only recently been re-explored in a real critical way, through increased interest from curators, gallerists, etc. outside of Los Angeles, and two, it is much more challenging to view contemporary art in Los Angeles than it is in New York. Here, it requires much more effort from a viewer, whereas in New York, you essentially turn any corner and you run into a gallery or a pop-up exhibition, or a museum. Here, one must get in the car, and pointedly make an effort to GO SEE art – it doesn’t come see you.
Can you tell us about a piece of art you live with?
My wife and I live with a small collection of work, and mostly by artists that we have gotten to know over the years. I find this personal connection to the work to be important, and although not essential for everybody, for me it adds an extra layer of understanding to the work and allows me to access it from a more intimate place. During my time at the Art Institute, I was fortunate to connect with artist Rashid Johnson, and subsequently became his studio assistant. I live with several of his works, but the earliest and most sentimental is a portrait titled, George, 1998-99, which is part of a body of work he was making when we first met. Fast forward 14 years and the work is now included in his first major museum show, Message to Our Folks at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
What did you make of Paul McCarthy’s acceptance speech at the New Museum gala?
I thought it was brilliant, refreshing, sad, and likely about as close as one might get to understanding the way his mind works. Asking an artist to explain himself and what motivates his or her work can be a torturous process. I think Paul handled it the way many wish they could, but don’t have the guts to.
A new show you either just saw or are excited to visit when it opens?
One exhibition I saw last year that has stuck with me was called, The Last Grand Tour, curated by Jessica Morgan. This was a group show at the Museum of Cylcadic Art in Athens. The show focused on artists who have lived in Greece during the twentieth century, including Kippenberger, Spoerri, Marden, Samaras, Twombly and interestingly, Leonard Cohen. I think it was particularly affecting because it felt so unexpected to see there, and because the history of art in Athens looms so large as you walk through the show. I also happened to see the show shortly after Cy Twombly had passed away, and to hear Like a Bird on the Wire, while looking at Twombly’s work was, I think, emotional for any viewer.
Artist quote or words to live by?
“A Man’s Gotta Have a Code”