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Los Angeles Art World Gaining Status - 2004-04-13

Los Angeles, once derided as a cultural wasteland, has emerged in recent years as a leading art center.

Mumsey Nemiroff has taught classes at UCLA on art collecting, and helps businesses assemble their corporate art collections. The West Coast native admits she is biased.

"I'm a California girl, very much an L.A. person. And I'm overjoyed to promote L.A. art and the L.A. art scene in general," she says. "I think that our Norton Simon Museum, for example, in Pasadena, is just a jewel of a collection. The garden there is as fine as anything anyone would encounter anywhere in the world. I think that the Getty, the physical plant of the Getty, is so spectacular."

She says the Getty Museum, endowed by the late oil mogul J. Paul Getty, also has one of the finest art collections in the country. She says the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art are also impressive.

Ms. Nemiroff says Los Angeles has been a center for artists and art collectors for many years, but it never got much attention.

"We just never had the marketing. There were artists here from the 1920s and from the 1930's who were really vanguard artists, people who drove across country looking for the light," she says. "And of course, American "plein air" painting, which is very fashionable now, a lot of it was done here on the Southern California coastline, and that body of work has been reevaluated and is finding its way into museums all over the world now."

After the World War II, San Francisco nurtured artists who worked in clay and ceramics, including Robert Arneson and Viola Frey.

"And in Southern California, because of the amazing quality of the light, the pervasive light that we have, there was an area called the "Light and Space" school that developed just after World War II," says Ms. Nemiroff.

Prominent artists of the Light and Space movement include Robert Irwin, whose installations use lighting and orientation to create works of art that change when viewed from different perspectives. He also designed the celebrated garden at the Getty Museum.

Perhaps the most famous California artist is British transplant David Hockney, who has captured classic images of swimming pools, palm trees and desert highways.

Los Angeles has its share of collectors as well as artists. Ms. Nemiroff says that, surprisingly, collections of glassware are extremely popular.

"It's kind of an anomaly to me because we live in earthquake country, and glass is breakable. You can't really repair glass. It's like trying to repair a window," she says. "So I've always thought that was curious, but nevertheless, the price that contemporary glass artists are getting, they're very, very high priced, very popular."

Ms. Nemiroff says emerging art centers in the United States include Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. But the warm climate and natural beauty of Southern California continue to attract up-and-coming artists, who work in lofts in the industrial sections of downtown Los Angeles, in the seaside neighborhood of Venice and the colorful port of San Pedro, west and south of the city.