LA Louver: 30 Years in Context
Peter Goulds opens up about how his landmark gallery went from far-flung dream to art world success
As an arts student who had studied communication design and experimented with closed circuit television (CCTV), Peter Goulds was brought to UCLA as a visiting lecturer in 1972. Consumed at the time in researching Picabia and Duchamp and in profiling other 20th century artists, Goulds’ intention for his work was for it to culminate in a series of films for television. Although those three years at UCLA bestowed Goulds with an intimate understand- ing of 20th century art, the fact that there was no filming following his efforts encouraged him to turn the lens on himself. Responding to an inner urge for a project that would fuse his interests (and keep him stateside), Goulds posed the following question:“Imagine some nutcase has hired you to start a gallery as an information design project—how would you go about it as a designer?”
The answer was simple. “I hired myself,” he explains.
In 1975, with $15,000 saved in tax credits, the North Londoner charged himself with opening an art gallery on NorthVenice Boulevard with a modest intent not only to make a difference in the art community, but “to make a contribution in a way no one was doing at the time, to develop a gallery that has an international profile and to contextualize artists working in Los Angeles to the international scene,” he says. Oh, and he set himself no expectation of making sales for two years.
Why begin in Venice? Goulds recalls, “At the time, where could you, with modest means, open and be competitive? We [with textile designer wife, Liz] thought, ‘hang on—where serious artists live and work, curators, writers, other artists, collectors, etcetera must visit studios.’ So if you open in a neighborhood with that kind of fluidity to it, then you’ve got an audience and, if you’ve got anything to say, then you’ve got a business.”
A year later, with $20,000 in sales and having introduced Foirades/Fizzles—Jasper Johns’s “extraordinary body of etchings” of Samuel Beckett’s prose—LA Louver had entered the artistic scene of the left coast with unending calls for an encore.
$80,000 in sales followed in the gallery’s second year and $230,000 in its third. With the money, Goulds bought inventory. “What I decided to do was buy art fromoneartist…DavidHockney,andby‘78Iownedorhadborrowedatleastone copy of every print he’d ever made,” he recounts. As to why Hockney, he relates, “it started when I first went to school in 1965. Hockney was just this iconoclastic artist pursuing his own direction, pushing the envelope of what art seemed to be. He was pulling information from reference sources not conventionally drawn upon by artists—from writers such as WH Auden and Wallace Stevens—and travelling to look for Luxor and off to New York. It was exciting, stimulating to consider.”
LA Louver’s 1979 show This Knot of Life featured, for the first time together on US soil, the London School’s Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Sir Peter Blake, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, RB Kitaj, Leon Kossoff,William Coldstream and Euan Uglow. With that arsenal of talent, the foreword’s mention that This Knot of Life features “paintings and drawings by British artists” seems understatedly akin to Duchamp’s own simple introductions (for example, Nude Descending a Staircase).
Goulds also took this opportunity to inform the gallery’s visitors that American artists—such as then-painted-paper-magnate Charles Garabedian—had for a time been concerned with figurative subjects and were experiencing an awakening of appreciation.
The alarm clock had sounded resoundingly and the unorthodox spirit of his gallery reverberated with his clientele. Goulds confesses, “I took my first salary check in 1981.” As to whether he used it to buy art, Goulds laughs, “I bought a house. I already had far too much art at that stage—it would take me the rest of my life to sell it all.”
La Mère Sur La Mer
With emerging artists Gajin Fujita and Rebecca Campbell; the identifiable work of Deborah Butterfield,Tony Berlant, Nancy Reddin Kienholz;Tom Wudl, Gwynn Murrill, Don Suggs, Peter Shelton, Joel Shapiro and Frederick Hammersley; the estates of Fred Williams and Edward Kienholz; and providing a Los Angeles home to an international surge that, in addition to David Hockney, comprises Sean Scully, Richard Deacon, Per Kirkeby, Leon Kossoff,Tony Bevan, Guillermo Kuitca, Juan Uslé and Domenico Bianchi, Goulds ensures that the gallery consistently delivers on the intent he set out with in 1975.
Additionally, Goulds and the gallery’s preparator for the past sixteen years, artist and independent curator Chris Pate, scour Los Angeles’ artists to uncover hidden treasures for LA Louver’s Rogue Wave as a “way of making a contribution, in hopefully a goodcuratorialrigorousway,tothechangingtapestryofemergingartists,”saysGoulds. The third installment of Rogue Wave will whet exploratory artistic appetites in 2007.
“If there’s a unifying force between all the disparate artists I work with inter- nationally, nationally, locally…it’s the intellectual rigor in the studio, how it is they come to what it is they have the need to make,” explains Goulds. “The image is one thing but what is it that brought that image into life? That’s what I look for— an intellectual curiosity. That’s what turns me on and provides me with the incentive to work hard on their behalf.”
Thirty years on, Goulds takes stock of the progress of his assignment. “Obviously, I’ve stayed connected and engaged with my only subject,” he says.
“I’m very proud of the fact that very little of our work comes up for resale when you consider how much art we’ve sold over the years,” he continues. “It’s immense.The people that buy the art want to own it.They’re not speculating, they’re not in this for some dice throw…they’re hopefully using their discretionary income to enhance their lives. I believe that art should be bought with discretionary income, not as an investment, and it should hopefully enrich the experience of the viewer. We attract, hopefully, the same kind of independent maverick spirit in the buyers as is imbued in the artists we represent.”
Indeed, the modern explorer is one who delivers packaged experiences to us, brings boundaries and borders within our midst and confronts us with reflections of our world and ourselves. It’s no coincidence then that Goulds, the Manchester School of Art graduate who came to UCLA as a visiting lecturer in 1972, has enlightened the well-traveled with a serious appreciation of the artistic landscape of coastal California and contemporaneously enabled Angeleno canal-dwellers to traverse the globe through the gallery’s gatherings.
A portrait of Goulds by Hockney recently came down at LACMA to make way for a Belgian surrealist who might have declared that Peter Goulds, well, “il n’est pas un marchand d’art.” But it is that other friend of André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, without whom LA Louver may have been dubbed simply “Venice Art Gallery”, who aptly stated,“The individual, man as a man, man as a brain, if you like, interests me more than what he makes…”
Goulds’s distinct gift is his ability to see not what is created, but to question why. It is in pursuit of that unanswerable but gripping quest that LA Louver makes her mark.