Southland art galleries hope event is a big draw

Local art galleries are hoping sales will get a needed boost when a major regional art project, “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980,” opens Oct. 1, potentially drawing customers from around the world.

The multi-location project is a collaboration among dozens of galleries and more than 60 Southern California art museums and other cultural institutions. “Pacific Standard Time” will officially run for six months, and some private galleries will be getting a head start by opening their related shows in September.

“It should very much help the art market,” said Robert Berman, who opened his namesake gallery in Santa Monica in 1979 and is about to expand into a third exhibition space at the Bergamot Station Arts Center. “Business is, as far as sales, at this point it’s very difficult, it’s very hard.”

“Pacific Standard Time” covers a period when local galleries played a key role in showcasing contemporary works in Southern California. It was before the existence of major local institutions that specialize in the genre, including the downtown Museum of Contemporary Art.


“It really was the galleries that in so many cases really supported the artists and were the places where people went to see this new art form,” said Andrew Perchuk, deputy director of the Getty Research Institute, which has spearheaded the project since planning began in 2002, along with the Getty Foundation.

Gagosian Gallery, founded in 1979, will open its “Pacific Standard Time” show featuring Los Angeles artist Robert Therrien in late September in Beverly Hills.

“We have had lots of people asking about this show and anticipating this show,” said Deborah McLeod, Gagosian’s executive director.

At least one gallery-dependent local business is already benefiting.

“In the dead of summer I am having my best month ever,” said Bill Bush, publisher of Artweek.LA, an online art events publication he started in November. It’s supported in part by advertising from art galleries.

When art galleries sell more art, related businesses do better, too, including appraisers, framers and installers, he said.

A boost would be tremendously welcome during this economically difficult time.

Berman, who will showcase commercial illustrators in his “Pacific Standard Time” show, said he sold about seven pieces during two recent exhibitions.


But price points for some pieces were on the low side.

Because many customers are looking for bargains, some galleries are opting to offer lower-cost versions of their artists’ work — print runs that have more editions, for example, or works on paper rather than canvas.

“I have made enough money in the fatter times to hopefully pull through this sort of rough patch we are having that might get worse before it gets better,” Berman said.

As has been the case in so many other small-business sectors in Southern California, the recession’s survivors in the local art gallery scene tend to be the players that are larger, have been around longer and have deeper pockets.


“The recession has been hellacious for small dealers,” Gagosian’s McLeod said. “It has really been rocky for my friends with smaller galleries.”

Those still standing have a chance to benefit from the interest and sales the “Pacific Standard Time” project could generate.