It’s fair to say that before 1997, the blue chip art world had never encountered a dealer like Patrick Painter. That year, the Long Beach native opened his eponymous L.A. gallery with a riotous Harmony Korine spectacle, the outlaw antidote to more august operations like Gagosian, which had just set up a new big-box space in the city (and now represents Korine).
Likewise, the corporatized global art market, which boasted $67.4 billion in sales last year, may never see his likes again. The controversial gallerist went from selling acid for the Brotherhood of Eternal Love as a teenager to selling magazines door-to-door for a shady Canadian firm before (and after) college to selling insurance for MetLife to representing pioneering L.A. artists including Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, and Kenny Scharf after training under legends like Leo Castelli and Walter Hopps. For nearly a quarter century, Patrick Painter Inc. was an anchor at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station, where the gallerist assumed the space of another renegade dealer, Burnett Miller.
But after the Westside art center’s original developer, Wayne Blank, left the complex in January 2018—taking the Bergamot Station name with him—Painter was left to deal with the more buttoned-up Worthe Real Estate Group. That arrangement wasn’t long for this world—certainly not after years of trading art for rent with Blank. Over the course of a single day in August, Painter literally pulled everything out of his space and set up shop in a courtyard Arts District space (formerly Garis & Hahn) at 1820 Industrial Street.
Notoriously scandalous, Painter once drove around town in a Versace Lamborghini dressed like a fourth Beastie Boy with briefcases full of contraband, then went radio silent for years after a spinal surgery, addiction issues, and a mass exodus of his blue chip roster. Last month, he opened up his new 3,000-square-foot space with a solo show for the Parisian-born New York-based painter Jérôme Lagarrigue.
“Chaz Guest introduced us and we hit it off,” says Lagarrigue, referring to another figurative artist in the current Patrick Painter, Inc. roster. Whereas Guest is known for his emotional, narrative-driven renderings of Buffalo Soldiers and Trayvon Martin, Lagarrigue’s paintings capture family members real, imagined, and embellished via heavy mark making, with expressionistic flurries of high chroma filling the voids of memory. Both artists are part of the Painter’s recent push into figuration.
Lagarrigue adds, “It felt great because I’ve I’ve dealt with a lot of dealers but never someone who knows so much about art. I just like the way he thinks; it’s not a power trip.”
The new gallery, a third act of sorts, seems to be the most nimble operation the 65 year-old dealer has run in years, and harkening back to his first commercial venture in the art world, Patrick Painter Editions. Launched three years before the gallery, the company produced high-caliber prints, sculptural objects, and photos from the likes of McCarthy and Kelley to Felix Gonzalex-Torres and Bas Jan Ader during its 17-year run. Painter relaunched the venture last year with a series of massive light boxes from acclaimed New York-based photographer Zoe Crosher.
In addition to the new editions, Painter has also been engaging new markets: selling new works to a crop of established actors, musicians, artists, and collectors; opening up a future clientele base in Atlanta, where he plans to do a forthcoming pop-up; and working on a show of 25 Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings made in L.A. in 1982, all sourced from the collection of Emmy-winning writer and producer Thad Mumford (M*A*S*H*).
On the heels of his move downtown, we sat down with the dealer to see what’s driving Patrick Painter 3.0.
When did you start thinking about moving downtown?
The guy that took over Bergamot Station was being a dick about art. I looked on his website and he’s got a page for all the art in his buildings so I said, “Hey, maybe you want to trade art for the rent.” I did that with Wayne for years. I didn’t even know the whole year before the guy took over I hadn’t even paid rent.
When did you find this spot?
I found this spot talked to the owner and everything happened. We have this through December, then they want to renovate the gallery and make it bigger. I said, “If you’re happy and I’m happy we’ll continue on.” The thing is I don’t know downtown, so I thought it was important that we get to know it because I like this, but what if there’s something better? And I want to know that for sure before we put down roots. If it’s a good platform for my artists, I’m happy to be down here. I don’t think Hauser is contributing to the order of the regular art world down here. I think it’s kind of like the Getty. It’s up on Mt. Olympus. You can go over the Hauser & Wirth world, get something to eat, go into the bookstore. It’s really great what they’ve done with it, but it’s kind of seen as other because it is. I thought the way people were talking was that downtown was the place to go, but I hadn’t seen anything other than starter galleries or out-of-town galleries like Hauser & Wirth. So us moving down here is a local presence.
You’ve talked about doing pop-ups, too.
I want to do pop-ups in other parts of the country. I want to do one in Atlanta, because I’ve got more and more clients out there from the R&B industry like Akon and Coach K, who owns half of Quality Control Records. I’m thinking about San Jose, I’m thinking about Maine. Wherever things are going on with new elements, so you sort of become a small art fair.
So the idea is sort of like the editions shows you did?
Sort of, but those were in galleries. But yeah, you’re right. They were getting big names like Ed Ruscha, Jeff Wall, Collier Schorr, Andrea Zittell, which they couldn’t get before.
Who are you going to bring to these pop-ups?
Just my stable of artists, but I’d add a component to it. For instance, I admire Ry Rocklen’s work and we’re supposed to be doing an edition. So if I’m doing something in Atlanta, maybe I ask Ry and he’d be into it because it’s there. I think there’s that opportunity, too. I’m also thinking about Houston. Dallas has that art fair, but not a huge fair.
Houston’s got a lot of collectors.
Sure as shit. That’s what Walter [Hopps] told me when I was out there with him. I just heard his old job at the De Menil is now available. I got a tear in my eye thinking of him.
What do you think someone like Walter Hopps would make of the L.A. scene today?
He’d definitely like that there are so many galleries in L.A. and there’s so many Los Angeles artists and they always say “Los Angeles artist” in front of people’s names these days. They get that tag and it used to be reserved for Cologne or Berlin or British or New York artists. But now the only city they do that for is us.
So do you want to show more L.A. artists than before?
I’ve always been showing L.A. artists, but now what I want to start doing is showing more figurative artists. I don’t really consider Glenn Brown a figurative artist, Jim Shaw maybe, but now I’m directly confronting it. I always wanted to confront that when I was older. When you’ve got Mike Kelley and all that type of stuff going, it’s a hard thing to interject.
Wasn’t that the whole idea behind not showing any painters the first year of the gallery?
Yup. Ed [Ruscha] told me I should change my name.
You were sort of born into this world with that name.
I guess. My brother, Guy, was an expert on Winston Churchill’s drawings and paintings. He used to hang out with the Rolling Stones. We used to argue about art all the time.
And you’re going to start up the editions again?
Yeah, I did with Zoe Crosher. We did four seven-and-a-half-foot-long light boxes and one black-and-white photo, and I’m now talking to Theaster Gates…[and] I’m calling Richard Prince again.
So in a sense this is Patrick Painter 3.0.
It is. They say a change is as good as a rest. I liked Bergamot for all those years, but it was feeling stale.
Did you ever think about relocating to Culver City or Hollywood?
I heard people were over Culver City and I don’t really understand that concept, but I just thought let’s try downtown. It seemed to be the great hope of the city and that seems kind of true.
How do you feel after the opening?
I think we had a good turnout and I’m not sure if that was just because of us or what. We couldn’t get on any of the curate apps in time because we only got in here a week before the show, but we were packed, more packed than Bergamot. The vibe was good. We sold to Beth de Woody, Retna.
You’re light on your feet it seems.
I am because I have to be. I’m not taking anything for granted. It’s got me back to my fighting weight or something.
“I’m feeling all ambitious again, all that natural excitement. I never thought I’d feel any of that again and it’s really nice.”
Did you feel you were out of the game for a while?
I knew I was out of it, the whole city knew I was out of it. Christ. I went through depression then after cervical spinal fusion surgery they’ll give you all the Oxy you want. Here’s 100s. Then you get shook and you never got shook in your life. Then I got depressed, worked my way out of that, and I came back but I wasn’t sure so I went out during the last fairs in town and I went out four nights in a row. I was testing it. I feel the best I’ve felt in years. I really feel like a kid again. Maybe I’m having that mid-life crisis, or maybe that was when I got the Lamborghini…or was it the Ferrari?
I know you’ve done the L.A. Art Show for years, but are you thinking about doing out-of-town fairs again?
Yeah, for sure. I’m going to do Basel. I can’t not take [Art Basel director] Marc Spiegler saying “we need Patrick Painter back” seriously. I have to put the applications in, but I don’t think I’ll have much trouble after what he’d said. I’m feeling all ambitious again, all that natural excitement. I never thought I’d feel any of that again and it’s really nice.
Maybe leaving Bergamot at the drop of a hat was the best thing you could have done.
Yeah, I was like that as a kid, and I found there were some other parts of me that were still like that.
So let’s get back to this Basquiat show. It sounds like some work that hasn’t been seen for a minute.
This was back when Basquiat was making paintings for the Gogo show and Larry was giving him money to buy paint and canvases and shit like that. But he didn’t have a lot of running around, girl-guy, [cocaine] line money. So this cat Thad Mumford was buying works from him so they could have money to go screw around. He wound up with 25 paintings. Guys do that.
So Thad will be mentioned in relation to the show?
Yeah, the catalogue, the whole thing. We’ll probably have security guards here, too. I wanted to do it with real good duplicates so then I don’t have to do it with the insurance or the guards. But they want to do it. I had some reproductions done for the L.A. Art Show and no one could tell the difference. I’m not selling reproductions but with what those works are worth and they’re all this size [PANTOMIMES SMALL FRAME] so someone could just stick it in their Birkin and jam out.
You were showing reproductions of these works at L.A. Art Show?
Yeah, I don’t mind doing that stuff at art fairs if it looks exactly like the work. I don’t want the guards and the insurance. But that’s the only way the guy who owns these wants to show them. They’re paintings on cardboard and pizza boxes.
So who reproduced them for you?
We have an editions company so we made them look as authentic as they could. My editions company does fine work. I just didn’t need to be worrying someone would be stealing that stuff. It’s probably a $25 million-plus show. Maybe I get Jose Mugrabi to buy all of them. Who knows.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story included a reference to Nathaniel Mary Quinn; the reference has been removed at the artist’s request.
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