LOS ANGELES — The contemporary art world often seems to be on a super-sized trajectory, with the rise of mega-galleries and record-setting auction prices all the rage. Alongside this bigger-is-better mindset, there is a competing approach that favors the humble, the personal, and the DIY, from artist-run spaces, to backyard performance art, to micro-galleries. One of the newest additions to this group is Del Vaz Projects, an apartment gallery and residency project located in Los Angeles’ Little Osaka neighborhood (it’s west of the 405, not to be confused with Little Tokyo). Over cups of tea and plates of dates and almonds from a local Iranian kosher market, we sat down with Del Vaz’s founder Jay Ezra Nayssan to get the lowdown on the new space, why he started it, and his ideas about art.
Nayssan’s enthusiasm for contemporary art is clear when speaking with him, but he originally came to the art world as an outsider. A native Angeleno, he studied anthropology and business and now works in his family’s construction and development firm by day. In 2012, he got his first opportunity to organize an exhibition, co-curating Synesthesia, a group show at LA’s M+B with Daniele Balice of Paris’ Balice Hertling Gallery. Last winter he organized a residency for French artists in LA and this past summer he offered French artist Lucile Littot a cottage, which was slated for demolition, to exhibit her work.
The decision to open a gallery in his apartment was the result of a fortuitous setback. What became his inaugural show was originally scheduled to open at a New York gallery this fall, but was eventually postponed until early 2015. Unable to sit on the project for four months, he decided to hold the exhibition in his new apartment and Del Vaz was born. The name comes from the Farsi phrase dast-o-del vaz meaning “open-handed and open-hearted,” and it speaks to the informal and collaborative atmosphere that Nayssan hopes to foster. He intends to open the space up to artists, writers, and curators to organize shows in the future.
Nayssan acknowledges the commercial aspect of the gallery system, but envisions his space as somewhere visitors can find respite from the heavy hand of the market. “Art in its true and honest sense is a place for discussion, for feeling, for beauty, and there’s a kind of a nobility to it still for me, even though some people don’t believe in that, but there’s still a respect and a dignity for me in it. It’s a place where you can shed this marketplace attitude, though that’s not always the case,” he says.
He cites an early experience in a souk with shaping his vision for the space:
“I’m Persian, so for me a marketplace is like a hot, stuffy crowded place, it’s really a visual that’s been with me all my life, and I’m like, ‘I don’t wanna be in a souk,’ then I remember one time being in a souk and my mom being curious about something and the proprietor being like, ‘come to the back,’ and we ended up spending an hour there, sitting down having tea, in the shade, having good discussion, hearing about the city, his family, and so I was like, ‘OK, if I open up a space in my apartment, this will be a little somewhere in the shade, out of the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, to come down and have dates and good discussion.’ So that’s what it was really. That’s how it kind of unfolded.”
This first show sprawls from Nayssan’s modest living room, into a more modest second bedroom. (Most future shows will be confined to the bedroom.) Titled Bathymetry – the study of undersea topography – the group show deals with issues of the human body, hyper-consumerism, and technological obsolescence, and envisions an open-ended future defined by “Proto-” as opposed to “Post-.”
“I wanted to give the viewer the liberty and the power to imagine a future and to kind of do a discovery on their own, taking into consideration the ideas of the post-human body, post-consumerism — that’s a substrate for the show — but it really was about an exercise on imagination for the viewer, not daring to tell people how or what to think,” he says.
The works in the show give the impression of being created, then abandoned by humans. Benjamin Phelan’s extruded Styrofoam sculpture, Natalie Jones’ planters made from a casts of her head and citrus fruits, and Spencer Longo’s computer-etched loofahs have the washed-out look of beach fossils. With her “Checkerboard Mountains,” Liz Craft creates a handmade tabula rasa, and Max Hooper Schneider’s “post-conflict tide pools” re-imagine outdated technology as landscapes for crabs and scorpions.
Nayssan enlisted Brazilian architect Pedro Câmara for the exhibition design, who ended up using cinder blocks to create structures that emulate the different levels and textures of the ocean floor. “We decided to create a parcours, like a runway and give people the freedom to walk around and be in this atmosphere,” Nayssan says. “I didn’t have any furniture, so he made these modular ones that move around, and anything with foam, you can sit on.”
Bathymetry will run through November, followed by a group painting show slated for mid-January. Nayssan doesn’t have specific exhibition plans after that, but said that he would like to see LA artists use the space to show their work before it leaves for an exhibition elsewhere. “I went to Human Resources and Joel Kyack had a one day painting party before he shipped all his paintings off to Paris, so that people could see his work. That was so good … with all of these different blogs, young artists today are hesitant to reshow the same piece in another show because it’s already been seen all over the world. I’m hoping with LA artists, before they have a show in Belgium or London or whatever, that they come do a one night little thing, so we who live here with them, in this city, get to see the work in person.”
The space is open by appointment only, so visitors should email or call if they’re looking for a shady spot to see some art, engage in discussion, and maybe share a cup of tea.
Del Vaz Projects is located at 1600 Westgate Avenue, Little Osaka, Los Angeles. Bathymetry runs through November 22.