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Singular Commitment

Kourosh Larizadeh's interest in art by Mike Kelley is a quintessential L.A. story.

January 27, 2002|SUSAN FREUDENHEIM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

High above the endless traffic of the Sunset Strip, up in the hushed haven of the hills, Kourosh Larizadeh greets visitors at a locked gate and, with a gracious wave of the hand, invites them into his world. His house is modest yet elegant, a 1961 Modernist residence with stone floors and expansive windows that open onto lush greenery. Plain white walls and flowing spaces allow the home to easily accommodate a lot of art, but no one could have expected it to become the shrine to the multifarious works of L.A.-based artist Mike Kelley that Larizadeh has made.

In the middle of the living room, on a lushly colored Persian carpet, a white blanket supports a pile of all-white objects: a couple of pompoms, a mask, a holder for facial tissues, two plastic urinals and lots of crumpled fabric. This work, titled "White, Off-White, Off-Off-White," which Kelley made in 1999, is a centerpiece of Larizadeh's collection. To explain its meaning is in no way simple, as its emotional impact depends on the viewer's own sensibility. Reactions could range from wonderment--"What is a urinal doing in the living room?"--to an immediate recognition of the work's layered art historical references.

It is the latter that absorbs Larizadeh: The work is, in part, an hommage to Marcel Duchamp, who in 1917 raised the ire of the art establishment and forever turned the art world upside down by exhibiting an inverted urinal as a sculpture. But "White, Off-White's" overlapping objects also recall the imagery of Picasso's early Cubist paintings, which shattered the flat plane of a canvas into a fractured mosaic. The mask evokes the drama of performance art that has radically changed the art world of the last few decades and has been an important component of Kelley's work, and the white-white-whiteness recalls Kasimir Malevich's 1918 abstract painting "Suprematist Composition: White on White." These nods to Malevich's purist sensibility and Duchamp's down-and-dirty irony address an essential friction within 20th century Modernism.

If it takes more than a moment to absorb this one object, the same can be said of virtually all of the art installed throughout the house, where Larizadeh lives alone. The bulk of it is by Kelley and the rest by a small number of other closely related artists, including Paul McCarthy--a sometime collaborator with Kelley and a renowned artist in his own right--and Richard Hawkins, a former student of Kelley.

An early work by Kelley, an elaborate birdhouse, sits on a kitchen counter; the dining room table is covered with an array of the artist's works, a plaster body cast by Kelley and McCarthy titled "Heidi Sick Girl Molds" from 1992 dominates a room off the front hall. Kelley's art, which includes many objects drawn from daily life, dominates every aspect of the residence to the point where it's hard to tell whether a piece of fabric draped across a chair is part of a work, or just a blanket. Or whether an ashtray is an ashtray or a valuable sculpture.

Larizadeh's commitment to Kelley is a quintessential L.A. story, one in which a sophisticated immigrant from a different culture falls in love with work by an artist born in working-class Middle America who came to maturity in this mecca of creativity. It rep- resents a crossing of cultures that can happen easily in our cosmopolitan city, but that also seems unique. In this house, there is the feeling that something important is happening; together, this collector and this artist are preserving an important moment in history.

"I'm completely letting my ego go out the door," Larizadeh says of his full-fledged commitment to Kelley's work. "It's not to do with me, it's about the artist. I don't care what people think about me; they can come here and laugh. They can come here and say, 'Are you crazy?' I don't care. I just do what I like to do.

"I made up my mind that he's a great artist; he's almost 50 years old, he's incredibly influential on younger artists, he's a leading figure of his generation, and I just went full force."

The relationship began innocently enough. In 1987, Larizadeh, a recent immigrant to L.A., was buying art sort of randomly, mostly work by younger local artists that he could afford. He bought one work by Kelley but didn't hold on to it for long, selling it to buy something he wanted more. At the time, Larizadeh was just 25--he's 39 now--and he was searching for some kind of meaning in life.

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