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Singular Commitment

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


"He had a really hard time letting himself organize it," Kelley says. "He wanted me to come to his house and do it for him. I refused." Kelley says he does not believe the arrangement of objects in his works control their meaning. Kelley lets Larizadeh do what he wants, and both artist and collector say they don't talk about the work very much together. They share other interests, however. Larizadeh is an avid EBay and thrift-store buff and has often sought out obscure magazines and other objects he knows might interest Kelley. He's even found church banners and offered them to the artist for possible inclusion in "The Harems." Any decision about what is or isn't art, however, is always up to Kelley. "I operate as a lowly studio assistant," Larizadeh says.

At Larizadeh's house, there is a kind of hushed reverence for the work. Russell Ferguson, chief curator at the UCLA Hammer Museum, calls Larizadeh "one of the most passionate and focused collectors in Los Angeles." Although so much of the incidental space in his home is devoted to art, Larizadeh often entertains visitors, both for study reasons and for social events.

He does this because he likes to share these works that have rarely been seen. "It's a beautiful home, and a large proportion of it is devoted to the work," Ferguson says. "He's getting a lot out of these works on a daily basis."

Ferguson and MOCA's Schimmel both point out that Larizadeh has been very generous to the Los Angeles art community. Over the years he has given major works to MOCA, many of them by Los Angeles artists. At the end of last year, he made donations of 21 works to MOCA, 11 to the Hammer, and an additional 15 to the Luckman Fine Arts complex at Cal State L.A. None of these works is by Kelley, but they include well-known as well as younger L.A. artists such as Jorge Pardo, Chris Finley and Pentti Monkkonen.

The gifts represent Larizadeh's commitment to L.A., both its artists and its museums, but they are also a way for Larizadeh to maintain focus in his holdings. As it did for many, the events of Sept. 11 shook Larizadeh to the core. He says he was reminded of his feeling of loss when his own country was taken over, and of his anger at religious zealots. As a result, he has felt even more strongly committed to his home of nearly two decades (he became a citizen in 1995). L.A.'s art--so foreign to the culture he grew up in--is at the heart of his connection.

"I began thinking about art now, and how a painting no longer looks the same, since Sept. 11. But then, I thought, a true artist always speaks the truth, and wars don't change that."

Art, for Larizadeh, is the primary source of salvation and meaning in life. He says he thinks about it even as he does his work as a banker. He often looks at what he owns with fresh eyes and is always willing to talk about it more, to explore it.

To describe the relationship, he turns to a quote from Duchamp, the ultimate conceptual artist, the man without whom no art would look the same today.

"Duchamp described the relationship between artist and viewer as 'one indefinitely stalled at the stage of courtship.' That is exactly the relationship I have with Kelley's work. I never really understand where they are from, and I think that's the seduction. If I were to understand it, then I think I would lose my interest."

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