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Swap-meet swan song

The Raid Projects art gallery closes after a 10-year run not with tears, but with trades.

May 05, 2008|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Seth Kaufman's artwork was a teacup. "I call it 'Teacup,' " the 49-year-old Torrance artist said with tongue-in-cheek solemnity. Then he lifted the piece from its stand, revealing that this cup had no bottom.

"I have subverted the functionality of it by putting a hole in it and putting a glaze in the center that is sort of disgusting," he said, indicating the dirty black pattern that lined the white cup. "If you had a cup that functioned but looked like that, you wouldn't drink out of it. So basically it subverts the entire process."

Quirky as it was, Kaufman's creation had something in common with the other artworks on display Saturday night at Raid Projects art gallery in Lincoln Heights' Brewery Art Colony: By the end of the evening, the anti-teacup would be traded to another artist, who would, in turn, give his or her artwork to Kaufman.

"Swap meet" is not a term frequently used in the rarefied world of fine art -- but that's how Raid Projects founder and director Max Presneill chose to celebrate the gallery's closing after 10 years. The raucous event drew about 300 people to the gallery, lent new meaning to the phrase "trade show" and provided its own sort of subversion of the commercial gallery process, which throws up a wall of dealers and dollars between the artist and the consumer.

Artists were invited to bring a small work of art to be immediately put on display. Then, throughout the evening, an artist could trade his or her work for someone else's, and the process could continue for as many times as the artist chose. The idea, said Presneill, 45, a transplanted Londoner who formed Raid in Santa Ana in 1998 and moved it to the Brewery in 2000, was to foster interchange and camaraderie among artists -- Raid's mission from the beginning.

"I think the last thing anyone wants is to go home at the end of the evening with their own piece," said Matt Wardell, curator of Raid's recent show of the work of young Mexican artist David Rodolfo Fajardo Benitez.

Raid Projects began with its artists illegally entering empty buildings to put on one-night shows. "I kept talking about 'raiding' places, but other people kept asking when we were going to do the next 'project,' so I combined them," Presneill said.

"We've always tried to create an environment that was about artists curating other artists," he said at a Brewery coffee shop a few days before the event. "We don't curate artwork, we curate artists. We've always allowed people to do what they wanted to do."

Presneill said that Raid, known for fostering relationships with international artists, would maintain the Brewery space for artists to display work on an occasional basis and would continue its artists residency program, which brings in a new artist every two months to live and work in the space; the three-month residencies overlap by one month so the artist leaving can share experiences with the newbie. Along with making art and networking, residents are also encouraged to absorb California culture, whether that means heading for the desert or firing recreational rounds at the Los Angeles Gun Club.

What Presneill is giving up is the pressure to put up a new show every month. "After 10 years, I'm just tired of it," said the artist, who is also director of the Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica. The idea behind the swap meet, he said, was to do something fun -- "plus giving artists a chance to add to their own collections."

"It's a wake, and I want a very successful wake," Presneill mused. "It's a natural closing -- I don't feel bad about it, I feel good about it. I've gotten e-mails literally from around the world, from people who've never even been here."

Presneill got his wake, with guests including longtime gallery associates, dogs, kids and at least one visitor, Stephanie Amend, 29, of Alhambra, who had found out about the event just an hour before it started, grabbed an artwork and headed for the show. She traded her piece, a photo of juicy red cherries, for a stuffed whale made of fleece and felt by Peter Perez, 29, of Orange County.

"I think a lot of times, we look at art in galleries, and it's not that we're not interested in it, but we can't afford it," Perez said. "This forum encourages all artists to bring out their art, no matter what it is."

That fact became apparent when Presneill handed over a very nice painting to a child who offered nothing more than a printed trading card in exchange.

"You can't say no," he said with a shrug. He reacted with similar nonchalance at the sight of a crumpled beer can that ended up nailed to a wall -- maybe art, but more likely stuck there by the wag who'd drained the can.

Photographer Brad Zieg, 47, who lives at the Brewery, wanted to trade his photo "Clothing Is Sexier Than Nudity" for a transparent hatchet filled with those little candy valentine hearts with messages on them, but he missed the opportunity by seconds as artist Rick Ankrom traded his hatchet to someone else.

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