That place – what was it exactly?

Andrew Berardini on Le Chalet, Los Angeles, from the Jan & Feb 2015 issue

By Andrew Berardini

Exterior view of the Chalet, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann

A message would arrive a few days before. An address with a time, always after nine. Later just the day. I knew about it from its inception, the protracted negotiations to secure its location, the various collaborators, the tireless fundraising. I saw it under construction, a raw shitty box first kissed with glassy Venetian blue plaster, then cork flooring, finally a dead forest of white oak: angled, benched, lockered and tabled, designed by Edwin Chan after his quarter century working with Frank Gehry. I sat at the piano handed down for decades at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, played (probably) by Beuys and loaned by Christopher Williams, a regular after his retrospective opened. The painting by Mark Grotjahn hung a few feet away, the photograph by Jeff Wall in the long hall; the unmistakable aquarium by Pierre Huyghe filled the heart of the second chamber. None of these legends required mythmaking beyond whatever myths the artists themselves made. All three came besides.

Just after it opened, the emcee, proprietor, author and artist of this strange social sculpture, Piero Golia, stood above the aquarium with its floating stone pouring a scintillating shower of live bait, each little creature a golden shimmer wriggling through and down to the strange crustaceans dancing along the bottom, tracing drawings in the sand with their spidery legs. Ball-capped and bearded, skin snaked with tattoos, with a single gemstone in his front tooth, Golia tended to everything and everyone with deft subtlety during the 15 or so months his indefinable project lived.

What was it precisely? A private club, an old-fashioned salon, a gesamtkunstwerk, a happening without the rough-hewn counterculture of Kaprow or the Hollywooding of Doug Aitken (though it was behind an unmarked door in Hollywood in the back of a historic theatre that this project lived, a glowing neon for a defunct beauty school as a beacon above it)? The Chalet was all these things, but more precisely, the subtle emanations of what a space could be.

Every time a new cast of characters, a series of odd encounters. Some were hired, like the magician that hid my five of diamonds on the shelf behind us, the elegant bartender with the wise face who asked with invariable kindness whether I would like something to drink; a few just started showing up, like the white-robed Indian fellow who sat quietly in the corner and engaged anyone in deep discussion. The ∞ Angeles Ladies’ Choir volunteered. I saw all the museum directors of the city there, most Exterior view of the Chalet, Los Angeles, 2014. Photo: Jeremy Bittermannof the critics, quite a few artists, art dealers and oligarchs, along with the odd actor and novelists, Orlando Bloom and Sasha Grey, Bret Easton Ellis and Balthazar Getty, and these were only a few from a pop culture of which I’m mostly ignorant. Even if unrecognised, anonymous or celebrated, you figured whoever stood there had done something right to end up there.

I did not see it all. I saw the Polynesian dancers but was travelling during the Tom Lawson show in the back of the moving truck and the Stephen Galloway dance performance. I definitely regretted missing Stefan Simchowitz whipped by the dominatrix, but I did catch the ucla Bruin Marching Band, brass blaring, drums thumping, gold-sashed and ostrich-plumed, on its second and final march past a roasted pig and through the last night of the space, a celebration of the first day of installation for Huyghe’s retrospective opening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Now that this enigma has sunsetted off Sunset Blvd, the mystery still pulsates, its generosity sorely missed. A beguiling carnival that pulled its stakes before I could understand how deep were its wonders, how curious was its passing.

This article was first published in the January & February 2015 issue.