The ‘cultural desert’ of Silicon Valley finally gets its first serious art gallery

The trappings of wealth are different among California’s technology millionaires, but Marc Glimcher of the Pace Gallery is confident that he can interest them in collecting digital art

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 February, 2016, 9:00pm

Silicon Valley got its first major contemporary art gallery this week because Laura Arrillaga Andreessen – prolific art collector and heir to local real estate baron John Arrillaga – decided it was a little weird to have art sales in her house.

“I didn’t come and say I’m going to make Silicon Valley like art. It just happened,” says Marc Glimcher, who runs the influential Pace Gallery and was in town to fete the opening of his new Menlo Park location.

“In the beginning, Laura Arrillaga wouldn’t travel, so I would bring art to her house, and then her friends started wanting me to bring them art too. And she said, ‘You know, it’s a little tacky to be doing this in my house, why don’t you use my dad’s old run-down Tesla shop?’”

A Tesla building could only be considered “old” in Silicon Valley.

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It’s long been observed that the Silicon Valley elite don’t buy art. Unlike Wall Street bankers who see art as investment or prestige enhancement or who maybe even truly love art, Silicon Valley’s wealthy don’t seem to desire the same trappings of wealth, despite art dealers circling their IPOs for years. Wealth shows in different ways here: eccentric dietary habits, peculiar transportation methods such as electric unicycles, extreme fitness behaviours.

With the opening of the Pace Art and Technology space, dedicated of course to showcasing digital art, Silicon Valley gets 20,000 square feet of contemporary art and its first real test as an art market. The current show, “Living Digital Space and Future Parks”, has been made by a collective of 400 digital artists who call themselves teamLab.

Kudo Takashi, one of the artists, says he likes that the show debuted here: “It’s so special to do it in a Tesla Motors building. Elon Musk makes dreams real. He believes in the future.”

“There’s a certain standoffishness to art here, like, ‘Is this a Wall Street scam because we don’t do Wall Street scams’,” Glimcher says. “Obviously digital art makes sense – technology based, which is of interest, and subversive, which is of interest.”

“Here it’s been a lifestyle desert. As in ‘We don’t do anything, we just work. We don’t have a life’. As soon as they start having kids, though, they’re like, maybe we are people, maybe it would be good to have art,” Glimcher says.

In comes Benedict Evans, a colleague of Arrillaga Andreessen’s venture capitalist husband Marc Andreessen. Evans recently berated the lack of culture in the Bay Area by “tweet storming”, a popular activity among the venture capitalist community that involves making a long argument in rapid-fire 140 character dispatches.

“Living in San Francisco is like living in London with no Zone One,” he says, referring to the UK capital’s sprawling central business district. “Any given week here is fine but then you realise you haven’t seen a good picture in months.

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“This gallery is kind of a perfect microcosm of the ecosystem. We’re by a freeway opposite a gas station,” he says. “It’s not exactly Soho.”

Arrillaga Andreessen greets guests. She says she doesn’t think Silicon Valley was slow to embrace art but rather that the collectors are just more private here. “For true art collectors it is deeply personal,” she says.

A gallery focused on digital art will inspire viewers, she says: “Having art come through the wires will meet this community in a unique way, that works on paper or sculpture may or may not.”

Or as Evans says: “Engineers like art that looks engineered.”

Michael Ovitz, the former president of Walt Disney Company, arrives with Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon. “What’s important is they’ve taken the time and put in the effort to attempt to bring things to this community,” Ovitz says.

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Glimcher takes Ovitz and Mellon on a tour of the gallery. They stand in a room called The Crystal Universe – 100,000 individually programmed lights dangling on strands and set against mirrors that give the room a fantastic, dizzying effect. Taking out his gallery control app, Glimcher turns the room lights onto “Black Hole Setting”.

After the show, party-goers walk to a white tent for hors d’oeuvres. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky plays on the speakers. Some aren’t so optimistic. Norio Sugano, in a belted coat and eating mac and cheese, says he’s been in the Bay Area art scene since 1975, and no one’s ever successfully convinced Silicon Valley to be serious about art.

“I don’t know if this is art. I don’t know whether somebody will buy this work for a real art collection. Somebody will buy this, certainly, but it’ll be …” he pauses. “It’ll be lighting.”

Are people buying? “It’s on reserve already. It wasn’t for sale,” gallery publicist Florie Hutchinson says, looking up at a floating 8ft by 8ft sculpture of glittering LEDs.

What home can even fit this thing? What room do you put it in?

“The artist says it’s best viewed from underneath,” she says, with a knowing look. “Maybe an early Valentine’s present?”

The Guardian