Just Browsing for Art in Los Angeles Here's the perfect job: spending someone else's money. And if you're an art lover, and get to spend their money on works of art, well, that just might be bliss. Tag along on a shopping trip with an art adviser and her swimsuit-model client.
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Just Browsing for Art in Los Angeles

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Just Browsing for Art in Los Angeles

Just Browsing for Art in Los Angeles

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H: In Los Angeles recently, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg went shopping with one art adviser and her client.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Actually, it was more browsing than shopping. And at Art L.A., a great big international contemporary art fair with dozens of dealers displaying their wares, art adviser Sarah Jane Bruce and client Melissa Keller found several stopping points.

: And I thought this was very clever. The medium is listed as Pollution on Canvas.

STAMBERG: The Brazilian artist covered parts of a bare canvas with masking tape and set it out in his studio.

: It's so polluted in Sao Paulo that you get this really drastic change in color from where the tape was.

STAMBERG: Yeah, it's a dirty gray, geometric shapes, and the white part is what he taped and covered up.

: Right. Right. And so, you know--

: Disgusting and sad at the same time.

: Exactly.

STAMBERG: Kim Dingle paints a huge luscious-looking layer cake in colors of maple and caramel, but art adviser Sarah Jane Bruce says it is not about dessert.

: Her work is dealing with issues of race and gender but without too much of a heavy hand, and that's what I love about her work. It does have a sense of humor for sure.

STAMBERG: Gallery owner Kim Light, who represents the artist, admires her brushwork.

: There's a lot of chaos. There's a lot of movement. There's a lot of gesture. In my opinion, she's one of our great painting masters of our day.

STAMBERG: Actually, you know, if you were always watching your weight this would be a very good surrogate way to get delicious calories into your life.

: Are you satisfied with looking at cake instead of eating it?

STAMBERG: You can have your cake and not eat it, too.

: Client Melissa Keller, an erstwhile Sports Illustrated swimsuit model by the way, has been buying art for some years now.

: She has the collecting gene. I could tell when I walked into her house.

STAMBERG: Sarah Jane Bruce made her house call just before the art fair - to get a sense of Melissa's tastes, her interests, her ideas. And then, for this maiden voyage, Sarah Jane chose a handful of artists and dealers for Melissa to see. With degrees in art history from Emory and Columbia University, and experience at galleries in Atlanta and New York, Sarah Jane Bruce knows a collector when she sees one.

: A real collector to me is someone who, it's almost like an illness or a disease. I mean, it gets inside of you, and you can't shake it. And it's obsessive, and it takes over your life. I mean, if you're a real collector, it's kind of all you can think about, you know. And people usually have that gene, that collecting gene. If they weren't collecting art, they were collecting something else before that.

STAMBERG: There's seriously hair clippings?

: Yeah, there are hair clippings.

: And they're disgusting.

: You see they kind of have an anthropomorphic quality here. You see the two eyes, mouth, this one's laughing.

STAMBERG: I thought they were pencil sketches and lines.

: No.

: No. Those are hair clippings.

STAMBERG: Moving along, there's a small stuffed creature being sold as sculpture, I guess, with a skunk's head attached to the body of a fox. Melissa Keller admires it.

: I really like taxidermy. I have a lot of antlers and things that I collect. I'm from Minnesota. I'm very comfortable with stuffed animals - real animals.

: You don't mind dead animals laying around.

: No, I really don't. I think they're great.

STAMBERG: Beyond the taxidermy and the body hair, Melissa spots a big painting: mixed media - collage, pencil, silk screen in pale reds, blues and black.

: That's stunning, that piece.

STAMBERG: So what attracted you to this, Melissa?

: Love the colors of it. And it's so sort of Trekkie or something. I just think it's really cool.

STAMBERG: Trekkie.

: Yeah, I've always been fascinated by astrology and stars and so...

STAMBERG: It's very geometric. And in some parts of it it looks like the bustier that Madonna wore those times that Jean Paul Gaultier designed for her. Doesn't it?

: Okay.

STAMBERG: The piece costs $5,800. And Melissa really does like it, but it's sold. But the gallery, Honor Fraser of Los Angeles, is having a show of Tillman Kaiser's works in May. So Sarah Jane and Melissa make notes and take business cards. It's the start of a beautiful relationship.

: I was truly amazed by how much art I enjoyed here. So I think now would be to study up on the artists that I liked and look at more of their artwork. And then from there go and work with Sarah Jane on buying on a particular piece and seeing what I feel I can afford and what I think is right for me right now and what really grasps me and if it's available.

STAMBERG: Sounds like a plan. As the ladies continue their wandering, we feel miles away from that scene in Woody Allen's film "Hannah and Her Sisters" when Michael Caine brings a rich rock star to meet a haughty painter.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "HANNAH AND HER SISTERS")

: Dusty's just bought a huge house in South Hampton and he's in the process of decorating.

: Yeah, it's kind of a weird place, actually. A lot of wall space.

: I told him about your work and he's very excited.

: Yeah, I've got an Andy Warhol and I've got a Frank Stella, too. Oh, it's very beautiful - big, weird, you know. But really I need something - I'm looking for something big.

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

: From NPR News, this is MORNING EDITION.

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