Arts / Galleries

Texas Dealer Takes Over Famed Los Angeles Hotel for Edgy Exhibition — London Ham’s Art Diary

Brushes With Celebrities, U-Haul Drama and a Bungalow Party to Remember

BY London Ham // 01.21.20

Texas dealer London Ham, based in Houston, has attracted collectors and influencers alike to his important and edgy exhibition program at his art space Blank Check. In this PaperCity exclusive, Ham shares tales of what happened when he took his gallery on the road to Los Angeles’ fabled hotel Chateau Marmont. This is his diary of those days curating an exhibition for painter Michael Bevilacqua.

It’s 1:15 pm and I’m throwing the last of my things in my bag at home. My flight departs at 2:30 pm. There’s no EZ-Tag on my car but I take the toll road anyway.

I arrive at long-term parking at 1:30 pm from Montrose – my flight boards at 1:55. I get through security at 1:45 but my gate is in another terminal. I make it onboard sweating the last minute. I put on the Thundercat Drunk album and lean my seat back.

I wake up mid-flight bright-eyed. They’re bringing drinks. I order a Coke. The guy next to me seemed a bit standoffish at first but I give it a shot anyway, asking if he’s from Houston or Los Angeles. After a few minutes of pleasantries, we connect on the subject of Jack Parsons.

Jack Parsons was essentially the first person to believe that rockets could pass through the stratosphere. He was also the husband of Cameron Parsons, generally known just as Cameron, who made art influenced by her study of occult magic. She was exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in 1957, founded by Walter Hopps – the founding curator of The Menil Collection where I work.

The first ever Menil Ball honored founding director Walter Hopps. Hopps’ buddy Dennis Hopper came in for the occasion and made remarks to the crowd. Shown, the late Hopper with ex wife, Victoria Hopper, and A-list painter David Salle. (Photo Phyllis Hand)

My fellow traveler is a rocket scientist who works at the company Jack Parsons founded. I extend an invitation to him and his wife and we exchange contact info. I go to pick up a car at the rental place and they won’t lease to me because I don’t have a credit card with me. I catch an Uber to Venice where I’m staying. My friend Arianna is a welcome sight coming up the sidewalk and we head down Abbot Kinney to grab a cocktail.

This rental car situation is exactly the sort of debacle that precipitated my departure in 2010, that distant cog-in-the-wheel feeling that seems impenetrable. Day two and the car catastrophe continues – I end up renting a U-Haul that I can pick up with a phone app, putting me on a tight 24-hour schedule to get the paintings to Granada Hills where I’ll store them with my friend Billy until the install.

The house in Granada Hills is an unassuming ranch-style on a low-key street with a pool in the back. The interior living room has been converted into a recording studio where five of my close friends are working on finishing an album.

The environment is verging on militant, and they’ve taken to sleeping in shifts to maximize work time on a handful of computers. Back in Venice I meet an artist by the name of Stephen Parr who helps me load the paintings into a U-Haul and gives me some transport tips for the hills. I head to Granada to drop off the works.

It’s my birthday. When the work is done we head to the west side to celebrate. I’m staying in Granada and when we return from dinner at tasting kitchen in Venice the musician militia has assembled a cupcake cake with 29 candles. They sing me happy birthday and I pass out.

A Day in Los Angeles with Michael Bevilacqua

The next day we go to The Broad and MOCA, and seeing the Rothkos, John Chamberlains, Jasper Johns and Max Ernsts remind me of home. It’s a comforting feeling.

It’s my last day to explore before Michael arrives so we hit a bunch of thrift stores and galleries. Robin F. Willams at Various Small Fires is amazing. Super present imagery, classical construction and incredibly well executed pieces fill the space lit by the California sun.

We also saw Theaster Gates at Regen Projects, a show at Steve Turner that I don’t remember and Terry Allen at LA Louver Gallery. He’s a personal favorite and the show is incredible.

I hang around the west side a bit after Billy heads back to the studio and have dinner with my friend and cinematographer Luis. We’ve made five shorts together and always talk about ideas for a feature. Tonight is no different and we’re there until the staff pushes us out.

I head back to Granada and crash. It’s Friday morning and Michael Bevilacqua arrives at 3 pm. I’ve been approved and cancelled on the Airbnb’s in the span of my morning coffee. My plan is to get something in the hills for one night so I don’t have to fight traffic getting the paintings to Chateau Marmont Saturday.

I have an 11 am studio visit on the books with Alex Cutler, an L.A. artist I’m aware of through a mutual friend who I’ve been following a couple years. I also need to check in to any Airbnb that will have me in Hollywood and make it down to the west side before 4 pm when traffic becomes near purgatory.

Alex’s studio is in Eagle Rock. I get there and get a confirmation for my Airbnb right as he’s walking me out. I head straight there. By the time I check in, Bevilacqua has arrived at his hotel down sunset and I head there to pick him up for an impromptu friends and family dinner at Rose Cafe. I drop him back off at his hotel at 11 pm and head to Granada to pick up the paintings.

It’s 3:30 am and I’m whipping through Nicholas Canyon in a U-Haul full of gigantic paintings running on pure adrenaline and the grace of God. By the time I make it to my bed the clock reads 4:45.

I’m up at 9 am and headed to pick up Michael Bevilacqua after a quick shower to try to check in early. I have yet to see the space. The previous occupants have a late check out and we can’t get in until three.

Relegated to the pool for another four hours, we head to MedMen to pass the time. I ask a bartender if I can smoke by the pool, he responds with, “You can smoke anywhere on the property you would like.” I think he’s messing with me.

Michael Bevilacqua lounging by the pool while we wait on the room.
Pre-exhibition, artist headliner Michael Bevilacqua lounges by Chateau Marmont’s pool, famous for celeb sightings.

We’ve told everyone to come to Bungalow 3 and at the last minute the hotel switches us to Bungalow 4. We try to bemoan this last-minute change but they assure us the rooms are the same. An invite to an Emmys party the next evening is sent to our room in an effort to offset any frustrations.

A Night at the Bungalow

We get into the bungalow and it’s everything I had imagined and more. The furniture is bright and well-appointed in that classic California mid-century modern style so synonymous with the chateau lifestyle. They’ve left a nice bottle of red with some snacks and a packet of Chateau stationery that reads “London Ham: In Residence.”

There are ashtrays in every room and I suddenly realize the pool bartender couldn’t have been more serious. We finish the hang in under an hour and crack a six pack.

Never in my life have I encountered a more dynamic energetic force than Michael Bevilacqua. He oscillates between childlike frenzy and hyper-focused discipline and seems to be undeterred by any potential challenges, turning on a dime to accept something that’s out of his hands with a simple shrug or refusing to accept no for answer on something he truly believes in.

This wasn’t opened until near 5 am and I have no idea what it tasted like, but it was a nice touch.
London Ham recalls about his Chateau Marmont exhibition: “This wasn’t opened until near 5 am and I have no idea what it tasted like, but it was a nice touch.”

At this point he’s blasting Lana Del Rey and sipping a Modelo while text messaging his kids who are at her show in NYC, “I was supposed to go but we had this thing, look at Marcello!” Finally being in the space with the work installed, the concept becomes crystal clear.

The energy of the space, the gigantic portraits of stars from the golden age of Hollywood.

I can’t think of a more apropos summation of the entertainment industry than a gigantic image of a strung out Judy Garland resting on starter logs next to a pea-green brick fireplace.

Bevilacqua’s re-photographs which I’ve taken to calling “disaffected photography” embody the bacchanalian spirit and subsequent falls from grace that have inspired an entire genre of cautionary tale films. Bevilacqua had originally wanted to call the show “L.A. Blindness,” something that I saw as a bit too cynical and aggressive.

However, after a week of being enveloped in exactly that sort of flashbulb/pot smoke/marine layer existence I’m realizing he was spot on. He always is, I should have trusted his judgement.

The guests start arriving and the champagne begins to flow. I spend the first hour darting back and forth between the poolside and street side entrances letting people in, kissing hands, shaking babies and pouring the occasional drink. The Texas presence is heavy with a few collectors having flown in and many others that now call L.A. home.

Its a reunion of sorts for many and an age-defying experience. I overhear someone in their early twenties musing on Norma Desmond with someone nearly triple their age. These are the moments that I find the most rewarding. The music gets louder and some friends run down the hill to fetch a few more cases of beer.

I’m introduced to one of Michael’s collectors who owns some of the work on display at a 30-year career retrospective he’s currently having at the Monterey Museum near Big Sur. He thanks me for the invite and says, “We’ll be in touch.”

The calm before the storm.
Exhibition opening night: the calm before the storm.

Friends of friends begin to show up and the party swells. I haven’t eaten anything but half of a Brussels sprout salad since we checked in so I dip down to the restaurant with some friends to catch a quick bite. Before the waiter comes my phone starts blowing up and I’m off to the lobby to usher in the next wave of people.

Back at the bungalow they’re living their best lives. I start catching up with the recent arrivals and order a Spaghetti Bolognese – “Wait actually two, I’m sorry, three! And a handful of Caesar salads please!”

The music is shifting between old standards and underground club bangers thanks to my roommate to whom I eternally designate aux privileges. Meanwhile a small cadre of waitstaff has just emerged from the foliage and into a bevy of illicit activity with our pasta and turndown service. They don’t bat an eye.

As we near 3 am the crowd begins to thin. I’m discounting the rocket scientist as a viable attendee to a group of friends when my phone rings. He’s at the door with his wife and a bottle of Prosecco. I get a text from my friends at the restaurant: “We’re bringing Dave Chappelle.” Here’s where things get a bit murky. To my knowledge Chappelle never materialized. I vaguely remember a small group heading to the pool around a quarter til 5 am.

The next morning is a blur. We shuffle out the lifers and package all of the work. As we swing by the desk to checkout, Jeff Bezos minions are fast at work transforming the iconic lobby into an Amazon wonderland for the Emmy reception taking place that evening.

Morning aftermath in the bungalow garden.
The morning after at Chateau Marmont’s Bungalow 4’s art exhibition for Michael Bevilacqua, curated by Texas gallerist London Ham of Blank Check, Houston.

As we wait for the valet to bring the car around, Courtney Love steps out from behind us in what seem to be swaddling clothes with a horde of miniature dogs surrounding her such that they appear to be a single apparatus.

“Have fun y’all,” she yells to no one in particular as security escorts her to a large black SUV. “Have fun!”

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