“Untitled (My Gold is Yours),” (2013). Gold and concrete. Installation view at Venice Biennale. 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 meters. © Piero Golia. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, Los Angeles.
Groomer: Vanessa Price
“Untitled (Evil exists where good men do nothing),” (2005). Wood, rope, stainless steel, brass. 123.2 x 579.1 x 157.5 centimeters. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York City.
“Untitled #2,” (2007). Dispensing pump, timer, water, transparent tubing. 15.2 x 12.7 x 12.7 centimeters. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York City.
“Untitled #1,” (2007). DC motor, speed controller, steel, broom. 143 x 35 x 15.6 centimeters. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York City.
“Untitled #3,” (2007). Motor, steel, graphite, springs, wood, clay pigeons. 152.4 x 55.9 x 44.5 centimeters. Courtesy the artist and Bortolami Gallery, New York City.
A Showman and A Shaman Walk Into A Bar
I tell Piero Golia that I was sent to do a profile of him for
art issue and he turns his head to the side and says, “I have a big nose.” That, and everything else he says, is spoken through a generous sense of humor, a succession of Parliament Lights, and a heavy, languorous Neapolitan accent. Very heavy.
“I think you don’t want cigarette; in case you want it, they are there.”
Golia’s art is humorous and, on the surface, quite preoccupied with the artist himself. The work that introduced him to the international art world was “Tattoo,” for which he convinced a woman to tattoo his face on her back above the words, “Piero, my idol.” He once climbed a tree at the Turin Art Fair and wouldn’t get down until someone bought his work. He had a light installed above The Standard hotel in West Hollywood, which is on when he’s in town and off when he leaves. He controls it from his laptop at home.
So. Maybe a little more than preoccupied with himself. But I maintain that this is a ruse. And, I’m sorry, Piero, but I must expose you for the gentle-hearted populist that you are.
“Yes, but you can’t say that otherwise they say you are a hippie, and then I lose my very good bad reputation.”
His current project is the Chalet. Tucked in an alley under a beauty school in Hollywood, it’s described by Golia as one might describe a thrilling but unwise relationship you just can’t tear yourself away from.
“What is the Chalet? The Chalet, it’s a mistake…When I started it, I felt very, very rich.
I had a commercial show in Beverly Hills and I made—well, in Hollywood, it’s maybe a month of expenses—but to me, $100,000 is what my family never fucking made, eh? I thought I could really rebuild this town from the ground up. So I start, I bankrupt, I wait for a miracle to continue, start again and it takes three years. I put all my money into it. I consider the place a social experiment. We built a space that’s a different way to conceive a public space. It’s not a restaurant, it’s not a club, [and] it’s not a gallery or an institution. It’s very important to me that everything is free; people don’t pay for food, people don’t pay for drinks. It is meant to attract a certain kind of people, and make them meet each other and become friends, and hopefully lead to other things in the future.”
After a successful show at the Stedelijk in Amsterdam, Golia wanted his next project to stay local. And the Chalet is beautiful: deep blue walls, smooth, 20-foot beams of white oak crisscrossed Jenga-style, and thick, red velvet curtains draped from the vaulted ceiling to the floor. “You don’t conquer abroad, you stay home and build for the people. So I go back to L.A.; I wanna build a place to go at night…I started to ask friends [Mark Grotjahn, Pierre Huyghe] to make work for the Chalet. People like to say I’m an egomaniac. I’m not an egomaniac, but I think it’s important to strive for perfection. Art is the fight with God, no? It’s a narrative builder; I thought of the Chalet as a little monument for L.A.” Monumentality is a theme that comes up quite a bit: the juxtaposition of permanency and immediacy in his work. Equally important to Golia is how the public experiences his work.
“I think it is Aristotle who started this bullshit, ‘God is a creator, men are builders,’ so where are artists? They are somewhere in between. I also believe in something said by Alighiero Boetti, that an artist is somewhere between a shaman and a showman. They have one main thing in their life…it all goes back to the people: entertain and develop. I think the effect of art should be about the idea of developing something that’s gonna stay forever. If you think about a good painting, it’s like your first love; it’s things you don’t forget in life.”
Golia looks down from the balcony in his home to the ravine below and says he wants to build a 280-step staircase all the way down, which would be the longest staircase in Los Angeles. He’d like to fly people in from other countries and have them tour his personal monuments to L.A.: the stairs, The Standard, the Chalet, the art school in Chinatown he founded almost a decade ago.
“Monumentality is very funny. I think in the early 2000s people confused it and thought it was something connected to space. They think if we do it big, that makes it a monumental piece. Then some people thought maybe it’s about time; if it lasts forever, it’s a monument. Then you think again to your first love, and how you’ll never see that person again, or maybe you’ll run into her in 20 years and say ‘Mamma mia, she is ugly, how did I ever?’ There are moments in life you never want to forget. So time, size, those are parameters. But it’s real immortality, the idea of experience.”
Golia thinks he lives next to a porn house. The shades are always drawn, he says. I have to ask: As someone who seemingly lives a fairly modest lifestyle (he doesn’t have a studio: “for me, a fucking waste of money,” he says) and who is unabashedly continental, seemingly longing for the personal contact afforded by the old, decaying cities of Europe, why would he choose one of the most disconnected, materialistic cities in America to make his home?
He thinks about that for a while and sips from a Classic Coke.
“America, you’ve never been dominated. I come from a place, everyone’s been in Napoli. We have had Greek, Spanish, Moors from Turkey, we really had everybody, and the last were you Americans when you came to take the fascists away. America has always been a free country. Here, if you don’t like a place because it’s cold, you move to Florida. In Napoli, you would never leave your people because it was too hot in the summer. It’s a different mentality. For me, I moved to L.A. and I think I can fix it. And I’m stubborn as fuck.”
Photographer: Jenny Hueston at JennyHueston.com. Groomer: Vanessa Price for TheRexAgency.com.