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

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,” said 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.

There’s long been a truism that the Silicon Valley elite don’t buy art. Unlike Wall Street bankers who see art as investment or prestige enhancement or maybe even who 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 behaviors.

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, said he liked 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 said. “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 if ‘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 said, then continued and got a little heated. “Maybe it would be cool to have a Nobu. It’s maybe it’s not cool to have no good restaurants.”

“I shouldn’t say that,” he said, winking.

In came Benedict Evans, a colleague of Arrillaga Andreessen’s venture capitalist husband. Evan’s 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.

— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)
December 21, 2015

You move to SF for tech and spend all your money on rent. Well, there’s nothing else here. Maybe I’ll crack and go run in circles

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

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

Arrillaga Andreessen greeted guests. She said she didn’t think Silicon Valley was slow to embrace art at all but rather that the collectors are just more private here.

“At the epicenter of social, so much is public, and for true art collectors it is deeply personal,” she said.

A gallery focused on digital art will inspire viewers, she said: “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 said: “Engineers like art that looks engineered.”

Michael Ovitz, the former President of Walt Disney Company, came in 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 said.

Glimcher took Ovitz and Mellon to tour the gallery together. They stood in a room called “The Crustal Universe,” which involved walking through 100,000 individually programmed lights dangling on strands and set against mirrors that gave the room a fantastic, dizzying effect. Taking out his gallery control app, Glimcher turned the room lights onto “Black Hole Setting”.

Ovitz said he was impressed Glimcher got this to happen.

“This is some undertaking especially where people are just learning,” Ovitz said.

“This is called a crash course,” Glimcher responded, laughing.

After the show, partygoers walked to a white tent for hors d’oeuvres. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” played on the speakers.

Some weren’t so optimistic. Norio Sugano, in a belted coat and eating mac and cheese, said 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 paused. “It’ll be lighting.”

Are people buying?

“It’s on reserve already. It wasn’t for sale,” gallery publicist Florie Hutchinson said, looking up at a floating 8’x8’ glittering LED sculpture.

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

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

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