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Frieze Los Angeles 2023

With ‘Against the Edge’, Jay Ezra Nayssan Embraces the Domestic

The Founder of Del Vaz Projects expands his vision with the Frieze projects program, sited across Santa Monica and the Westside


BY Travis Diehl in Frieze Los Angeles , Frieze Week Magazine , Profiles | 10 FEB 23

Browse the wares in the Del Vaz Projects gift shop – or, as they have it, the apothecary – and what do you find? Among artist editions, like linen tablecloths by Piero Golia and reef-friendly sunscreen by Amy Yao, are jars of sauerkraut from cabbages grown on site, fresh eggs from Del Vaz’s resident flocks of ornamental ducks and fancy chickens; bowls from Andrea Zittel’s famous A-Z West outpost in Joshua Tree, and apple cider vinegar from Salmon Creek Farm, the vintage commune bought and restored by Fritz Haeg.

What unites these offerings is an ethos; not just household goods or domestic design, they are the produce of other experiments in artistic living – evidence of a network of artists and curators with ties to Los Angeles, trying to build the art world they want to see, starting at home.

Indeed, home is where Del Vaz began. In 2014, curator Jay Ezra Nayssan had organized a handful of exhibitions and was learning the art of the deal when the venue for a planned group show, including the works of Max Hooper Schneider and Liz Craft, fell through. But Nayssan had a spare bedroom and Craft had an idea: Nayssan should host the show there, like he would a houseguest. The opening featured a harpist in the living room and trays of desserts in the kitchen.

Jay Ezra Nayssan at Del Vaz Projects, Santa Monica, November 2
Jay Ezra Nayssan at Del Vaz Projects, Santa Monica, November 2022. Photograph: Chad Unger

Craft also told Nayssan to commit – the exhibition should be the first of many, in a program with an official name. Eight years later, he has moved twice, and Del Vaz Projects, named after a Farsi phrase of welcome, is now in its third spare room, having hosted more than 20 exhibitions.

There in the Sawtelle neighborhood of LA, Nayssan tapped into a Westside tradition. Curator Emma Gray started Five Car Garage in Santa Monica in 2013, on the heels of the project space Paradise Garage, which Craft and fellow artist Pentti Monkkonen had opened off the alley by their Venice home in 2012. When Paradise Garage closed in 2015 – dramatically collapsing in an action by artist Oscar Tuazon entitled This Won’t Take Long – it broke a link in the history of Venice salons, which extends back to the 1960s and encompasses those of Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Huguette Caland, Fred Eversley, Robert Irwin and Ed Ruscha.

For ‘Against the Edge’, a series of artist interventions curated for Frieze Projects on the occasion of Frieze Los Angeles 2023, Nayssan looked to some deeper, darker periods of the city’s history. In the 1940s, while war consumed the Old World, European emigrés-in-exile, from Theodor Adorno to Aldous Huxley to Arnold Schoenberg, resettled in and around Santa Monica. Nayssan has sought out key historic sites in the area, which he plans to activate with contemporary art. Among these, the Thomas Mann house stands out for its style: the German novelist toured the modern architecture of the region with Richard Neutra before commissioning a new residence by Julius Ralph Davidson. A year later, the German-Jewish author Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta moved into Villa Aurora, a crumbling Spanish-style chateau. With help from their friends and neighbors, they gradually restored the building until it, too, became a grand gathering place for the era’s restless minds.

Patricia Iglesias Peco, On the Tip of the Tongue, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: Del Vaz Projects

At Del Vaz Projects itself, Nayssan will host an exhibition of work by a no-less restless force: the late Julie Becker. Her work mined some of the darker psychic and political aspects of domestic real estate: the show’s title, ‘(W)hole’, refers to Becker’s ambitious project Whole, which she began in 1999 in a rent-free basement apartment she had been granted in return for clearing the belongings of its last inhabitant, who died of AIDS; it remained unfinished at the time of her own death in 2016.

A talk on Becker’s work with Ralph Coon and Chris Kraus is planned to take place in the garden of Del Vaz Projects’ current location: a Santa Monica property where, apparently, Shirley Temple grew up. As in 2014, Hooper Schneider inaugurated the new exhibition space – a room off the courtyard – with a coffin-like sculpture incubating the ducks’ eggs.

Alicia Adamerovich, Thursday’s Child, 2021, exhibition view. Courtesy: Del Vaz Projects

Nayssan lives at Del Vaz Projects with his partner, Dr. Max Goldstein, but also with the art, which spills into the common spaces even when there aren’t openings and visitors. There’s a mural in the greenhouse by artist Patricia Iglesias Peco, next to the pens of birds in the yard. There’s a residency program, hosting artists from all over, like members of K-HOLE, Olivia Erlanger and Alicia Adamerovich. Del Vaz Projects has traveled, too – to brick-and-mortar galleries in Los Angeles and apartments in Paris.

I asked Nayssan if, in the course of his moves, he’d considered finding Del Vaz a more traditional building, separated from the mix of his daily life – mirroring the way that other apartment spaces served as stepping stones to the real thing. The thought has occurred to him, but he doesn’t think he will. The Santa Monica house is a step up, as far as it goes – free-standing, spacious, with architectural details like Spanish tiles and a fountain. And while the operation has upgraded and professionalized, as going concerns should – Del Vaz has stayed at home.

Julie Becker, (W)hole, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Del Vaz Projects, Santa Monica; photograph: Paul Salveson

There’s a way the apartment or house or domestic space feels malleable to Nayssan. The exhibition is not just some paintings and sculptures shoved into a spare room, but artwork taking place. It’s a generous project, founded on a dynamic of host and guest that couldn’t work any other way. There are house galleries on the Eastside, too – and in Berlin, New York and Mexico City, for that matter – but they’re a little different to what LA’s Westside offers. Del Vaz Projects has always had an open, inviting feeling, a sense that the exhibition isn’t in someone’s house out of necessity: not a lack of space, but an abundance of it.

‘Julie Becker: (W)hole’ is on view at Del Vaz Projects through April 8 as part of the Frieze Projects program ‘Against the Edge’, curated by Jay Ezra Nayssan

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, February 2023 under the headline ‘Home is Where We Start From'

Main image: Nicola L., Olivia Erlanger and Heidi Bucher, Shell, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: Del Vaz Projects

Travis Diehl is online editor at X-TRA. He is a recipient of the Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant and the Rabkin Prize in Visual Arts Journalism.