Always ahead of the curve, Shaun Caley Regen leads her A-list roster of artists to a new location in East Hollywood. Diane Solway chats with the veteran gallerist.
A pioneering force on Los Angeles’s contemporary art scene, Shaun Caley Regen is as admired for her savvy eye and frank approach as for her mix of both local and international all-star artists. Her gallery got its start soon after she moved to the city in 1989 and joined forces with Stuart Regen, the son of the New York art dealer Barbara Gladstone. In 1991, the year they married, the couple launched a then unknown 24-year-old artist named Matthew Barney; in the 22 years since, Regen Projects, her gallery, has promoted a veritable who’s who of cutting-edge talent, including Raymond Pettibon, Anish Kapoor, Catherine Opie, Doug Aitken, and Walead Beshty. This fall, Regen made one of her boldest moves yet: She relocated to a giant white stucco Michael Maltzan–designed space in a gritty section of East Hollywood dominated by pawn shops and hole-in-the-wall eateries, like the doughnut shop dubbed Tranny Donut Time by locals. But to Regen, the neighborhood, with its empty warehouses, is an ideal new frontier. “For years, people said, ‘You can’t have a gallery here because no one will come,’ ” she says. “But so much has changed with art fairs, and now it feels like it doesn’t matter where you are.” Next up at the new locale is a solo show by Jack Pierson (opening January 12), which will include a large word piece spanning the interior of the gallery. “It says, the end of the world,” Regen notes excitedly. “It’s going to be propped up like the Hollywood sign.”
LIFE IS A JOURNEY
The daughter of two students at the University of Washington, Regen was born in Seattle but grew up in Denver, where every Friday night her family would gather at her grandparents’ house to perform chamber concerts. (Her grandfather was first violinist for the Denver Symphony.) A serious kid, she longed to be like her favorite public figure, Angela Davis. (“She was so incredibly articulate and courageous,” Regen says.) But it was writers such as Marguerite Duras and Marguerite Yourcenar who spurred her dreams of becoming a novelist. She studied literature at New York’s Barnard College before heading to Paris to pen reviews for art magazines and work as an assistant to the artist George Condo—though not in the studio. “He’d call me when he’d wake up, and we’d go to the bank, where [art dealer] Bruno Bischofberger had wired him money, and then we’d spend it in the afternoon, usually shopping for 13th-century Chinese furniture,” she says. “The day often ended with watching either Jimi Hendrix videos or The Shining. It was great. He had a painting assistant who came at night.” A stint as managing editor of the magazine Flash Art in Milan soon followed, and when that ended, in 1989, Regen decided to head to Los Angeles. “I hadn’t been there. So I thought I should try it.”
An aficionado of midcentury modernism, Regen lives in the “simple and cozy” Richard Neutra house she bought with her late husband in 1996. (He died in 1998 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.) The ceiling is made of wood, “and it almost looks like a ship,” she says. The decor “is very personal because it’s a small house and everything is glass and wood.” There’s a Glenn Ligon white-on-black painting, Elizabeth Peyton monoprints of Robert Mapplethorpe, and a work by Lawrence Wiener over the sliding glass doors that reads, far more of one thing than another. Regen recently began collecting wood and bronze pieces by Alma Allen, a sculptor and furniture designer she met in Joshua Tree, California, whose work, she says, “is so compelling and strange.” One table in her living room holds her grandmother Caley’s charm bracelet, her favorite piece of jewelry. “My grandparents would go to these very exotic places for their time, like Yugoslavia and China,” she explains. “And everywhere they went, she looked for the perfect charm.” Her own favorite destinations include California’s high desert, Mexico City (“a place with a lot of soul”), and Malibu, where every August she rents a house. “I’m on planes so much, and I love walking on the beach with my dog. So if I can go 30 minutes away and be totally remote, that’s pretty fantastic.”