For nearly a decade now, the artist and collector Danny First has been running what may be, per square foot, the most influential gallery in Los Angeles.
Located in a small shed in the yard behind his Hancock Park home, The Cabin has over the years hosted solo shows by artists who have since become household names, including Amoako Boafo, Genevieve Gaignard and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones. Many of the artists featured at The Cabin and hosted in the residency First runs in a nearby studio space are being showcased currently in a retrospective of sorts of his curatorial activities, The Cabin LA Presents: A Curated Flashback (until 21 May), at the Green Family Art Foundation in Dallas.
Last year, First inaugurated an outdoor sculpture space—cheekily dubbed “the Fifth Plinth” as a send-up of London’s Fourth Plinth—and added an underground gallery, dubbed The Bunker, to his homegrown art centre. Currently, The Cabin and The Bunker are showcasing new paintings by the Berlin-based German Greek artist, Kiriakos Tompolidis, mainly portraits and interior scenes distinguished by elaborate patterns and textiles.
The Art Newspaper: What was the first work you bought?
Danny First: Raymond Pettibon. It was a drawing, ink on paper. It was 1989 and I have no idea why I bought it. I walked into a gallery and they had a table covered with small drawings by someone who I had never heard of, and they were $400 each. And $400 was money for me; it still is. I don’t know even if today I would buy a drawing for $400 just like that. I still own the piece, and I’m not crazy about it, but I like it and I rarely sell anything, so it’s still on the wall. But I didn’t buy it because I fell in love with it. I always ask myself “Why did I buy it?” and I don’t have an answer.
What was your most recent purchase?
Several pieces by the current artist in The Cabin, Kiriakos Tompolidis. When I like the artist, I just go all the way; it’s terrible. Just when I think that I’m in control, I find myself completely not in control. But I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t spend that much money on anything else but art.
When I like the artist, I just go all the way; it’s terrible. Just when I think that I’m in control, I find myself completely not in control
If your house was on fire, which work would you save?
My George Condo. I have a piece by him that I have a special spot in my heart for. But I’ll tell you why else: because of its domesticated size. It’s not so small, but it’s not big. I have a lot of super-big paintings, and I think it would be hard to run out of the house with them. It’s practical, but I also just love the piece.
If money were no object, what would be your dream purchase?
Glenn Brown, definitely. I just met him in London. And it’s not because it’s expensive; I just love his works. He’s one of my favourite artists whose work I don’t own.
Which artist or artists, dead or alive, would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Lucian Freud. I’ve always had a fantasy of sitting for him for a portrait. I want to go back in time and sit for him. I know that you had to sign a contract of some kind that you would sit for him for weeks. I would sit for him for as long as he wants. I’ve sat for artists since I was a kid, so I really enjoy it. But he just seemed like a fascinating person.
Which work do you regret not buying when you had the chance?
There was a small piece by Glenn Brown, a painting in the style of Frank Auerbach; it was so beautiful. It was the last day of Art Basel in Switzerland, I don’t remember the name of the gallery, but they were willing to give me a deal and I don’t know why I didn’t go for it. I have lots of regrets, but this is one of the biggest. It was so beautiful. It was small and perfect; I could have just grabbed it.
What advice do you give to other collectors?
There are always new artists. There’s always something new around the corner. If you don’t get one artist, there’s always others. Don’t get so upset about not getting anything if the gallery doesn’t want to sell. There are always other galleries. I especially tell new collectors: “Just relax. You don’t have to have everything.”
What’s the best collecting advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t buy it!” I don’t know what happened to this guy—he was an old, wise guy who I would call from art fairs—and he would just go: “Don’t buy it! You don’t need it!”
Have you bought an NFT?
Every time I see anything that has to do with NFTs, especially on Instagram, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I totally understand why people would produce these and try to sell them just to make money, but I think it’s empty. I want to live with art; I don’t want to have it on my phone.