In 2014, Jay Ezra Nayssan founded Del Vaz Projects, an exhibition venue that happened to be in his apartment’s guest bedroom. Coming to see the art on view was, of course, partly the point, but so too was sitting down, sharing tea, and having a conversation.
Nayssan considers all this to be related to the Iranian practice of paziriaei, which can be used to describe the welcoming of guests into one’s home with tea, snacks, and conversation, as well as the room in which guests are hosted.
It’s in the spirt of paziriaei that Nayssan and Del Vaz Projects curated “Against the Edge” for Frieze Projects. Situated in sites across West Los Angeles that are directly connected to the history of both modern and contemporary art in LA, the project brings the past and present together in a setting where they can talk comfortably about their commonalities. They may even share some tea.
Each location—the Thomas Mann House, the Merry Go-Round Building, and the Villa Aurora—was chosen specifically for the artist being shown there. And because of the loose threads that connect them, both the art and the locations will be infused with a fresh narrative while maintaining their intrinsic nature.
Ahead of the fair’s opening, ARTnews spoke with Nayssan about “Against the Edge.”
ARTnews: Where did the concept for “Against the Edge” originate?
Jay Ezra Nayssan: As a longtime resident of Santa Monica, I’ve been wanting to engage with cultural sites on the coastal Westside for some years now. When I was approached by Christine Messineo, director of Americas for Frieze, I took the opportunity to execute some of these projects that I had been considering for quite a while.
Tell me about the process for selecting the sites across West LA. How did you make the final decisions?
Rather than look for similarities between artist and site, I wanted to highlight disparities. For example, the Villa Aurora was a home purchased by Lion and Marta Feuchtwanger, German Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany. By exhibiting the work of Kelly Akashi, whose practice engages deeply with the site of the Poston Internment Camp, history begins to fold in on itself.
“Against the Edge” is curated by you and Del Vaz Projects. How did Del Vaz start and how has it grown since it was founded in 2014?
Del Vaz Projects was founded in 2014 as an intimate exhibition platform located in the guest bedroom of my apartment in west Los Angeles. In 2020, my partner and I moved into a home together in Santa Monica, and since 2021, Del Vaz Projects has been operating exclusively as an arts nonprofit and is evolving into a curatorial platform where projects can occur both within and without our home.
Tell me about the relationship between artists and the environment in West LA. How is the area different from the rest of the city?
What began as a chain of artist colonies, entertainment districts, and laborer’s communities along the coast of west Los Angeles, the city of Santa Monica, and neighboring communities of Venice Beach and Pacific Palisades have, with the help of real estate speculation and short-sighted urbanization plans, essentially “flipped” on themselves, making them almost inaccessible to creative communities like those that once lived here. That being said, there still remains an extremely vibrant community of artists and cultural sites here, both of which are taking a very active role not only in protecting the rich history of the area but in creating new and dynamic opportunities for artists such as grants, studio spaces, artists residencies, and various types of exhibition platforms.
How has it been working with a global organization like Frieze? Do you think there is enough of a focus on the local within the global art market?
Working with Frieze has been an incredible experience. I’ve felt encouraged and supported by the entire team from Los Angeles, New York, and London. Under the helm of Christine Messineo, who used to work and live in Los Angeles, Frieze is able to operate at an intimate and direct relationship with Los Angeles community in order to support really ambitious and complex projects like “Against the Edge.” Similarly, I think the local galleries, artists, and cultural institutions appreciate this relationship that Christine and Frieze are fostering here and in return are very much willing to collaborate and support Frieze Projects, which was certainly the case with “Against the Edge.”
Given unlimited funds, what would be your ideal project?
It would be incredible to expand “Against the Edge” across the city of Los Angeles and work with the immense network of historical sites and cultural institutions and their respective communities. There is no doubt that Los Angeles has an east-west duality, but more interesting would be to move north-south and engage not only with communities and cultural sites such as Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, but also urban infrastructure and monuments that are vital to life here, like the Los Angeles Aqueduct near Sylmar.