Joseph Huppert’s seen exceptional places where you might commission an artist to make something, in some of the chicest locales: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London. Clients there seek out his boss, Robert Irwin, who’s earned international renown for decades of artwork.
So Huppert stared at the mushrooms spilling from the ceiling in an abandoned ice factory in North Park earlier this year, repulsed by the dingy, moldy storefront. But when it comes time to create his own artwork, Huppert doesn’t have his run of an atrium at the Getty in L.A. He’s never made art specifically inspired by and conditioned to a particular space before, à la his boss — so who would commission him?
He had to try his ideas somewhere. In this kind of art, the space comes first. So, the ice factory it was.
This juxtaposition is normal life for a young artist testing his wings on the fringes of San Diego’s art scene at night, but spending his days in rarified air. And it’s been Huppert’s reality since befriending Irwin a few years ago.
Their relationship sets a remarkable old-meets-new stage. With a five-decade age gap between them, Huppert and Irwin mark nearly opposite ends of how visual artists make it in San Diego.
Irwin, 81, is famous far outside San Diego. Some recent smaller pieces command well into six figures. Huppert, his assistant for two years, is more or less unknown. Huppert made work and showed it this summer in that once-repulsive storefront, not knowing how many people would show up. The gallery didn’t even have a website until right before the show opened in July.