The development of LA’s real estate has renewed a global interest in Los Angeles. The bombast has slayed cheap rents and the feeling of dropping off the radar there – but it hasn’t done much to put pressure on addressing the problem of the city’s perennially poor. One example is the notorious Skid Row, in gentrifying Downtown LA, with an estimated (according to an LA Chamber report) community of between 8-11,000 chronically homeless people.
So what is the irresistible attraction for creatives in this hyperbolic city today? In spite of the rotten political infrastructures below the development of real estate in some of its poorest neighbourhoods, there are positive changes taking place in the LA art scene. More than 50 galleries have opened here in the last two years, and the city just got its first dedicated critical platform: Contemporary Art Review LA, launched in May as an online journal and quarterly publication. Bringing together galleries, artists and critics based in Los Angeles, it’s another important step in shaping the art coming out of LA into an autonomous scene.
Riffing on a mix of escapism, indulgence, weed and desert heat, Los Angeles has always been a unique environment for creativity, but in reference to the recent migration of new gallery spaces to the east of the city, here’s some of our favourite places to experience what is making LA stand out now.
One of the youngest galleries in the Arts District, MAMA is a 4,000 square ft space showing installations of various media but with a particularly interesting range of performance, automotive and photography work (they recently hosted the LA screening of Petra Collin’s new film series Making Space). Exhibitions are curated with a metaphysical slant; each show is joined to the next by a mysterious thread that will be revealed gradually, as the gallery grows.
Also in DTLA’s Arts District is The Box, which shows how much opportunity there is in Los Angeles for artists working with sculpture, installation and other large-scale media that are cumbersome in the shoebox galleries of London and New York. Their next exhibition, Let Power Take Female Form, continues their interest in showing artists who made an impact on the scene in the 60s and 70s, exploring the matriarchal lineage between three Los Angeles women deeply embedded in the LA art cannon: gallerist Eugenia Butler, artist daughter Eugenia P. Butler, and granddaughter Corazon Del Sol.
Bridging the gap between contemporary arts, visual culture and street wear retail, with the preternatural feel of a pop-up, Slow Culture definitely has a certain demographic in mind, but they’re on top of their game in executing it. Since they opened in Highland Park in August 2013, they run a lot of group presentations and brand collaborations, with a few regular appearances from artists such as Jay Howell, Ryan De La Hoz, Eric McHenry and Aryo Tohdjojo. Their current exhibition is another collab, this time with collective Brain Dead – a glow-in-the-dark group show that includes UK-based Russell Maurice and Daniel Sparkes.
A very cool space tucked away in an enclave close to the Dodger Stadium, s-a-d-e extracts the California psychedelic aesthetic – surreal imagery, live colours, displays that distort the physical qualities of the gallery space – from contemporary art production. Right now, you can see Dennis Wornick's bright green jet ski crashing through a wall.
Housed in the Cement Building next to McArthur Park since 2014, “ASHES/ASHES inaugurated its program with an art wake and has since been conjuring queer spirits throughout its successive exhibitions,” says the gallery’s director. Their tone might be irreverent, but the shows here are pensive and relevant, finding a creative way to present art that is often pushed to the periphery in a coherent and appealing way.
Night Gallery’s name came from its nocturnal opening hours and the black walls of the space it used to occupy in a strip mall in Chinatown. It then relocated to a space six times its former size in a pocket south of the 10 Freeway where a number of other galleries have cropped up too (including François Ghebaly, Fahrenheit and 356 Mission). NG now possesses dreamy viewing conditions, with giant geometric slabs of light cutting through slanting white walls. It might have lost some of its edginess with its now conventional opening hours, but it continues to present young stars that bring international attention, including Samara Golden.
Founded by Australian Liv Barrett last year with partner Nelson Harmon, Chateau Shatto is another example of how the amount of space LA galleries have available can be exploited to benefit artists who want to go big outside the museum. Since their debut exhibition in July 2014, they have demonstrated this prowess with sprawling shows by Parket Ito, who turned the gallery into an arterial factory, and Cayetano Ferrer, young luminary of the LA scene, who scavaneges from casinos in his hometown Las Vegas to create hypnotic art deco light sculptures.
Founded by Wendy Yao, Laura Owens and New Yorker Gavin Brown in 2013, 356 Mission has 12,000 square feet of a former printing press, on an industrial plot over railway tracks and the 10 freeway. It has attracted a lot of attention for its relaxed vibe, something like a community art centre, with their communal table for visitors’ use, and a very active programme of events happening in and around their exhibitions. Also at 356 Mission is Twooga Booga, the second outlet of art bookstore, Ooga Booga (also founded by Yao).
“I’m not as sick as I look, despite this interest in poetry,” attorney/poet Vanessa Place writes in the prelude to the just-opened group show she co-curated (The Slick and the Sticky) at Various Small Fires. It’s indicative of VSF’s approach to exhibiting art in the simulacrum of reality that is Hollywood: wonderfully weird.
Smart Objects began as the personal project of artist founder Chadwick Gibson, who was looking for a space to present his screenshots taken from Google Museum View of the Google Museum where the camera was caught in the reflection of mirrors. Now, Gibson is dedicated to showing the work of other net artists seeking a space in the material realm who engage with our current mediated condition in a subtle or subversive way. Previous exhibits by Amalia Ulman, Parker Ito, Spencer Longo, Pacual Sisto, among others have taken place at the Silver Lake space, and upcoming are solos with Ann Hirsch, Derek Paul Doyle and Winslow Laroche.