Emmanuelle Rybojad at HOFA, "In Love", 2018, mixed media, mirror, LED and plexiglass.

Emmanuelle Rybojad at HOFA, "In Love", 2018, mixed media, mirror, LED and plexiglass.

California Dreaming: Go West Gallerists

Go West Gallerists

The Los Angeles art world is far from monolithic, but if there’s one thing you are certain to overhear at every gathering, it’s an expression of wonderment at the onslaught of new galleries opening across the city. And they’re right, it’s a lot. It feels like for every physical space we lose to its internet-only avatar, two new storefronts or warehouses announce an inaugural. Leaving aside pop-ups, peripatetic indie projects, our many brilliant but amorphous experimental artist-run spaces, and just counting commercial fine art galleries, we count about 15 since September 2018, half of those since January. It’s a lot.

We have to start somewhere so we may as well start with Jeffrey Deitch. The mercurial mega-dealer opened his eponymous space last September in the Hollywood Media District, to initial skepticism that soon gave way to a deeper appreciation. Their alternating program of unusual solo shows (Ai Weiwei, Urs Fischer) and thematic salons has been eccentric and assertive, featuring expanded versions of group shows from his NYC gallery, and/or guest curators (artist Nina Chanel Abney), and consigning works from local artists via their own LA galleries.

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Installation view of Punch, group exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles, 2019. Photo by Elon Schoenholz.

But that wasn’t the only big gallery news that month, nor even in that part of town, as fellow New Yorker Tanya Bonakdar opened right around the corner from Deitch, with high-profile shows from Charles Long and Danish light magician and climate activist Olafur Eliasson. A version of the Eliasson had previously been installed in the gallery’s New York space and, like Deitch has the ability to bring marquee shows to multiple venues. Bonakdar smartly tapped Merry Leigh Cherry, a familiar and respected gallerist in her own right, to helm LA operations.

Each slightly unconventional in their way, came HOFA (House of Fine Art) in October in West Hollywood, and Ladies’ Room LA in November in the Bendix Building Downtown. HOFA’s LA location is the third in a young empire of chic fine art emporiums that includes London and Mykonos and specializes in the eye-poppingly Euro-contemporary. Ladies’ Room is a public space inside Annie Wharton’s art consultancy office at the Bendix Building, hosting projects by bold women wherein they face spatial constraints but are given total creative freedom. Matter Studio Gallery came on the scene in December in Midcity as a conceptual, curatorial, commercial hybridity for which artist and designer Karla Funderburk transformed the storefront of her spacious studio to present thematic group shows on materialist and energetic investigation.

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Installation view of QVANTUM, group exhibition at HOFA Los Angeles, 2018.

A turn of the calendar year ushered in a fresh season of welcomings, starting in January when Mike Weiss and Virginia Martinsen opened Lowell Ryan Projects in West Adams. Veterans of the (where else?) New York art world, they had a strong launch bringing west and east coast artists together in impactful sculpture- and mixed media-rich group shows, and followed up with a breakout solo show from Alexandra Grant. For something completely different (but at the same time, yet another NYC space either expanding or relocating) enter Bitforms. Open since February at the ROW DTLA creative campus, Bitforms is all about post-digital art, looking at aesthetic presentations utilizing advanced technologies and examining the broader cultural implications of these currents. Also Downtown, the cause-based Brannon Mason Gallery opened in March with a unique philanthropically engaged curatorial vision, in which collaborative shows spotlight geopolitical, environmental and social justice issues.

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Krysten Cunningham, “Balls To The Wall” installation at Ladies’ Room, June 1–Sept. 14, 2019.

For those who love that new gallery smell, check out AF Projects, which though only open since April in East Hollywood, has already made its presence known with cracking shows from Guy Bourdin and Scoli Acosta. Also newly minted, the CIACLA (Contemporary Irish Arts Center Los Angeles) which debuted with a dramatic architectural environment by Amanda Coogan at Bergamot in June, will offer a robust mix of performance-based art, visual and installation projects (such as an immersive painting by MASER opening in late July), plus design, literature, music, dance and conversations between and among Irish and Angeleno practitioners and curators.

Fresher still—having opened in late June in West Hollywood—is iv gallery, another New York outfit with a California dream. A domestic space made ready for exhibitions and performance events, affiliated with Castle Fitzjohns on the Lower East Side and its iv counterpart in Chelsea, their programs are more edgy and ambitious than average in-home spaces. Their first LA show features epic mythological canvases by Miami-based painter NFN Kalyan.

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Tavares Strachan at AF Projects, “Sometimes Lies Are Prettier,” 2017.

Now, it’s a fair bet that by the time this appears in print in September, the map will have more pins in it. As to why it’s happening, theories abound. It’s probably not in anticipation of hot sales, but rather a sense that it’s important to have a presence in Los Angeles. Further, it’s the artists themselves who want to work and show here, and if their galleries don’t have an LA space, they’ll find someone else to work with locally. Better for the galleries to just play that role themselves. Plus—think environmentally—we save all that jet fuel flying to Chelsea.