Now, we watch as massive galleries like Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and Sprüth Magers join L.A.’s ranks, part of a wave of new galleries to the city. It’s become clear that the impetus driving galleries into L.A. is manifold, but their staying power is being put to the test. Can L.A. accommodate the recent transplantations?
Exterior view, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, 2016. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua Targownik / targophoto.com.
The hype machine has obviously worked, because there are more galleries now than ever. Seven years ago, when I first moved here, Culver City was where it was at. On Saturday nights, La Cienega and Washington would be hopping with people dipping in and out of Peres Projects, Kim Light/Lightbox, François Ghebaly, and David Kordansky. None of those galleries are there anymore (Ghebaly and Kordansky have since moved east), and now the throngs have to decide between Culver, Hollywood, Downtown/Boyle Heights, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, or Chinatown.
“When I first came to L.A., there were about 10 galleries and most of them were in Chinatown,” says Karolina Dankow, co-owner of Karma International, the Zürich-based gallery that just opened an outpost in a former doctor’s office in Beverly Hills. “Now it’s so different. There are all these newcomers, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop,” she notes. “People who have been in L.A. for a long time say that they’ve had these waves before, and that galleries will close again, and that it can’t be the next New York—it’s just not that kind of city. I have a feeling that this time it’s different, because honestly what’s going on in New York—the creative space is getting killed because it’s getting so expensive.”
Just two years ago the idea of waiting in line to get into any gallery show in L.A. would have seemed absurd.
The growing community became apparent at Sprüth Magers at the end of February. Hundreds of gallery-goers queued in a snaking line in the courtyard of Monika Sprüth and Philomene Magers’s new L.A. outpost on Wilshire—in a huge two-story space boldly positioned across from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—waiting to see a dozen or so new Gagosian’s
Left: Exterior view of Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles. Photo by Joshua White/JWPICTURES.com, courtesy of Sprüth Magers; Right: Exterior view of Karma International’s Beverly Hills space. Photo courtesy of Karma International.
Jori Finkel’s recent piece in The Art Newspaper acknowledged that the former reason—that galleries are moving to L.A. to strengthen ties with artists—is possibly the main impetus behind galleries rushing to sunny Los Angeles. While she states that Sprüth Magers’s move to L.A. was a way of vying for the market of John Baldessari (which has been cornered by Marian Goodman in New York), she quotes several L.A. gallerists who divulge that most, if not all, of their sales go to collectors outside of the city.
“I was like, ‘I need a gallery in L.A. like I need a hole in my head.’ But she made a good case for it.”
Like many, Franklin Parrasch, who opened his Boyle Heights gallery with his former assistant Christopher Heijnen, points to the 1960s and ’70s as to why people are attracted to L.A. “I think a lot of it has to do with the history here of art,” he tells me in a meeting at his gallery. “People like Price, Ruscha, and Baldessari—all these people are the foundation of American art. So all these young artists that are relocating here, they’re gravitating towards something that was the germ that started all of this in the first place.”
But Maccarone and Paul Schimmel were both enticed by someone decidedly more contemporary: painter
Maccarone’s Boyle Heights space. Photo by Benny Chan. Courtesy of the artist and Maccarone New York/Los Angeles.
Paul Schimmel, the former MOCA curator who will run Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, a remarkably large 100,000-square-foot former flour mill in the Arts District of Downtown, recalls a similar experience. “I should say, of all the things, my ‘a-ha moment’ was the lunch that Laura Owens gave for the opening of her space with Gavin,” he recalls over the phone. “It was an incredible Sunday, it was really the artist’s community. It had this do-it-yourself feeling, and a ‘this is my downtown’ [feeling]. It actually made me realize, in the best way, that the counterpoint to a more corporate [feeling] is, of course, how close can you get to what artists do?” (Owens could not be reached for comment for this article.)
It’s an indisputable fact that we are witnessing L.A. in the midst of something—whether it’s a revolution, a renaissance, or simply a fad.
“It’s great when artists invest in a neighborhood, but it creates a wave of neighborhood development and gentrification,” concedes Vergne. “The Geffen might have done that to [Chinatown] at some point as well. Or look at the history of the Lower East Side.”
Preparing for an exhibition by L.A. artist
Installation view of “Ken Price: A Career Survey, 1961–2008” at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Lindsay Comstock. Courtesy of Parrasch Heijnen Gallery.
The first show at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is an exhibition of abstract sculpture made by women from World War II until today, called “Revolution in the Making.” It’s an apropos title to open the mega-gallery, allowing for a second meaning to seep through. It’s an indisputable fact that we are witnessing L.A. in the midst of something—whether it’s a revolution, a renaissance, or simply a fad. It’s too early to tell if L.A. will be able to support galleries in a local way, with our own ecosystem of not just artists and schools, but collectors and fairs. But for now, the world’s arts community is creating a veritable traffic jam to join the fray. The value of this profusion is still to be determined.
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