Art
The L.A. Artist-Run Galleries You Need to Know
Left to right: Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, and Sarah Manuwal of EMBASSY; Max Farago of FARAGO; and Adarsha Benjamin and Eli Consilvio of MAMA Gallery.

Left to right: Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, and Sarah Manuwal of EMBASSY; Max Farago of FARAGO; and Adarsha Benjamin and Eli Consilvio of MAMA Gallery.

Do artists make better gallerists? In our ongoing series exploring the inner workings and inspirations behind artist-run galleries around the world, we turn our focus to Los Angeles.

Amid L.A.’s infamous sprawl, where affordable, quirky spaces abound and gallery districts in Hollywood and Downtown continue to expand, it’s no surprise that artist-run galleries are multiplying like rabbits. From influential mainstays like Night Gallery to feisty, interdisciplinary newcomers like EMBASSY, the below galleries represent a sampling from the California megalopolis’s art scene—one brimfull of experimentation bolstered by an abundance of square footage in which artists can spread their wings.

 


FARAGO

Max Farago

224 W 8th Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The exterior of FARAGO. Photo courtesy of FARAGO.

The exterior of FARAGO. Photo courtesy of FARAGO.

After living in New York for 15 years while working as a photographer, Max Farago decided to join the art world’s exodus from the East Coast to L.A., and pursue his longstanding dream of opening a gallery. “I felt like I could do more than one thing in L.A.,” explains Farago. “For me, that wasn’t a possibility in New York.” Last year, he set up shop in three small, contiguous storefront spaces in Downtown L.A. that were once home to jewelry stores. “They’re like lightboxes,” he says of the glowing trio, “which is a familiar format for me to compose within.” So far, they’ve hosted young artists like Ben Berlow and Leigh Johnson, more established names like Aaron Bobrow and Jason Brinkerhoff, and—excitingly—the work of largely undiscovered, untrained L.A. artists like William Crawford and John K.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Max Farago: I have always had an interest in opening a gallery. I wanted to have an outlet to collaborate with friends and artists whose work I admire. Moving to Los Angeles from New York City inspired me to make it happen. It’s less expensive and not so set in its ways. I fell in love with Downtown L.A. and its faded glamor, and decided to open the gallery in three former jewelry stores under a historic theater. The first show I opened was work by my oldest friend, Ben Berlow. Ben makes beautiful abstract paintings on found-paper surfaces. It felt right to start with a show by someone I had known since I was 12.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

MF: It is complicated. I’m not sure if I have found the right balance. I tend to go through waves where I spend more time making my work and then other times when I am more devoted to the gallery. Luckily, I have a great assistant who keeps things moving.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

MF: One of the things that excites me most about having the gallery is being able to champion friends whose work I love. I am very proud of the shows I’ve done with Ben Berlow, David Ortega, Leigh Johnson, and Aaron Bobrow. All great artists, people, and old friends. I am also expanding outside of my community, most recently showing drawings by an artist named Jason Brinkerhoff. I had bought some of his work years ago from Matthew Higgs at White Columns and was excited to do a show with him. We have become great friends in the process.  

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

MF: Good work, hung well in a nice space.  

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

MF: Not necessarily.  

Artsy: What’s next?

MF: The next show will be photos and videos by John Kayser. The work was made in secret and came to light when it was found in a Los Angeles estate sale. The images document his private obsessions and fetishes. They are both performative and incredibly beautiful. They offer a very personal document of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s in Los Angeles and recall elements of Carlo Mollino’s polaroids, Vito Acconci’s documentation, and Miroslav Tichý’s voyeurism. This show will be followed by an exhibition and performance by Emily Sundblad, a great friend, artist, and gallerist!



EMBASSY

Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, Sarah Manuwal

422 South Ord Street, Unit G, Chinatown, Los Angeles 

Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, and Sarah Manuwal of EMBASSY. Photo courtesy of EMBASSY.

Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, and Sarah Manuwal of EMBASSY. Photo courtesy of EMBASSY.

In a building that once served as offices for the Cambodian Embassy, Anna Breininger, Chanel Von Habsburg-Lothringen, and Sarah Manuwal each have a studio space and, together, run a gallery that they’ve dubbed “a platform for provocation.” Indeed, since opening its doors just a few months ago, EMBASSY has developed a reputation for boundary-pushing shows that bring a broad cross-section of artists under one roof—and hinge on inciting conversation around art and culture.  


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

EMBASSY: We found an old storefront/office in Chinatown, which we then converted into our studio space. The building used to be the Cambodian Embassy, which helped inform the name of our space.  EMBASSY had its first exhibition on July 11, 2015. Our first show was called “Not Her First Rodeo.”

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

E: So far this year, we’ve scheduled our programming quarterly. Each show has lasted a week, allowing us to maintain our studio practices in between.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

E: We are in our first year of programming. Our last exhibition, “TOGETHER/ALONE,” drew on the theme of the artist book. With this exhibition we reached out to a wide array of artists—emerging, established, historical, and within and outside of our community. We want to bridge the gap. We want our space to represent artists who may not have an outlet otherwise. We want to subvert the hierarchy.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

E: There can be a lot of different models of success. Success to us means having a space that can offer up provocation—a space where our viewers can have intimate conversations about the work they’re seeing.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

E: Not always.

Artsy: What’s next?

E: We are very excited about our next show in April, a group exhibition presenting the work of Andrea Bergart, Joe Ballweg, Kari Cholnoky, Tamara Gonzales, Max Heiges, Dante Lentz, and Chris Martin, in conjunction with Chris Martin’s solo show at David Kordansky Gallery.  



Night Gallery

Davida Nemeroff, Mieke Marple

2276 E 16th Street, Downtown Los Angeles

Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff of Night Gallery. Photo by Megan McIsaac, courtesy of Night Gallery. 

Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff of Night Gallery. Photo by Megan McIsaac, courtesy of Night Gallery. 

It’s an origin story that’s become something of art-world lore. Artist Davida Nemeroff opened Night Gallery—named for its once unorthodox late-night hours—in L.A.’s Chinatown in 2009, soon after graduating with an MFA from Columbia University in New York (she’d traveled across the country by bus). Mieke Marple joined as a partner a year later, and they’ve been turning out smart, risk-taking shows ever since. Since moving to a sprawling Downtown L.A. warehouse space in 2013, Night has cemented its place as an auspicious launching pad for artists from Nemeroff and Marple’s community—Mira Dancy, Samara Golden, David Korty, Awol Erizku, and more—and become a fixture on the L.A. art map.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Davida Nemeroff: Art and my friends’ art inspired me. The first Night Gallery space was in Lincoln Heights. I just came upon it—the “for rent” sign was on my drive home. It was the perfect space. No questions asked. It also happened to be across the street from a restaurant that was open 24 hours, so I was never really alone—which was helpful in the early months. It was named Night Gallery in call and response.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

DN: Everything in my life is a careful teetering balance. An art practice can’t really exist at the same speed as the gallery. My practice is slow-paced—in turtle time.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

Mieke Marple: Night Gallery’s program is its own beast at this point. It has its own aesthetic and its own mind. The focus tends to be on the figure and explicit content. Davida and I like when there is something you can really grab onto. That said, we are always looking for holes in the program. We draw from our own community, but that community keeps getting vaster and vaster, so it feels like an endless resource.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

MM: Passion for art, focus, and not overspending.

Artsy: What’s next?

MM: I’m really excited for our show with Jesse Mockrin in March. She is an artist who I feel like we’ve really helped develop, and she’s exceeded our wildest dreams in terms of what a painter can become. Her paintings are not the type of figurative paintings that are trending right now. In fact, they feel relatively alien to the contemporary art landscape, but that is what is exciting about them. I can’t wait to unleash them.



The Finley

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Jeff Hassay

4627 Finley Ave, Los Feliz

The exterior of The Finley. Photo courtesy of The Finley.

The exterior of The Finley. Photo courtesy of The Finley.

An unsuspecting stairwell in the Los Feliz Villas apartment complex is home to The Finley. Viewable through a street-front window on Finley Avenue, the gallery is “anti-spectacle,” says Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, who started it with her partner Jeff Hassay in 2011. While not artists in the traditional, art-world sense, Lehrer-Graiwer, a writer and curator, and Hassay, a musician, organize monthly shows in a small cross-section of stairs, railings, and two landings. Their program of fresh L.A. artists (last month saw a show of drawings and ceramics by Allison Miller; Ian Rosen features now; and up next is Christina Forrer) pairs well with the experimental nature of the space. More often than not, featured artists show works that were made with the space in mind.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer: As a curator, the idea of having an alternative exhibition space had been on my mind for a while, but the burden of rent and a total disinterest in being an art dealer were big obstacles that ultimately led us to conceive of using an available, free, throw-away space close to home. The idea was actually prompted by an article I wrote for the LA Weekly about the experience of borrowing a painting from the artist John Williams, and looking at it daily in a domestic context.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

SLG: The gallery space is small and the shows are focused. Our first exhibition was by the L.A. artist Mark Roeder and included painting and photography. We love the idea of showing work by artists we know closely and believe in strongly, without turning the exhibitions into a commercial event. The practical circumstances of our situation in the building enable us to mount shows without additional staff, without real overhead, and with full permission and freedom.

For the past four years, we’ve focused on artists based in L.A. and in our community. We’re particularly interested in supporting artists without representation in the city. We think of our gallery primarily as a project space serving a fairly tight-knit and small community of artists.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

SLG: Not serving commercial interests, being thoughtful, and taking risks.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

SLG: Yes, generally speaking, I think artists (in the broad sense of creative producers) make more interesting and compelling gallerists.

Artsy: What’s next?

SLG: While we’ve focused on local production since The Finley started, we are hoping to expand our purview and show artists based elsewhere in the coming year(s). This will require funding we do not yet have, so that is all contingent on finding money, a task we do not excel at. We also have some very modest improvements to the space planned, like re-landscaping the street front to be drought-tolerant.



MAMA Gallery

Adarsha Benjamin, Eli Consilvio

1242 Palmetto Street, Downtown Los Angeles

Adarsha Benjamin (mid-cartwheel) and Eli Consilvio of MAMA Gallery. Photo by Sara Clarken. Courtesy of MAMA Gallery.

Adarsha Benjamin (mid-cartwheel) and Eli Consilvio of MAMA Gallery. Photo by Sara Clarken. Courtesy of MAMA Gallery.

As its maternal name suggests, MAMA is in the business of nurturing artists. Adarsha Benjamin and Eli Consilvio opened the gallery in December 2014, drawn to the brick-and-mortar model despite original plans to operate primarily online. Their Downtown L.A. space—a former warehouse embedded with architectural gems like a domed roof, wood beams, and brick walls—was inaugurated at the onset of the recent gallery boom in the neighborhood.

Their first show, titled “ERECTION” (which was preceded by a soft opening, debuting the photographs of actress Jena Malone), playfully brought together 15 artists, many of whom presented works that were inspired by the space itself. Perhaps the highlight was James Georgopoulos’s video installation made with the shell of a 1968 Ford F250. Since then, the gallery has developed a small, thoughtful roster and introduced a slate of smart solo shows—including the stunning Cole Sternberg exhibition that is now on view.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Adarsha Benjamin: Circadian rhythm inspired us. Destiny. An absolute obsession with art and all that it inspires. We chose MAMA as our name because you’ll never forget it and it probably was your first word.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

AB: The gallery has become our art practice. I can speak personally in saying that all my creativity is channeled through the space now. As a gallerist, there is so much more to what we do than “selling art.” We are involved on every level and often put ourselves in the shows in the form of an installation or idea. That being said, I still try to maintain a photographic and film practice outside of the space.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

AB: We are just entering our second year, and our program has really just started to evolve into what we want it to be. Our first year was a gamble, a bit of a wild card. We now have a small roster we represent and an extended group of artists we are working with. It’s instinctual and it’s based on a keen eye. The relationship between gallery and artist is very important, so once that is developed and you know you would do anything for each other...then off you go.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

AB: Are people paying attention? Talking? Discussing? Are you inspiring people? Did you feel something? Take something away from the experience? If you said yes, then that is successful to me. Oh, and being able to pay the bills. Or just eating really good meals and Artforum ads.

Artsy: What’s next?

AB: We recently expanded and we don’t plan to do any more of that for this year. But we’re also expanding spiritually, creatively, ethically, financially. We’re very excited about showing Ariana Papademetropoulos, James Georgopoulos, and Ren Hang!



The Cabin LA

Danny First

Hollywood, Los Angeles

Danny First of The Cabin LA. Photo by Naomi Harris, courtesy of The Cabin LA.

Danny First of The Cabin LA. Photo by Naomi Harris, courtesy of The Cabin LA.

In an undisclosed location near the intersection of Melrose and Highland Avenues sits Danny First’s house, in the backyard of which is the gallery he built—a hut that he’s dubbed The Cabin LA. The appointment-only exhibition space has drawn a healthy dose of press, not least because of its custom-pitched-roof digs, but also due to its inspiring crop of artists, most of whom do not have representation in L.A. Recent solo shows featured Tschabalala Self and Genevieve Gaignard. First’s primary motivation is a desire to help young and emerging artists, which he does not only through showing them at the Cabin, but also by hosting them at the residency he runs out of his nearby studio.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Danny First: I always enjoyed helping emerging artists with their careers. During Summer 2014, I built The Cabin (based on the Unabomber’s cabin in Montana) to showcase emerging artists and also to show the latest works of the artists at my residency. To me, the best reward is if I’m able to help the artists by introducing them to dealers and collectors.

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

DF: I mostly enjoy the energy of the other artists.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

DF: Most of the artists that I invite to live and work at my residency I find on Instagram and Facebook.

I usually text the artist, asking if he or she would like information about the residency. And I follow up with an e-mail. All the artists are from out of town or from Europe, so I have to rely on online images only.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

DF: No. To operate a gallery you also need a business sense, which most artists don’t have.

Artsy: What’s next?

DF: I’m very excited about the international artists (from New Zealand, France, Holland, and Sweden) who will work at my residency this year. Some of them will also show their work at the Cabin. I’m also planning on having more guest curators at the Cabin.



The Pit

Devon Oder, Adam D. Miller

918 Ruberta Avenue, Glendale

Devon Oder and Adam D. Miller. Photo courtesy of The Pit.

Devon Oder and Adam D. Miller. Photo courtesy of The Pit.

Keenly aware of the alternative programs on which artist-run galleries thrive, Devon Oder and Adam D. Miller chose a road less traveled. With a multigenerational focus, the artists’ program aims to bridge the gaps between emerging, mid-career, and established (think a group show that brings together Anna Betbeze, Rebecca Morris, Sterling Ruby, Lara Schnitger, and Despina Stokou). Oder and Miller opened their gallery in July 2014, in a former 1930s-era auto shop located next door to their studios.

The Pit, named after the space’s architectural trench, was inaugurated with a group show titled “The Outlanders”—a not-so-subtle nod to their location, away from the city’s art centers. They championed artists of the neighborhood, including Mungo Thomson, Mary Weatherford, and Shana Lutker, among others. The gallery’s momentum since then has allowed the pair to ditch their day jobs, and also led to the opening of The Pit II, a 150-square-foot annex, which is drawing in the likes of Amanda Ross-Ho and Nikki Maloof for solo shows.


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

The Pit: After receiving our MFAs from Art Center College of Design in 2008, we found ourselves working in an artist’s studio while simultaneously seeking opportunities to exhibit our own work and the work of artists we admired. Adam started curating independently when artist Diana Thater offered him a space to curate a show at the Pacific Design Center in an empty showroom. After this first exhibition, he continued organizing shows about every six months for the next five years at spaces around Los Angeles.

We started talking about the possibility of our own space in order to put together our own programming and to have our own voice. We had been working with alternative spaces and venues during this five-year span, and we felt that there weren’t many artist-run spaces that specialized in multi-generational exhibitions. Most of them were all focused on emerging artists, and that makes sense from a logistical standpoint. In order to work with bigger artists you need to have a proper insurance policy, the exhibition space needs to be done well, it needs to be secure, etc. So we decided we wanted to elevate the idea of an artist-run gallery beyond that of an alternative space just for emerging artists.  

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

The Pit: When we decided to open the gallery, we were hoping that in time it would generate income so that we could leave our day jobs. (Devon was still working at Sterling Ruby’s studio, and Adam had been working for the non-profit animal rights organization PETA for about four years). We were both working full-time, creating work for our own practices, and running the gallery. We were really fortunate and things took off quickly, so we were able to leave the day jobs to focus on the gallery and our art. It was liberating, and both of our practices underwent interesting changes and became more focused. Now that the gallery has been open for a while and is more busy, it takes up more of our time, but since it is attached to our studios, we can have visitors and open hours while still working on our own art.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

The Pit: We now have two galleries, each with a different set of concerns. For The Pit, the exhibitions are all multigenerational group shows. Every show has a mix of established and emerging artists. We primarily work with artists in the Los Angeles area but we do bring in out-of-town artists fairly regularly as well (Rachel Harrison, Huma Bhabha, and Jennie Jieun Lee, just to name a few). While we curate most of the shows for The Pit, we also have outside artists, writers, and curators organize about a third of the exhibitions. This allows us to meet new artists and writers consistently.

We design, print, and bind a publication in-house on our Risograph printer for every exhibition. We also produce limited-edition prints and objects with artists from our programming. The editions serve as a way to work closely with an artist on a side project, while also providing some income for overhead without putting pressure on sales of original works.

For The Pit II, we are doing focused solo shows. It’s a very small space (150 sq. ft), so we want artists who are interested in putting together a thoughtful installation that will utilize the unique space. Our first solo exhibition by a New York-based artist will be Nikki Maloof in the winter of 2017. It’s also exciting because more established artists are willing to do unique projects at The Pit II that they may not normally do because of concerns regarding sales, production, etc. We’re very excited that Amanda Ross-Ho will be doing a solo show in the space in June.

Artsy: What’s next?

The Pit: We have big plans for the future of The Pit, but as of now we’re really excited to see the first year’s programming for The Pit II. Two of the artists have been working in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years without a solo show at a commercial gallery, and being able to provide opportunities for overlooked emerging artists is a really wonderful and special thing that we’re able to provide. We also are interested in doing exchanges with other artist-run galleries. In September 2016 we will be curating a show at Regina Rex in New York, and then in January, they’ll be organizing a project at The Pit.



Chin’s Push

Lydia Glenn-Murray

4917 York Boulevard, Highland Park, Los Angeles

Lydia Glenn-Murray in the backyard of Chin’s Push. Photo courtesy of Chin’s Push.

Lydia Glenn-Murray in the backyard of Chin’s Push. Photo courtesy of Chin’s Push.

Artist Lydia Glenn-Murray wears many hats, and her interdisciplinary space, Chin’s Push, reflects her smorgasbord of interests. The Highland Park house, which Glenn-Murray has occupied since 2013, plays more roles than a character actor—it’s her home, an exhibition space, a residency program, a livestream, and (coming soon) a public-access TV station broadcast from the backyard shed. Glenn-Murray excels at forging connections between all sorts of creative output, from fine art to poetry to filmmaking to food, making Chin’s Push a dynamic site of experimentation.  


Artsy: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Lydia Glenn-Murray: I started building out the space here in the wonderful but heavily gentrifying neighborhood Highland Park in the summer of 2013, before my senior year at UCLA. Before that, I’d been organizing things with friends on campus and at my apartment near school for a while. The combination of storefront and house, here, seemed like the natural evolution of the kind of intimate, living-room programming I’d become so interested in.

I continue to play with the lines between live and work space, public and private, but there is also a distinct white-wall gallery here, so that shows aren’t always forced to compete with household stuff. The name, Chin’s Push, comes from the doorbell of the house. A piece of paper printed with the family name “Chin’s” had been slipped into place on the doorbell above the button, which reads “Push.” It’s still there!

Artsy: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

LGM: I started the space while I still had a year of undergrad left, so I was making work at school simultaneously to running this spot on the opposite side of town. Since graduating a year and a half ago, my art practice has definitely been overshadowed by projects at the space, but overall my creative output is probably much greater than it would be otherwise—even if I’m not making artwork, in the straightforward sense of the word.

I very rarely call Chin’s a gallery. I like “project space,” because projects happen there and the whole thing is a rambling project in and of itself. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I forced myself to push through the difficulties of my studio practice—spirals of doubt punctuated by amazing moments of connection. But for me that requires a lot of private time and private space, which I have almost none of at the moment. When I’m working on stuff at Chin’s, I feel more happy, energized, and productive, and empowered to support other people, too. Maybe I’ll return to the studio at some point, but for right now, this is feeling good.

Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program? How do you decide which artists to work with?

LGM: I love being able to work with friends, and lots of exciting projects have come out of casual conversations. But I’m also aware that my reach is limited. People are eager for any space to work with, so proposals are always rolling in. It would be easy to just sit back and accept or reject, but it’s far more interesting, challenging, and responsible to have a program of events and exhibitions that might not happen otherwise. That means experimenting, taking risks, researching, reaching out, connecting, combining, extending unexpected opportunities, dealing with the idiosyncrasies of this space, and so on. The things produced out of this ethos are kind of all over the place, and I like that.

Artsy: What makes a gallery successful?

LGM: I’m interested in the gallery as a supportive, challenging, connective, discursive, and free space.

Artsy: Do artists make better gallerists?

LGM: I don’t know about that, but I do feel that my relationship with other artists I work with is more like a peer relationship—roles are fluid, and I think a lot of sharing and learning goes on. I approach this project with curiosity rather than commercialism, because I’ve framed it for myself more as a practice than as a business. In some ways, that might make me a terrible gallerist, since the space is funded primarily by my day job and I can’t offer as much financial support as I’d like to the people I work with. I think it’s just a matter of priorities.

Artsy: What’s next?

LGM: I’m very excited about the next few projects. We opened three shows on February 11th: Lali Foster in the gallery, SQ (a group who are in residence with me from Copenhagen) on the roof, and a group show organized by Seán Boylan in the garage-turned-studio space. Next up is a poetry reading organized by Keith Varadi and Marisa Takal, an ongoing restaurant project I’m working on with Holly Stanton, and a show in the gallery by OA4S.

The website has long been a full-bleed livestream, which has seen many people, places, and things. I just built a shed in the backyard and am looking forward to using that as a sort of public-access TV studio. Last but not least, I am excited to be shifting a bit more focus to what has so far been a very informal residency program based in the trailer in my backyard.


—Alexxa Gotthardt and Casey Lesser

Read more about artist-run galleries in Part I and Part II of our New York installment.