Home to Chinatown, Skid Row, Little Tokyo and the world’s hottesth gallery … why Downtown Los Angeles is contemporary art’s new hot bed. By Noelle Faulkner.
Why Downtown Los Angeles is contemporary art’s new hotbed.
It wasn’t long ago that LA was the punch line of vapidity; a wasteland of dreams, breast implants and traffic. Call it the Hedi Slimane-at-Saint Laurent effect, the gentrification of Hollywood or a yearning for sunlight and cheap rent, but as more creatives go west, LA – particularly the area of Downtown – is now one of the most-watched contemporary-art destinations.
“Downtown has always tried to make it,” observes Marsea Goldberg, gallery director at New Image Art, which has ridden that quintessential LA counter-culture line of punk, skate and fine art for more than 20 years (Goldberg represents Australian Anthony Lister, for example). “There were always people pushing for it, but no-one would go there. A lot of great things were always going on, but it was like Repo Man down there!” she says, laughing. “It was very punked-out and underground.” Now, artists and gallery owners are taking advantage of the industrial spaces and affordability. “From what I understand, 106 galleries opened up last year. Yes, it’s gentrifying, but it’s very creative again. Fantastic, big institutions are moving in and the crowd is expanding. DTLA’s on fire. We’re at a time that reminds me of how New York once was.”
The big institutions are the two private super-galleries, which have brought a sense of scale, pedigree and architectural consideration to town: the Broad and Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Sunlight-filled and grand in scale, the Broad puts the extensive collection of philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad – names that adorn almost every benefactor plaque in the city – on show for all to see. “I had a lot of people say: ‘Do you really think LA needs another contemporary art museum?’” says founding director Joanne Heyler. “Not a fun question to answer when you’re putting life blood into a new museum. But if our attendance is any measure, the appetite is there, and then some.” When the free-ticketed venue opened last year, there was a three-month wait to snap up a ticket.
On the other side, the elegant (and huge) Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is redefining the commercial model. “There’s nowhere else that you can do what we’re doing with space,” says Graham Steele, senior director. “There’s flexibility here, allowing for more creativity. There’s also the opportunity to get involved with the community, so we sit between a museum and a gallery.”
“I don’t think you can really consider yourself current with contemporary art and not come to Los Angeles,” says Heyler. “You’re missing what artists are doing and what some of the best curators are thinking.” LA might never have the art commerce density of, say, Hong Kong or New York, but it has the space and subculture to drive a movement. “It’s like how we’ve survived perfectly well without a pro football team for quite a long time. We’re not necessarily following art capital formula, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel art gallery. Inside the Broad contemporary art museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.