PRETTY GRITTY

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.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

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.

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