Culver City: Art World Crossroads
Culver City is thriving. More than just another gallery district, it has become the crossroads of the L.A. art world. Combining the gritty authenticity of an actual city, with real pedestrian-friendly storefronts to stroll past, and the auto-friendly centrality that Los Angelenos adore, itâ€™s the out-of-the-way nexus where everything seems to converge.To walk along La Cienega or Washington Boulevard during one of the mobbed weekend openings is to be a participant in an extraordinary, fully mature, cultural landscape. Stretch limos block intersections, tastefully grungy art school graduates mill about between galleries or stand around in animated discussion swilling Dos Equis. To a casual observer, it would be hard to believe that only five years ago, this span of La Cienega was a morose neighborhood of neglected low-rise industrial buildings and auto repair joints that was best defined by the odd, lazy â€œSâ€ curve south of Venice, and best seen through oneâ€™s rear view mirror on the way to the airport.
Today, Culver hosts a wide range of cultural venues, including some of L.A.â€™s most important galleries. Among the best known and most internationally respected are Susanne Vielmetter and Blum & Poe, who essentially laid the cornerstone for the new neighborhood when they opened the first major gallery in the area in Fall 2003: an airy 5,000â€™ space just up the block from Washington, overlooking the scenic concrete culvert of Ballona Creek. If the corner of Washington and La Cienega is the hub of Culverâ€™s art scene, La Cienega remains its central spoke. The block features such trendily diverse galleries as Anna Helwing, George Billis, Taylor DeCordoba, Walter Maciel, Lizabeth Oliviera, LAâ€Contemporary, and Lightbox, dressed up all in a row, interrupted by the renovated watering hole Mandrake, and capped by the non-for-profit space LA>
Discovering The Unknown Culver
â€œItâ€™s strange that people now think, â€Why do we need galleries if we can just go to the Internet and look at art?â€™ From a social point of view, the gallery is a very important way of staying in touch,â€ says Luciano Perna of Norma Desmond Productions. He continues, â€œOpenings, they may seem trivial, but there people can talk and connect and see the work in person.â€ This is particularly important for many of the artists on Pernaâ€™s roster, which is eclectic and steeped in conceptualism and process-oriented work. Pernaâ€™s gallery is off the beaten paths of Washington Boulevard and La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City, but like the Bermuda Triangle, La Cienega Avenue (not Boulevard) seems to draw a crowd of lost gallery-goers right to the doorstep of Norma Desmond Productions. With characteristic humor, Perna recalls the galleryâ€™s first experience with the Culver City Art Walk: â€œWe didnâ€™t even know there was an Art Walk and suddenly we had an overwhelming crowd of lost people who thought they were on La Cienega Boulevard!â€
The sense of community that has developed in tandem with Culver Cityâ€™s maturing art scene is central to many of the gallerists who have elected to open spaces in the neighborhood. John Kinkead suggests that this community atmosphere has also been particularly beneficial for the artists on his roster who take advantage of Kinkead Contemporaryâ€™s residency program. He says, â€œMost artists coming from out-of-state come in for the weekend, hang the work, then have a collector dinner and theyâ€™re on their way. The relationships weâ€™ve built with our artists are very unique and familial. The breadth of the galleries in Culver City is particularly conducive for artists coming from elsewhere so that they can get a real feeling for whatâ€™s happening in LA.â€
On a larger scale, the Scion Installation Gallery also introduces a broad range of American and international artists to Los Angeles through their space in Culver City. Backed by the car manufacturer Scion, the gallery grew out of a four-year-old project called Scion Installation Tour, a curated group show of forty artists which travels to twelve cities each year. Scion also pays for the artists to accompany the exhibition on its stop in Miami during Art Basel. Director Evan Cerasoli describes the unique opportunity that Scion provides for its artists: â€œAll the sales of the art goes to the artist, unlike a traditional gallery. Scion definitely wants to be involved in the arts in an authentic way.â€ The galleryâ€™s spacious new location on Helms Avenue near National also doubles as a studio preceding each installation and Scion hosts all of their visiting artists for a week prior to the hanging of a show. The larger space also allows for spectacular opening events which regularly include music also selected by the curator or exhibiting artists.
Beau Basse of Project:Gallery got his start hosting wildly popular â€œart partiesâ€ at an industrial space on Venice and La Brea at the edge of Culver City. His goal had been to introduce his friends, a mid-twenties to early-thirties trend-setting crowd, to the artwork and artists whom he admired. He explains, â€œA lot of people had that expectation of an art gallery being kind of snooty and high-brow and so we combined a party atmosphere as a bridge.â€ While Basseâ€™s parties would routinely draw crowds between eight and nine hundred visitors, his new space on Washington Boulevard canâ€™t match the capacity of the old warehouse. However, the driving force behind his gallery remains unchanged.
Basse says, â€œWe really strive to be that gallery that is accessible. People can come in here and any of my staff, or myself, will be happy to talk about the artwork. The one thing that I just canâ€™t stand is when you walk into a gallery and thereâ€™s an assistant
who is doing everything they can to ignore you. Itâ€™s like theyâ€™ve been trained to ignore people. I think there are a lot of people who just need an introduction so that they feel like itâ€™s okay to ask, â€Hey, whatâ€™s this painting about? Whatâ€™s going on in this piece?â€™â€
Across the street, Freddi Cerasoli of Cerasoli Gallery expresses a similar frustration with the studied snobbery of some blue-chip galleries. â€œI feel like Iâ€™m in Comme des Garcons and someoneâ€™s looking over my shoulder as if Iâ€™m going to steal something. I wanted to make our gallery different from that. Iâ€™ve made it smaller and more intimate in a number of ways. Weâ€™ve changed the color of the walls, for example,â€ She laughs and explains, â€œI made them off-whiteâ€¦not stark white.â€
Cerasoli, who comes to the art world through fashion and design, is inspired by her time in New York. She was â€œâ€¦used to quirky little galleries, dotted around the East Village and SoHo, a mixture of galleries, not just one type of galleries.â€ When Cerasoli moved to Los Angeles almost a decade ago, she was disappointed to find that â€œeverything here was high-end; there were very few low-brow galleries.â€ Her decision to open a gallery was largely a response to the frustration of seeing her friends working in graphic design and illustration get turned down by galleries again and again. Cerasoliâ€™s gallery in Culver City is four-years-old in its current location and has recently shifted focus from her original program of design-oriented, graffiti, and guerilla artists. Los Angeles has caught up with New York with a recent proliferation of alternative spaces, says Cerasoli, and sheâ€™s ready to try something new and is currently looking towards a group of emerging contemporary artists. Still, she says, â€œMy background is in fashion, so a lot of my artistâ€™s [works] have a theme running through themï¿½mark-making, drawing, coming from a textile background. We represent a mixture of abstract and also illustrative styles.â€
The French artist Fette, who is also well-known for her art blog, The Flog, opened Fetteâ€™s Gallery in October 2006. Fette, too, points to the importance of creating a less intimidating atmosphere for art-viewing. She explains, â€œThe space is located in our house. Itâ€™s about 1200 square feet, but itâ€™s different from what most people think of as a house since we donâ€™t really have any furniture. Itâ€™s all dedicated to the gallery setting, aside from the kitchen and the bathroom. Iâ€™ve noticed that the domestic setting makes a different relationship with the art. When people first enter, they feel as if they are in a house, then they slowly start to recognize that they are in gallery. They are engaged right away and asking questions, as opposed to the experience of being in a commercial gallery.â€
Before opening her own space and beginning The Flog in the spring of 2005, Fette worked in several galleries. Of these experiences she says, â€œI learned about all the things that I didnâ€™t want to do in my own gallery.â€ While she maintains that such work disabused her of her overly romantic picture of the art market, Fetteâ€™s Gallery and the collaborative projects that she undertakes still reflect her original optimistic enthusiasm for art. â€œThe way people describe the different arts centers in Los Angeles as having a certain aesthetic, like a Culver City or Chinatown aesthetic, is just an attempt to try and build up some drama. This is nonsense; hopefully we can all work together.â€ Fette regularly makes good on this goal by collaborating with galleries around the city, including a recent show of one of her artists, Jasper de Beijer, at Chung King Projects in Chinatown. Fette, whose artists are mostly European, also works internationally and is planning a curatorial exchange project between her gallery in Culver City and Foil Gallery in Tokyo.
Created as a showcase for the art collection of Susan Hancock, Royal/T, a new â€œconcept spaceâ€ which just celebrated its grand opening on April 12, is a unique art experience. In addition to presenting rotating exhibitions of work from the Hancock Collection, Royal/T also includes a cafï¿½ serving â€œJapanese comfort food with a fresh California twistâ€ and a shop featuring products that reflect the themes explored in the exhibitions. Drawing on the contemporary Japanese culture of â€œcosplayâ€ (costume play), servers at Royal/T wear maid uniforms playfully updated in bright colors. Designer Lesley Chi of the New York-based Goto Design says, â€œRoyal/T reflects the interior realm of fantasy that strongly influences the artists included in Hancockâ€™s collection.â€
Many of the Culver City galleries are daring not just in their selection of artists, but also in the unique approaches to presentation and scheduling. From Fetteâ€™s collaborations to Beau Basseâ€™s â€œart partiesâ€ and Kinkead Contemporaryâ€™s residencies, these galleries are not satisfied with the status quo. John Kinkead is planning a whirlwind summer schedule to showcase six artists in solo shows that each last for only a week and a half. While he jokes that the rapid turn around times and unrelenting schedule from July 12 until the middle of August will likely have his assistant cursing his name by the end of the summer, he hopes the program will breathe some life into what is typically a dead season for Los Angeles galleries. He relates, â€œThe problem that I see is that people donâ€™t get a whole lot of information about an artist from one or two pieces in a group show. As a first-time viewer, you really have no idea if thatâ€™s a good piece or a bad one within the larger body of work. So the idea with this program is to give each of those artists a solo whereas they would normally be included in a group show over the summer.â€ With an opening every Saturday for a month and a half and a very compelling group of artists, including an installation by New York-based Alexander Lee, Kinkead Contemporary is certain to shake Culver City out of the summertime malaise.
CardwellJimmerson Contemporary Art also takes an unusual approach to programming, combining art and design with a unique historical, and sometimes revisionist, bent. The gallery, owned by Damon Cardwell and Tom Jimmerson, just celebrated its one-year anniversary in the fall and has already taken on several significant projects. Inspired by the social and cultural history of the city of Los Angeles, Tom Jimmerson says, â€œWeâ€™d like to invert history in some way; to challenge the way the grading has occurred and offer a counter-narrative to decisions that have already been made.â€ Last summer the gallery restaged a 1964 exhibition of prints and drawings by Connor Everts that was shut down by the LAPD under changes of obscenity. The CardwellJimmerson installation recovered many of the sexually explicit works that were at the center of the controversy, as well as works made by the artist while he stood trial until his eventual acquittal. Other notable exhibitions at CardwellJimmerson include the rediscovered sculptures made and abandoned by Stan Bitters in the 1960s and a large-scale light and space installation by Tom Eatherton.
The diversity of the Culver City art scene and the powerful feeling of community that draws its disparate elements together is inspiring for all involvedï¿½f
rom artists to gallerists and gallery-goers. The warm welcome of gallerists who are truly committed and excited to share great artwork with the world will keep visitors coming back for a taste of something new, both in the high-caliber of work on view and in their push to change the attitude of the art world towards its would-be patrons.
Culver City: By Design
While museum exhibitions occasionally probe the many intersections of art and architecture, the Museum of Design Art and Architecture (MODAA) based in Culver City takes these explorations as its mission. The striking Museum building, designed and underwritten by Studio Pali Fekete, occupies a prominent location near the Helms Bakery complex on Washington Boulevard; with its memorable facade and thoughtful exhibition program, it also serves as an institutional anchor to the burgeoning design scene in Culver City.
While the explosion of design studios and architecture firms has been relatively recent, Gregg Fleishman has called Culver City his home for nearly fifty years. Standing in the large glass alcove of his Main Street studio Fleischman is surrounded by models of his architectural work and design. Gesturing to the collection, Fleishman says, â€œMost people ask, â€What is this? What is this place?â€™ Well, I donâ€™t really have an answer. Primarily itâ€™s an architectural studio. The gallery aspect is almost for my own personal interest. I try to put on a good show.â€ Inside, visitors can test Fleishmanâ€™s signature â€œspringâ€ chairs made from bent birch plywood and explore a full-size nine-by-nine foot square structure built from the same material.
Fleishman was born in Los Angeles in 1947 and has lived in Culver City for almost all that time. After receiving a degree in architecture from USC, Fleishman worked for two years in building, working primarily with concrete. In 1972 he began the project that still occupies him to this day. He describes his work as â€œtrying to come up with a solution for building, making building easier.â€
There is very little material that is not used in the execution of Fleishmanâ€™s designs. Working with five-by-ten foot sheets of sustainable solid birch plywood from Finland, Russia, and Latvia, the structures and chairs are designed with interlocking parts that are each carefully arranged to fit onto the fewest possible number of sheets. Fleishman designed a fourteen foot square structure as a solution to the need for disaster housing. He says, â€œI thought they needed a quality structureï¿½something that they can put up quickly but take their time building it in. Itâ€™s almost diametrically opposed to whatâ€™s out there now. $250 for tents for disaster victims provided by UN agencies. Thereâ€™s almost zero concept of the long-term.â€
Megan Griffith of Denizen is also committed to supporting furniture designers and artists whose work is stylish, but still pays attention to the impact of the materials on the planet. She says, â€œItâ€™s a cradle-to-cradle mentalityï¿½that itâ€™s brought up from the earth and can return to the earth. However, our designers also represent a really high-quality design aesthetic.â€ Griffith is adamant that â€œgreen design also has to be good design.â€
Denizen, which opened in 2006, is not a showroom in the traditional sense. As Griffith describes, â€œThe designers who I represent are artists; theyâ€™re not mass producers. What weâ€™re really talking about here are the people, not just the product.â€ Griffith also encourages her clients to think of the pieces in her gallery as artworks that will last, both aesthetically and from a construction standpoint. â€œWeâ€™re doing a photo essay called the Dead Sofa Society. We keep cameras in the car and pull over to the side of the road every time we see a dead sofa, take a picture. Itâ€™s just a shame that people feel they can dispose of a couch like that. Most couches are made really poorly and nobodyâ€™s going to adopt those things off the street corner.â€
By reassessing the relationship between design and the human environment, these establishments are also adding to the sustainability of their own environment, as Culver City grows ever more into a destination for design.
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Anna Helwing Gallery
2766 S. La Cienega Blvd.
2635 Fairfax Ave.
Billy Shire Fine Arts
5790 Washington Blvd.
Blum And Poe
2754 La Cienega Blvd.
Bradford Stewart Contemporary Art
2680 S. La Cienega Blvd.
8568 Washington Blvd.
8530-B Washington Blvd.
310.310 558 0911 www.cerasoligallery.com
Cherry And Martin
12611 Venice Blvd.
Corey Helford Gallery
8522 Washington Blvd.
5795 Washington Blvd.
d.e.n. contemporary art
6023 Washington Blvd.
310.559 3023 www.dencontemporaryart.com
Denizen Design Gallery
8600 Venice Boulevard 310.838-1959
Duncan Miller Gallery
10959 Venice Blvd.
4255 Baldwin Ave.
9355 Culver Blvd. Suite B
310.558-9355 x22 www.freshpaintart.com
George Billis Gallery
2716 S. La Cienega Blvd.
3850 Main Street
Honor Fraser Gallery
2622 S. La Cienega Blvd.
The Jazz Bakery
3233 Helms Ave. bae.jazzbakery.org
2632 South La Cienega Blvd.
6029 Washington Blvd.
6009 Washington Blvd.
Koplin Del Rio Gallery
6031 Washington Blvd.
2634 South La Cienega Blvd.
2640 S. La Cienega Blvd.
2656 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery
2712 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Maloney Fine Art
2656 South La Cienega Blvd.
6086 Comey Ave.
MODAA Gallery at SPF:A
8609 Washington Blvd.
310.558-0902 www.modaagallery.com www.spfa.com
The Museum Of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Blvd.
Norma Desmond Productions
2654 La Cienega Ave.
12703 Venice Blvd.
8545 Washington Blvd.
Roberts & Tilton
5801 Washington Blvd.
8910 Washington Blvd.
2762 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Scion Installation L.A.
3521 Helms Ave.
5795 Washington Blvd.
Taylor De Cordoba
2660 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Walter Maciel Gallery
2642 S. La Cienega Blvd.
3830 Main Street
Robert Toll, Sculptor
3830 Willat Ave. Culver City, CA 90232
Kline Academy of Fine Art
3264 Motor Ave.
310.927-2436 www.klineacademy.com http://klineacademy.blogspot.com
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