If You Go to Only One Gallery in L.A., Go Here
Drive through an industrial lot, past a few factories, and over a stretch of railroad tracks, and you'll come to a 12,000-square-foot warehouse that contains what might be the most interesting gallery in Los Angeles right now.
At 356 S. Mission Road—just east across the L.A. River from the Arts District near Downtown—is a collaboration between the powerful New York gallerist Gavin Brown, Laura Owens (a painter who's represented by Brown), and Wendy Yao (the founder of the art bookstore Ooga Booga, which has an outpost in the front of the building). It functions as an informal community clubhouse, event space, and locus for dynamic exhibitions of artists young and old.
West Coast Vibes
While many L.A. galleries have the feel of a typical New York gallery—cold and open, with one or two gallery assistants who ignore you when you come in—356 S. Mission is warm and informal. There's coffee and tea set out as refreshments, a giant communal dining table for people to sit down at and hang out, and a staff who's happy to sit around and shoot the breeze. It could never exist in New York, not just because of its size, but also because it feels so totally relaxed.
The building started as a printing press in 1926, then became a piano storage facility with hundreds of baby grands stacked floor to ceiling (and run, as it happens, by Liberace's manager). Owens turned the building into a studio in 2012, and after several months she used her own art to stage the space's first exhibition in 2013. Since then, there have been 26 shows, including one that featured the work of Elaine Sturtevant, and another of Alex Katz's giant flower paintings.
On View Now
The commercial gallery (as in: the art you see is art you can buy) currently has two solo exhibitions on view: one by Katy Fischer, a 356 S. Mission artist in residence, and one by the experimental musician and artist Ben Vida.
The Fischer show, which occupies a small second-floor loft, is superb. Fischer's artworks—geometric and colorful collages, ceramic assemblages, and textiles—are installed in a quasi-residential setting. Vitrines filled with scrap-like pieces of ceramic are set around the room, and colorful, tightly arranged abstract collages are mounted on the walls. There's even a bed, table lamp, couches, and chairs. Her art is purely decorative, but unlike much of the colorful abstraction currently flooding New York galleries, Fischer's installation is considered surprising and deftly executed.
What truly sets 356 S. Mission Road apart from most L.A. galleries (and really, most galleries anywhere) is its extracurricular programming.
There are a few gallery clusters in L.A., but like almost everything else in the city, to see the best shows you'll have to drive (sometimes for hours, depending on the time of day). Along with making you weigh your carbon footprint against your art appreciation, it means that visitors rarely just stumble onto a gallery or museum. Whatever you go to had better be worth it.
Last year, Meredith Monk played piano for an informal crowd of admirers; the other week the artist Renee Green screened a film, which was followed by a reading by the poet and critic Fred Moten. Three weeks ago the gallery hosted a "coloring event," whereby the artist Eric Wesley, whose show closed last week, led a color-by-numbers seminar in which children and adults made their own versions of a stained-glass window he'd installed. (The window is a cross-section of a burrito.) For a while, there was even a weekly event called Scrabble Sundays, which is exactly what it sounds like.
In a world where market pressures are omnipresent, and the artists on view are as often admired for their prices as they are their actual art, the laid-back, community atmosphere of 356 S. Mission Road comes as something of a balm. It's backed by one of the most powerful dealers in the world, true, but its programming, exhibitions, and ethos are strikingly, perhaps troublingly, unique.