LOS ANGELES — The rivalry between New York and Los Angeles runs deep: seasons vs. sunshine, pizza vs. tacos, Biggie vs. Tupac. For the art world, add to that list opening nights. In NY, most galleries — especially in Chelsea — open their exhibitions on Thursday nights, while in LA, Saturday is generally when new shows are unveiled. We asked a selection of gallerists from the nation’s coastal art capitals what the deal is.
One of the biggest differences between these two cities is how people get around. The likelihood that you own a car in NY is about the same as you NOT owning a car in LA — probably unlikely. Living in such a car-dominated culture, many Angelenos base their schedules around avoiding unnecessary traffic. You think you’re going to cruise over to Culver City from Silver Lake in 30 minutes during rush hour? Good luck.
“If you were to have an opening on a Thursday, and you’re coming from Beverly Hills and you have to go to downtown to our space, that’s really bad traffic. You’d be in traffic for about and hour and fifteen minutes, so Saturday is definitely way easier,” says Tyler Park, assistant director of LA’s François Ghebaly Gallery.
When all those cars get to where they’re going, they need some place to park, further complicating matter. “We’re located on Wilshire Boulevard and Monday through Friday, you can’t park on Wilshire between 4–7pm, so from the beginning we thought it’s better to open on a Saturday,” says Randy Sommer, co-owner of ACME Gallery. “Most of the stress comes from trying to find a place to park. It’s another reason why we have this space here, there’s a parking lot next door. We’ve looked at other places in the past, but there was never any adequate parking. The city’s all about that still.”
By contrast, New York has one of the best public transit systems in the country. Although subway cars can get crowded after work, they’re still a fast and convenient way to zip down to Chelsea or Soho, making weekday evening openings much more feasible than in LA. “Since New York is a walking city, you always have people coming to your opening no matter what day it is, because it’s not that hard to get around,” says Marlborough Gallery’s associate director, Vera Neykov.
New York City is stifling in the summer and frigid in the winter, whereas LA is a balmy 78 degrees year round. New Yorkers are much more likely than Angelenos to skip town for the weekend, whether it’s to old getaways like the Hamptons, or less-developed spots up the Hudson.
“People in NYC have country homes that they go to on the weekends. In LA, people already live in their country homes, so they don’t have to leave for them on the weekends,” says Sarah Gavlak who recently opened a gallery in Hollywood.
Pierogi 2000’s Joe Amrhein, who lived in LA before opening his gallery in Brooklyn, echoed that sentiment: “Angelenos tend to already live someplace with nice weather, and within easy reach of the beach, the mountains, the dessert, and so they don’t typically go en masse to weekend/summer houses.”
Peter Surace, founder of RARE Gallery in Chelsea, thinks post 9/11 anxiety is partially responsible for New York’s weekend exodus. “I think the shift started after 9/11, more people were leaving the city on weekends, just to get their heads clear. I’m sure it had an affect on when galleries would do their opening. Thursday night in NY, you have a better chance of capturing a larger crowd before they leave for the weekend.”
Party in the West, Business in the East
Some gallerists we spoke to described the NY art scene as more business-oriented, making weekday opening more appropriate, whereas LA’s laid-back vibe fits in perfectly with weekend events.
“My experience is that LA openings are far more casual and less formal,” says Charlie Kitchings, director of LA’s Ambach & Rice. “I think that’s ultimately because LA is an artist-driven city, and NY is a market-driven city. That’s probably why the openings are more fun in LA as well.” Touché, Charlie, touché.
“New York is a bit more of a competitive market for buying work. It’s more in tune with the business work week than the weekends. It’s more socially driven in LA,” says Davida Nemeroff, partner in LA’s Night Gallery. “When you go to an opening in New York, you don’t necessarily even take off your coat in the winter, you just look around. Here every time you go to an opening you see everyone you know, and their children.”
New York’s more business-like feel is also due to the gallery buildings that house dozens of spaces, especially in Chelsea. RARE’s Surace notes that these buildings often have to have someone stay late for openings. “From the building’s standpoint, they’d rather have someone stay late Thursday nights. If galleries have an opening on any other night, they have to pay for somebody to stay after-hours.” In LA, most galleries are free standing, so they’re not as beholden to the work week schedule of building employees.
Just when I thought I had this whole opening night thing figured out, I spoke to some gallerists from the Lower East Side (LES), who don’t seem to care particularly what the blue chippers in Chelsea do on Thursdays. “The LES, our gallery in particular, has openings whenever, but in this area, openings are on Friday, or sometimes Wednesday,” says Krysta Eder, assistant director of The Hole. Whereas Chelsea galleries benefit from the critical mass of so many galleries in one place, “the LES is different because there’s not the same amount of galleries, you need to know where you’d like to go. It’s more of a final destination,” she adds.
Canada Gallery’s Adrianne Rubenstein also doesn’t relate to the pack mentality of Thursday nights in Chelsea, “I think people (on the LES) plan their openings based on the after party or what the artist is doing. We want people to come to our opening because they’re coming to our opening, not just because they’re out for the night.”
“LES galleries (mostly) open Sundays as we try not to compete with other openings around town on other nights,” says Augusto Arbizo of Eleven Rivington. “LES galleries initially mirrored the hours of the New Museum (Wed–Sun) hours when the museum first opened.”
Then there’s Esther Kim Varet, who will be re-opening her gallery Various Small Fires in its new Hollywood location this Thursday night. Why Thursday? “Next week is Frieze, so a lot of people are going away to Europe, the Saturday after my opening is the Hammer gala and the MAK Center gala which I’m co-chairing. Friday makes no sense whatsoever, people are all so checked out in the art world,” she explained. “I come from New York so I’m used to Thursday openings. Because it’s the opening of the gallery for the first time, hopefully it will bring people out.” Despite these worthwhile reasons, she’s still encountering some uniquely LA problems. “We’re having to actually hire a valet service because there’s no parking allowed before a certain time on the weekdays.”