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Anti-Gentrification Activists Show Concern When Two Art Spaces Open in LA’s Boyle Heights [UPDATED]

The new home of Ibid Gallery and UTA (photo by the author for Hyperallegic)
The new home of Ibid Gallery and UTA Artist Space (photo by the author for Hyperallegic)

LOS ANGELES — The burgeoning gallery district east of the LA River is about to get a bit more crowded. As was widely reported recently, powerhouse Hollywood talent firm United Talent Agency will be opening its own gallery-like enterprise, U.T.A. Artist Space, on September 17. Joshua Roth, the art lawyer who founded UTA’s Fine Art Division last year, told the New York Times that it “will not function like a gallery” however, instead providing a platform for their clients, from visual artists to filmmakers and actors.

Moving in next door to UTA’s Anderson Street location will be Ibid Gallery, who will open their 13,000 square foot space designed by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architects on September 25. (UTA will actually be occupying Ibid’s annex space, according to a press release.) The three inaugural exhibitions include solo shows from David Adamo and LA-based artist Devin Farrand, as well as a group show, Sleep, curated by Paolo Colombo, featuring Ed Ruscha, Rosemarie Trockel, Robert Gober, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Originally based in London, Ibid first came to Los Angeles in 2013 with a series of temporary spaces, the most recent one located on South Santa Fe Avenue just west of the river. “We felt welcomed by the community — artists, museum curators, collectors, and critics (in LA),” they told Hyperallergic via email, and decided to look for a more permanent home here. When asked about the recent debates over art and gentrification, they responded that “the anti-gentrification backlash is new to Ibid Gallery; it came about after we made the decision to move. The previous gallery was just over the bridge; we really don’t feel like outsiders. Many of our artists have studios and live in the neighborhood, so in many ways, we feel right at home. We just want to go about our business, like the other businesses on our block. As a public gallery, we are open to anyone and everyone interested in learning about and seeing art.”

UTA may have a tougher time ingratiating themselves with Boyle Heights residents, especially considering their inaugural show will feature work by Larry Clark, including his controversial Tulsa photographs from 1971 that depict young men and women shooting up, and more recent “Heroin” paintings that incorporate drug baggies. Joel Garcia, Director of Programs & Operations at long-running Eastside art space Self Help Graphics, told Hyperallergic that the decision to open with this work is especially problematic given the area’s history of drug addiction and violence. (UTA did not return repeated requests for comment.)

“It’s one thing for it to be around awareness, if that was the angle, the intent, but the fact that there isn’t a connection to anybody locally just gives an indication that it’s just fetishizing (drug culture), just for shock value,” he told Hyperallergic. “For us, arts spaces serve a purpose. When it’s done right it has a positive impact in the community, and when it’s done in a way that doesn’t take caution with its surrounding neighbors, it has negative effects. This is a clear case of that, where nobody took the time to check in with anybody. UTA is a big company. If they really wanted to do this the right way, they could have looked at their roster for connections with this community. They know what’s going on and they don’t want to deal with it.”

Fabian Deborda is an artist and Director of Substance Abuse Services at Homeboy Industries. He is also a former gang member and addict, who lost his father to drug addiction. “It’s nothing pretty,” he told Hyperallergic, “but when I see those pictures, there is slight hint of glamorization, making drugs look sexy. I don’t see pain in those pictures.” He also spoke of the troubled history of the area that the galleries are now moving into. “That was the death valley, the meeting of the gangs, where gangs would come to fight amongst each other. Anderson was the pathway to go from one side of the projects to the other side. I can personally walk through these streets and be reminded of how many people have been murdered and killed behind the gang violence that exists there.”

The anti-gentrification group Defend Boyle Heights has planned a protest for the evening of UTA’s opening. “Gentrification is NOT inevitable and Boyle Heights community members will resist and remain in the communities we have faught [sic] so hard to improve,” reads the Facebook event page. Although he too expressed serious misgivings about UTA’s program and lack of community engagement, Deborda maintained a thoughtful, reasoned perspective. “We’re not radicals,” he told Hyperallegic. “We’re just people who are passionate and loving and understanding, with the hope that we can gain some access, so that we too can change conditions for those generations to come.”

UPDATED: Friday, September 16, 2016, 10:40pm ET:

While the opening for the UTA Artist Space is from 12–5pm on Saturday, the community action organized by Defend Boyle Heights, Union de Vecinos, and the Los Angeles Tenants Union will not start until 6pm. Their plan is to “rally to various community battle grounds addressing displacement, the criminalization of youth, renter’s rights and mobility.” UTA was not specifically mentioned on the event page, however considering that the meeting place is just across the freeway on Wittier Blvd. and Boyle Ave., it is potentially one of the locations.
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