After five years in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, the artist run gallery 356 Mission — which has often been at the center of protests and debates about the role of galleries in gentrification — is shutting down. In a statement posted on its website today, the gallery’s co-founders, artist Laura Owens and bookseller Wendy Yao, announced that they will shutter the space in May, after its current Charlemagne Palestine and Alake Shilling shows come down.
“Our lease was ending and we felt it was the right time,” Owens told the Los Angeles Times. “After five years of doing what we wanted to do, we felt that for personal and practical reasons that we had had a great experience and this is the right moment to close.”
In response to a question about the anti-gentrification protests, Yao told the LA Times:
While we don’t agree with the demands of the protesters, we really were trying to show up. But we have a lot of reasons for why we are leaving. It had sort of run its course. Doing the space was always a labor of love and was always really hard on both of us. And the protests added to this weight.
Yao, who founded the art bookstore Ooga Booga, will continue to operate the store’s Chinatown location after the outpost at 356 Mission closes.
In reaction to the news of 356 Mission’s closing, Defend Boyle Heights — one of the activist groups that has protested the gallery and demanded it leave the neighborhood — re-posted a celebratory note on Instagram. The original post, by the account Boyle Heights Gallerina, is addressed to Owens’s gallerist, Gavin Brown, and reads in part: “If you could come collect the galleries and breweries Laura Owens’s project made space for that’d be cool.”
Tensions over the role of galleries in the gentrification of the predominantly working-class Boyle Heights neighborhood have often swirled around 356 Mission, one of the district’s largest and most high-profile galleries. It was the site of a confrontation last year when activist groups picketed a meeting of the Artists’ Political Action Network at the gallery. In November of last year, members of the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) traveled to New York to protest Owens at the opening of her solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. The artist wrote an extensive response after the protest.
“We have asked ourselves many times if closing 356 and abandoning our lease would stabilize rent prices or help stop developers from changing the neighborhood and raising rents further,” she wrote. “After much inquiry, research and discussion, we have always come back to the conclusion that breaking our lease and leaving would not help solve the housing crisis or slow development. The issue is extremely complex and multi-layered, and doesn’t solely rest on the existence or absence of galleries.”
Since launching in January 2013 with a show of 12 large paintings by Owens, the gallery has hosted nearly 50 exhibitions, including solo shows by Sturtevant, Alex Katz, Wayne Koestenbaum, and Wu Tsang, as well as two feline-focused exhibitions.