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LOS ANGELES — Alternative art spaces in Los Angeles have a way of cycling through seasons that its regional climate does not. Between the neighborhood sprawl and consistently temperate weather, experimental exhibitions flourish in backyards, gardens, garages, and parking lots in ways other cities can’t afford. Free of immediate market pressure and typically run by younger, fresh-out-of-grad school artists (with exceptions), entirely outdoor art spaces address issues that haunt Los Angeles’s art community including artwashing and community displacement. Additionally, gallery fatigue — having to commute from gallery to gallery across town — makes attending more than two openings in an evening a Sisyphean task.
True to their nature, alternative spaces crop up and fade in overlapping sequences: some spaces live for decades while others are gone after a few months. Plans change, people move, and in more cases than not, increasing rental costs price people out. The art world of Los Angeles has a history of being ephemeral but dense, one that’s composed of moments rather than art historical monuments. Outdoor spaces are idiosyncratic to Los Angeles since they rely on the weather being nice, word of mouth, and neighborly trust. Mapping out these projects is a way to build an archive and navigate the city’s infamous sprawl.
Public Pool, San Fernando Valley (aka the Valley)
Upcoming: Julie Weitz, September 1
Guests need to RSVP for time and location at publicpoolgallery.com.
Swimming pools are patently Californian. Blame it on Joan Didion’s obsession with water or David Hockney’s famous pool paintings. For gallery organizer, Brennen Perry, who was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley (referred to simply as the Valley), running an art space out of his parent’s pool was easy. “Conversations of displacement are prevalent in the art world,” said Perry, who, after witnessing a protest at a gallery in Boyle Heights, wondered why there wasn’t more of a conversation about artwashing, rather than the dismissal he observed. Welcoming artists onto his own turf was a way to mitigate the tension.
Originally, Public Pool was slated as a purely digital project since “you can’t get technology wet,” as Perry said, with work installed in the pool and documented online. But those who caught wind of Perry’s project expressed interest in seeing the work in real life. “The immediate response is enthusiasm,” said Perry, who invites artists to make work that directly engages the water of the pool. Past projects included vinyl prints which sunk to the bottom of the pool, floating paintings on the surface of the water, and video work projected directly onto the pool and reflected onto the surrounded fence lining the property. Openings are often one night only with the lifespan of a party or backyard hangout, which Perry sees as a plus. “Hopefully the moments of these [events] will inspire others to start their own,” he said.
The most recent event, described by Perry as a “potentially semi-erotic feminist synchronized swimming performance” by artists Davida Nemeroff and Cara Benedetto, lasted from twilight to dusk — an infinitesimal amount of time — and once finished, guests slipped into the pool in the 80-degree heat. It’s just another summer night in Los Angeles. In September, video artist Julie Weitz will premiere her latest work “Net Sirens (Or How My Golem was Reborn in a Pool in Encino),” a multi-channel video that was both filmed in the pool and will also be projected onto it. Weitz will slip into characters with wild neon outfits as a way to perform radical ideas about identity and gender.
Jacob’s, Highland Park
DM @jacobslosangeles for address
Jacob’s is a project space in a garden run by its namesake artist, Jacob Melchi. Part sculpture garden, part outdoor studio, Jacob’s is as biblically whimsical as it sounds, replete with hummingbirds, honey bees, and a shepherd mutt named Suzi. Art is installed throughout the decomposed granite paths of the backyard plot, with sculptures peeking through drought-tolerant fauna and paintings hung with velcro on the outer walls of the house, garage, and shed. Though breezy and temperate 12 months out of the year, some issues arise. “I’ve had birds shit on paintings before,” said Melchi, laughing. There’ve been rain delays (yes, it sometimes rains in Los Angeles) when work was wrapped in plastic before the opening, only to be postponed. The charm of the space (other than the butterflies) is how each artist mitigates the outdoor space. In the past, work included fresco-style paintings by Sara Bright, faux-finish lawn gnomes sculptures by Andy Byers, and an apocalyptic installation by Phil Wagner which incorporated the flames from the fire pit. There are loose future plans for painter Elizabeth Huey to work en plein air and, after that, the space will transition to a roving, pop-up model as Jacob’s West, hosting individual exhibitions in other gallery’s spaces.
Arvia, Cypress Park
DM @arvia_la for location
Run by partners Anne Marie Taylor and Andrew Cortes, Arvia was born out of hospitality. With a spare room in their shared Cypress Park house, a property whose back shed space was originally Cortes’s grandfather’s work room, the two invited a friend and fellow artist to take on a residency during their stay. A small dinner party and an open studio quickly developed into an exhibition and residency model. With some sprucing, lighting, and a pony wall, the entire backyard, shed-turned-studio, and even the alley transformed into a space where artists are invited to reinvent their practices in the spring and summer months.
“[Arvia] is a resource for making work and building connections with one another,” said Taylor, “It’s something we’re trying to extend to those who are not directly involved in the art world. Art should be accessible.” Arvia hinges on mutual trust and neighborly collaboration. “We invite people into our home,” said Cortes, whose family has lived in the neighborhood his entire life. “The sky is literally the limit (and the property lines),” said Taylor. “That sense of freedom also translates to the viewer’s experience because when visiting Arvia, they’re technically in a backyard, which holds warm memories of gatherings, meals, and games for most people, so I think that perspective already encourages them to approach art differently than they normally would.” All are welcome, so bring your mom and dad.
Hot tip: The tacos at Restaurante Tierra Caliente around the corner are “the best tacos in LA,” according to Cortes. Tell them he sent you.
Outback Arthouse, Highland Park
DM @outbackarthouse for location
Since the beginning of June of this year, Outback Arthouse is run by three friends out of a single-car garage in a granny flat in the backlot of a rented house in Highland Park. The impetus for a new space was born of gallery fatigue, seeing the same painters shown in the mid-tier galleries they visited. “We asked ourselves what we wanted to see in LA and then sent out calls for proposals,” said collaborator Julian Tan. Allowing artists to stretch their practices in order to meet the often odd or untraditional elements of the space is a boon and a benefit. “It’s exciting to see artists who are testing things out and having an open space to allow those moves,” said Katie Holden.
Each project is a group effort and rosters often include out-of-town artists with work that’s never been shown in Los Angeles. Each show is one-night only since work needs to be installed and reinstalled every time it’s shown, which allows the artists to go as far and get as weird as they can in a short but compelling window of time. Outback Arthouse, like other alternative spaces, is connected by personal relationships and relies on word of mouth to engage audiences. Since the art world in Los Angeles is so intimate, word travels fast. In their latest show, Hot Rolled, artists Faith Sponsler, Zoë Greenham, and Hannah Piper Burns hung their prints and collages in the back garage space and staged an interactive installation. Burns, for example, created a slime simulation station where participants could navigate a digital realm not unlike a video game on a monitor while handling slime with their hands on a table below.