This past Saturday, a group of about 20 protesters from a coalition of community activist groups, including Solidarity House of the South, Defend Boyle Heights, Los Angeles Tenants Union, B.H.A.A.A.D., and others, gathered outside a gallery opening at Chimento Contemporary in the West Adams neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles.
The exhibition in the gallery’s primary room, View From the Cheap Seats, which features paintings from San Francisco-based artist Richard Hoblock and is curated by Kim Light, continued as planned and commenced with a dinner reception. The second on view, FEED, a group exhibition of emerging artists curated by artist Casey Kaufmann, installed in “The Curated Loo,” the gallery’s auxiliary space in the bathroom, came down after Saturday’s incidents.
At 5pm, the protesting group lawfully assembled on the sidewalk outside the storefront gallery, some wearing bandanas and eye masks, with flyers, signs, and a microphone announcing the boycott. A P.A. system blasted loud, heavy rock. According to Paul Lanctot, who serves as an organizer for Los Angeles Tenants Union in South Central, many guests respected the boycott and didn’t go in, while others were escorted to the doors by two security guards hired by the gallery. “We’re not protesting art, we don’t hate art. Many of the protestors are artists themselves and they’re actually artists from the community,” said Lanctot, over the phone. “If artists want to be serious about supporting low-income folks and people of color then they should join the movement for rent control and housing rights for all.”
This was Chimento Contemporary’s second opening since relocating from Boyle Heights to West Adams this summer and its first active protest. “Most of the people I work with on that street are all local, they’re all women-owned. And I didn’t see any of them at the protest, so I’m confused,” gallerist Eva Chimento told Hyperallergic. “I’ve met every neighbor. I’ve met them all. I understand gentrification. What I don’t understand is how it’s okay to bully people and hurt people.”
Chimento says she is being targeted, especially in online posts made by Defend Boyle Heights and others. “I’ve had empty bullet casings left on my doorstep [of the gallery],” said Chimento. “I’m pretty sure that someone has got it out for me specifically. They posted on Instagram that I will never have a business in Los Angeles without them showing up. Where are the people that I pay taxes to to help me? Where are they?”
Videos posted to Instagram show protesters holding signs which read “STOP PUSHING OUT POC” and “FUCK YOUR ART” while curator Kim Light speaks on the phone. The police were called and arrived on site with four squad cars and a helicopter. Residents who were recently evicted came to share their experience on the microphone, along with their feelings about the gallery’s presence in their neighborhood. Other neighbors from across the street yelled “Fuck Your Art!” in solidarity from their balcony.
As the protest continued, Hana Harada, one of the artists in FEED, removed her artwork from the show as an active show of support for the protesters. “I empathize with people of color who have had to assimilate and internalize elements of whiteness,” said Harada in an email. “I am hesitant to criticize them for it as I believe they are also just trying to survive under white supremacy and capitalism. However, in being complacent, they also perpetuate oppressive systems and that is discouraging. It was very emotional for me to see people of color in conflict with each other.”
In an email to the artists included in FEED, shared with Hyperallergic, curator Casey Kaufmann expressed her support for the protesters and their cause, while expressing her disappointment in the way the gallery handled the incident. Kaufmann explained that during the opening, “Chimento told everyone in the gallery that if they left and talked to the protestors they would not be let back inside.”
“I was kicked out for asking the protesters questions,” said FEED artist Cade Danieli who was asked to leave immediately when Chimento had Kaufmann escort Danieli from the gallery space. Chimento later emailed Kaufmann to explain that her artists had “put her gallery in jeopardy.” Chimento later emailed Kaufman
“I’ve been in many art spaces that have been protested by Defend Boyle Heights and everything the protesters are talking about is a real and present issue,” said Kauffman, whose roster for FEED included younger queer artists and artists of color. “Representing people of color and showing women in the gallery is not serving the community. It is serving herself, she is bolstering her own identity as a gallery owner. Her thinking that inclusivity is somehow serving a purpose other than a curatorial practice is unfounded.”
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In response to this article, Richard Hoblock, the artist whose work is featured in Views from the Cheap Seats, reached out to Hyperallergic to offer his perspective and experience with the protest, reproduced in full below:
It was a gorgeous day, sunny — perfect LA temperature — I had been in LA from cold San Francisco for several days, installing and preparing what would be my first show after three solid years of working. This show was to be beautiful — vibrant colors, succinct gesture, and structured form. These paintings had been my respite from much of the human ugliness of the past few years. Good artist’s work is their life, whether monetarily successful or not, entering into the art zeitgeist or not — it is always their life’s work.
I arrive at the gallery at about 4:30 pm, everything finished and ready to go. The curator, Kimberly Light, looked up at me. We just smiled and hugged each other. Self-satisfied? No, but proud that our unusual union had somehow produced a gorgeous show (we have collectively seen hundreds of shows over many years in the art world, and we were both experiencing a rare moment — the peace of special completion, an unspoken bond of sharing an enlightened place without words.)
And then some people started arriving early, gallery members and supporters, all shapes and sizes, colors, gay and straight — I was deeply touched by this array of support, kindness and love. This was the kind of gallery, albeit extremely modest, in which I was proud to have shown my work, run by a single-mom gallery owner, Eva Chimento, who I met not that long ago. Eva exudes joy, life, and a true generosity of spirit from her soul. In my 64 years on this earth, I’ve found that this is truly a rare and very special person. This would be a wonderful night, indeed.
At 5 pm, I would guess to the moment, a hyper-amplified feedback sound filled the gallery. This was not rock music, nor folksy protest tunes. This was sharp and assaultive feedback sounds, designed to make any living creature cringe. And we all did. I ran to the gallery door. Amplifiers are inches in front of me. Dirty paper bags stapled on sticks, with makeshift spray-painted scrawling reading “FUCK YOUR ART,” are stabbing, inches from my face. Then the chanting started … ”FUCK YOUR ART! FUCK YOUR ART!”
At first, I grimaced in disbelief — was I punked or something? Was this a bad stunt by some LA friends? Who set this up? I happen to see some eyes behind the masks. The extreme hatred is palpable; this is no prank. I try to speak to the mob … “C’mon guys, what’s this about? Who’s doing this?” NO MESSAGE, NO QUESTIONS, NO UNCOVERED FACES — EVERYONE YELLING AT ME, INCHES FROM MY FACE, IS FULLY COVERED.
The mob circles me on the sidewalk, screaming FUCK YOUR ART!!! FUCK YOUR ART!!! Their profound hatred grows stronger with their voices. My sense of time and balance change in the screaming of these faceless creatures. I think of Hitler’s SS attacking the old and vulnerable in 1930’s Germany. Of people beaten with sticks. I am very familiar with how Nazis treated artists, perhaps that was the trigger — I remember being fag-bashed in 1980’s New York City – a beer bottle strike to the back of my neck … “FUCK YOUR ART, FUCK YOU ART!” The screaming and hatred unwavering, I search their masks. I try a response — “C’mon guys, you have nothing better to do than hate a sixty-three-year-old gay guy who loves beautiful paintings?”
“FUCK YOUR ART! FUCK YOUR ART … OLD QUEEN, OLD QUEEN!! CRY WHITE TEARS!!” I hear someone scream this again through the incessant feedback noise and “FUCK YOUR ART!! FUCK YOUR ART!!”
I back myself into the door and I go in. There is no message. There are no faces to question and respond. This is a base and violent hatred. We need to call 911.
* * *
All the noise and hatred ended promptly at 7 pm. 2 hours, like on a time clock, they vanish. And please let me say again, this was no “protest.” I have been to many protests. And I will vehemently defend any human’s right to protest, but this was an impossible sea of vitriol and hatred, masked and faceless, with no demands — surrounding me with hideous screaming, regarding no protest laws, nor shred of human decency. No one there could possibly know what their demands were. As Martin Luther King said, “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.” Let us live and grow by that tenet. To me, this was a message of hatred toward gays and art and women with businesses. What else could it possibly be? Remember, and again to stress this, there were no signs other than “FUCK YOUR ART!” There were no leaflets with no demands nor questions. There were guests of mine, some older women, who were blocked from entering a business place, a gallery. When I was surrounded outside, I knew this mob was filled with hate. This was definitely in the vein of Hitler’s SS and Trump’s extreme far right, but at least those monsters showed their faces. I heard a KTLA reporter eventually showed up at the scene, but soon left as there was nothing concrete on what the protests even wanted.
* * *
On the Monday morning following my Saturday evening opening, I filed an initial FBI report. An unfocused protest about hating art is not FBI territory, but the “old queen cry white tears” crap is. This is a hate crime. And in the honor of people like Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard, I felt it was my duty, at the very least, to report this kind of hatred.
My initial report will move up to agent examination or not. It takes some time, I imagine, and I would imagine they want to check 911 and police reports; I so appreciate the FBI’s careful and thorough work, whatever the outcome, especially in these times.
* * *
Richard Hoblock’s From the Cheap Seats is on view through October 27th, 2018 at Chimento Contemporary. The exhibition was curated by Kim Light.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Eva Chimento pulled down the entire contents of FEED. This is incorrect. Chimento removed the work of the artist Cade Danieli, and, in response, the other artists pulled out from the show. This has been amended.
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