“There’s something in the air,” said dealer Allegra LaViola, musing on the apparent phenomenon of New York-based art galleries expanding to Los Angeles in recent months. Her own space, Sargent’s Daughters on the Lower East Side, is about to “go west,” inaugurating a shared outpost with longtime collaborator Shrine Gallery in LA’s Melrose Hill neighborhood this summer.
“There are so many artists I want to show, but there’s a limited number of days in the year and I needed an additional space to add time slots and availability to the program,” LaViola told Hyperallergic in an interview. “I looked around in the Upper East Side and elsewhere but the bang for your buck was not very much. We were delighted to find a neighborhood with incredible spaces for not that much money compared to New York.”
Bicoastal appeal has seduced mega-galleries and comparatively smaller operations alike. Earlier this month, Pace acquired Kayne Griffin Gallery and plans to move into its 15,000-square-foot space on South La Brea Avenue, designed by artist James Turrell, in the spring. Lisson Gallery will make its LA debut this fall in Hollywood, in the former building of “The Zone,” a gay nightclub that closed in 2019. That’s not far from where the Tribeca- and LES-based gallery the Hole opened its third permanent space on North La Brea Avenue this week.
But some point out that the seemingly zeitgeisty shift west is nothing new in the art world. The history of the LA art scene is one of peaks and valleys, with new players coming in and out in cycles. Venus Los Angeles, the second location of the Upper East Side gallery Venus Over Manhattan, for instance, was launched in 2015 and closed less than three years later, in January 2018. Dealer Perry Rubenstein relocated his eponymous Chelsea gallery to Los Angeles in 2012 but was forced to close its doors in 2014, after several lawsuits and a bankruptcy filing. Garis & Hahn moved from New York, where it opened in 2013, to Los Angeles in 2017 before shuttering two years later, while the two partners went on to pursue their own ventures.
“I feel like every five years there is a surge of galleries who try to move west and then many fade out,” Brian Faucette, a senior director at Night Gallery in LA, told Hyperallergic. “The motivations seem obvious to me, they are able to offer their artists representation in LA and not risk sharing inventory with galleries who are established here. And as the Asian market continues to grow they can establish a closer geographic proximity than a NY gallery can.”
Faucette adds that cultivating a local audience in the infamously sprawling and gridlocked city can be a challenge — and requires “a more organic approach than just investing in real estate in a neighborhood with many other galleries, like Chelsea or Tribeca, where you have guaranteed foot traffic.”
“You need to give people a reason to get in their car and brave traffic to come see you in LA,” Faucette said. That was one motivation behind Night’s recent expansion in the Downtown Arts District: A new 14,000-square-foot space, adjacent to its existing headquarters, allows the gallery to present more experiential and immersive work, like Samara Golden’s massive mirrored installation “Guts” (2022).
For LaViola and others, the LA allure is about more than just square footage. “You just have a great concentration of artists,” she said. “In Los Angeles, the arts community 50 years ago was very sequestered from the very big industry there which is of course Hollywood. Now when you go to an opening there are lots of people, and there’s real interest and talent coming out of galleries.”
And even though New York is the epicenter of the art market, with the largest population of millionaires and billionaires worldwide — and the art world has a running joke about the dearth of collectors in LA — LaViola says the landscape is “rapidly changing.”
“I think I’ve sold to LA collectors in the last four or five years more than I ever have,” she added.
In some areas of the city, such as Inglewood and Boyle Heights, residents have long voiced concerns about gentrification and the role art businesses play in perpetuating the cycle of rising rents and pricing out locals, primarily Black and Latino communities. The worsening homelessness crisis — LA County has at least 63,706 unhoused people — and the city’s controversial crackdown on street encampments may also prompt newcomers, from individuals to businesses, to consider these social dynamics. Chimento Contemporary and the nonprofit gallery 356 Mission, among others, decided to shutter their Boyle Heights spaces in the wake of pressure from anti-gentrification activists in 2018.
Carolina Miranda, the Los Angeles Times’s arts and architecture columnist, has her own speculations about why galleries are suddenly drawn to the city.
“Because they want good tacos? And New York donuts are substandard?” Miranda told Hyperallergic. “Because these days, with art fairs and virtual selling, it doesn’t matter where you plant the storefront? You can be around to simply take advantage of the hype even if LA isn’t a strong market town?”
“I welcome these spaces to LA and look forward to reviewing their Chicano-less artist rosters!” she added.
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