Every major city has an arts district, but Los Angeles boasts several areas where residents and tourists alike can immerse themselves in art, culture, and local flavor. From the obligatory row of sparse white boxes to the loose cluster of coffee joints and indie retail stores doubling as galleries, here are a few all-time favorite ‘hoods where Angelenos get their art on.
In November, we took a closer look at Central L.A., the Downtown core, and East Los Angeles. This month, we begin our journey in West Hollywood and make our way to the Pacific Ocean.
West Hollywood / WeHo Design District
Home to some of Los Angeles’ most established galleries, West Hollywood has long been an art, design, fashion and dining destination. The WeHo Design District in particular (a smaller area located between Doheny and La Cienega, north of Beverly and south of Santa Monica) is walkable, beautiful, and can easily occupy a full day between gallery visits, shopping, dining, and of course, bar hopping. It was in the 1950s that West Hollywood started to attract design and decor industry trendsetters and in 1975, the completion of the Pacific Design Center at Melrose and San Vicente firmly designated the area as an art and design enclave.
WeHo is all about style. Its denizens demand nothing but the best, and the price tag confirms it. That’s not to say style exists here without substance; culturally-speaking, WeHo is influential due to its diverse population which includes the LGBT community, members of the entertainment industry, creative professionals, and a healthy mix of both young and elderly residents. While a visit to WeHo may sting in the pocketbook area, it’s a great place to discover innovative design, and sneak a peek at the latest and brightest creatives, products, and concepts.
Of note in the realm of art galleries, 101/Exhibit was initially built around artists who focused on the human form, but the gallery currently embraces experimentation and deviations into abstraction, new media, installation, and object-based works; M+B Gallery discovers and exhibits the works of emerging and established artists; OHWOW presents contemporary art exhibitions and publishes genre-defining books, alongside special projects and events conceived by outside curators; New Image Art specializes in established and emerging artists coming out of the various fringe cultures surrounding surfing, skating, indie music, street art and graffiti.
Tip: The Pacific Design Center houses several galleries and design showrooms, including what locals call “MOCA light” (an offshoot of the Museum Of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles), featuring rotating exhibitions of architecture and design. Don’t forget to explore La Cienega between Beverly and Santa Monica where you’ll find a good number of galleries with oft-coinciding openings. Additionally, I suggest consulting the West Hollywood Design District‘s website, as well as the City of West Hollywood’s Arts & Culture website for gallery listings.
I have to admit, BH isn’t one of my favorite haunts. Despite the glitzy Rodeo Drive storefronts and obvious affluence, I can’t help feeling that the area is somewhat stuck in the ’80s and could use a fresh dose of innovation. When it comes to the art scene, Beverly Hills caters to a very particular type of patron interested in luxury brands; it attracts loads of tourists as well, and local establishments (including galleries) tend to reflect their particular tastes.
There are however several galleries that shouldn’t be overlooked: Gagosian, an obvious entry here and (arguably) the world’s preeminent art gallery, shows all of the big-name living artists; ACE Gallery Beverly Hills, sister to the original location in the Desmond’s Department Store building in Miracle Mile, exhibits some of the art world’s most recent darlings, as well as some of the greats. Of note, Mark Selwyn Fine Art showcases established & emerging artists who create conceptual & experimental art; Karl Hutter Fine Art specializes in paintings, works on paper and sculpture by American and international artists of the modern, post-war and contemporary periods; Timothy Yarger Fine Art represents established contemporary artists as a complement to 19th century artists, modern masters, and pop icons of the 20th century.
Tip: The Beverly Hills Art Show, held twice annually in the spring and fall, features local artists selling directly to collectors; the outdoor event attracts a slew of food trucks and is free and open to the public. It also offers beer and wine gardens, each with their own respective menus. Speaking of food, there are of course many fine dining options in Beverly Hills, but I thoroughly enjoyed that one time when a few friends took me to Nic’s, and I suddenly found myself donning a fake fur, doing way too many shots in the glass walk-in freezer/vodka tasting room they call The Vodbox. For those who were treated to a free show that night… you’re welcome.
Almost a decade in the making, the Culver City Arts District is now a real contender in the realm of arty neighborhoods, having successfully attracted a cluster of high-caliber contemporary spaces, mostly built on the white box model, where people walk slowly and comment in hushed tones. One could hear a pin drop in these somewhat cold and impersonal environments, but they are well-suited to contemplation.
Running along Washington between Fairfax and National, and La Cienega between Venice and Fairfax, the area is comprised of art galleries, studios, restaurants, and a variety of retail businesses. Helms Bakery, a landmark 1930s complex nearby, is fun to explore and features high-end design and home furnishing stores, as well as a few restaurants. Culver City has been known to host its own Art Walk, but since they make it so difficult to find any information on current or past events, there’s really no point counting on it until they choose to let us know.
Blum & Poe, a personal favorite, specializes in abstract works and has been known to represent Japanese artists who are not well known by U.S. audiences; Thinkspace focuses on the promotion and dissemination of young and emerging art, blurring the lines between popular culture, graphic art, design and street art; Mark Moore Gallery features emerging and mid career artists and maintains an interdisciplinary program; Koplin Del Rio focuses on contemporary painting, drawing and sculpture by internationally known artists, and emerging California artists; the George Billis Gallery shows paintings, photography, sculpture and mixed media works by emerging and mid-career artists, with a focus on SoCal artists.
Tip: A good number of Culver City galleries are large, some even cavernous. As big as they are, they can get pretty crowded during coinciding events. If it seems the whole of L.A. has descended upon Culver on the one night you decided to explore the neighborhood, consider coming back on a weekday when you’re likely to have the place to yourself, and can appreciate the art as it’s meant to be seen. For listings, please visit the Culver City Arts & Culture Website and be sure to check with individual galleries as opening hours may vary.
Santa Monica: Bergamot Station and Santa Monica Art Studios
Besides the Abbott Kinney area in Venice, Bergamot Station and Santa Monica Art Studios are really the only spots west of the 405 offering any kind of an art scene. Bergamot Station was the target of some controversy earlier this year when a popular petition by the Bergamot Station Gallery Cultural Association made the rounds to oppose the City of Santa Monica’s request for proposals and plan for re-development, which the group feared would turn the historic landmark into yet another Grove.
For the time being, Bergamot Station is still Banana Republic-free and is home to several architecture and design firms, as well as a large number of established galleries such as Craig Krull, Shoshana Wayne, FIG, Ruth Bachofner, William Turner, Tag Gallery…the list goes on. I suggest that you plan a pleasant art-filled afternoon (or evening) and visit them all soon, while the complex still hangs on to its old charm.
Santa Monica Art Studios at the Santa Monica Airport is a community of artists and exhibition spaces in a historic airplane hanger. SMAS artists work in private studios and can participate in classes, lectures and exhibitions. Arena 1 Gallery, a project of SMAS, is an expansive exhibition space within the hangar, which hosts exhibitions promoting cultural exchange, inviting younger, newly established and internationally known curators to organize exhibitions representing the most innovative and compelling artists from their countries.
Tips: Santa Monica Art Studios hosts an annual open studio event where artists open their doors to the public, however private viewings can be arranged directly with the artists. Please check SMAS‘ website for announcements and studio listings. Arena 1 Gallery is reviving its Categorically Not! series, occasional Sunday events dedicated to exploring the common ground of art, science, politics and whatnot, hosted by noted science writer K.C. Cole. As for Bergamot Station, coinciding openings and open door events do draw some serious crowds, but it’s a fun and lively way to gallery-hop and explore what the complex has to offer. The Santa Monica Museum of Art, an independent art museum exhibiting the work of local, national and international contemporary artists, is also located within the Bergamot Station complex.
Venice seems to attract some of the most, er… interesting characters you’ll ever meet. While the Venice boardwalk can be full of weirdos and exhibitionists, the Abbot Kinney strip and surrounding area offers exhibitions of a different sort. There are twenty or so galleries in the area, and many retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops routinely exhibit works by local independent artists.
Of note, L.A. Louver, founded in 1976, offers a distinguished exhibition program of contemporary art, featuring Los Angeles-based and international artists; C.A.V.E. Gallery (Center for Audio and Visual Expression) was first conceived in 2001 as a series of traveling art events and currently focuses on cutting-edge works on contemporary urban culture; De Soto Gallery exhibits contemporary artists working in photography and video; Hamilton Press Gallery specializes in the production of hand printed lithographs, usually limited to editions of about twenty; Buckwild Gallery showcases experimental, tagging, and spray paint art; Shulamit Gallery represents primarily Middle Eastern artists of diverse backgrounds and religions, but currently focuses on U.S.-based contemporary artists whose work reflect facets of the Jewish diaspora.
Tip: The Venice Art Crawl is coming up on Thursday, December 18th. Visit the VAC’s website for complete listings and a very user-friendly map with info on participating venues, including restaurants and other businesses with art on view. Also check out First Fridays on Abbot Kinney, featuring food trucks, crowds, awful parking, crowds, more food trucks… but you will see some art. The Venice boardwalk is worth a visit if you’ve never been, and is lined with a good number of vendors offering art, Tarot and palm readings, incense, henna tattoos, and all sorts of trinkets. The boardwalk can get suffocatingly crowded on weekends, and the vibe is distinctly agro at times. If it’s fine art you’re interested in, I would avoid it altogether and make a beeline for L.A. Louver… unless you’re in the market for a Bob Marley velvet painting.
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