Los Angeles Art Gallery Tours

Illuminating the Los Angeles Art Scene

Jennifer Steinkamp, Botanic 2, 2016, computer-generated animation, dimensions variable

Jennifer Steinkamp, "Botanic 2", 2016, computer-generated animation, dimensions variable

Saturday, June 10, 2017, Acme, a groundbreaking Los Angeles gallery, shut its doors for good, a mere seven months after relocating from mid-Wilshire to Frogtown.

Acme’s impact on the Los Angeles art scene throughout the ‘90s and first decade of the new millennium was profound.

While the gallery and others’ tally Acme’s tenure at 22 years (1994-2017) – directors Randy Sommer’s and Robert Gunderman’s joint term as significant contributors to Los Angeles’ art scene began in 1992 when, together with Leonard Bravo and Stephen Hartzog, they co-directed Food House. (Sommer joining the other three shortly after the gallery’s inception.)

Food House was a mostly artist-run commercial space situated in a vacated classroom building in a run-down, shuttered school in Santa Monica, about three blocks from what would eventually become Bergamot Station. Food House did not represent a specific stable of artists but instead had a “working relationship” with the artists who exhibited there.

Sommer had previously directed an innovative project annex at Santa Monica’s Dorothy Goldeen gallery. Fresh out of art school, Gunderman, a one-time marine and an artist himself, had briefly presided over the tiny Opus gallery in downtown Los Angeles, co-founding Food House not long thereafter.

While most descriptions of the Acme’s passing will, very appropriately, list significant artists who were either introduced by the co-directors or had a lengthy stint exhibiting there – including: Jennifer Steinkamp, Kevin Appel, Steven Criqui, Andrea Bowers, Miles Coolidge, Carlos Mollura, Tomory Dodge, Laura Owens, Monique Prieto, John Sonsini, Tony Feher and Kurt Kauper, to name but a few – Acme’s broader significance was its impact on the geography and broader aesthetic sensibility of the Los Angeles art world.

Kurt Kauper, Diva Fiction #5, 1997, oil on birch panel, 86 x 58"

Kurt Kauper, Diva Fiction #5, 1997, oil on birch panel, 86 x 58"

Unlike today, when gallerists scour MFA programs for the newest art star and the Hammer Museum regularly presents work by freshly-minted LA artists only several installments into paying off their student loans – at the time Food House opened its doors, there were very, very few spaces that even considered regularly exhibiting younger artists. There were a small handful of other great, but short-lived, young artist venues including Sue Spaid Gallery (1990-1995), Rory Devine’s TRI Gallery (1992-1995), Dennis Anderson Gallery (1988-1991) and the much longer-lived, and also influential, Thomas Solomon’s Garage. But, Sommer and Gunderman seemed to have a magic eye, a respect for the sanctity of artist/dealer/collector transactions and an innate instinct for longevity.

Shows at Food House and later Acme were enthusiastically reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, and other influential art press including the far-reaching pages of Artforum and Art in America – vastly amplifying both the gallery’s and their artists’ reach in the print-dependent, pre-internet era.

Here is the lede from a lengthy review by the LA Times’ Christopher Knight from April 1993:

Larry Mantello‘s “Pleasure Treasure” is the most refreshing and invigorating exhibition this critic has seen in a Los Angeles gallery this season. With insightful wit and a skillfully light touch, the young, L.A.-based artist has pressed a claim fraught with the danger of easy dismissal as trivial or emptily self-indulgent–and he’s made it work.”

Larry Mantello's "Pleasure Treasure" at Food House

Larry Mantello's "Pleasure Treasure" at Food House, 1993

A positive, high profile print review was like a comedian making it onto Johnny Carson’s Tonight show – a near guarantee, or at least a reasonably good promise, of some level of art world attention. And, voila, just like that, a fresh generation of Los Angeles artists became visible and started to experience some semblance of success.

With artist performances and innovative exhibitions, Food House’s contribution to the revitalization of the recession-hobbled Santa Monica scene brought even more art galleries to the bay city, eventually including the Bergamot Station complex and tiny fledgling Blum and Poe gallery, whose own increasing notoriety led to the art world colonization of the neighborhood surrounding La Cienega, south of Washington, in Culver City.

Blum and Poe’s continued snowballing expansion was a major impetus toward the rapid growth of Los Angeles’ commercial gallery scene over the last decade.

In 1994, roughly simultaneous with the opening of Bergamot Station and Blum and Poe, Acme officially opened as “Acme,” run solely by Sommer and Gunderman, in a marginally more established property in a ramshackle Santa Monica creative park, mostly comprised of WW II – era clapboard bungalows, sharing a structure with Marc Foxx and Dan Bernier Gallery. Unlike Bergamot, which was fairly high-rent, Sommer and Gunderman could afford the risk of presenting innovative and challenging artwork – the sort of thing that advanced the Southern California art conversation.

Monique Prieto, Pedestrian, 1998, acrylic on canvas, ca. 84 x 72¼" on the cover of Artforum

Monique Prieto, "Pedestrian", 1998, acrylic on canvas, ca. 84 x 72¼" on the cover of Artforum

Much of the work, like Steinkamp’s exuberant kaleidoscopic video installations and Prieto’s goofy, abstract blob paintings, delivered decoration for the sheer pleasure of decoration. Kauper delivered creamy, well-crafted, psychologically dense figuration. Coolidge’s photos reveled in a Bernd and Hilla Becher inflected coolness combined with urbane, Los Angeles-y deadpan humor.

The work there was iconoclastically easy-going and unpretentious – a contrast to much of the directly politically-engaged, conceptually-oriented, work of the time. The message was simple: revel in the pure pleasure of sincerely looking – luxuriate in the weird, guilty, natural joy of art for art’s sake.

Acme’s seemingly apolitical work made a serious political statement. It was a release – an unshackling of art from the justifiable but stifling dourness of an art community ravaged by the AIDS era, Jesse Helms and Pat Buchanan’s culture wars and Reagan/Bush era hyper-morality – as well as the understandable but stultifying politicization of art that came in response to those threats.

Miles Coolidge, Storefront, Hospital, Office Building 1995

Miles Coolidge, Storefront, Hospital, Office Building 1995

In the world of younger artists and groundbreaking collectors, the gallery’s openings were among the highlights of Los Angeles’ social calendar.

And when the gallery, along with its building mates, relocated to 6150 Wilshire Boulevard in 1998, it was a big loss for Santa Monica – and the start of a gravitational shift in Los Angeles’ gallery scene, as more venues either moved or opened eastward, from mid-Wilshire to Chinatown.  Today’s Culver City mainstays, Roberts & Tilton, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and Kopeikin located themselves at or near Acme’s 6150 Wilshire address, later to follow Blum and Poe’s move to the less pricey square footage of Culver City.

And, for 18 years, the gallery flourished, expanding its square footage, ebbing and flowing in its influence and weathering two recessions.

In late 2016, after 19 years on Wilshire, Sommer and Gunderman boldly pulled up stakes, intrepidly heading to hipster Frogtown, a rapidly gentrifying community, already home to the studios of big-name artists Shepherd Fairey, Thomas Houseago and Mark Grotjahn.

It was a new start – in a building that the gallery bought and refurbished – a fresh chance to share Acme’s giddy outlook, just as the Trump era began.

Within less than a year, the gallery closed for good.

Goodbye Acme

Goodbye Acme

Los Angeles Art Gallery Tours

by Suzanne Ennis

The Los Angeles gallery scene has exploded in recent years, with buzzy new galleries such as Night Gallery and the Mistake Room in downtown’s industrial district and Papillion in Leimert Park pioneering neighborhoods off the beaten art track, and blue-chip galleries including Regen Projects in Hollywood and Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills drawing increasingly high-profile talent.

Helping to make sense of the sprawling scene is Bill Kleiman, director of Los Angeles Art Gallery Tours. A graduate of L.A.’s Otis/Parsons (now Otis College of Art and Design) MFA program, Kleiman has more than 25 years of experience as a professional artist. In addition to his bona fides and insider access, Kleiman’s snobbery-free attitude lends his tours wide appeal. You can customize your tour with Kleiman based on interest, location or discipline, or you can opt to visit preselected neighborhoods, such as Chinatown and downtown or Santa Monica and Venice. A top choice is the Culver City Arts District, focused along La Cienega and Washington boulevards. Considered by many contemporary art aficionados to be the best gallery-hopping ’hood in L.A., the district is home to nearly 40 galleries, all in easy walking distance to one another.

On a Culver City art gallery tour with Kleiman, you’re likely to visit Blum & Poe (2727 S. La Cienega Blvd., 310.836.2062), the powerhouse gallery credited with establishing Culver City as an arts destination (and launching Takashi Murakami’s U.S. career), as well as Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects (6006 Washington Blvd., 310.837.2117) and Cherry and Martin (2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., 310.559.0100), another Kleiman favorite.

While the constant rotation of exhibitions means the artwork varies from tour to tour, Kleiman says his approach remains the same. “I grab the spirit of the moment and share that narrative,” he says, adding, “Artwork is completely about communication and the conversation, verbal or nonverbal, that it inspires.” Be ready to share your opinion—and in Kleiman’s infectious enthusiasm.



Courtesy of KCRW.com


Test Your Artistic Compass; Bill Kleiman Explains Art Fairs (Paramount Ranch, ALAC, LA Art Book Fair this weekend)

Posted January 31, 2014 by 

Bill Kleiman ALAContemp 2012

Two weeks ago hundreds of galleries and thousands of people descended on downtown for the LA Art Fair at the Convention Center and Photo LA at LA Mart.

Now the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair is at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica through Sunday. Also this weekend, the Paramount Ranch in Santa Monica will bring 30-plus galleries and artist-run spaces to the mountains of Santa Monica. And don’t forget the LA Art Book Fair, at the Geffen Contemporary through Sunday. That’s five art and art-related fairs already and we are barely out of January.

But the question arises for those of us who like to go see art but don’t feel expert in who’s who and what’s what in the art world, which of these art fairs matter? What should we be looking for? DnA turned to Bill Kleiman, left, artist and director of Los Angeles Art Gallery Tours, for his opinion.

DnA: First off, why are there so many art fairs these days?

Bill Kleiman: Art fairs are among the big driving engines of the art world, along with the internet.

I think it may have to do with time-budget. In a major art city like LA or New York where there is so much to see, it’s hard to tackle the art scene effectively. So while they are huge, the art fairs are more manageable. As it is, people sometimes pick something up at a fair and bring it home. I think it has to do with immediate gratification.

LA Art Fair

Both the fairs and the internet market have fed back into the way art is a made in a very significant way. It’s preferable for the dealers to have artists who can produce a lot of work that they can move at those fairs.

Often those things are smaller and easier to transport and don’t place heavy intellectual demands on a viewer because they are being represented in a giant overwhelming marketplace.

It’s a problem because the thing that catches your eye may be the thing you hate in another context because it’s so graphic and unrevealing. So the visitors to art fairs are getting to watch artistic evolution; it’s a survival of the fittest in action and even in nature that is not necessarily what we view as being the best.

Another aspect of fairs is that an artwork will be exhibited for a couple of days and if dealers are lucky someone will buy it and no one else will get to see it. For a lot of artists, the appeal of being in a gallery is to be up on a wall for a while and for people to see it before it goes to someone’s private collection.

At some fairs, dealers will put out their best stuff because they attract all the biggest collectors, like Art Basel Miami. The collectors there compete with each other as if it’s Black Friday.

Photo LA

DnA: So how do we know which ones to go to and what to look for?

BK: First, it helps to know a bit about how art galleries evolve.

Art galleries have a particular trajectory; typically there is a group of friends who appreciate what one another does and if they are lucky there’s a little bit of money involved (like renting a space). And they start to exhibit one another and gradually they hone down to a stable of things that sell or they feel like they can stand behind consistently. And then in the end if a gallery is a standard successful stable, it becomes a solid business. Sometimes they steal artists from one another.

The analogy is the transition from being pigs to men in Orwell’s Animal Farm, from being artists and friends to being in business with and against one another.

So the LA Art Fair features more established galleries, including LA’s Jack Rutberg andTobey C. Moss, and a lot of this has to do with the economics of being in a particular fair — and that means simply the cost of participating. Just compare web sites from fair to fair and you can see the price difference; simply through the graphic presentation and production quality of the site you can sense the difference.

I didn’t care about going to the LA Art Fair because I feel that art has utterly arrived and been around for a while, and it is way on the other end of the art that interests me. That doesn’t mean that it’s no good, because that’s not the case, some of it is great; it just doesn’t represent what I’m typically interested in.

The Art Los Angeles Contemporary features galleries in the middle or upper-middle level, including AcmeSusanna Vielmetter and Angles. Those galleries are pretty much known commodities but they are still in a position where they are representing people who are their friends or who they organically move towards.

I found the show last night to be very flat though there were a couple of things I really liked, like the Portland gallery UPFOR showing Brenna Murphy, above, who makes virtual sculptures out of digitized Chinese-like objects. They are weird chotchkes out of her head.

I also thought our local Christopher Grimes gallery made a very strong showing with light boxes from artists named Kota Ezawa and Lucia Koch. Koch makes teeny models out of light cardboard boxes; both supergrand and then they give you the feeling that you get as little child creating a world out of c**p you have lying around.

Photo LA

Then there’s Paramount Ranch show, and in a way I’m more excited about it. These are younger, hungrier gallerists and artists (sometimes one and the same) and they are more apt to put their best foot forward and are willing to take huge risks artistically. They want to get attention in a different sort of way. Only Francois Ghebaly is at both Paramount and Art LA Contemporary.

There are a lot of different things that people look to art to be that are all wholely legitimate and some are about how your art represents you at home;  it may be very important for some people to have something that makes them look cool or established.

So something from Paramount Ranch isn’t necessarily going to serve that purpose but something from Los Angeles Contemporary might; and if you want something that doesn’t challenge people the LA Art Fair might be exactly the right thing. I represent one end of the curve of art viewers.

The important thing is go to a fair with eyes and mind open, take your time and see what you really gravitate toward. It’s a chance to test your own artistic compass.

Clockwise from top left: Bill Kleiman, at 2012 ALCA, courtesy @LauraDGrover; art at LA Art Fair, 2014; arrangement of 3-d printed and laser cut objects by Brenna Murphy , all 2013, photograph by Bill Kleiman; even dogs love art fairs, as spotted at Photo LA; Jay Mark Johnson steps through the doorway bearing his photograph, to Photo LA