Like many underground live-work spaces throughout Los Angeles, Think Tank Gallery fell victim to the citywide crackdown on illegal-occupancy warehouses following the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland last December.
In March, the popular street-art collective was forced out of its warehouse space in the Fashion District after receiving orders that the 17 artists living there needed to move out immediately. The collective has since held a series of pop-up events, including an exhibition for incarcerated artists at the MacArthur Park swap meet. Starting on Aug. 19, the rogue gallery will return to its space at 939 Maple Ave. in downtown L.A. for a 33-day free show titled “Drinkin’ Smokin’ & West Coastin.'”
Event curator Jacob Patterson describes it as “a love/hate letter to L.A.,” taking inspiration from the time period between the 1984 Olympics and the Kings-vs.-Lakers rivalry of the early 2000s. From KDAY and Kobe to car chases and urban riots, the show recalls an era that has come to define the city for both the good and the bad.
“We’re having this homecoming and we thought, ‘How do we want to come back to our space?’” Patterson says. “I just wanted to say thank you to L.A., and our show is exactly that.”
In addition to displaying the work of more than 70 local and international artists including Monica Kim Garza, Gangster Doodles and Jamie Browne, the exhibit aims to be a fully immersive experience. Korean-American artist Ray Young Chu’s Ray-Mart installation is a satirical re-creation of a Korean liquor store, filled with a bizarre array of found objects meant to highlight the racial tensions that fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Visitors will navigate parts of the exhibit via an L.A. traffic-inspired maze, culminating with a fluorescent-lit DMV dive bar where patrons take a vision test before ordering a beer.
“Every part of this show has some reflection of L.A. in it, even down to how much artwork is on the wall,” experience designer Daniel Heidner says. “It’s reminiscent of traffic and just how many lives are packed into this city.”
After Think Tank’s tenants were forced out of the space, the gallery owner transformed the warehouse into an event-only room under the name 939 Studio, which is separate from Think Tank Gallery but licensed under the same business, Think Tank Productions.
For this upcoming event, the gallery is, in effect, renting out the space to itself. And while the warehouse no longer serves as Think Tank’s permanent home, Patterson plans to continue producing outside shows as long as 939 Studio can make enough money to stay on its lease, which ends in March 2018.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety confirmed the city has ceased issuing temporary “change of use” permits for events since Ghost Ship, but that “assembly use structures” — with proper fire alarm systems and exit signs — can still obtain event permits. Patterson says the warehouse qualifies as assembly use and that the studio has been working closely with the Los Angeles Police Department and city officials to remain in full compliance while putting on the event.
Since the gallery no longer relies on money collected from its renters, it looked to corporate sponsors, including Vans and Lagunitas Brewing Company, to help subsidize the show. It put all sponsorship money toward bringing in artists and paying the Think Tank team to build out the event.
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As large-scale installations such as the Museum of Ice Cream and the 14th Factory gain popularity in L.A., Patterson says he is proud to make a similar experience accessible as a free show. He says the event aims to find a middle ground between high- and low-art sensibilities that can be enjoyed by a range of people — and hopes it can serve as a blueprint for putting on successful DIY events in L.A. post–Ghost Ship.
“These 33 days will be telling. ... 939 Studio might stay here and might still get to support the arts in a new way,” he says.
“Drinkin’ Smokin’ & West Coastin’” opens Aug.19 and runs through Sept. 23. The show will feature different daily events including a 420 Lounge hosted by marijuana dispensary Show Grow and a brunch catered by Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
You can RSVP now for opening night and other events.
UPDATE: This post was amended to reflect that Hueman will no longer be participating.