On Saturday, Aug. 27, Corey Helford Gallery celebrates its 10th anniversary with an art extravaganza featuring 100 artists. The gallery, founded by Jan Corey Helford and Bruce Helford, has spent the past decade at the forefront of what they call "modern contemporary art," a mix of pop surrealism, street art and other styles with figurative and narrative qualities. CHG is the frequent home of art from big names like Ron English and Shag. It also was an early supporter of artists like Sylvia Ji and Natalia Fabia.
Bruce notes that the gallery started because Jan had been collecting art and had been following the work of then-relatively unknown artists and wanted "to present it as a kind of temple to their work that elevated the level of presentation." Certainly, they've done that with show openings that often bring a bit of a spectacle to the gallery. And, after last year's move from Culver City to a much larger space downtown, they've been able to go even bigger. Expect lots of surprises on Saturday night, with a show that will feature a range of artists, including Camille Rose Garcia, Colin Christian, D*Face, Sage Vaughn and Eric Joyner.
"We are very proud to be still around after 10 years, because most galleries don't survive [past] the three-year mark," says Bruce. "We're doing it for love and to the benefit of the artists."
We spoke with Bruce Helford and CHG gallery director Sherri J. Trahan, as well as artist Ron English, about some of the gallery's most memorable shows.
1. "Charity by Number" (2007)
Corey Helford Gallery hadn't been around for very long when it produced a mega-benefit show called "Charity by Number," which brought out many of the artists associated with what CHG now calls modern contemporary art. "My attorney is very much involved with the Alliance for Children's Rights, and he asked us if we could do some kind of benefit for them," explains Bruce Helford. But, while many benefits might donate a percentage of the proceeds to charity, CHG decided to go 100 percent. "I think partially because of that, we got a lineup that was unheralded," he says. Mark Ryden, Shag, Gary Basemen, Camille Rose Garcia and Liz McGrath were just a few of the celebrated artists who participated in the event.
The concept was simple: Buy vintage paint-by-number pieces and have the artists work over the original paintings. The result was a mix of 20th-meets-21st-century aesthetics that proved to be wildly popular. Helford recalls lines around the block and TV news coverage as part of the opening. "It was a very special event and I think it really brought a lot of attention — which really wasn't the original idea by it — but it brought a lot of attention to the gallery," he says. More importantly, they raised a pretty
good chunk of funds for their charity.
2. Sylvia Ji, "Por Vida" (2008)
In 2008, Corey Helford Gallery hosted a solo show from Sylvia Ji, then an up-and-coming artist whom Jan Corey Helford had been collecting. The show featured portraits of women with Day of the Dead–style paintings on their faces, which became a signature of Ji's style. "Here's someone Jan had invested and believed in, and she just stepped up to the plate big-time and she's still known for [the paintings]," says Bruce Helford. In fact, one of the images from this show, "Dona Dolorosa," later appeared on a cover of L.A. Weekly when the painting was exhibited at the Laguna Museum.
3. Gary Baseman, "La Noche de la Fusion — A Celebration" (2009)
"Gary [Baseman] wanted to do a show where he celebrated the birth of a new character for his paintings, and he wanted to create a carnival, so we created a carnival," says Bruce Helford. CHG took over a parking lot next to its old Culver City space and Baseman made carnival games painted with his characters. They brought in live performances, too. It was a hit; Helford estimates that between 3,000 and 5,000 people showed up for the opening night and adds that they had to have police on hand "just to be sure everyone was OK."
Helford says that the event was inspired by the happenings of the 1960s, in that they wanted to create "an event that would pop up out of nowhere and be bigger and stranger than anyone expected it to be." They got that. "It was something where we went beyond just the presentation of art but created an environment that was very unique and very special," he recalls.
4. "Art From the New World" (2010)
In 2010, CHG brought its take on art to Bristol, England, with "Art From the New World." Bruce Helford didn't attend the show in person but says that it remains one of the more memorable art feats for the gallery. It all started when Bruce and Jan traveled to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to see Banksy's show there. They were so impressed that they contacted the museum with an idea for a show bringing together some of the brightest talents in the United States. "Art From the New World" featured Coop, Natalia Fabia, Sylvia Ji, Ray Caesar and many more. For the opening, they sent out burlesque superstar Dita Von Teese and her rhinestone carousel pony. Overall, Bruce says, 60,000 people went through the exhibition, a big feat for a gallery that had been open for just a few years at that point.
5. D*Face, "Going Nowhere Fast" (2011)
British artist D*Face created a stir when his solo show "Going Nowhere Fast" opened at Corey Helford Gallery in 2011. His work satirized the illusions of Hollywood, and the opening-night party played on that with its red carpet and a massive re-creation of an Oscar statue with gold carved away to reveal bones and gore. Inside, impersonators of Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson mingled with the crowd. Their faces were made up by effects masters the Chiodo Brothers to look as though they, like the Oscar statue, were revealing their innards. For the show, D*Face painted a large mural and there were also large tombstones that required a lot of cement to make. "Each tombstone ended up weighing close to 200 pounds," gallery director Sherri J. Trahan recalls, "and then we lit candles on them inside the gallery, which didn't go well with the fire marshal."
6. "Art Collector Starter Kit" (2013)
In 2013, CHG launched an annual show aimed at getting more people into collecting art. With "Art Collector Starter Kit," artists created 12"x12" works that sold for a lower-than-normal price. "If you're a young collector or a new collector, it's your opportunity to get a piece of art from a well-known artist in the modern contemporary scene that's at an affordable price," Trahan says, "and it gives you a chance to enter into the collecting scene that you might have only perhaps so far have been buying prints from."
The inaugural show featured works from CHG regulars like Korin Fought and Eric Joyner, as well as artists who went on to have solo shows at the gallery, like Camilla d'Errico and Alexandra Manukyan.
7. Eine, "Innocence" (2013)
When British street artist Eine had his 2013 solo show, "Innocence," at CHG Circa, a small space that they had near the main gallery in Culver City, they created an immersive experience for the audience. Production and set designers were employed to turn the space into a Victorian-style underground train station, with faux-concrete floors, faux-brick walls and even a faux-steel door. They used printouts in the windows to make it look as if trains were heading toward passersby. They also hired members of the Seventh Letter Crew to add graffiti to the walls. A film and television composer created a score that would sound as though it were part of an underground train system, too. "It was such an incredible conversion of the space to something completely different," Trahan says. And if that wasn't enough, some of the works were made with glow-in-the-dark paints, so they would turn off the lights sporadically during the opening to let the crowd see the hidden images. Trahan recalls, "The whole thing was a giant, wild art experience."
8. Ron English, "NeoNature: We Are the New They" (2015)
In late 2015, CHG moved out of Culver City and into a massive space on Anderson Street on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. The gallery reopened in December with a massive new show from artist Ron English. Called "NeoNature: We Are the New They," the exhibition featured paintings, sculptures and even a large mural of his "Monarch Elephant" that still resides on the side of the building. In addition, English made installations that were housed in a smaller gallery inside the space. This included a display of a Bigfoot family traveling through the woods. "We got incredibly lucky that it was December and we grabbed the Christmas trees so that they were in the woods," says Trahan. For the opening, they had servers dressed as English's characters bringing out white Russians in Ron English shot glasses.
"They always do something to surprise you," English says of his shows at CHG. For the New York–based artist, his most memorable show with the gallery was "Seasons in Supurbia," which opened in 2011 with an event that featured musicians dressed as his military clown characters.
9. Shag, "Jungle Drums" (2016)
Shag (aka Josh Agle) is one of the most easily recognizable artists of the modern contemporary movement. His mid-20th-century–inspired paintings have adorned all kinds of merch, in addition to books and prints. He also shows fairly regularly at Corey Helford Gallery. His most recent exhibition there, "Jungle Drums," was the second major solo show at CHG's new downtown space. According to his artist statement, the show itself is based on vintage "pinup girl" decals he found in the early 1980s and more recent waves of women embracing the '50s pinup style. For the opening, CHG highlighted Shag's style with help from furniture company Modernica, which created a living room–style installation. "You could take pictures in it," says Bruce Helford, "and his style is so midcentury, it blends perfectly."
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10. Camille Rose Garcia, "Phantasmacabre" (2016)
The gallery's most recent show, Camille Rose Garcia's solo exhibition "Phantasmacabre," was a long time in the making. Both Jan Corey Helford and gallery director Trahan have long collected Garcia's work and, while Garcia has participated in group shows at CHG, this was her first solo show at the gallery. Garcia spent two years working on "Phantasmacabre," which includes the biggest piece she has made, a 120"x96" piece called "Someone's in the Wolf." Says Trahan: "It's so incredibly impressive and it encompasses pretty much her career and life within this one painting." Running concurrently with "Phantasmacabre," in a smaller gallery inside CHG's downtown compound, was a collection of the artist's illustrations for Harper Designs' Snow White. This was the first time that all of the pieces from this book were exhibited together and on sale.
To celebrate, the gallery threw an opening fete with burlesque performers Vanessa Burgundy and Kira Von Sutro dressed in costumes inspired by the paintings and dancing to music that fit with the theme of the event.