Some of the most progressive art made in L.A. today can't be seen in museums or blue chip galleries. Instead, it's in the city's many alternative art spaces -- venues run by artists and other (typically young) people with a vision. These spaces tend to operate on a shoestring budget, in funky locales, or even out of people's homes and studios. Often you can find out about them only by word of mouth or social media.
Ten years ago, you could count the number of alternative art spaces in L.A. on your hands. Today there are more than anyone can keep track of, and they've become a significant factor in L.A.'s status as a new art capital.
We had to do some stringent paring to get this list down to 25. With a couple exceptions, the more commercial galleries were left out, no matter how cool their programming. Older and more established nonprofit venues, such as Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) and 18th Street Art Center, also were excluded.
What's left is a list of cool spaces you might not be able to find on your own. Don't delay in checking these places out -- the nature of experimental art venues is that they may not be around tomorrow.
The alternative mainstream
Machine Project: Always tinkering
Started at a humble storefront in Echo Park almost a decade ago, Machine Project, under the direction of Mark Allen, has moved into the relative big time of the alternative art world. In 2008, it organized a memorable, one-day takeover of LACMA, with offbeat events all over the campus; it later was invited to do residencies at museums from Denver to St. Louis. Back at home, it puts on community-oriented activities such as a fundraiser for those jailed in the Occupy L.A. arrests, DIY workshops on everything from home electronics to theatrical costumes and hikes with poets. Machine also recently got attention for removing its storefront windows, reinstalling them 20 feet back and creating a sort of indoor-outdoor plaza. 1200-D N. Alvarado St., Echo Park. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.
Artist Curated Projects: Nomadic troopers
Begun in 2008 by artists Eve Fowler and Lucas Michael, ACP feels like one of the elder statesmen in the current crop of alternative organizations. Although Michael relocated to New York a couple years ago, the roving project is still going strong, with exhibitions, performances and talks at a range of locales, including the homes and studios of friends, art fairs and institutions like the MAK Center and Armory Center for the Arts. Check out ACP's semi-annual flat file sale for a great opportunity to purchase affordable artworks by notable artists. artistcuratedprojects.com.
Young Art: Those damn kids
Like Jancar Jones, Young Art, run by curator Kate Hillseth, considers itself a gallery rather than an artist-run space, but it distinguishes itself by showing dynamic work by, yes, younger artists. Young Art's history dates back to 2006, when Hillseth ran a space in Highland Park next door to where Public Fiction (see description below) is now. She then spent a brief spell in the Woman's Building, L.A.'s historic center for feminist activity, before her current Chinatown location. Most recently, Young Art featured "Where the Skin Gets Pinched," an adventurous, site-specific creation by Cara Benedetto and Davida Nemeroff, which obliquely explored the pressures of being a working artist. 418 Bamboo Lane, Unit B, Chinatown; youngartgallery.com.
Jancar Jones: S.F. to L.A.
Opened last fall by art historian Ava Jancar and artist Eric Jones, this Chinatown space defines itself as a commercial gallery with a set stable of artists. Its conventional structure belies its fresh programming, however. A recent show by David Berezin, for example, featured amazing photographs that looked like meticulous studio arrangements but were really Photoshopped images from the Internet; in one, a loaf of bread and a set of skis sat on a terraced pedestal, casting perfect shadows. The two gallerists met in San Francisco while attending school at the Art Institute, and actually ran the gallery there for three years. Here they show a mix of L.A. and Bay Area artists. (Don't confuse Jancar Jones with Jancar Gallery, an older Chinatown space run by Ava's father, Tom.) 1031 N. Broadway, Chinatown. (323) 223-3115, jancarjones.com.
Making art and showing art
Beacon Arts Building: Improving Inglewood
Beacon Arts is the only venue on this list with a larger civic agenda, founded by private interests as an arts center for the Inglewood community. Located in an enormous four-story building that used to be home to Bekins Moving and Storage, Beacon Arts houses artists' studios, as well as large exhibition areas. Director Renée A. Fox has been doing a bang-up job programming exciting exhibitions such as Mat Gleason's "Tel-Art-Phone," a wild, sprawling affair in which chains of artists created artworks in response to the work of other artists, much like the childhood game of telephone. So far, every exhibition has ended with a rousing panel discussion accompanied by catered IHOP pancakes -- always a crowd-pleaser. 808 N. La Brea Ave., Inglewood. (310) 419-4077, beaconartsbuilding.com.
elephant: The party is in the back
A cheerfully laid-back vibe permeates elephant, a humble building in Glassell Park, which houses the studios of an ever-changing roster of artists, mostly CalArts grads. A nice entry room greets visitors with the latest exhibition, while a kitchen and backyard are friendly party areas. On view recently was Audrey Chan and Elana Mann's "fake retrospective," a fun collection of props and documentation from their seven years of working together. 3325 Division St., Glassell Park; elephantartspace.com
Monte Vista Projects: We're all in this together
This relatively low-key space, in existence since 2007, houses artist studios and an exhibition space. Among past shows are an exhibition of Christmas trees that you can rent and take home; a show inspired by the gestures of classic clowns; and the first run of Dawn Kasper's Nomadic Studio, in which she moved all of her stuff into the exhibition space and hung out there all day. Kasper did it again at the Whitney Biennial, earning a New York Times profile and a tweet from Martha Stewart. 5442 Monte Vista St., Highland Park; montevistaprojects.com.
Up next: House rules apply