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Alternative Spaces

25 Alternative L.A. Art Spaces to Check Out Now

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Thu, May 3, 2012 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge A play on a joke about California being full of fruits and nuts, Laura Owens' works made of '60s California newspapers are at Actual Size through May 12 - PHOTO BY OOGA BOOGA STORE IN CHINATOWN, L.A.
  • Photo by Ooga Booga store in Chinatown, L.A.
  • A play on a joke about California being full of fruits and nuts, Laura Owens' works made of '60s California newspapers are at Actual Size through May 12
Also check out our Google Map of L.A.'s alternative art spaces

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.

click to enlarge Machine Project's master class in how to be a "tranimal," organized by Austin Young and Squeaky Blonde, in February - EMILY LACY
  • Emily Lacy
  • Machine Project's master class in how to be a "tranimal," organized by Austin Young and Squeaky Blonde, in February

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, machine​project.com.

click to enlarge A work by Dashiell Manley included in the Artist Curated Projects show, "One for the Money, Two for the Show," curated by Math Bass - CAROL CHEH
  • Carol Cheh
  • A work by Dashiell Manley included in the Artist Curated Projects show, "One for the Money, Two for the Show," curated by Math Bass

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. artistcurated​​projects.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; young​art​gallery.com.

click to enlarge Jancar Jones receives a visit from Cypress College teacher Elizabeth DiGiovanni, left, and her conceptual photography class - CAROL CHEH
  • Carol Cheh
  • Jancar Jones receives a visit from Cypress College teacher Elizabeth DiGiovanni, left, and her conceptual photography class

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.

click to enlarge The exhibit "Hanging Gardens," a play on the gardens of Babylon, curated by Renée Fox at Beacon Arts Building - AVESHA MICHAEL
  • Avesha Michael
  • The exhibit "Hanging Gardens," a play on the gardens of Babylon, curated by Renée Fox at Beacon Arts Building

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.

click to enlarge A whimsical installation by Audrey Chan and Elana Mann festoons the kitchen at elephant art space - CAROL CHEH
  • Carol Cheh
  • A whimsical installation by Audrey Chan and Elana Mann festoons the kitchen at elephant art space

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

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    9 New Alternative Art Spaces in L.A. to Check Out Now 4

    With so many artists living in L.A. and the local art schools churning out hundreds of eager graduates every year, new alternative art venues are opening all the time. In the past year, for example, 356 S. Mission Road (a downtown exhibition hall, community space and indie bookstore opened by artist Laura Owens... More >>

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