With something like 400 modern and contemporary art galleries in L.A., and aesthetic taste being so subjective, picking just ten of the city's “best” galleries is nigh unto impossible. But if you wish to filter your culture destinations through the lens of a swell party — well, that makes the job a bit more manageable.
Assuming the art itself is quality, what else makes for a good gallery party? The best answer is the optimum balance of culture and fun, energy and sophistication, good art and good crowds. But does it require cocktails? Famous people? Obscure but fabulous people? Events worth dressing up a little for, or ones where you don't have to worry about what you're wearing?
Setting aside for the moment the proliferation of popular pop-ups, neighborhood walks and tours and museum shindigs, we sought out the establishments that, month in and month out, can be counted on to consistently provide your best chance to learn something while you get your art/rock on. It's worth adding yourself to their mailing lists, because each and every show comes with its own guaranteed good time.
10. Subliminal Projects
Founded by street-art demigod Shepard Fairey inside the footprint of his progressive propaganda factory Studio Number One, Subliminal Projects launched in 2003 for the purpose of showing other artists from the street art/fine art continuum. Even though Fairey makes only the rare cameo appearance, his name still has the power to attract famous artists from the 80s to the present day, plus huge audiences for their later-than-usual openings (typically 8-11 p.m.). Crowds that skew slightly young and male, beer that skews toward PBR, and a DJ stationed in the foyer give these shindigs a slightly rough, loud energy that do both the neighborhood — and the still-relevant edge of the street art genre — justice. 1331 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 213-0078, www.subliminalprojects.com.
9. New Image Art Gallery
Marsea Goldberg's New Image Art has been murdering the corner of Santa Monica and Fairfax since 1994, expanding from a 10-by-10-foot office space to a built-out, floodlit hall with a proper project room and offices, and drawing ever-expanding crowds to match. She was at least a decade ahead of the curve on celebrating post-punk skate and street culture, and many can thank New Image for their first exposure to artists such as Fairey, Camille Rose Garcia, Ed Templeton, Spencer Tunick, and Barry McGee. When she brought those crazy kids in from the cold, they brought the party with them — and even though time and global recognition have made them all stars, the old-school good times have never ended. 7920 Santa Monica Blvd., W Hlywd. (323) 654-2192, www.newimageartgallery.com.
Up next: vintage fashion and tattoos
8. La Luz de Jesus
The first Friday of every month there's a new show opening at La Luz de Jesus — the famous low-brow art emporium in the back half of Wacko, near the corner of Hollywood and Vermont. These first Fridays regularly see a veritable army of tattooed, vintage-clad locals descend on the quirky scene. The art, like the crowd, ranges from the cartoonish to the masterful; and the place is always crawling with artists and other fascinating people straight off the pages of the art magazine Juxtapoz — whether for ambitious theme shows or high-profile solos; book and toy releases; and just straight-up concert and hang-out nights.
4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz. (323) 666-7667, www.laluzdejesus.com.
7. LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions)
Despite their openings happening on Wednesday nights, LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) never fails to bring out the crowds for their installations, performances and legendary auctions. They enjoy the support of a broad cross-section of L.A. culturati, from students to established artists, curators, writers, musicians, performers, collectors, filmmakers, philanthropists, academics and designers. But it's also smack in the middle of Hollywood Blvd., and there's no stopping the unpredictable fashion and energy of the street from seeping in. 6522 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. (323) 957-1777, www.welcometolace.org .
Up next: a street art warehouse
6. LAB ART Los Angeles
With over-the-top group show openings sponsored by the various high-octane energy drinks and vodka companies, what stylish Miracle Mile street-inspired art warehouse LAB ART lacks in traditional exhibition space for expansive solo shows they make up for with an exciting revolving inventory of hot-off-the-presses work from dozens of the most prolific muralists, pasters and exotic taggers in town. All of the hype is well-attended by swarms of good-looking, in-the-know, afterparty-ready, art and vodka enthusiasts. What could possibly go wrong with a formula like that? 217 S. La Brea Blvd.. Miracle Mile. (323) 933-1021, www.labartgallery.com.
5. Mark Moore Gallery
Sometimes it can be hard to highlight just one of the always-very-many galleries in the Culver City district — whose openings are often simultaneous, which can make the area a little chaotic. But whether one of 20 parties, or the only one on the block, Mark Moore Gallery always brings the exact perfect blend of serious and experimental culture, avant-garde visuals and back-patio bartending. An opening reception there is the sort of evening you think of when you grab your friends and get a little dressed up for an archetypal art-world gathering in perfect, well-heeled bohemian style. 5790 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 453-3031, www.markmooregallery.com.
Up next: stalwarts in Mid-Wilshire and Venice
4. ACE Gallery
Both of ACE Gallery's locations (both Miracle Mile and Beverly Hills) are epic, spacious, museum-scaled affairs that put on opening parties to match — but the Mid-Wilshire location on an entire floor of the landmark Desmond Building is built to impress. Its warren of both intimate and hangar-like spaces is at its best when enlivened by an onslaught of who's-who in the young and classic L.A. art world — an already amped-up crowd whose mood is further enhanced by the pouring of never-ending high-end sponsored cocktails and the frequent and fabulous fine-feathered traffic jams in the labyrinth of hallways. 5514 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile. (323) 935-3388, www.acegallery.net
3. LA Louver
Something of a standard-bearer in the Venice art scene of the past 25 years, LA Louver Gallery openings are art-world destinations for a surprisingly eclectic crowd. Whether they're showing British legend David Hockney or graffiti artist Gajin Fujita, there is a certain temple-like quality to the beachside space that inspires both reverence and networkable merry-making in visitors. From stylish locals to paint-splattered artists and even bejeweled royalty of the Hills, this is a place to be seen in the act of looking, and a fertile land for aficionados of posh accents. 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-4955, www.lalouver.com.
Up next: celebrities AND a great party
2. Prism LA
Prism LA took an award in our most recent Best Of L.A. Issue for offering the best celebrity sightings at gallery shows — which is not necessarily the same as throwing the best parties. Except in this case, it is. With a regular stream of celebrity artists showing in the program, and followers from the worlds of art and fashion converging on their gorgeous Sunset Blvd. architecture, the experience can sometimes teeter on the nightclubby — an impression that their legendary rooftop after-parties do little to combat. That said, if you want a fashion-forward good time with your cultural experience, Prism is the place to find it.8746 W. Sunset Blvd. W. Hlywd. (310) 289-1301, www.prismla.com.
1. Merry Karnowsky Gallery
Any gallery that's famous for a signature cocktail (vodka with lemonade and rosemary) and rarely has an opening night reception not hosted by a famous rocker or movie star deserves the top spot on a list like this. Things may have settled down from the days of fans literally crawling over alley fences to get into Merry Karnowsky Gallery, but lines down the block on opening night are still a common sight. It's worth it though, because once you are inside, it's a whole world of '80s SoHo-style buzz and bling, with high production-value art that is always challenging, coveted, dark, and a little romantic. 170 S. La Brea Ave., Hancock Park. (323) 933-4408, www.mkgallery.com.