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.
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
House rules apply
Concord Space: Our warehouse, in the middle of our street
Concord, a newer space that I got wind of through Facebook event invites, consistently comes up with catchy ideas, such as a bingo tournament with art for prizes, a concert that featured a form of Taiwanese surf-rock performed with puppetry, and an “immersive literary event” in which writers were stationed throughout the warehouse-like house, offering private poetry readings. The events are organized by the rotating mix of people who live in five bedrooms — currently there are two artists, a writer, an architect and a “depth psychologist.” 1010 N. San Fernando Road, Cypress Park. (818) 649-0189, concordspace.com.
Favorite Goods: Mi casa es su art space
Located on the second story of a building on Chung King Road in Chinatown, this new space won us over back in December with a “sleep concert” in which visitors were invited to sleep over at the gallery while live experimental music played all night long. Directors Ryan Fabel and Audrey Moyer, who have done a lovely job of building out a portion of their home to start this space, met in Berlin two years ago and moved to L.A. only last March. They've already made inroads into the local art community and plan to host shows of out-of-town artists. 936 ½ Chung King Road, Chinatown; favoritegoodslosangeles.com.
Jaus: No, the Spanish pronunciation
When artist Ichiro Irie bought a small residential lot in a tree-lined neighborhood of Santa Monica, it was populated with a collection of run-down shacks. He enlisted noted architect Ken Tanaka, a family friend, to design a new set of buildings for his family to live in, including Jaus, a space for exhibitions. The name “Jaus” is the Spanish phonetic spelling for the word house — something Irie coined for the name of an arts magazine he once ran in Mexico City. Irie maintains many international ties, and recent exhibitions have spotlighted artists from Japan and France. Jaus' opening receptions are always jovial affairs that tend to spill over into the late hours. 11851 La Grange Ave., Santa Monica. (424) 248-0781, jausart.com.
Summercamp's ProjectProject: Like Meatballs if Bill Murray were Andy Warhol
Summercamp's ProjectProject is such a likable idea — a group of crazy kids, living in a big-ass house in El Sereno, using their work-light summer months to put together shows right in their own backyard (literally). And what a backyard it is! Some of the most memorable works have made epic use of the enormous, sloping hill. Mercedes Teixido's hilarious Sisyphus and Newton was a huge, inflatable boulder that visitors could push either up the hill or down. Ryan Lamb's video Chasing Myself featured people running up and down the slope to the tune of the Star Trek battle theme. Summercamp's three directors are having intense, all-night meetings to map out their 2012 programming, scheduled to start June 3. summercampprojectproject.blogspot.com
Up next: Innovative concepts
Control Room: Curating via email and other experiments
As its name suggests, Control Room is a bit of a conceptual experiment, as directors William Kaminski and Evelena Ruether are interested in playing with the various factors in the organizing of an exhibition. Case in point: the first L.A. iteration of “BCC,” a curatorial concept started in Germany, in which artists are asked to respond to a prompt by sending digital files to the curators, who then realize a show based on those files alone. The results were kind of scattered, kind of unreadable yet with moments of clarity that were curiously compelling. The streets around Control Room, located in an obscure corner of downtown, have recently come to life with new pizza and beer joints that are handy for postshow socializing. 2006 E. Seventh St., L.A.; control-room.org.
Night Gallery: Stay up late on a weekday
Night Gallery, which is open only between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., Tuesday through Thursday, has already become something of a local legend. As its statement poetically puts it, “Inspired by the shift that Los Angeles undergoes each night, it is a space that values soulfulness, danger and breath.” Its shows are always atypical selections of work by emerging artists, and its openings feel looser and more adventurous than any standard gallery's. The gallery is run by Mieke Marple and Davida Nemeroff; recent highlights there include Marina Pinsky's leathery works, which emit dance music when you get close to them. 204 S. Avenue 19, Lincoln Heights; nightgallery.ca.
PØST: A legend returns, kamikaze-style
Founded in 1995 by artist HK Zamani, PØST is an important part of L.A.'s contemporary art history. In its original incarnation (POST without the strike-through), it was known as a go-to spot to see work by important young artists, some of whom went on to show in the Whitney Biennial. After a four-year hiatus to focus on his own artwork, Zamani reopened PØST in 2005 with an even more radical agenda: a monthlong series of one-night Kamikaze exhibitions, in which a different curator was invited to program a show each night. Events have included Doug Harvey's balls-out art/music/performance/film extravaganza; a thoughtful discussion exploring what was wrong with the Pacific Standard Time initiative; and a couple dozen artists collaborating on a live painting experiment. 1904 E. Seventh Place, L.A. (213) 488-1280, post-la.com.
Up next: Got live if you want it
Got live if you want it
Human Resources: Kung fu no more
Human Resources might be the city's most dynamic arts venue. The cavernous space, located in a former kung fu theater in Chinatown, is a perfect platform for its mix of art exhibitions, performance events, film screenings, concerts and readings. Recent highlights include a rare appearance by New York underground performance legend Penny Arcade, who went on a funny and delightfully old-school feminist rant, and a monthlong exhibition and performance series by local favorites My Barbarian, a campy theater group that likes to play with audience interaction. With its nonprofit status secured and a board that meets regularly, it looks like Human Resources is here to stay. 410 Cottage Home St., Chinatown; humanresourcesla.com.
Pieter: All we want to do is dance
Pieter — the large, warehouse-style studio of accomplished dancer Jmy James Kidd — has become something of a gathering spot for L.A.'s close-knit contemporary dance and movement community. When not accommodating sweaty practice sessions, Pieter is a showcase for experimental dance works, often by notable practitioners like Ishmael Houston-Jones and Neil Greenberg, whom Kidd befriended during her years in New York. The homey space in Lincoln Heights, with big windows and a freight elevator, maintains a “FREE Boutique” (of clothing, accessories and other goodies) and “FREE Bar” — admission to events is a non-monetary donation to either, and you can also take items that you like. 420 W. Avenue 33, Unit 10, Lincoln Heights; pieterpasd.com.
the wulf: Sounds of the city
The wulf, a 501(c)(3) space located on the edge of downtown, may be one of L.A.'s best-kept secrets. Founded by musicians/composers Eric KM Clark and Michael Winter, the wulf tends to organize experimental music and sound events. Rather than having a typical concert format, however, wulf events are much more free-flowing, with visitors welcome to come and go as they please, and no admission fees charged. In August 2008, the wulf launched with a participatory performance by Alison Knowles, based on her performance score Unfurl. With musical accompaniment by Harris Wilson, visitors were asked to bring something, anything, to “unfurl” in the space. This resulted in an evocative event in which scrolls, fabrics, umbrellas and all manner of things were set free. The wulf itself has been happily unfurling ever since. 1026 S. Santa Fe Ave. #203, L.A.; thewulf.org.
Art + publication
LM Projects: Print ain't dead
As a writer, I have a special fondness for LM Projects, whose constellation of projects places equal emphasis on publications, editioned artworks and art exhibitions. Located in a historic business building downtown, LM Projects has been run by Lorraine Molina since 2009. In summer 2011, I saw an excellent dual slide presentation by artists Kim Schoen and Cody Trepte, exploring the connections between their two practices, which deal in different ways with science, language and uncertainty. This summer, LM Projects is launching a limited-edition artist book by Kori Newkirk, in which he explores his own creative process, showing, in Molina's words, “the space that is unseen to the public and very private to the artist.” 125 W. Fourth St., #103, L.A. (323) 652-0580, lmprojects.net.
Public Fiction: Here's the church, here's the journal
Public Fiction, the curatorial project of Lauren Mackler, changes its name and form every few months in order to accommodate its latest vision. Thus the “Free Church of Public Fiction” hosted quasi-religious-themed works and events, and a more recent series explored California-centric ideas of manifest destiny, the gold rush and earthquakes. Mackler recently published the second issue of journal Public Fiction, in which the writings are inspired by the events that take place in the gallery. 749 Avenue 50, Highland Park; publicfiction.org.
Up next: Way off the beaten path
Way off the beaten path
Actual Size: A relative closet
At this tiny, adventurous space on the far reaches of Chinatown, I've seen some terrific exhibitions of photographic and sculptural works, as well as an arm-wrestling tournament, a day of free haircuts and themed Popsicles, and a 12-hour song cycle. Says co-founder Corrie Siegel of Actual Size's philosophy: “There is no distinction between the more established artists and the people who haven't had many shows. Instead, it's about developing an intimacy with the work and the artist's focus in order to create an experience that allows you to feel connected.” 741 New High St., Chinatown. (213) 290-5458, actualsizela.com.
Commonwealth and Council: We dare you to find it
Run by Young Chung, Commonwealth and Council is located on the second floor of a dilapidated building, alongside a Korean church, an acupuncture practice and one of the city's oldest Latino AA meeting spaces. Here, you can follow an art party with a trip downstairs to OB Bear for a pitcher of Hite beer and some amazing Korean fried chicken. The current show, by Jennifer Moon, thoughtfully explores life and love through aspects of the artist's nine-month incarceration at Valley State Prison for Women. 3006 W. Seventh St. #220, Koreatown; commonwealthandcouncil.com.
JB Jurve: Head downstairs for all your travel needs
JB Jurve shares its funky Chinatown space with the ladies of Jumbo Travel agency, whose broken sign provided the inspiration for the space's name. Founders Marcus Herse and Michael Rey have a knack for the elusive and unexpected, as seen in last year's show about “flakiness,” for example. Recently JB Jurve's oddness hit its apex with a shockingly conventional, and excellent, show of paintings by local star Lari Pittman, and some of his former students, an indicator of how artist networks fuel programming in this city. 742 N. Broadway, Chinatown; jbjurve.com.
Latned Atsär: The myth of the Rastafarian dentist
Jefferson Park, a neighborhood adjacent to West Adams, is home to soul-food joints, jazz clubs and mom-and-pop businesses. In recent years its low rents and funky, out-of-the-way feel have attracted an increasing number of artists, one of whom, Nathan Danilowicz, decided to open Latned Atsär. The name is the backward spelling of Rasta Dental, a mythological business that might have existed in the space long before Danilowicz moved in. It has shown an impressive roster of artists, including Annie Lapin, Brenna Youngblood, Kenneth Tam and Mark Dutcher, and boasts a historic bar scavenged from Tom Marioni's The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art, a 2010 performance at the Hammer, which was exactly what it sounds like. 3222 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles; latnedatsar.com.
Various Small Fires: Burning up in Venice
Just launched in January, the Venice-based Various Small Fires is the youngest space on this list, but it has already managed to make a big splash. For the inaugural exhibition, artist Fiona Connor created a set of movable walls that were continually rearranged to accommodate a series of events. The most recent opening, a controversial live painting performance and auction by New York artists Debo Eilers and Kerstin Brätsch, had art followers buzzing when a well-known collector's attempt to buy a large volume of works, ostensibly for the purpose of flipping, was refused. Expect to see more viral endeavors that simply won't sit still from founding director Esther Kim Varet, who is also closely associated with Performa, the big performance-art biennial out of New York. 1212 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 426-8040, vsf.la.
Weekend: Bringing the party to Los Feliz
Run by two former CalArts students, Weekend is forging its own nascent art community in Los Feliz, across the street from Wacko Soap Plant. Proprietors Jay Erker and John Mills, a husband-and-wife team, have a great eye for talent; an excellent show last fall by underrated artist Keith Walsh, which featured compelling drawings and a stunning spaceship sculpture visitors could climb into, garnered a well-deserved Artforum Critic's Pick. 4634 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; weekendspace.org.