Cold cliques of black-swathed art snobs sipping wine and expounding esoteric about the hidden meaning of a $10,000 paint-splattered canvas in a sterile, white room . . . What a bore. Maybe that kind of thing still gets people off in New York, but in laid-back L.A., a new kind of artsy atmosphere has taken its place. More and more, the traditional gallery is being replaced by something scads more fun and frenzied. Artists are choosing to show their work in alternative spaces, most notably boutiques and galleries connected to small, independent retail shops. The union benefits all involved: The store gets new crowds every month for the opening event, the artists get exposure to the store’s regular customers, and we patrons get retail therapy, some social time and a good buzz all in one night.
The Force Is With Them
On a recent Saturday eve, several dozen Raggedy Ann–garbed gals and punkish sk8ter boys from surrounding Echo Park and Silver Lake cram into the tiny shop called Han Cholo. Old-school hip-hop thumps from a ghetto blaster, and people meander in and out to check out the month’s exhibit and eye the store’s wares (silver and gold jewelry cast in street styles — breakdancers, brass knuckles and, yes, Star Wars characters). Cholo always exhibits drawings, paintings and other creations from local artists, and when I was there, it was the more sculptural work of former pro skateboarder Steve Olson, who appropriates board shapes with old car insignias and car-interior materials. “I would never show my stuff at a real gallery,” he says, over the loud music, adding that he probably wouldn’t do it at a store other than this one either. “I’m showing here because I like the people, the neighborhood and the owner.” The surrounding stores, such as Lucas and Show Pony, also stay open during Cholo’s parties, and show art monthly. Both shops offer reconstructed vintage and new clothing designs, complemented by colorful art pieces. The unique offerings in these boutiques, combined with the motley mass of peeps who attend their openings, make for wild, wine-fueled block parties that often continue on to local bars like the Short Stop. It’s no wonder everybody wants to live in the EP these days.1549 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park, (213) 482-9180 or www.hancholo.com. Up next: “The Drawings of Plastic God.” Opening: Sat., Dec. 2, 8 p.m.
Back to the Furniture
Many locals may know the name Señor Amor, but not from the retail world. The guy has been one of L.A.’s top lounge/exotica DJs for years, with gigs ranging from playin’ tunes for the Velvet Hammer burlesque shows to mega-Tinseltown soirees. These days, though, he and interior-designer ladylove Jonona Amor have taken their lust for all things ’50s, ’60s and ’70s and channeled it into their new Hollywood furnishings-and-décor store, Retropia. The store’s monthly art openings often offer pieces that go with the retro home stylings (one exhibit showcased unusual vintage phones), while at other times, it’s simply stuff that strikes the owners’ fancy (Jason Mercier’s “Green With Envy” show featured celebrity-portrait collages made of found objects, and in the case of Phyllis Diller’s and Dayna Devon’s portraits, their own personal items). For its last few shows, Retropia has shown artwork in an upstairs loft, separate from the packed main showroom, providing a distraction-free space to view new creations. Since the store is tiny, a tent is usually erected in its rear parking lot, with cocktails and, of course, Amor’s jigglin’ tunes. Then the vibe gets swingin’ like a party scene from Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — and it becomes hard to resist snatching up some midcentury mod or art nouveau artifact — a bright-green armchair or a bordelloesque bejeweled lamp perhaps?1443 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd., (323) 871-4000 or www.retropia.net. Up next: “Textile Trunk Show” (vintage wallpaper). Opening: Thur., Dec. 7, 7 pm.
Westside Fashion Mash
Walk into the chic and sleek EM & Co. boutique and your eye is automatically drawn to its colorful frocks, all arranged by color and hanging in white, cubelike display cases. Sunset-hued dresses, skirts in brilliant blues and greens, earthy lace blouses — each section beckons with a different mood and palette. It’s only after you really start to look around that you realize it’s the radiant art that hangs above each rack, either in the same shade or in a contrasting one, that makes it all so visually pleasing. Indeed, everything in this stylish store is here for a reason, and owner Eveline Morel says she has fun remerchandising the entire store once a month, when new art is exhibited on the shop’s walls. “The art should complement the merchandise,” she explains. “I know that the environment affects people subconsciously, but I never want it to be overbearing.” While the designs of FNA, Covet and Cyrus & Sonny (Cybill Shepherd’s daughter’s line) pop from the store’s white walls and shelves, they never clash with the art displayed above them. Both get equal play, and the opening parties (to which Morel brings in liquor sponsors and popular DJs such as hipster mister Franki Chan) always seem to have as many patrons at the register as they do at the bar.7940 W. Third St., L.A., (323) 782-8155 or www.emandco.com. Up next: “Emotions” installation, plus paintings by Dina Lockridge and Jerome Slettleland. Opening: Dec. 14, 7 p.m.
Sinners & Scenesters
If it’s campy, scary or freaky (but never in a cheap way), chances are Billy Shire has shown it at his La Luz de Jesus gallery, adjacent to his hip gift emporium, Soap Plant/Wacko. The store/gallery has been holding its first-Friday-of-the-month opening parties for 20 years, and back in the day, when the store was on Melrose, the gallery was a separate entity, upstairs with a different entrance. That didn’t stop art tarts from flowing in and out of the store downstairs too, which often had a more festive vibe than the gallery. There’s so much to look at here — toys, books, jewelry and, of course, soaps and oils — that it’s truly hard to leave without buying some utterly useless but totally amusing doodad, sort of a creative li’l consolation prize if ya can’t afford the art. If the artist is a biggie, there’s major merchandising goin’ on too, as when famed retro-mod man Shag showed his stuff last year; everything from books to glassware to stationery emblazoned with his swanky characters was for sale. The openings are consistently packed with multicolored heads of hair and local boho types, and if you live in the area, rest assured you will run into someone you know while perusing the music or pinup-art-book aisle . . . though whether or not you acknowledge them may depend on how much of the free cheap beer you’ve ingested. 4633 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz, (323) 663-0122 or www.laluzdejesus.com. Up next: Paintings by Paul Barnes, Scott G. Brooks, Lauren Gardiner, Jason Houchen, Sergio Mora and Lesley Reppeteaux. Opening: Fri., Dec. 1, 8 p.m.
Shiny Happy People
“I’m seduced by color,” says Fiora Boes, the owner of Ghetto Gloss, the side-by-side store and gallery that’s been a hub of edgy exhibits (everything from graffiti stylings to cartoony character-driven stuff) and raging bashes for nearly five years now. “I stay away from dark stuff, lean toward the light.” As an Otis grad, Boes knows a thing or two about art, but she also knows about having a good time, and her place’s huge front parking lot has allowed for some seriously over-the-top shindigs and performances (everything from a Dogtown art show complete with skate ramp to celeb-studded openings for the likes of Benicio del Toro and Tommy Chong). G.G.’s bread-and-butter biz is renting out art pieces for movie and TV sets, but it’s the vibrant store that packs in local hip chicks daily: edgy but beautiful clothing lines Muchacha from Barcelona and Flopi from L.A.; pop-culture-inspired gold and silver jewelry from Tiny Armour; books from Pale House Press and Gloss’ own publishing house; and these adorable dolls from Japan called Pullips. The store holds monthly cupcake parties upon each new doll’s arrival — it all works together for a whimsical shopping experience that Boes promises will be even more jam-packed with goodies come the holiday season. And don’t forget about the in-store Pabst Blue Ribbon drink-machine “installation,” which gives new meaning to the phrase “shop till ya drop.” 2380 Glendale Blvd., Silver Lake, (323) 912-0008 or www.ghettogloss.com. Up next: James Quinlan’s “Abstracts.” Opening: Sat., Dec. 2, 7 p.m.?