"I love having artists around!" says Steve Hirsh, owner of the Bendix Building, Beaux-Arts princess of the downtown Fashion District skyline, at 1206 Maple Ave. Familiar to all for its fabulous neon sign tower (the "B" alone is 25 feet tall), the Bendix has presided over the Maple Avenue/Santee Alley district since 1930, back when it was the HQ of an aviation company, long before it became the globally famous fashion industry destination of today. Hirsh's late father, Stanley, bought, renovated, occupied and promoted the building in the 1970s, turning it into the hub of garment-centric production and creative space it remains to this day.
But thanks to Steve Hirsh, the building now has a wickedly cool new dimension. He and his wife are avid art fans and collectors; infusing art into the business mix has been a sort of long-term pet project for Hirsh since he took over the family business, which is anchored at the majestic Cooper Design Space at 860 S. Los Angeles St., and includes the Gothamesque 1928 Merchants Exchange at 719 S. Los Angeles St.
The building's remarkable sculptural ornamentation, etchings of Renaissance scholars and crests dedicated to the creative arts cover its façade and public areas. Over the years, while Hirsh has had gallery spaces, on-site curators, site-specific projects, special events, pop-ups and Art Walk receptions — mostly at the Cooper Design Space — in the end, it seems the Bendix is fittingly where it's finally going to stick.
"We are very proud of what is happening there," Hirsh says. "It started small; we've had artist studios in there, low-key, for years. [Art consultant and curator] Annie Wharton really helped with that, and she's still a big part of it. Finding artists to move in, you could say curating the building in a way. And it's a great building, with a mix of spaces that are just perfect for artists and shows."
From the foundations laid by Wharton, Hirsh describes how a network sort of grew, word-of-mouth, across a stratum of the art world he hadn't been familiar with before but is thrilled to have gotten to know.
And it's not like the company is perpetrating some huge rebrand as an art center. They're not flogging it but rather just letting it happen organically. "When a space becomes available, we see what's on deck," Hirsh says. But longtime businesses are staying put, so the building has developed this mix of industrial operations right alongside the galleries, artists and other creative businesses, scattered across every floor of the building — including the HQ of peripatetic dance company Heidi Duckler Dance, which recently staged a performance and soundscape on-site. "The garment folks were a little suspicious at first, but now they tell me that they like their fascinating new neighbors," Hirsh says.
"Do you know about Florence Caster?" Hirsh asks. Caster was a trailblazing figure who crushed it in the real estate development market as a solo businesswoman in 1923. Finished in 1930, the Bendix was something of a jewel in her proverbial crown; she is largely responsible for the whole area's establishment. "She was a special woman. Thanks to her, the Bendix has 70 years of street cred behind it!"
From aviation to fashion to art, one thing about the iconic and perennially zeitgeisty Bendix Building that has never changed is its pioneering verve. At present it is home to seven public art spaces (most of which are nonprofit and/or artist-run) plus something like 30 artist studios, in both single and shared rooms, and also a steady stream of cultural pop-ups. Here are the seven core venues that make the Bendix a must-see stop on any modern art gallery itinerary.
Château Shatto opened in downtown Los Angeles in July 2014. Established by Olivia Barrett and Nelson Harmon, its program is both esoteric and visceral. Shows have included post-Impressionist homoerotic idylls by painter Jonny Negron; hyper-real, pop-inflected painted tableaux by Parker Ito; complex installation art from Body by Body; photography by philosopher Jean Baudrillard; experimental films by author Chris Kraus; disrupted painterly realism by Van Hanos; and conceptual photographs by Judy Fiskin — all coexisting in the same critically acclaimed, self-consciously avant-garde aesthetic program. Negron's "Small Map of Heaven" is now on view through Sept. 1.
Bendix Building, Suite 1030; (213) 973-5327, chateaushatto.com; Tue.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; free.
Durden and Ray
The Bendix is the third home of artist-run nonprofit gallery collective Durden and Ray since its founding in 2009, but this one is definitely the charm, with its sunny corner, lofty view and the most wall and floor space so far. Being in the Bendix has helped fuel this group's ambitions in a big way. Currently with 24 artist-curator members, the D&R roster generates shows both from within its ranks and open to any artist or other collective who is down to join forces. The results are a dynamic mix of emerging, established and renowned artists sharing wall space. D&R group shows are always thematic and on-trend, examining issues of style, medium and story with eclectic, intersectional enthusiasm and unapologetically progressive social and political perspectives. It has new exhibitions about every six weeks, and the next opening is on Aug. 4 (7-10 p.m.) for "Collectivity" — part of a back-to-back exhibition exchange with another like-minded artist collective, the Colorado Springs group Hyperlink.
Bendix Building, Suite 832; (510) 414-7756, durdenandray.com; Tue.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., noon-4 p.m.; free.
Founded in 2015, JOAN moved into the Bendix in February of this year, relocating from West Adams to a bright 3,000-square-foot space that must have been impossible to resist. JOAN is a nonprofit gallery presenting exhibitions, performances and screenings, co-founded by Summer Guthery, Gladys-Katherina Hernando and Rebecca Matalon, and with Hammer Museum curator Anne Ellegood as chairman of its board. JOAN has a special focus on artists who are based in L.A. or have roots here, especially new or underappreciated voices, and also a knack for attracting salient guest curators and even institutional cooperation. For example, Harry Dodge's show of mixed-media, post-robotic sculptural pieces, "Works of Love" (on view through Sept. 30), was organized by Matalon and artist Adam Marnie with Tufts University.
Bendix Building, Suite 715; (213) 441-9009, joanlosangeles.org; Thu.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.; free.
PØST has produced what seems like hundreds of group and solo exhibitions over the years, but the best-known thing it does are the Kamikaze shows: one show each night for every day in July. PØST started that tradition in 2009 when it was still in its original space on Seventh Place, when the Arts District wasn't all pretty like it is now. Now a nonprofit, which allows for more experimental actions, PØST was always a Herculean labor of love for its founder, painter H.K. Zamani, whom everyone calls Habib. It was something he did in the public space at the location of his own studio space. When he moved to the Bendix in 2015, he intended to just be one of the artists who were already using the building for their studios. But in 2016, when he was presented with the chance to work with the marvelous Kim Abeles, he carved out the clean white-box space facing the hallway, and that was that for a quiet studio life.
Bendix Building, Suite 515; post-la.com; Thu.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.; free.
Monte Vista Projects
Monte Vista Projects is another artist-run collective, with a rotation of about 10 members currently. It was established in 2007 and had been a pillar of the famous NELA (Northeast Los Angeles) art walks. As one might imagine, it has an exceptionally diverse program, from VR to designcraft, which proceeds in a collaborative curatorial model, with solo and one-person shows from its ranks, the broader L.A. community and also exchanges with other collectives nationally and internationally.
Bendix Building, Suite 523; montevistaprojects.com; Sat.-Sun., noon-5 p.m.; free.
Tiger Strikes Asteroid
Tiger Strikes Asteroid L.A. is also a collective, and a nonprofit that was founded in Philadelphia and has expanded to New York and Chicago. There are about 12 members in the L.A. crew, but the members are active as curators rather than as artists per se, though of course many are both. TSA culls from both the local and exchange stables, as its mission statement reads, to "further empower the artist's role beyond that of studio practitioner to include the roles of curator, critic and community developer; and to act as an alternate model to the conventions of the current commercial art market." A recent show combined hand-wrought wood and water sculptures with audio tech to surreal, witty effect. Its next exhibition, "Mn?monikos," is a group show about landscape and memory curated by Esther Ruiz; it opens Aug. 4 (7-10 p.m.).
Bendix Building, Suite 523; (209) 553-0462, tigerstrikesasteroid.com; Sat.-Sun., noon-5 p.m.; free.
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Track 16 began in 1994 as a co-founder of Bergamot Station — at the time a half-abandoned campus of open metal train hangars and intrepid galleries with metal roofs and no air conditioning or bathrooms. Times have changed, and where Track 16 once held court, there's now a Metro station. Following its transit agency eviction to make way for the light rail, and after a brief sojourn in Culver City, Track 16 moved to the Bendix in 2017, occupying an expansive upper-floor space where it continues to produce surprising, socially impactful programs. Founder Tom Patchett is a voracious collector of contemporary post-pop art as well as memorabilia and ephemera (neon, lunchboxes, movie stuff) at a biblical scale; and gallery director Sean Meredith is skilled at navigating those intersecting realms in the service of 20-plus years of cross-platform, interdisciplinary exhibitions. Known for large-scale and wide-ranging projects including but not limited to work by Sandow Birk, Man Ray, Manuel Ocampo, Llyn Foulkes, contemporary art from Cuba, the art of early punk, and the urban billboard, Track 16 delights in turning Americana on its head. Recent shows featured grand political satire by Birk and feminist ceramics by Elyse Pignolet. In September it opens a show of paintings by Alexander Iskin, and October brings a long-awaited show from the master of politically charged oil painting and graphic resistance, Robbie Conal.
Bendix Building, Suite 1005; (310) 815-8080, track16.com; Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m.; free.