Reports of the demise of the Los Angeles gallery scene have been greatly exaggerated. It's true that a number of galleries did fall victim to the economic freak-out, but in the past two years, new galleries and art-based enterprises have been opening at a frenetic pace. The major neighborhoods — Chinatown, downtown, Culver City, Bergamot Station, West Hollywood — appear healthy, although several original residents of those hubs have migrated to one of the others, like a game of musical chairs.
Bergamot Station celebrates its 15th anniversary this month, and in that decade and a half there has been a lot of coming and going — and coming back again. Happily, though original gangsta Tom Patchett ratcheted down his Track 16 operation, Bergamot seems to be stable and even re-energized these days, with new galleries like Galerie Anais coming in, and first- or second-generation dealers holding their own.
Despite reports to the contrary, Chinatown is still kicking; it's been more of a revolving door on and around Chung King Road than a decline. Peres Projects and Sister closed, then Sister's Katie Grinnan took over the Peres space, only to depart for New York. But Tom Jancar and Charlie James are going gangbusters, and Tom Solomon, too. Parker Jones left Black Dragon to strike out on his own, but Happy Lion is making it work. Original denizen Acuna-Hansen left and Solway-Jones around the corner is closing, leaving Sam Lee as the only gallery on Hill Street. But Francois Ghebaly has moved to Bernard Street, anchoring a sparkling new minicomplex on the cul de sac, with edgy galleries the Box and the Company in close proximity.
Culver City is stronger than ever, but despite the nearly 40 galleries on the most recent art-walk map, few of the first-round tenants are still listed. The old BLK/MRKT space on Washington now belongs to onetime East Side fixture Thinkspace; Peres Projects came in (to the old Anna Helwig space on La Cienega) and just left the slot to Paul Kopeikin, who moves down from West Hollywood; Blum & Poe built the giant hall across the street, leaving their old gallery to Angles, formerly of Santa Monica; Western Projects has been on the block just a few months; and Cherry & Martin have been very successful there for some time. Susanne Vielmetter built a vast new gallery, and Carmichael took over her old one; Blythe Projects is in what was a pop-up; Billy Shire went back to focusing on La Luz de Jesus in Silver Lake; Le Basse is where d.e.n. used to be; and Corey Helford, Cardwell and Royal/T are doing their best to hold up Culver City's western edge, with Roberts & Tilton doing the same on the eastern side.
Both Roberts and Kopeikin once had a major presence at 6150 Wilshire, where ACME now reigns supreme. That stretch near LACMA lost Carl Berg to the Pacific Design Center, but gained Edward Cella; lost Lawrence Asher but gained LAUNCH; and managed to hang on to Steve Turner and the A+D Museum. When Berg first talked about closing on Wilshire, it was a kind of alarm bell that the art world might really be in trouble — but his move into the then-experimental gallery spaces at the PDC invigorated that project, which is now more vibrant and popular than ever. The PDC saved a lot of beloved galleries, just in the nick of time, and from all across the city — including d.e.n. from Culver City, Another Year in L.A. from Lincoln Heights and See Line from Santa Monica — and gave rise to fresh ventures like New York's Superfront, Paul Young's video-art program, and dynamic independent curatorial and one-off projects that might not otherwise have been keen to take the plunge.
As for the most iconic arts-identified area in town, it will always be Venice. However, L.A. Louver, Gebert and high-profile New York operation L&M Arts (which opens September 25 with new work from Paul McCarthy) are the only well-known galleries operating there, between them exuding all the poshness you can take in the most famously casual place in the nation.
The truth is that if you're looking for what Venice was, you have to go downtown. But a wave of closures has plagued even L.A.'s It neighborhood as the double whammy of the economic slowdown and the end of five-year sweetheart leases coincided. Ghettogloss moved downtown from Silver Lake to collaborate with Terrell Moore, but its hopes of extending the monthly art walk as far south as 12th Street might be dashed with former neighbor Rivera & Rivera's imminent move to the Continental Building on 4th and Spring, at the very heart of Gallery Row. The new popular kid in town, CB1 Gallery, is where both Phyllis Stein and Deborah Martin used to be; Edgar Varela is in half of Bert Green's, and in partnership with nearby Morono-Kiang, these gallerists are thinking of having a sort of secret grown-up art walk a few times a year, since navigating the Second Thursdays has become increasingly maddening and unruly. The 20,000 monthly visitors to that walk are proof that Angelenos care more about their art world than ever.