The word in the Los Angeles Art World is Warehouse.
The Warehouse Era is upon us. Galleries are suddenly going big, bigger than ever. They are leaving the traditional Westside enclaves in search of real estate to show larger artworks. Following the aesthetics and commerce of international art fairs, galleries in Los Angeles are pursuing spaces with scale to show ever more expensive artworks that take up lots of space.
This is a radical transformation of the very nature of the Los Angeles art scene, which has for almost two decades been predicated on "art neighborhoods" where art viewers can park once and see lots of art galleries. The LA Times recently reported that Hauser & Wirth's new Los Angeles exhibition space will be in a large warehouse space in order for business partner Paul Schimmel to curate expansive, museum quality shows there.
Night Gallery and Gavin Brown have opened large warehouse galleries in decidedly anti-glamorous sections of industrial downtown. The square footage implies seriousness while the rents are actually cheaper than a medium-sized gallery on the Westside. Resistance to downscale neighborhoods among collectors has finally dissolved -- the scale of these spaces affords the exhibition of art works that are epic in size and scope. Nobody has a wall or floor space big enough for the art unless they are world-class collectors. Every collector, therefore, must venture "across the tracks" (in this case that would be east of the 110 Freeway) if only to prove that they are "real" collectors.
But these galleries are not really after established Los Angeles collectors -- a clique of debatable size, questionable commitment and even less taste. LA is a world-class art city and the biggest collectors now travel here. International collectors don't care about traffic like the whiny Westsiders who claim to "look at everything" but only go Downtown for Lakers games. When you jet into town and are in a limo with champagne and a beach babe, traffic can actually be considered an urban asset. Square footage that doesn't exist on the Westside -- we are talking warehouses in excess of ten thousand square feet -- is plentiful east and south of Downtown.
Many longtime galleries are quietly looking for warehouse space to join this new game. The ante has been upped. I lease a 1,200 square foot gallery space with fifteen-foot ceilings in Chinatown and suddenly feel totally inadequate. Gavin Brown's new space could fit every gallery in Chinatown into its warehouse and still have room for some of his oversized art program.
The next year or two should see an interesting shakeout of longstanding gallery norms. The "art neighborhoods" may be a thing of the past and this would mean we are witnessing the end of the Bergamot Era.
In 1994, art collector Tom Patchett financed the redevelopment of a former water heater manufacturing facility in Santa Monica into a complex of large art gallery spaces ringing a parking lot. Dubbed Bergamot Station, it radically transformed the Los Angeles art scene more than anything that had come before it. No artist, no movement, no institution and no art school had ever delivered an easily accessible and rapidly changing collection of curated exhibitions in a convenient location. In the city of the automobile, art patrons and fans could park one time and see 20 unique gallery exhibitions of the latest art.
In the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, there had always been a few neighborhoods where one could park and walk from gallery to gallery, but the feet would get sore and there were never more than a handful of exhibition spaces. To call any of these neighborhoods "a cluster" was always a stretch and such a description was rendered moot after Bergamot's opening. Bergamot Station presented a locale with dedicated real estate. Save for a café, the entire enclave was originally dedicated to fine art. The Bergamot Era epitomized Los Angeles -- park once, see it all for free. This business model took hold in Los Angeles from that point forward. Chinatown and Culver City are the most dynamic and longstanding examples. But for how much longer?
But the game is changing. The world's biggest collectors need to see art of scale and monumentality as they have become accustomed to at international art fairs. The answer to this is in massive showcases and the city has these resources, to the shock of an insular Westside. The price, though, of being an international city, may come at the cost of our art community. The Bergamot Era has seen unprecedented growth within "art neighborhoods" precisely because small, entrepreneurial galleries could open with the faith that collectors visiting nearby major galleries might also visit their spaces. Sustained by this synergy, the public has been rewarded with access to many versions of the latest contemporary art for free. The Warehouse Era will be tailored to a decidedly different collector base and might be open by appointment only. Located in inhospitable neighborhoods, there will be no next-door start-ups. There will be no opportunities for artists outside of the international art style or those who produce art on a more intimate scale. Reflecting America, the L.A. art scene soon will have no middle class.