Thursday, October 10, 2013

Let Me Show You the (Art) World(s)

What defines a gallery? The simple definition found online is: "a room or building for the display or sale of works of art," but this barely scratches the surface of the real art world. Our Gallery Practices class was able to visit two very different gallery spaces this past Friday, each on opposite sides of the art world spectrum in regards to commerciality.
We begin with Commonwealth & Council, located in Koreatown in Central Los Angeles. Founded by Young Chung, the space is primarily artist-run, and used to be a residency for artists to come work and show under one roof. Though Commonwealth and Council no longer offers artists overnight stays it does provide several studios in which artists may come and go as they please. Previously an apartment, many of the walls have been demolished to create an open atmosphere, only broken by a long hallway lined with studios as you enter, and Young mentions that ideally he would like all the doors open to make for a welcoming feel to the whole place. Not that the place does need to be any more welcoming. When we walked in, we were greeted with doughnuts and coffee (provided by our professor for his own birthday) and Young was cheery and engaging. Two artists meandered around the space, preparing for a show they were to put on in the upcoming weeks. They were kind enough to talk about their work as they did so. The space is so organic feeling-some walls are missing, floorboards squeak, there is a sense of relaxation about the place in general. The process of destroying walls, slicing open the ceiling, keeping doors open, and inviting all to come and participate in viewing and discussing art opens up Commonwealth and Capitol to create a comfortable artist-run space. The viewer is no longer isolated from the work, as the gallery space is no longer isolated from the artist. Young's place isn't sterile, disinfected from society, polished. Instead it serves to mold the artists and their work in a truly organic way. It's a homey space, artists and their art seem to belong there just as much as the walls themselves.
When we travelled back to La Cienega Boulevard to visit Blum & Poe, we were faced with a different breed of gallery, the smooth running machine that is focused on the commercial aspect of the art world. Walking into Blum & Poe was intimidating; even the door itself was impressive-a big stainless steel thing that required a bit of pulling. Clear glass panes allowed viewers to peek into a room full of books, fancy chairs, and authoritative people. We walked into the space to the left, a large white room with a desk and uncomfortable-looking furniture, almost indistinguishable from strange, seat-like chairs. After waiting a few minutes, a trendy woman gave us a tour of the current show, a solo exhibition of the English artist Linder's work. Her highly sexualized, feminist collages lined the walls of multiple rooms. The hero piece was a large light box piece titled "The Migration of Symbols" and set the tone of the show's more, well, watered down-art. Compared to most of the exhibition, it was tame, not blatantly pornographic or "too controversial," but sensual enough to grab the viewer's attention.
Overall, the exhibition was well thought out and contained such a large body of work by the single artist that it was hard not to be impressed by her clear aesthetic and production quality. The gallery itself lent a hand to the artist in its large size, cleanliness, and interesting upstairs level. The upstairs had wooden floors, white walls, and was dedicated to showing several large scale lightbox photo-collages. The colored light reflected on the floors of the dark room and gave an eerie feel to the artwork that made it feel almost surrealist, which is interesting considering Linder's use of kitchen appliances, baked goods, and flowers to cover the female body. 
Though less welcoming and more formal, Blum and Poe was a well-run gallery that clearly has backers with large pockets, a well-oiled team of curators and gallery coordinators, and high-profile artists. I suggest a visit to different gallery types to get a feel for each Gallery's own personality, as no two are the same. 

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