Office and Gallery
Theo Martins sits at a table in his bare gallery space, Office and Gallery, and offers me sparkling water, tea, or cereal—options are key to the space, especially the cereal. Martins opened the 700–square-foot Office and Gallery on a budding strip of Fountain Avenue in Virgil Village with a few different options, one being Cereal & such, a small cereal bar that allows people to come in and enjoy a bowl of classic sugar cereals, like Reese’s Puffs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch Churros.
“Everyone loves cereal,” Martins says with a wide grin. Martins is an artist at heart, as well as a rapper (he released his latest album tm with producer Thelonious Martin a year ago) and clothing designer of Good Posture. When his living room became too full, he realized he needed an office. And then when he found the space, he realized it needed to be a gallery, too. Ergo, Office and Gallery—it’s strictly an office from Monday to Wednesday, and then the rest of the week it’s open to the public.
The space opened in February with “The Second Head,” an eight-artist group exhibition featuring the likes of Armina Mussa, Joy Miessi, Chinwe Okona and Martins himself. But the following shows have been ephemeral, like the 24-hour photo exhibition he held one recent night with Akasa Community, a non-profit dedicated to teaching public schools kids in low-income communities in LA about food.
“This is an artist-run gallery, so even after that first exhibition, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s allow things to be a little more contemporary and fluid, like an actual culture that’s living, breathing, and moving,’” explains Martins. “Now there’s a constant flow of things happening, because I want someone that’s coming here looking for art, and I want someone looking for a random hat that was made by a friend.”
Martins plans for the next few months to be filled with artist talks, panels, DJ lessons, and Postureworks yoga sessions, as well as a pop-up exhibition for ceramic artist Danielle Yukari.
“To constantly be in ‘beta’ is more human,” says Martins. “A lot of it is about really being a community and art space that’s living and changing, where the people who come in inform what happens next.”
In a sort of no-man’s land just below the 10 freeway headed out of Downtown—a look on the map suggests it might be a micro-neighborhood called Clement Junction—is a small, unassuming space that you’d never find if you weren’t looking for it. Once inside, Linda Yun and friendly poodle Tiberius greet you warmly at LY, a cozy, 1200-square foot space dedicated to emerging artists of Yun’s generation. “There’s a New York feel to it,” she says. “It’s almost like a railroad apartment. It’s just one long shot.”
Yun grew up in LA—her parents distribute cell phone accessories and own the space the gallery is in—but cut her teeth in New York working with Greene Naftali, before moving back to her hometown and briefly working in artist Alex Israel’s studio while setting up the space. Ly opened in February with a group show, “TOTEMISTS,” featuring artists like Olivia Erlanger, Andrea Longacre-White and Amy Granat, who use totems in their practice.
The show, featuring one of Erlanger’s striking mermaid tail sculptures spilling from a Laundromat machine, had a New York vibe to it, too. Brooklyn artist Tom Forkin’s cast metal scenes inspired by frontier structures—set up in the gallery on the day I interview Yun—may be Western-style, but there’s something gritty and metallic and New York-y about them. There’s a sense that Yun is drawing a connection between her former home and her current one.
In the next few months, she’ll be presenting solo shows by New Yorkers Erlanger and Maggie Lee. But more than any geographical connotations, Yun wants to make sure that Ly is a space for young artists who are still exploring their craft and taking chances.
“For now, it’s a space for experimentation and just feeling out what it means to have a gallery focused on emerging artists,” she says. “Working with artists I have personal relationships with and deeply believe in, when the show opens and all of our hard work comes together, it’s just so fulfilling.”
Matthew Brown shuffles through his gallery in Hollywood, pointing out details in Tomm El-Saieh’s enormous—one is 10-feet tall—and bright, abstract works. “I told him I thought there was a face in that one,” he says about the day he installed the pieces with the Miami-based, Haitian-born artist, who recently had a solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami. “He had no idea what I was talking about.”
Wearing a t-shirt that reads, “Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic when you could just be quiet?” the Austin-born gallerist has just turned 24 the week before I visit the 3,000-square foot gallery with 27-foot ceilings.
But don’t think him green: Brown grew up in a family of art aficionados. His mother, Jacquelyn Klein-Brown, is the president of the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara and previously served on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, and his grandparents are major collectors Michael and Jeanne Klein.
“I was really lucky to grow up around artists and art in general, because I didn’t realize how it would affect me subconsciously,” Brown says as his adopted puppy, Simon, circles his legs.
Brown understands that despite having worked at foundation LA galleries like Gagosian, Morán Morán, and Hannah Hoffman, most at his age would be precluded from their own gallery.
“I’m pretty acutely aware of how little knowledge I have compared to dealers that have been doing this for 35 years, which is why I don’t love doing interviews,” he says with a coy smile. “I love to listen. That’s how I learn, so I just try to surround myself with people with more experience than I have.”
Which is why, of particular note, Brown tapped Brandy Carstens, a longtime former associate director at blue chip Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, to be his director. They opened with an exhibition by established LA artist Kenturah Davis in January to much fanfare.
“I was very lucky that Kenturah’s show did well. It brought a lot of collectors in. She’s beloved in LA,” he says, adding that his October show will highlight young LA sculptor Luis Flores. “To be honest with you, El-Saieh’s show did well too. Organically, with collectors, there’s a lot of word of mouth. I knew a good amount of collectors before—I wouldn’t have opened if I didn’t—but the list has grown a lot since I started.”
Lowell Ryan Projects
Out on West Adams, next door to the legendary Collins Fish Market and down the way from Charles Bukowski’s childhood home, Mike Weiss and Virginia Martinsen have turned a former carniceria into a pristine gallery. “Some of the neighbors come by and ask us if we have meat,” Weiss says with a laugh.
Adding to the confusion, the name of the gallery and the name of the people behind it don’t match up, and that’s by design. Lowell is Weiss’s middle name, and Ryan is Martinsen’s. The levels of obfuscation hold a purpose: “If you’re able to separate yourself a little bit from your history, you take certain kinds of risks and challenge yourself. People come in and go, ‘Where’s Lowell?’” Weiss says, still laughing.
Weiss and Martinsen’s history consists of running established Chelsea space Mike Weiss Gallery for 13 years, showing works by the likes of Deborah Brown and Marc Séguin, as well as Martinsen’s own large-scale oil paintings. But after two hurricanes flooded the gallery and extended construction in the neighborhood created further difficulties, Weiss and Martinsen, who are married and have been together for 15 years, decided enough was enough.
In 2016, they packed up and moved to a large home in the Catskills to start Gates of the West, an online art platform. But soon the itch to open a space crept back in. “We want to be where the art is,” says Weiss of their cross-country relocation to LA. “When we left Upstate New York, we started traveling the country and seeing a lot of great artists in a lot of different places, but what excited us was out here.”
They set up shop in a nearby Chinatown hotel and found the space. They opened in January with a string of group shows before exhibiting “Born to Love,” a solo show by longtime LA artist Alexandra Grant. Grant’s dramatic Antigone-inspired text abstraction paintings drew scores to the gallery, including actor Keanu Reeves, with whom the artist had worked previously. The new start, the new name and a string of successful shows has the duo—and their dog Cedric, who chills with them in the office—pretty excited.
“There’s a lot of energy here, even with writers and magazines,” says Weiss, who notes the next show will be Brooklyn-based artist Kumasi J. Barnett. “In New York, The New York Times’s energy has gone down, and magazines are going out of business. The day-to-day movement was tiresome. We’ve been born again here. We feel so energetic.”
There’s a sunny stretch of Sunset Boulevard that evokes Hollywood days of yore. Just up from the Guitar Center, in the confines of a former boutique gym, is AF Projects, and it seems like the brand new gallery which opened in May has brought a bit of that swagger back to the strip.
“In terms of a small, modest, straightforward, old–school hub and storefront, it just felt like the right location,” says Lauri Firstenberg, AF Projects’ curator. “And to be quite honest, as widespread and fickle as LA is, Hollywood pretty much stays true as a stable center of things. Even though it’s quite early, it has been a dynamic place that’s accessible for artists and an audience.”
AF Projects is essentially a collaboration between owners Frederic and Ayse Arnal, who run seasonal gallery Louise Alexander in Sardinia, and Firstenberg. Firstenberg has been around art in LA since 2003, when she moved from New York. She founded celebrated non-profit LA><ART in 2005, and ran it for 11 years.
The collaboration began when the Arnals started working with some of the same artists that Firstenberg had worked with at LA><ART, such as Salomón Huerta, so they made an agreement to co-curate a booth together at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair in February.
“From a curatorial perspective, and a business perspective, it really seemed like this magical match,” says Firstenberg when I meet her at AF Projects. She shows me the space and exhibition, a series of drawings and sculptures by LA-based Scoli Acosta, and talks about the next shows with London artist Isaac Julien and Houston-based artist and founder of Project Row Houses Rick Lowe, as well as a group show, “Smoke and Mirrors,” that will feature Tavares Strachan, Sharon Lockhart, Glenn Kaino, Melanie Schiff, and others.
Though the Arnals haven’t arrived in LA permanently yet, they’re on their way, says Firstenberg, and she believes they’re going to make a big splash here. “Even though the gallery is a commercial space, what I love about them is their interest in curatorial experimentation and rigor and criticality,” she says. “That is a blessing.”
This piece originally appears in LALA Magazine’s Summer 2019 issue.