A Brief History of the LA House Gallery
Artists and writers reflect on domestic exhibition spaces in Los Angeles, from 1940 to the present
Artists and writers reflect on domestic exhibition spaces in Los Angeles, from 1940 to the present
Since the dawn of the 20th century, artists pursuing their dreams in Los Angeles have found a city rich in creative possibilities but often short on creative infrastructure. In response, they’ve built their own, tucked away in the abundant private homes, apartments and gardens of the city’s fertile plain. Exhibitions in closets, bathrooms and garden sheds are amongst the most interesting in a metropolis increasingly at the centre of the globalized art world. Charting a partial map of these domestic spaces over the past 80 years, this special section looks into what architectural historian Reyner Banham called, in Los Angeles (1971), ‘the rear-view mirror of civilization’: a reflection on the past that may orient us on the road ahead.
1941 After starting out in business as a confectioner, maverick dealer Earl L. Stendahl opened his first art gallery in Pasadena in 1913. That same year, his future clients, Walter and Louise Arensberg, began their remarkable modernist art collection at the Armory Show in New York. As documented in Hollywood Arensberg (2020) – co-authored by Ellen Hoobler, Mark Nelson and William H. Sherman – by the time the couple relocated to LA in 1927, they had acquired not only the finest works by the Armory Show’s most notorious artist, Marcel Duchamp, but equally exceptional pieces by Constantin Brâncuși, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Henri Rousseau.
Stendahl began to dabble in pre-Columbian art in the mid-1930s and, by the end of that decade, he had cornered the LA market – due, at least in part, to the Arensbergs’ insatiable appetite for collecting. They bought so many objects from Stendahl that, in 1941, they deeded him the adjacent property to their Hillside Avenue home to help offset their mounting debts to his gallery. This arrangement proved particularly advantageous to Stendahl, who regularly hosted his art-addicted neighbours. After Walter Arensberg’s death in 1954, Stendahl Galleries moved into a modernist addition, designed by Richard
Neutra to accommodate the couple’s collection, and remained in operation there until 2016.
– Sam Parker
1948 When brothers-in-law William N. Copley and John Ployardt decided, in 1948, to open a gallery, they were impelled more by youthful enthusiasm than by expertise. Recently converted to surrealism by Ployardt, Copley had considerable family wealth but little idea of what to do with it. The pair rented a bungalow on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills and ordered a brass plaque engraved with ‘The Copley Galleries’. Ployardt had a connection to Man Ray, then living in Hollywood, whom they cold-called and asked to do a show. Having agreed, the bemused Man Ray introduced them to Marcel Duchamp (then in retirement) and dealer Alexander Iolas. Copley and Ployardt hosted exhibitions by Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Roberto Matta, Man Ray and Yves Tanguy, before they closed their gallery less than a year later, chronically in the red, Copley having purchased most of the art himself.
– Jonathan Griffin
1968 Multidisciplinary artist Suzanne Jackson was born in St. Louis and grew up in Alaska Territory. She graduated from San Francisco State College in 1966, where she studied theatre and painting, and toured South and Central America as a professional dancer for the US State Department’s musical theatre group. Jackson had been sent to Latin America along with this group to assuage the optics of US intervention, but the places she toured – where artists were viewed as crucial to the social fabric – would leave an indelible impression.
When she returned to the US, Jackson settled in LA, where she encountered a white stucco complex, the Granada Buildings, in the Lafayette Park neighbourhood. Built in 1927, the Granada reminded her of the Spanish colonial architecture in Montevideo. She leased a two-storey loft-style space for US$150 a month, which developed organically from a home and studio into a part-time exhibition space after her friends David Hammons and Timothy Washington encouraged her to organize a show of local artists’ work there. In 1968, Jackson opened Gallery 32, where, over a brief but robust two years, she exhibited works by Dan Concholar, Gordon Dipple, Emory Douglas, Hammons, Ron Moore and John Stinson, as well as hosting a landmark show organized by Betye Saar, ‘Sapphire, You’ve Come a Long Way Baby’ – the first survey of Black women artists at an LA gallery. The show featured works by Eileen Abdulrashid, Gloria Bohanon, Yvonne Cole Meo, Senga Nengudi (known then as Sue Irons) and Saar herself.
The Granada complex continues to house offices and shops, including O-Town House, a contemporary art gallery and the residence of dealer and curator Scott Cameron Weaver. In 2019, Jackson exhibited a range of abstract and figurative paintings there, as well as archival materials from Gallery 32; visitors were encouraged to sign the original guestbook. During a recent phone conversation, Jackson recalled working as a teacher and dancer to fund the gallery. ‘We had to do it for ourselves,’ she said. As Jackson learned from her mentor Charles White, carving out a Black creative canon requires great fortitude and collective care.
– Taylor Renee Aldridge
1970 Margo Leavin begins operating a gallery out of her West Hollywood home.
1980 When Tom Jancar and Richard Kuhlenschmidt opened a gallery in the basement of a Mid-Wilshire apartment building in May 1980, the LA art scene was particularly sleepy, with most galleries huddled together on a stretch of La Cienega Boulevard. The Los Altos Apartments, a mission-revival complex, was a relic of Hollywood’s golden age, its elaborate stucco detailing and palm court in a state of prolonged desuetude. Inspired by the pathbreaking Claire Copley Gallery, which in the 1970s had introduced Angelenos to European conceptualism, Jancar Kuhlenschmidt hosted the first West Coast exhibitions of LA artists such as Christopher Williams and William Leavitt, and of New York-based artist Richard Prince, before closing in 1982.
– Evan Moffitt
1987 Artist Kenneth Riddle opens Bliss in a Pasadena bungalow.
1992 Artists Jeanne Patterson and Bill Radawec inaugurate ‘Domestic Setting’, a series of short-run exhibitions in the homes of friends.
1994 After graduating from CalArts in 1993, I moved into a loft in the downtown garment district that was
perfect for staging shows. Three-day holiday weekends seemed like a manageable span of time and gave me a name for the project. For the first iteration, in March 1994, Christopher Williams curated work by a group of students from Stuttgart’s Merz Akademie. In 1995, I started working for (and playing music with) Mike Kelley. He introduced me to other musicians and artists who performed at Three Day Weekend. The Red Crayola opened for Keiji Haino; Steven Brown of Tuxedomoon showed up unannounced to improvise a clarinet solo. Events have taken place mostly where I’ve resided or worked at the time, including London, Tokyo and elsewhere. It’s taught me to think on my feet, socially, and site-specifica
– Dave Muller
2000 The art scene in LA was very sleepy when I moved there from New York in 1999. I came looking for adventure, but I spent a lot of time alone that first year looking for my people. The following year, I bought a crazy home – part geodesic dome, part subterranean lair – on Sundown Drive in Mount Washington, and began hosting all-day salon gatherings every month or two. I made a primitive website and started an email list, inviting friends to gatherings with just a day or two’s notice. No one ever had any other plans so it was easy to be spontaneous. Each Sundown Salon took on a topic, theme or craft, attracting widening circles of new friends. I sold the house 15 years later, but my core community of friends and the path of my future work as an artist was completely formed during those years.
– Fritz Haeg
2008 In the spring of 2008, on a walk in Bronson Canyon, Lucas Michael and I had a conversation about our artist friends who didn’t seem to be getting the support we felt they deserved. We decided to invite artists whose work we loved to curate shows in my Hollywood apartment. I sold some of the furniture, painted the walls and floors, and opened Artist Curated Projects in August of that year, with a show organized by Alex Segade. The project has changed and now I curate a few solo and group shows each year, mostly including friends and friends of friends. Hayden Dunham’s solo exhibition will be on view through 30 January.
– Eve Fowler
2011 In 2011, I was living in a 1920s apartment in the Miracle Mile neighbourhood of LA. Its antiquated floorplan included a 2.6-m2 closet with a built-in shoe rack and vanity desk attached to a wall where a mirror once hung. At the time, I was frustrated with the provincial nature of the LA art world, so I invited artists to do shows in the closet, with the caveat that they had to live elsewhere. I named the space The Vanity. I moved out of the apartment in 2014 and the space occupied closets in other locations, including 356 Mission, CSU Bakersfield and Jenny’s, another humbly sized gallery that showed mostly out-of-towners.
– Asha Schechter
2013 Ben Echevarria opens Reserve Ames in a wooden shed behind his 1906 Craftsman home.
2014 Paul Soto opens Park View Gallery in his apartment near MacArthur Park.
2015 Danny First opens The Cabin, a gallery in a backyard shed modelled after the home of Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber.
Michael Dopp and Isaac Resnikoff open Arturo Bandini in a stucco shed behind their Cypress Park studio.
Artist Micol Hebron opens the Situation Room in her Eagle Rock garage.
2016 In the industrial neighbourhood of Gardena, artists Kristen Morgin and Julie Schustack grow an assortment of crops – including Korean radishes, saffron, loofa and over 30 varieties of tomato – in their garden. In 2016, Schustack converted two planters along the sidewalk into a display garden dedicated to immigrant agriculture, titled Here/Then. Last year, the garden was filled with barley, strawberries and tomatoes, in homage to the Japanese American farmers who grew these crops in Gardena during the early 20th century, and was accompanied by a text in English and Japanese.
That same year, artists Michael Henry Hayden and Anthony Lepore converted the parking lot in front of their Lincoln Heights studio into a garden packed with fruit trees, root vegetables and a flock of chickens that now supplies more than half of the food they eat. Last year, Hayden founded Save Avenue 34, a coalition of community members fighting the development of a housing project on a toxic dumpsite, and enlisted young artists at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy to design informational posters.
The gardens of these artist couples have informed the way I think about Del Vaz Projects – an intimate exhibition platform I began in my apartment in 2014. Now located in Shirley Temple’s childhood home in Santa Monica, Del Vaz is currently undergoing redevelopment. Joined by my partner, Max, our nine chickens, six ducks and two beehives, it will expand into a gallery-farmstead, providing arts and agriculture education to various communities throughout LA, with a programme organized around a central question: can the way we grow food change the way we view art?
– Jay Ezra Nayssan
2020 BB Beugelmans and Chris Sharp open Feuilleton, a domestic gallery in Echo Park dedicated to works on paper.
Main image: Stephanie Taylor, 2013, exhibition view, Los Angeles Museum of Art. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Robert Wedemeyer