Featured in
Issue 216

Garage Galleries Thrive in Car-Bound Los Angeles

Liz Craft, Emma Gray, Pentti Monkonnen and Thomas Solomon discuss the exhibition programmes they launched in their homes

BY Liz Craft, Emma Gray, Pentti Monkkonen AND Thomas Solomon in Features , Roundtables | 23 FEB 21

Liz Craft, Emma Gray, Pentti Monkkonen and Thomas Solomon discuss the exhibition programmes they launched in their garages. 

Thomas Solomon When I moved to LA in the early 1980s, I had been director at White Columns. I was very New York: I wore black, smoked, didn’t drive. A lot of the artists I met in LA used their garages as studios so, when I decided to open a gallery in 1988, I found a two-car garage off Fairfax Boulevard and called it The Garage. At the time, the city was dominated by big galleries such as Margo Leavin, Rosamund Felsen and Luhring Augustine Hetzler, but my space was more like 98 Greene Street Loft – the New York gallery that my mother, Holly Solomon, started with Gordon Matta-Clark in 1969 – although it was also very LA: the birthplace of garage rock and Mattel toys. The domestic scale was important, too: I thought of The Garage as 

a project space where artists could make installations.

Pentti Monkkonen I remember coming to your gallery in 1995, while I was still in art school, to see a Jorge Pardo show. You showed me his book, Ten People Ten Books [1994], which contained the architectural blueprints for a house.\

TS Yes, if you bought the book, you acquired the rights to build the house. Jorge completed it in 1998 with support from MOCA.

PM In those days, art was like an underground cult. It was so exciting as a student to enter the gallery world of LA and find these really avant-gardist things happening, like somebody building a house as an artwork. I ended up doing some of the trim work in that house.

The Garage, Los Angeles, 1991, designed by Christian Hubert and Andie Zelnio. Courtesy: Hubert|Zelnio archive
The Garage, Los Angeles, 1991, designed by Christian Hubert and Andie Zelnio. Courtesy: Hubert|Zelnio archive

TS Jorge was one of a number of young graduates from ArtCenter and CalArts who I invited to exhibit at The Garage. I also asked Sean Landers, who was living in New York but hadn’t had a solo show there, as well as Robert Barry and William Wegman, who exhibited work that their galleries hadn’t shown or that they kept to themselves but felt was important. I wasn’t interested in representing anyone at the time. Eventually, the two-car space became a three, four and five-car space until, in 1991, I moved to a big mechanics garage, which I occupied until 1996.

Emma Gray My roots lie in New York, too. After I left London, I worked for Anton Kern in SoHo, where all the artists – Monica Bonvicini, Jim Lambie – did installation. When I moved to LA in 2010, I took a tiny space above François Ghebaly, which I called EGHQ, where I organized some really fun installations: Dawn Kasper, for instance, did a Vito Acconci-inspired performance with a lead pipe for an audience of five journalists. I was also inspired by Daniel Reich, who worked for Pat Hearn before launching a gallery in the bathroom of his Chelsea apartment in 2001.

TS Dan was such an advocate before he tragically passed away. Gracie Mansion’s first gallery was also in her bathroom in the East Village.

EG I love the idea that you can curate a good show in a Porta-Potty.

PM When we started Paradise Garage, we had just spent a year living in New York, and a lot of our friends were starting artist-run spaces there and in Europe. LA seemed to lack that. We wanted to spotlight artists who were either overlooked in LA or might benefit from the opportunity to be in dialogue with other artists here.

Liz Craft LA was getting too commercial. Instead of complaining about it, we wanted to try to do something about it.

PM Our first show was with our friend Fabian Marti, but we also invited artists we didn’t know whose work we admired, like Julien Ceccaldi, as well as those who had been around LA for a long time but hadn’t got the attention we thought they deserved, like Keith Boadwee and Charles Irvin.

LC We had three tiny houses, a garage and a big yard, so there was room for everything. We were inspired by the artists and the shows we put together, and it was a weirdly productive time, even though we felt like we had no time.

PM Speaking of Matta-Clark, for our last show, in 2015, we invited Oscar Tuazon to do an architectural intervention in the garage, since we were tearing down the structure anyway. 

Julien Ceccaldi, 2013, exhibition view, Paradise Garage, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Paradise Garage, Los Angeles
Julien Ceccaldi, 2013, exhibition view, Paradise Garage, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist and Paradise Garage, Los Angeles 

LC Around the same time, in 2014, we started Paramount Ranch art fair with Freedman Fitzpatrick. 

PM Our brains were just filled with curating. Eventually, we felt like we needed to go back to the studio and be artists again. 

EG When I moved to LA, I had just become a mother, and I was thinking about a life that would incorporate all of who I am. I wanted to be able to cook lunch for my kids, then come downstairs and sell a painting. I moved to the beach because I felt the need for space, especially after being in Manhattan during 9/11. It was good for my kids, too. I bought my house from a guy who spent all his money on cars, so the garage was very bling; it looked just like a Chelsea gallery!

The light and space movement began in Southern California: James Turrell’s studio was on Main Street in Santa Monica in the 1960s. My gallery is north-facing so, for painting shows, rather than turn on the lights, I just open up the garage doors and something quite magical happens. For almost every show, I’ll simply hand over the keys to the artist and they’ll stay in the space. I love the idea that they have freedom without having to worry about money. 

This article first appeared in frieze issue 216 with the headline ‘Gallery, Garden, Garage’, alongside What Makes Artist-Run Spaces Flourish and A Brief History of the LA House Gallery.

Main image: Janna Ireland, Five Car Garage, 2020, photograph, specially commissioned by frieze. Courtesy: the artist

Liz Craft is an artist. She lives in Los Angeles. 

Emma Gray is an artist, advisor and curator. She is the founder and owner of Five Car Garage. She lives in Los Angeles.

Pentti Monkkonen is an artist. He lives in Los Angeles.

Thomas Solomon is a curator and advisor. He is the former director and chief curator of White Columns, New York, USA, and owner 

of The Garage and Thomas Solomon Gallery, Los Angeles. He lives in Los Angeles.