evan moffitt

Month: August, 2015


MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles


Published in Apollo, August 2015

For the final summer months, the best place to get a drink in Los Angeles isn’t a fancy craft cocktail bar or an upscale fusion restaurant, but a tiny carport in a midcentury apartment parking garage.

Los Bar, a project by Andreas Bauer, Christoph Meier, Robert Schwarz, and Lukas Stopczynski, is an almost-to-scale replica of Adolf Loos’s iconic American Bar in Vienna. It occupies one segment of a six-car garage in the Mackey apartments, designed by fellow Austrian modernist architect Rudolph Schindler.

The original Loos bar is a paragon of refined simplicity: Loos’s focused attention to material finish and simple, boxy geometry created an intimate space replete with red marble, onyx, mahogany, and wraparound mirrors. The bar still earns its name with a steady jazz soundtrack, white-coated bartenders, and a menu of stateside classics like Highballs, Whiskey Sauers, and Manhattans. Los Bar doesn’t offer quite as many options—no cocktail muddlers or lemon twists here—but the artists do take turns serving gin, whiskey, tequila, vodka, and beer. For studier guests they’ll mix a kitchen sink combination of them all, delivered in a glass glued to a heavy concrete plinth.

Both a play on the German pronunciation of “Loos” and the Spanish article in “Los Angeles,” Los Bar translates the understated elegance of Loos’s bar in cheap and readily available materials. Plywood walls and a cardboard coffered ceiling mimic marble. Thin sheets of mylar stand in for mirrors. Lampshades are cut from pieces of opaque packing foam. The artists reproduced the strip of onyx clerestory windows in Loos’s bar by sprinkling wood glue and sawdust between two strips of clear plastic. Small booths lined with electric blue air-conditioning filters wrap around diamond-shaped tables bearing ashtrays made from melted Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. (Smoking is prohibited in L.A. bars, but as an “art piece” Los Bar makes its own rules. Patrons are encouraged to light up, as they are in the hazy Vienna joint.)

Los Bar oozes folksy charm, a composite of its DIY construction and its background playlist of village pub tunes thoughtfully curated by Schwarz—ranging from German polka standards to crooning Mexican canciones de amor. If American Bar feels intimate, Los Bar is positively cramped—it’s a 0.65:1 scale reproduction. The central floor space has been pinched, pushing patrons into tiny booths or up against the bar, its bumper railing fashioned not from brass but an orange foam pool noodle.

L.A.’s lazy sprawl might seem a far cry from Vienna’s cold baroque grandeur, but the two cities share an historic bond often overlooked in the annals of architecture. Viennese architect Rudolph Schindler lived and worked in Los Angeles for more than three decades, some of that time with his fellow Weiner Richard Neutra. While in Austria, both architects had studied under Adolf Loos, and imported their older teacher’s spare style to Southern California. “California Modernism,” L.A.’s richest architectural legacy, was in fact an Austrian émigré.

Today the Schindler House in West Hollywood serves as the U.S. headquarters for the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, an offshoot of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts. It preserves Schindler’s physical archive and organizes programs that try to resurrect the spirit of expatriate modernism. In Schindler’s Mackey apartments, the Center runs a six-month residency program for artists and architects. Like many residency programs, collaboration isn’t always assured; personalities and creative processes can sometimes clash. But 2015 artists-in-residents Bauer, Meier, Schwarz, and Stopczynski were an instant match. “We have the same sense of humor,” Stopczynski told me. Traces of that humor are everywhere in the bar—from a paper clock whose face bears the mug of Ferdinand Maximillian, the Hapsburg emperor killed by a Mexican firing squad, to a Plexiglas thermidore, complete with cork and baby powder cigars.

The four artists arrived in Los Angeles for the program with their own individual project plans. One day, while sitting on the apartment building rooftop, they looked down at the open carport and mused that the deep, narrow space resembled the famous Werkstätte bar. Their measurements confirmed surprisingly close proportions. And so they abandoned their plans, joining forces to play host to their host city.

If its primary reference is somewhat obvious, Los Bar is another kind of temporal link between the interwar capitols of Europe and Jazz Age America. Its diminutive size and cash-only, donation-based pay scheme are decidedly underground for Los Angeles, more vintage speakeasy than fashionable art crowd gin joint. The bar’s eclectic patrons and performers recall Chalet Hollywood, the 14-month speakeasy pop-up that artist Piero Golia installed at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 2014, with help from Edwin Chan, Mark Grotjahn, and Pierre Huyghe.

The artists refer to Los Bar as a “social sculpture”—a physical work of art that facilitates social interaction. In this sense Los Bar also resembles Deiter Roth’s Bar 2 (1983-1997) and Rirkrit Tirivanija’s pad thai (1990), where the detritus of human consumption (and debauchery) aesthetically completes the work. The artists are dedicated barkeeps and keep the space fairly clean, but errant whiskey-stained cups or cigarette burns remind visitors that Los Bar was built to be used. Unlike Roth’s or Tiravanija’s works, which were meant to live in galleries and museum spaces, Los Bar is fully self-contained—a timeless capsule that precludes the world outside its shuttered screen doors. Installed in the garage, impervious to mobile phone reception, it offers the irresistible promise of escape, so rare in the twenty-first century.

Bauer, Meier, Schwarz, and Stopczynski trade heady conceptualism for heady liquor, and highbrow humor for barroom jokes. But that’s O.K. Part of Los Bar’s appeal is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and encourages its patrons to do the same. I’ve never felt more comfortable talking to strangers in a Los Angeles bar than I did squeezed inside that hot plywood box, taking in the communal draught of sweat and sour mash.



Parker Ito at Kaldi, Smart Objects, White Cube, and Chateau Shatto


Published in Issue 2 of Carla, August 2015

Emerald green parrots.

Black fulvic trace water.

Ceramic figurines, bespoke slippers, smoke.

These are just a few materials from a recent string of shows by Parker Ito, Post-Internet art’s enfant terrible. Ito typifies what Geert Lovink termed a pharmacological web 2.0 citizen[1], a filterless image processor with a penchant for Xanax and deviantArt. Ito lives in a junkspace coated with powdery Cheeto dust and Doritos® Cool Ranch® seasoning, shiny like the crumpled skin of a half-drunk Capri Sun® pouch. His work a stereotypically American propensity for binging on junk-culture to the point of aesthetic obesity.

It all began at Kaldi, a small coffee shop in Atwater Village, where Ito anonymously hung a series of demure still-life paintings of artificial rainbow-colored roses. This was the prelude to a yearlong saga of shows that were all woven together by a mysterious character: Ito’s cyberpunk handle Parker Cheeto. Some of the rose paintings were remade/rehung in Parker Cheeto’s Infinite Haunted Hobo Playlist (A Dream for Some, a Nightmare for Others) at Smart Objects. Its title recalled the California low-fi band Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. The main gallery space at Smart Objects was left empty, with art hung in an elevator shaft and displayed in the kitchen and bathroom. The rose work hung amidst a strange mish-mash of neon, Technicolor plastic flora, and grainy anime-inspired wall paintings.

Next came Maid in Heaven/Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Cheeto Problem) at White Cube in London, the title this time a mash-up of Jeff Koons and Kanye West. At White Cube, Ito’s additive process became clear: material was added but seldom removed, lumping together in an indigestible bolus of visual stimuli. His anime character paintings appeared again, this time suspended throughout the gallery at oblique angles within a jungle of low-slung, pigmented chains populated by live parrots. Wallpaper depicted the artist drinking Yoohoo. Paintings of Joan of Arc, pictured from a waist-cropped photograph of an 1843 marble statue Ito found in a Google Image search, joined in the circus.

If this is starting to sound schizophrenic, it is. Ito’s work is characterized by a bulimic intensity. Images culled from trolling the web are projectile-vomited back at the viewer as paintings, sculptures, and textiles, producing immersive installations “so total that you can never zoom all the way out.[2]

White Cube was just a staging ground for Château Shatto’s A Lil Taste of Cheeto in the Night, the middle movement in Ito’s opus. For the exhibition, the gallery temporarily rented a 7,500 square foot warehouse, which Ito claustrophobically crammed with art. Visitors who entered were lost in the deep whirlpool of Ito’s browser history; each painting jut out like a new tab announcing its site title with an animated gif—Read me! Read me! One hardly knew where to look.

The cast of characters this time included some familiar faces (Joan of Arc) alongside some new players (Venom, Kate Moss, the Terminator, and Liv Barrett, Ito’s gallerist and girlfriend). There was buff anime Parker in molten silver armor, holding parrots on a beach at sunset. There were numerous bronze and ceramic sculptures of the Western Exterminator, the mascot for a pest removal company who leers from billboard perches off the 101 and 405 freeways. The Exterminators floated through the space enmeshed in light, like roadside images viewed through a windshield at 80 miles an hour. Analog pop-up windows.

All this sensory slop was bound by brightly colored metal chains and plastic tubes of LED lights, a visual metaphor for the network’s edges. A chaotic Gordion knot, and even a little delicate: step on the wrong strand, knock over the wrong vase, and the whole tangled mess might come crashing down, smothering you in the process. 

A Lil Taste was the Debordian spectacle made manifest,[3] the worldwide web’s weltanschauung materialized in a warehouse on Pico Boulevard. It declared all life mere appearance, material form just a pixelated image spit out by a universal means of production. And all lit by the unblinking glow of a thousand twisted hanging light strands: “the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.”[4] Just peel back your eyelids and let it wash over you.

If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously proposed, there may be nothing extractable from the implosion of all distinct media, their cold collision like the prophesied Big Crunch of our universe, time in rewind. What emerges from this Post-Internet barrage of bit-torrent PNGs and CCTV clips, scans of 3D-printed figurines aping 19th century marble sculptures? There is no message, for there is no medium.

So, who is Parker Cheeto, ghost in this machine? Other names may include: Deke McLelland Two, Creamy Dreamy, L’atelier de PPPPPP. The artist as character, character as artist, has a long history of associated pseudonyms: Rrose Selávy, Monty Cantsin, Banksy. Parker Cheeto is a personality and a glove, a Guy Fawkes mask that signifies a specific person and no one at all. Far from anonymous, though, the name is a juvenile joke—a half-baked stoner pun backlogged for later use. According to Brad Troemel, “what the artist once accomplished by making commodities that could stand independently from [themselves] is now accomplished through their ongoing self-commodification.”[5] Parker Cheeto is the commodity, the double-branded avatar of an Orange County kid-cum-artist and an orange junk-snack puff.

The studio assistants are also Parker Cheeto, and were credited alongside him in the White Cube exhibition. They facilitate Ito’s hyper-productive aesthleticism[6], churning out work with a speed and scope that would be physically impossible for any one artist: the Factory production model doped on a steady dose of Ritalin in order to reach algorithmic velocity.

And then came Epilogue: PBBVx4.5213418505240406714305462110190527PPPPPPPPPPPPPP (an exhibition title like a hellish URL, so long I had to copy and paste it here). It was Cheeto’s final show, the avatar’s somber retirement party. As if on cue, the end to Ito’s saga commenced with a concert of scanners, printing scans of rubber Venom masks and bronze Joan of Arc figurines. Black-and-white printouts would drop from the machines into buckets filled with thick black water—“blk,” a trendy H20 brand. Soggy paper scraps were sucked from the buckets by plastic tubes and sent on a looping course across the gallery floor and walls, plunging into pink vinyl backpacks or disappearing through the floorboards below. It felt as if the combined corpus of Ito’s trilogy was being drained of its blood. The sound of churning pumps and printers was strangely melancholy. In the basement hung a photograph of Ito in a leather frock and Burberry boxers, a riff on a fashion magazine spread featuring Kate Moss as a militant nun. Parker Ito as Kate Moss as Joan of Arc; the artist playing dress-up in his characters’ leftover corpses.

Unlike Hito Steyerl or Trevor Paglen, Ito belongs to a younger generation of Internet artists who have given up on the web’s revolutionary potential for insurrection. All is corporate, all is surveilled in his vision of a digital future: better instead to comment, like, and reblog with irony and detachment. To accept our subordination to simulation. True life is the excrement of the Internet, a poor fictive residue of our social media selves. Second Life is a first order reality.

Troemel argues that we need a certain dose of apathy to find anything of value in this barrage of data: “To maintain the aerial view necessary for patterns to emerge, one must cultivate a disposition of indifference.”[7] This disposition privileges quantity over quality, and ditches art historical discourse for the 140-character Tweet. Ito trades in C++ semiotics; he speaks a digital language in which every image is equally fungible. Ito’s painted Joan is his figurine Joan is his photocopied Joan is his Google Image search Joan is his source image source sculpture Joan. There is no original, there is no copy. There is only ceaseless circulation, mutation, and multiplication. Like a bit of viral code.

[1] Geert Lovink, “Soft Narcosis of the Networked Condition.” Adbusters, 7 March 2013, https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/106/soft-narcosis-networked-condition.html

[2] Parker Ito to Sarah Nicole Prickett, “Parker Ito,” Interview Magazine (June 2014).

[3] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1994).

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Brad Troemel, “Athletic Aesthetics,” The New Inquiry, Vol. 16 (May 2013).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.


Depart Foundation Project Space, Los Angeles


Published in SFAQ, August 2015

The Internet is for porn. The worldwide web’s precursor, ARPANET, was created  by U.S. Department of Defense scientists in 1969 as a communication network in the event of nuclear war—but the network’s development into an advanced system of information exchange really began with users’ attempts to share nudie pics while evading government censors.  As the hunger for simulated flesh grew, early ASCII porn—erotic images drawn with computer typography—became thumbnail photographs, requiring higher bandwidths and better graphics processors. Sexual fantasy has always been an engine of technological innovation, and the Internet opened infinite depths of desire to plumb.

Petra Cortright’s exhibition at Depart Foundation in West Hollywood fits somewhere along this historical continuum of robotic erotics. In NICKY, LUCY, LOLA, VIOLA, virtual strippers that Cortright purchased on VirtuaGirl.com dance against a green screen and two animated desktop backgrounds. What’s first striking about the women is their photorealism. They appear real because they are: VirtuaGirl films and records live models acting out specific motions in front of a green screen, creating recombinatory sets of seductive dance moves that can be customized and replayed endlessly by paying clients. It’s basic software that’s been around since 1998, but recent upgrades allow users to customize the strippers’ features too, from varying skin tones and hair colors to the height of their heels or the amount of fringe on their skimpy Santa Claus costumes. The next logical step, one can imagine, are the intelligent “teledildonics” of Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, or yet-to-be-programmed orgies enjoyed via Oculus Rift.

Cortright downloaded the strippers using a prepaid Discover card to avoid catching viruses. She dressed each one in “sexy” apparel—pink thong and white pasties, a latex nurse uniform, black garters and a leather eye mask. They came with their own names, which appear in the show’s title. In the exhibition’s largest work, the four named females and several digitally altered clones twirl around poles anchored in the screen’s lower edge, or crawl with arched backs, staring straight at the viewer. They lustfully return our gaze, yet with eyes vacant of subjective agency—tirelessly performing the same movements that grow stale with each reoccurrence. In addition to this work, Niki, Lucy, Lola, and Viola also appear on green flags that hang above the gallery entrance, waving at Sunset Boulevard like derby girls at a testosterone-fueled Nascar race. The seeping scent of cigar smoke from the tobacconist next door is a happy accident, a bit of sensory sleaze that heightens the strip show’s fleshy realism.

Cortright is one of Internet art’s hottest tickets. Her speechless yet intimate YouTube videos meditate on the way images are circulated and manipulated in our self-involved selfie era. In these videos, readily available online, Cortright uses subtle digital editing to distort her own image, recorded by a laptop camera and reflected on a screen. In snow1??? (2011), for instance, white pixels drift across the video’s glitchy frames, settling on Cortright’s shoulders and hair, looking a lot like fresh snow and a little like dandruff. In sick hands (2011), a wave courses through the frame, rendering her body like an undulating Edvard Munch figure. In each work, Cortright confronts the camera and the viewer, always seemingly on the verge of a verbal address, recalling the millions of home movies uploaded by YouTube users speaking to anonymous listeners—public confessions that usually fall on deaf ears. “YouTube celebrities,” whose popular videos have led to TV shows and book deals, make the rest of this confessional traffic seem frivolous and self-important by comparison. Cortright’s work appears to comment on this condition of public anonymity intensely heightened by social media, and our perpetual hankering for likes, shares, and retweets. Seen through her online work, she’s a cyberpunk pixie who embodies the meme generation’s stale disaffection with a shrug.

In the vein of her videos, Cortright’s projections at Depart cycle like endlessly repeating GIFs, their animated movements progressively predictable. Their motions are familiar to anyone who has ever visited a strip club—a quick yet seamless succession of breast-pumping hand gestures and booty-bumping squats.  Bean bag chairs strewn about the dark vaulted space invite a studied viewing, but it doesn’t take long to realize that those repetitious gestures are all that’s there to see. Could there be a hidden message, one wonders, in a projection of a digi-stripper being dragged upward by an invisible computer mouse and dropped in a sky-blue expanse filled with seagulls, her miniskirt billowing in the wind? These are not carrion birds, and the stripper seems to feel no pain or pleasure in the act (unless they’ve taught computers how to do that too).

In a third projected video, a stripper dances teasingly on the mottled earth of a desert expanse, an animated flame burning eternally on its pale white horizon. Beside her, an elephant walks hopelessly in its tracks, and a horse tosses its head side to side—a literal one-trick pony, trying to satisfy a desperate itch. A generous reader might regard the woman here as debased, like an animal, by male sexual objectification, groomed for saddle or slaughter. But the aesthetic of Kid Pix 3D has dropped each figure into a visual wasteland too conceptually starved for striking associations to bloom. This is in marked contrast to Cortright’s first stripper video, Vicky Deep in Spring Valley, which premiered in Berlin in 2012. In it, a stripper dances around a pole atop an outdoor architectural folly: an Egyptian colonnade that is at once an aquarium, an aqueduct, and a jungle garden pavilion, housing black swans and tropical fish. Amplified to absurdity, each artistic element serves only to please the viewer, its substance subservient to their gaze. Cortright’s self-conscious embrace of digital fantasy makes her ironic detachment from such scopophilia all the more apparent.

Cortright’s latest work makes no claim to gender politics, though such motivations have been ascribed to it. She does seem to examine biopolitics in the digital age—at least how we turn on to get off. But interpreting this strip show as an act of feminist subterfuge would rely too much on the artist’s presumed sexual and gender identity. Art must use the aesthetic and institutional tools at its disposal to render such politics legible to a viewing public, or else fail to move even its staunchest ideological bedfellows.

In itself, VirtuaGirl is an appealing subject for feminist annotation. E-commerce and phallocentrism collide online, commodifying the female body so extremely that male sexual desire often takes not flesh but pixels as its object. The Internet makes no excuses for its Rule 34 diversity—a dizzying wormhole of perverse fantasy where two girls and one cup mean a lot more than a shabby cocktail party. Often the IRL bodies exploited by this web-streamed system disappear in service of male pleasure. But they’re no more visible at Depart Foundation, where even the exhibition didactic fails to mention the live videos of live girls VirtuaGirl uses to produce its simulated Build-an-Escort factory. Indulging in this roulette wheel of erotic selections might be the first step towards a fruitful critique of male chauvinism—but it is certainly not its last. Cortright’s politics stop cold at consumption, missing the chance to make a truly meaningful statement, leaving the viewer with conceptual blue balls.

The exhibition’s hype is predicated in part on the spurious presumption that “new media” means new ideas. There is nothing more sycophantic or sexualized about Cortright’s girls than the frivolous females in a Fragonard or Boucher painting. They are no more or less vulgar than de Kooning’s lascivious women. They are, part and parcel, the inscription of male fantasy, carved violently by hands invisible within the project’s frame. Is there agency in such outlandish debasement? If so, who does it belong to—“real women” or computerized figments?

Maybe Cortright isn’t interested in these questions, or maybe she’s just having fun. It’s not the critic’s job to spoil good fun, but to give credit where it’s due. Cortright puts on a good show, one more at home on a Fantasy sports league website banner than in an art gallery—two disparate platforms whose collapse is surely a welcome (if slightly unexpected) exercise. But, conceptually, the work performs little more than a regurgitated fantasy. It makes the strange not a bit stranger, rendering a space for us to enjoy our guilty indulgences even at the expense of others. The Internet is for porn; and that’s all there is to it. Now go grab your Kleenex.


Nahuel Vecino at Del Vaz Projects, Photograph by Daniel Sahlberg (12) (1)

Published in Apollo, July 2015

It’s no secret that Los Angeles is an ascendant global capital of contemporary art, with blue chip galleries flocking to the city and two new museums opening next year. Part of the buzz, though, has nothing to do with high-profile names like Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel or Sprüth Magers – both major international galleries soon to set up shop here. It’s the result of highly innovative, alternative exhibition spaces that are questioning distinctions between public and private, commercial and residential, high art and the everyday.

An ‘off-space’ tour might take you first to Park View Gallery, located near the lively MacArthur Park, where residents lounge on the banks of a lake and vendors peddle mango slices with chilli pepper and lime. On the second floor of the Oso Apartments (Spanish for ‘bear’), gallerist Paul Soto has plastered and painted every surface of his small one-bedroom unit a brilliant white. Virtually devoid of personal effects, it’s hard to imagine that Soto lives there. Park View is the commercial white cube transported to a private home, where Soto has shown work by familiar favourites like Charles Atlas, Silke Otto-Knapp, and John Divola, alongside talented younger artists like Paul Pescador, Katie Aliprando, and Matt Siegle. This mix of well and lesser-known names is an insider’s trick Soto learned while running blue-chip Susanne Vielmetter Projects.

Park View shows usually include sly domestic references, like Benjamin Carlson’s gesso-cast Amazon box paintings hung in a walk-in closet, or Hot(2015), an old-fashioned shower knob Aliprando installed outside the door to the bathroom. ‘I wanted to think through a space that has idiosyncratic architectural details and requires artists to respond in kind,’ says Soto. This marriage of spaces is also a money-saver, cutting down rent costs: ‘It’s a nimble business practice that allows me to focus more on what the gallerist is supposed to do, communicating about the work of emerging and younger artists more actively out in the world, rather than addressing an art market consensus.’

The domestic-commercial ambiguity at Park View is markedly different atDel Vaz Projects, Jay Ezra Nayssan’s apartment gallery in West Los Angeles. Located in a relatively new, multi-unit apartment building that Nayssan manages, Del Vaz doesn’t project the white cube into the gallerist’s home. Visitors are welcome to kick off their shoes and share tea at Nayssan’s glass dining table, browsing his personal art collection alongside the installed temporary exhibition. ‘Playing host is second nature to me,’ Nayssan says, referring to his Persian cultural tradition of hospitality.

A spare bedroom has housed art and artists alike: in 2014, three members of the New York collective KHOLE lived and work there as artists in residence, and artist Marie-Caroline Hominal lived there while performing her show ‘Le Triomphe de la Renomée’. ‘There is an attitude, a mood, a form that people take on when they are at home and this allows work to be reconsidered on a far more intimate and personal level,’ says Nayssan. He recently explored issues of domestic intimacy in ‘Tulipomania’, a show organised in the Paris apartment of Daniele Balice of Galerie Balice Hertling, which featured artists as varied as Julien Ceccaldi and Francis Picabia.

(2015), Nahuel Vecino at Del Vaz Projects.

In Los Angeles, commercial and residential space is clearly demarcated. Once you turn off a main thoroughfare like Sunset Boulevard, you find yourself on a tree-lined street of houses or low-rise apartment buildings. Historically, strict municipal zoning laws prevented ‘mixed-use’ cohabitation typical of European and Eastern American cities, contributing to LA’s quasi-suburban ethos and its vast, topographical sprawl. As Nayssan puts it, ‘Single-family detached homes are the paradise of Los Angeles; in New York it’s the street, in Paris the public square.’

There’s a certain amount of social friction that comes with ‘downsizing’ a commercial gallery venture to fit in a small inner-city apartment. A couple of LA projects are exploring single-family homes as viable spaces for exhibiting art. Before moving out in May, gallerist Alex Freedman ofFreedman Fitzpatrick held exhibitions and performances at her Silverlake house. The closing show, a series of projections and sound installations by Hannah Weinberger, filled the empty rooms with ghostly traces of memories – snapshots from trips to Disneyland and a languid lapse of a flowing river.

Not far away, in the hills above Echo Park, the Tom of Finland Foundationmaintains an archive of the iconic gay erotic artist’s work, hosting exhibitions and events in his former home – a vast three-story craftsman with a terraced yard, filled with cacti and urinal fountains. Further west, overlooking the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by palms, lies Villa Aurora. The 1928 Spanish-style mansion sponsors an Artist-in-Residence programme for artists and writers fleeing oppressive regimes in their home countries, reminiscent of California’s rich European expatriate community during the Second World War. Rotating exhibitions of fellows’ work often occupy the historic library and study.

The gallery is almost entirely absent at Chin’s Push, a space founded just last year by Lydia Glenn-Murray in her Highland Park home. Located on York Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of the slightly sleepy downtown LA suburb, Chin’s Push includes a storefront space for exhibiting art, which has variously been occupied by a TV repair shop, an electronics store, and a Chinese takeout restaurant. In the attached house, Glenn-Murray invites artist and musician friends to take over the living room or her bedroom (actually a walk-in closet); performances take place in the concrete backyard, under a mango tree or in front of an Airstream trailer that houses an artist residency. These smaller spaces focus more attention on the work and enable an intimate viewing experience fitting for a home. There are domestic traces everywhere: makeshift walls separate bedrooms; homemade kombucha ferments above the fridge; kittens play in the couch cushions. Despite its casual vibe, Chin’s Push has hosted an impressive array of emerging talent, with work shown and presented by artists like Martine Syms, Jesse Stecklow, Lex Brown, and Wrinkle Decker.

Big-name galleries and prized private collections may draw the most international press, but spaces like these are pushing the envelope in Los Angeles’s burgeoning contemporary art scene. Responding to the built environment of the city, house and apartment galleries are asking thought-provoking questions about domestic space, commercial institutions, and viewership.