Los Angeles is the home of the house gallery
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The true distinguishing factor between Frieze Los Angeles and Frieze in any other city is the house. In LA, the house is the premiere destination for satellite exhibitions, an experience so distinctly shaped by the city’s defining features: a legacy of experimental architecture; a decidedly homebody social life; a tight-knit artistic community; and fantastical ideals of domestic bliss. Disproving the conventional wisdom of the white cube, the LA house is an excellent place to experience art.
Year-round, but especially during Frieze week, Los Angeles offers a glorious abundance of exhibitions to see in historically significant homes. Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1921 Hollyhock House, a pioneer in the southern California now-cliché of indoor-outdoor living, makes its debut as a contemporary exhibition space with Entanglements, a joint show of local painter Louise Bonnet and sculptor Adam Silverman. Curator Abbey Chamberlain Brach recommends viewing between 4pm and 5pm, when “that wonderful sunset golden light washes over the living room”, illuminating the metallic shimmer that Wright embedded into the walls.
Further west, Alex Katz unveils a new suite of portraits at the MAK Center, modernist Rudolph Schindler’s groundbreaking 1922 home, and design gallery The Future Perfect debuts a Gaetano Pesce collection in the tasteful opulence of movie producer Samuel Goldwyn’s Hollywood mansion. Even further west, Against the Edge, a Frieze off-site programme by Jay Ezra Nayssan, puts the work of Nicola L in the former Pacific Palisades home of the exiled German author Thomas Mann.
An exhibition inside a domestic space is not a uniquely Los Angeles phenomenon, but the domestic space has historically played an essential role in the city’s cultural fabric. In leaner decades preceding LA’s current gallery boom, dealers and artists made legendary spaces of ordinary homes, for lack of better outlets. When artist William Copley wanted to show Surrealists in Los Angeles, he and his brother-in-law rounded up a few Tanguys and Magrittes to mount in a rented bungalow in Beverly Hills in 1948. They sold almost nothing and closed within six months, but the grand opening was legendary. “Lots of booze and some celebrities,” Copley wrote, “suspicions of success, teasing interest in specific paintings, even one sale that was never paid for.”
There’s a formality to viewing art in a white cube, but the contours of the house, both literal and figurative, are less rigid. “I always say my job is 95 per cent serving drinks and telling stories,” says Scott Cameron Weaver, who opened the gallery O-Town House in his two-story Spanish-Colonial apartment in 2018. He exhibits on his lower floor and lives on the upper floor, where visitors gradually make their way during opening receptions. “I wanted to have a decidedly social space; I think situations like these are constructive in terms of dialogue,” he adds. “People come over to have a drink and talk about art, or sometimes just to drink, but that’s OK too.”
An additional perk: “Encountering the artworks throughout the day and night gives more opportunities for insights and spontaneous revelations,” says Sam Parker of Parker Gallery, a five-bedroom Tudor in Los Feliz. “Being able to spend so much time with the exhibitions is an absolute privilege.”
The newly opened Sea View gallery occupies parts of Jorge Pardo’s former Mount Washington home, where the views from a loudly tiled balcony cut straight across town to the sea. For a 1998 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the artist exhibited the house as an experiment in functional conceptual art. “He was given his first institutional show, and he said, ‘I’m taking everyone out of the institution,’” says Sea View founder Sara Lee Hantman. “The gallery follows in those footsteps by taking people outside of a typical viewing mindset.”
Located up Mount Washington’s precipitous hills, where mobile service is scant, the gallery’s semi-remote location and by-appointment schedule ensure no perfunctory drive-by visits and no uninterested hellos from a front desk, only “a conscious effort on both ends to meet somewhere and talk about the work”, Hantman says.
Bill Powers, the formerly New York-based owner of Half Gallery who inadvertently began showing at home in 2021 once he moved to LA, feels a similar sentiment. “I’m not going to get the same foot traffic as I would sandwiched between Nino Mier and Karma on Santa Monica Boulevard, but I enjoy the benefit of collectors making an effort to visit.” He describes his sweeping views of Mount Baldy not as a distraction from the work, but “like having an Ed Ruscha painting outside your window”.
Among the countless house galleries that have come and gone through the years, the most revered aren’t remembered for how much they sold, but for having fed and sustained the local ecosystem. From 1968 to 1970, artist Suzanne Jackson ran Gallery 32 out of the same Spanish-Colonial apartment complex where O-Town House is today, showing the early works of David Hammons, Senga Nengudi and Betye Saar. In 2010, artist Young Chung put his furniture in storage and launched Commonwealth and Council in his Koreatown apartment; he made his first art residency for Gala Porras-Kim, who actually did need a place to stay at the time.
“I wanted the space to be a platform for the network of artists who I admired and wanted deeper connections with; the stakes were driven by context and collegiality,” Chung says. The gallery has since grown into a commercial space and international success, but he recalls the perks of those early days fondly: “I wasn’t paying any extra rent, so I felt like I could programme like [there was] no tomorrow.”