Galleries Off the Beaten Path Diversify Los Angeles Art Scene

Los Angeles gets a lot of attention for its blue-chip galleries, and in recent years some of New York’s most influential art dealers have opened spaces here, including David Zwirner, Marian Goodman, Lisson and Sean Kelly.

But with considerably less fanfare a number of smaller L.A. galleries, often in less obvious neighborhoods — including Residency Art Gallery, Band of Vices, Charlie James Gallery and others — are beginning to play a major role in the city’s art scene. They are gaining a reputation for bringing young talent, especially emerging Black and Latino artists, to the attention of museums while building a broader constituency of collectors.

“Galleries like these are vital to our art ecosystem because they are willing to take risks on emerging artists early in their career, oftentimes giving them their first start in a formal gallery,” said Naima J. Keith, the vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She added that the new venues “offer price points that are accessible to museums” and are in areas of the city “that attract both local and international attention.”

These galleries have gained the respect of established curators and collectors. Larger dealers are poaching their artists (Sadie Barnette left Charlie James for Jessica Silverman, for example); museums are acquiring their works (pieces by Monica Ikegwu of Band of Vices are owned by the Muskegon Museum of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art); and collectors are looking to them for new blood at the relatively low price range of $5,000 to $50,000. Each gallery is in Miami this week for the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair, where the spotlight is hottest.

“I think it’s important to support these galleries — I like to get in early, to help artists when they need it the most and really give a boost to their careers,” said the longtime collector — and talent-spotter — Beth Rudin DeWoody. “A lot of times they get picked up and I can’t afford them anymore. It’s fun for me to go around to a lot of these galleries — you’re going to neighborhoods that you would never think of going to otherwise.”

Rick Garzon, 41, started Residency in 2016 on Queen Street in Inglewood, where he says he took pride in operating next door to other Black-owned businesses, including a yoga studio, a bookstore and a coffee shop.

Garzon, who this year opened a larger space nearby and continues to use the original location for special projects, said that he focuses on work “tied directly to L.A. or the neighborhood that people can easily relate to,” featuring artists such as LaRissa Rogers, Jacob Rochester and Devon Tsuno.

“There is nothing like this over here and it’s needed,” said Garzon, who grew up in the area.

Garzon’s new gallery is in the new Hollywood Park development, which includes restaurants, stores, offices and residences. About 700 people attended the opening in September, he said. Garzon’s booth at the Miami Beach Convention Center this week features the photographer Texas Isaiah, whose work as “a Black, trans, first-generation autodidact,” the gallery’s website says, grapples “with the increased violence on LGBTQIA+ individuals in America, especially in the Black community.”

“Rick has one of the best eyes in the business,” said the longtime collector Demetrio (Dee) Kerrison. “How did I know about Kennedy Yanko? Because of Rick. How did I know about Devin B. Johnson before he got to Nicodim Gallery? Rick Garzon.

“So when I meet a young artist and I think they have potential, I introduce them to Rick,” he continued. “And Rick takes them to the Felix Art Fair, he takes them to Art Basel. I introduced him to this young artist named Mario Joyce. And the first time he showed Mario Joyce, I think he sold 15 paintings.”

Kerrison also connected Charlie James to Connie Butler, the former chief curator at the Hammer Museum. Butler, who was recently named director of MoMA PS1, acquired a work from James in 2021 by the sculptor John Ahearn, “Sleepy Maxo with Blue Jersey,” a plaster cast portrait of Maxo Allen, an L.A. hip-hop artist.

While high-end dealers typically pick and choose who they sell to, galleries like these say they try to give less-seasoned collectors an easier path to buying art. “When you walk into galleries here in Los Angeles, typically no one talks to you — you may not be able to buy anything until you’re ‘qualified’,” said Melva Benoit, a collector who serves as Band of Vices’ head of marketing and culture. “As much as we can blow up and disrupt that is important for us.”

Located in West Adams, which has an abundance of auto supply stores, Band of Vices has helped make the neighborhood an important art destination and recently moved into a larger space.

“What I saw as a void was artists who felt unseen, unheard — not recognized,” said Terrell Tilford, 54, the gallery’s founder and creative director.

“To be in that neighborhood gives people access,” Tilford added. “They can come in unannounced and feel included.”

To be sure, it is more challenging running a gallery in areas that are not highly trafficked by the bulk of art buyers. But at a time when the country is more attuned to issues of equity and inclusion as well as demographic shifts, these dealers view themselves as pioneers.

“In some ways the gallery is kind of mission-based,” said Charlie James, 53, whose two spaces are in Chinatown, a once-thriving arts district that most galleries have abandoned. “We’re looking to show work that’s involved with the time of its making.”

James focuses on Latino artists, such as Patrick Martinez, who currently has a solo show, “Ghost Land,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco and has work in the exhibition “Desire, Knowledge, and Hope (with Smog)” at the Broad in Los Angeles. Martinez’s “Neon Suite” is featured in the lobby of the Whitney Museum of American Art, which acquired the 10-piece installation in 2021.

Such dealers see their role as helping to build a new collector base, to introduce a wider public to art as both an aesthetic pleasure and a financial investment. The galleries offer educational programming and payment plans.

“I didn’t see myself as a collector,” said Rita Morales, an entertainment executive. “But Band of Vices treated me as one, so I started to feel like one.”

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