In The Arts
For decades, LA’s artists have had easier access to utility boxes, abandoned walls, and unsold billboards than they have to pristine white galleries, so it’s no surprise that its street art took an easy leap from the sidewalk onto the highly respected walls of art museums here.
The Museum of Contemporary Art’s 2011 survey on the history and evolution of street art -- from adopted locals like Shepard Fairey to international artists like Banksy who use the city as a canvas -- was just further proof of the city's role in street art's larger evolution. The survey has inspired street art exhibitions in the years since, from multiple showings at Art Basel in Miami to the ambitious Street Art Museum, set to open in Berlin in 2017. And surely there was no better home base than LA or Thierry Guetta's is-it-real-or-not documentary on the world's most elusive street artists (including camera-shy Banksy), Exit Through The Gift Shop.
But until recently, LA’s influence on the international fine art scene was mostly by accident, born out of thriving subcultures that experimented with the aesthetics of music, street, surf, skate, and high & low art. From the politically charged Chicano murals of the early-20th century to gangland graffiti and the crude punk-show flyers of Raymond Pettibon, LA has always been a place where the best art is created out of necessity. And these days, with the rapidly revitalizing Arts District as its hub, the city is being hailed as the new center of the art world.
In March 2016, Paul Schimmel, former chief curator at MOCA teamed up with Swiss gallery juggernaut Hauser & Wirth to open one of the largest and most ambitious artistic spaces in the world. Natch, it’s in the Arts District. Housed inside a former Pillsbury flour mill next to train tracks and the LA River, the Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel super-complex includes 30,000 square feet of exhibition space, a bookstore, a research area, a planting garden, a restaurant, and a multi-disciplinary arts center. It will host curated museum-grade exhibitions with accompanying public programming, making it unlike any other commercial gallery space in the city, or for that matter, in the Americas.
The arrival of Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel is no doubt a validation of the neighborhood of warehouse’s newfound cultural authority over the international art community, but to see where this authority began, look no further than the exterior of the gallery’s 100-year-old building. The brick walls will remain covered with original works of street art, made from spray paint and wheat paste, that reflect the hardscrabble life in the neighborhoods surrounding Arts District. You know, before the Europeans started calling it that.