Since my recent relocation from Boston to Los Angeles, I have taken advantage of the blossoming cultural life of this city. I've visited numerous galleries and exceptional museums such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), The Getty, Los Angeles and the Architecture and Design Museum (A + D) to name a few. This week I ventured beyond these traditional establishments and participated in the Los Angeles Downtown Art Walk, a self-guided tour held on the second Thursday of each month. Since 2004, this art walk has showcased over forty art venues that are located between Little Tokyo, the Financial District and the streets that comprise the historic core of downtown area.
While experiencing the local art scene on foot may be a typical routine for city dwellers on the East Coast or in Europe, for Los Angelinos it is a drastically different story. Despite massive efforts to revitalize the downtown area in the last twenty years, many Los Angelinos still view the city core as a seedy destination, a drive-in-drive-out destination rather than the cultural gem that it is. Here where driving is "king" the walking tour is a revolutionary idea, a pastime gaining in popularity.
With a map from the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk website, http://www.downtownartwalk.org/map/ in hand, I noted the trail which clearly denotes the commercial and non-profit galleries, alternative spaces, and the five museums: the Museum of Neon Art, the Latino Museum, MOCA Geffen, the Chinese -American Museum and the Japanese American National Museum all of which represent the diverse population of the city itself.
Upon arrival I immersed myself among the droves of people, and I mean droves, who were walking the streets, roaming in and out of the galleries, or stopping for a quick bite at one of the many food trucks parked in empty lots or vacant storefronts on the boulevard. Pop-up boutiques and savvy musicians occupied every inch of empty space between the "brick and mortar" businesses, all of which had extended hours to attract the throngs of people.
Inspired by the scene, I abandoned the map and let my eyes and ears guide my way through the artistic carnival of the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk. First stop: the Museum of Neon Art on West 4th Street. Here a gigantic yellow electric sign that reads “ART” beckons visitors to enter a space distinctly different from a conventional meticulously designed museum. This space is more like a warehouse, a repository for a bizarre assortment of neon fixtures. Everyday objects such as a rocking chair or iconic donut are sculpted out of the neon material. “Eye-candy” is abundant and one hardly knows where the exhibition actually began or ended.
Next, I found my way to Bang Gallery on 435 Spring Street. The gallery’s summer-theme exhibition Eat Me, An Eye Scream Social spanned the entire block. Adding to the ambiance was the fact that there was not an ounce of air-conditioning in the space. Even so, a steady stream of people walked through the enclosure and stopped to view the scene of a dripping ice cream cone hovering over a makeshift pool. Perhaps the vision of the cone almost “jumping” into the pool served as a “cooling effect” on the crowd! The most captivating works in the show were Ryan Snow’s sepia- exposed landscape photographs depicting Los Angeles in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
While exiting the gallery I caught a glimpse of Metropolis, a multi-sensory installation by David Rose, which was projected on the side of a brick building. Unfortunately, the expanding crowd that seemed less interested in the art and more eager to party in the street constantly interrupted my viewing experience.
I determined that it is impossible to see everything in one night. It is also difficult to distinguish between those galleries that are open simply to feed the frenzy of the current art walk and those that will continue to make a lasting impression on the Los Angeles art scene. For instance, 118 Winston featured an incredible and timely exhibition on immigration and America’s relationship with Mexico, but it is not certain that an art exhibit will be here at the following month’s art walk since this space is not just an art gallery but rather a space where creative events related to yoga, meditation and art are regularly held.
One thing is for sure: the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk is still evolving. Although this popular event is well attended and appealing to a wide audience, it is still trying to establish its own identity in the Los Angeles cultural scene. Only time will tell if its focus will cater to the downtown party crowd or toward supporting and promoting the lively contemporary art scene that already exists in Los Angeles.
All images are courtesy of the author.