Los Angeles-based nonprofit arts organization LAXART announced last week that it had acquired a building in East Hollywood and would move into its “permanent residence” in the fall. The new site, a brick and concrete building on Western Avenue, will more than double its current exhibit space to approximately 5,000 square feet. LAXART’s current space, located in a former Hollywood recording studio, will close at the end of June.
“The uncertain early days of the pandemic prompted institutional soul-searching, forcing us to identify and face squarely deeper and more systemic challenges,” LAXART Director Hamza Walker said in a statement. “The most basic of these was getting permanent housing. For most mid-size nonprofit arts organizations, this isn’t so much a challenge as a dream.
LAXART was founded in 2005 by Lauri Firstenberg with the aim of providing a platform for emerging and underrepresented artists, encompassing exhibitions, performances, public programs and publications. Since then, he has curated over 400 projects and partnered with other local institutions, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, co-producing the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival in 2012 and the exhibition Video art in Latin America in 2017; and the Hammer Museum, helping mount the first iteration of its California biennial, Made in LAin 2012.
In 2015, LAXART moved to its current location in the Hollywood gallery cluster near Regen Projects, Kohn Gallery and Various Small Fires. Its facade at the corner of Santa Monica and North Orange Drive has been transformed over the years by artists such as Karl Holmqvist, Barbara Kruger, Daniel Joseph Martinez, and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon as part of an ongoing series of murals.
Firstenberg resigned as director in 2016 and was replaced by Walker, who became LAXART’s second director after more than two decades at the Renaissance Society of Chicago.
In 2019, LAXART finds itself drawn into the controversy surrounding the Marciano Art Foundation (MAF), the private museum opened by Paul and Maurice Marciano, brothers who made their fortune with the fashion brand GUESS which they launched in 1981. This In November, MAF abruptly closed its doors and laid off nearly all of its employees after workers announced their intention to unionize, prompting protests and calls for the museum to reopen. Former employees also turned to Olivia Marciano, Maurice’s daughter and artistic director of MAF, who had been appointed to the LAXART board the previous year. In an open letter to LAXART board members, protesters demanded that they remove her from the board if she did not work to reopen MAF and reinstate laid-off workers.
When confronted by protesters delivering the letter, Walker told them, “I respect your position. You are brothers and sisters in arms. Olivia Marciano has never publicly commented on the museum’s closure and she remains on the LAXART board, according to her website.
John Frane, LAXART board member and design director of HGA Architects, is working with the nonprofit to design the new space, which is described in the statement as “reductive and raw, a clean slate “. With its open floor plan, the new location avoids some of the challenges of the current site, including columns interrupting sight lines, changing ceiling heights, and an awkwardly disjointed arrangement of exhibition spaces.
“The proportions are good. It’s unbroken and quite flexible,” Walker told Hyperallergic. “We can build to measure in terms of projects, without hindrance.” The flexibility of the interior will extend to a multipurpose outdoor space in what was previously a parking lot.
LAXART has raised almost half of the $5 million goal set for the building campaign, thanks in part to proceeds from a Christie’s auction last November featuring works donated by artists Jacqueline Humphries, Arthur Jafa, Barbara Kruger, LAXART Board Member Glenn Ligon, Christina Quarles and Jonas. Drink.
In its new home, LAXART will join other art spaces, including Sargent’s Daughters, Shrine and David Zwirner, which have also announced plans to open along the stretch of East Hollywood dubbed Melrose Hill. According to Los Angeles Timethe neighborhood is one of the densest in the city, with a predominantly Latino population and a below-average median income.
The arrival of galleries in other historically marginalized and majority POC neighborhoods in the city, such as Boyle Heights and Inglewood, has sparked fears of gentrification and conflict between neighborhood activists and art spaces.
It remains to be seen how LAXART will balance these concerns with the opportunity this new home provides “to expand our life with artists and our role in civic discourse, in Los Angeles, the country and beyond”, as Margaret Morgan, president of LAXART. board of directors, the statement said.
Walker told Hyperallergic that the stretch of Western Avenue the nonprofit is moving to is a commercial area, while acknowledging the need for integration.
“We’re trying to put down roots,” Walker said. “Once there, we will know what the temperature is. We want to meet our neighbors.