Independent Art in LA: Meet the Gallerists

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Isabelle Cornaro Installation at Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Isabelle Cornaro Installation at Hannah Hoffman GalleryPhotography by Joshua White/

Meet three gallerists who left their previous lives to pursue their dreams of opening their own independent gallery in Los Angeles

In addition to the endless parade of starry-eyed hopefuls dreaming of silver screen success, Los Angeles has long had a culture of artists living and working in the city, drawn by the laid-back and creative vibe of the So-Cal area: Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari, Peter Shire and David Hockney are a few of the biggest-name artists to have lived and worked in LA. And while setting up a gallery in LA might be nothing new – the mighty Gagosian was founded in LA in 1979 – the city’s heady mix of creativity and 'anything-is-possible' mentality is harboring the dreams of a new independent generation of gallerists, who are finding cheap rents and the nurturing environment Los Angeles has to offer ideal conditions to flourish in as they leave their previous lives and careers behind to set up their own independent spaces in the city. These are the stories of three gallerists who did exactly that.

Hannah Hoffman, Hannah Hoffman Gallery
Before Hannah Hoffman – whose gallery represents Sam Falls, Joe Zorrilla, Matt Sheridan Smith, Isabelle Cornaro – moved to Los Angeles, she worked for Gavin Brown's enterprise in NYC as an artist liaison and sales associate. “I didn't leave GBE with the idea to start my own gallery - I actually really miss it. It was more about getting out of NYC, explains Hoffman. “I think the only place that is not exciting to me right now is NYC. But that is just because there are so many people there already doing it so well - it is a bit crowded. LA is exciting because of the people that I get to work with and interact with. The community is smaller but more supportive, and there is a sense of time and space here that feels like a luxury.”

“I value freedom above most things, and I feel free enough here to write my own rules” — Emma Gray

Emma Gray, Five Car Garage
“I value freedom above most things, and I feel free enough here to write my own rules and create my own narrative and change it when necessary,” explains Emma Gray of A Garage project in Los Angeles. A Garage is an RSVP-only showroom and project space that works with the likes of Max Maslansky, whose work will appear in the Hammer Biennial this June, ceramics artist Bari Ziperstein and performance and video artist Megan Daalder, amongst others. The former West Coat editor of ArtReview, columnist for Artnet and art advisor for Sandy Heller first became a gallerist with her own small space above Francois Ghebaly gallery on La Cienega, but the gallerist's true ambitions were realised when she bought a house with her husband that came with it’s own art-gallery sized garage – A Garage project and the Five Car Garage gallery was born.

“My husband and I bought a house with a big renovated garage that had been owned by a record company A&R man who collected vintage sports cars – an actual five car garage. Spatially, it looked just like a gallery in New York's Chelsea with poured concrete floors and metal roll up doors, tucked into an alleyway and a few blocks from the beach on the border between Venice and Santa Monica. 5 Car Garage has been operational for a year now.”

Rob Greene, Greene Exhibitions
“Los Angeles has long been a place where anyone can come and make their own future. People are so inviting and willing to give anyone a chance,” says Rob Greene, who first moved to Los Angeles in 2005, taking up a finance job for a major studio. The artists that Rob met during his first few years in Los Angeles fuelled his love of fine art so by 2008, inspired by reading Empire by Negri and an increase in empty art gallery-type space in the city, Greene began exploring the idea of exhibiting more seriously. The following year Francois Ghebaly let him rent a space he ran in Chinatown – Kunsthalle LA – to put on his first group exhibition. “By 2012, I knew that I would never get through all the exhibitions I wanted to do, and so I began looking for a permanent location where a real exhibition program could take place,” explains Greene.

“In March of that year, I signed a lease for the location we now enjoy on La Cienega Avenue. My employer, who was unaware of my curating habit, happened to give me a generous promotion that helped provide the budget to do it all. Over the course of the first year, it became apparent that this was not something I could do in my spare time, and I left my job of over eight years to devote my full time and attention to representing the gallery artists (which include conceptual artist York Chang)."

Text by Laura Havlin