Practice Makes Perfect

Kate Sutton at the launch of Art+Practice and an Edgar Arceneaux screening

Left: Danielle Brazell, Hammer director Ann Philbin, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, artist Mark Bradford, Amy Wakeland, A+P's Allan di Castro, artist Charles Gaines, and philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. (Photo: Andreas Branch). Right: Art+Practice's Sophia Belsheim with curator Naima Keith. (Photo: Stephanie Keenan).

ON THE LAST DAY OF FEBRUARY, as yet another record(/will)-breaking snowstorm bore down on the frostbitten East Coast, Zurich-based dealer Karolina Dankow was perched on a terra-cotta-colored swing in one corner of a sunbaked cactus garden, in the backyard of an LA gallery space just east of Culver City. Inside, the walls were lined with breezy Juliette Blightman portraits, the first in a series of pop-up shows from Dankow’s Karma International, the latest gallery-in-residence to be arranged by art adviser Simmy Swinder, who had inherited the venue from Carmichael Gallery. “If I’m doing my job correctly, then people don’t see it as my space,” Swinder reasoned. Last year she invited London-based Ibid, who used the site as an incubator while they put finishing touches on their own project space in Boyle Heights. Next up after Karma International is Milan’s Brand New Gallery. And who wouldn’t want an excuse to come to California, even temporarily? “It’s so nice here,” Dankow beamed, carefully setting down her giant green juice before bounding over to greet a newly arrived collector couple.

With big name-brand imports like Hauser & Wirth and Sprüth Magers on the horizon, LA is looking more and more appealing to ambitious international galleries. But not everything in the art scene is arriving via LAX. Recently one of the city’s most historic institutions, the Brockman Gallery (1967–1989), saw a modest revival of its legacy as its former Degnan Boulevard storefront was relaunched as Art+Practice, a nonprofit initiative cofounded by artist Mark Bradford, social activist Allan DiCastro, and philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton, in partnership with the Hammer Museum. Shirking traditional models, A+P combines an artist residency and gallery space with social advocacy and community outreach. Partially sited in Bradford’s former studio (just around the corner from his mother’s old hair salon), A+P will soon occupy the better part of a block, in the heart of Leimert Park, a bucolic model community built in the late 1920s using designs drawn up by the son and brother of Frederick Law Olmsted, the urban planner responsible for New York’s Central and Prospect Parks.

Left: Dealer Karolina Dankow. Right: Artists Ana Prvacki and Sam Durant, A+P founder Allan DiCastro, EsoWon founder James Fugate, and curator Connie Butler. (Except where noted, all photos: Kate Sutton)

“This used to be what we called a ‘walk-through only neighborhood,’ ” recalled artist Dale Brockman Davis, referring to the city’s exclusionary zoning laws that prevented African, Asian, or Latin American families from moving into many of the more desirable middle-class neighborhoods. As these laws were repealed, the area evolved into one of the most affluent African American communities in the country, home to Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as the first (and only) black mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley (who stayed in Leimert Park for the first few years of his record twenty-year term), and filmmaker John Singleton, who inadvertently created the neighborhood’s tagline when he dubbed it “the black Greenwich Village.”

However you prefer to describe it, Leimert Park became a national nexus of black culture, and the Brockman Gallery was at its center. Founded in 1967 by Davis together with his brother Alonzo, the gallery boasted a jaw-dropping roster of talents from John Outterbridge, Romare Bearden, Betye Saar, Jacob Lawrence, and Noah Purifoy to Mildred Howard, Samella Lewis, and Carrie Mae Weems. “We were artists, we didn’t know anything about running a business. We just wanted to be able to show our work, and there wasn’t a place for black artists to do that,” Davis told me. The Brockman Gallery’s legacy figured prominently in the survey “Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980,” which opened at the Hammer as part of the 2011 Pacific Standard Time festival and later traveled to MoMA PS1. “They were the first gallery to give David Hammons a solo show,” curator Jamillah James marveled. “That is a whole life’s worth of achievement in and of itself.”

Left: Studio Museum director Thelma Golden with artist Charles Gaines. Right: LAND's Maryam Hosseinzadeh, Laura Hyatt, and Shamim Momin.

Davis reconnected with Bradford a few years back when they both spoke at the California African American Museum. “I thought to myself, who was that tall, good-looking brother down from me on the panel?” Davis grinned. “Well, turns out, Mark was a kid from the neighborhood who remembered coming to our gallery.” Bradford invited Davis to be one of A+P’s inaugural artists-in-residence. Davis is spending his fourteen-month tenure scanning the Brockman Gallery’s extensive archives, which have spent the last thirty years in storage. A paper printout taped to the wall above one of his scanners reads, “Opportunity is the connection between preparation and timing.”

“Opportunity” might be Art+Practice’s motto. Next door to the artist studios, the complex hosts the RightWay Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at empowering former foster youth in the tricky transition period of eighteen to twenty-five years old, providing everything from counseling to career development. Their involvement began when RightWay placed one of its youth in the A+P office. “Originally Mark called and said he wanted a meeting,” founder Franco O. Vega recalled. “I said, okay, who is Mark Bradford? So I Googled him, and then in five minutes called him back and said ‘I can be there in three hours.’ ”

Left: Artist Malik Gaines and A+P Artist in Residence Dale Brockman Davis. Right: Dealer Susanne Vielmetter and artist Ruben Ochoa.

Now RightWay Foundation youths help staff the A+P’s exhibition space, which has been programmed by James and will feature upcoming solos from Outterbridge and Njideka Akunyili Crosby (one of the knockouts from the New Museum’s recently opened triennial). The gallery launched on February 28 with an exhibition by Charles Gaines, timed to coincide with a larger survey of the artist’s stunning early works currently on view at the Hammer. Titled Librettos, the series at A+P overlaps Manuel de Falla’s 1904 class-driven opera La vida breve (Life is Short) with a 1967 Stokely Carmichael speech briefing the young graduates at Garfield High on mainstream America’s contradictory stances on violence and the inherent dignity of being human.

The night before the opening, A+P’s friends and supporters gathered for a casual dinner at Post & Beam, where museum directors Philippe Vergne, Thelma Golden, and Annie Philbin; dealers Susanne Vielmetter and Sarah Watson; curators Connie Butler, Naima J. Keith, and Allison Agsten; artists Barbara Krueger, Sam Durant, Andrea Bowers, Ruben Ochoa, and Ana Prvacki; collectors Larry Marx, Ari Emanuel, and Heidi and Erik Murkoff; and actor Will Ferrell all gathered around plates of deviled eggs and smoked catfish, served family style. When it was Bradford’s time to speak, he shared a few heartfelt words in tribute to the beloved Leonard Nimoy before turning to Gaines, his former professor at CalArts. “I picked an independent study with Charles because I thought it would be easy,” Bradford confessed. (“I don’t remember that part of the story,” Gaines chuckled later.) “Charles is the next great LA teaching artist,” Durant told me. “You know, you have Baldessari—,” “Michael Asher,” Butler chimed from across the table. “Right,” Durant continued. “Baldessari, Michael Asher, and now Charles Gaines. We just need to get him his own building, like Baldessari.”

Left: Artist Edgar Arceneaux with Underground Resistance's Ray 7. (Photo: André Daughtry). Right: Curator Aram Moshayedi with Maria Hassabi's performance at the Hammer.

Saturday afternoon, it felt like Gaines had an entire neighborhood, as hordes flocked to Leimert Park for A+P’s grand opening. “For the first public program A+P hosted, they had to turn people away,” the Hammer’s Jennifer Green reported proudly. That shouldn’t be a problem once A+P opens its next installment, a two-story building soon to be home to a lecture space and the seminal Eso Won bookstore, which is moving from its current spot across Degnan Boulevard. I spotted Eso Won’s cofounder James Fugate in the crowd alongside the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, and the mayor’s partner, Amy Wakeland. “Everyone’s here,” dealer Michelle Papillion smiled approvingly. Papillion is another new addition to the neighborhood, having moved her gallery into the space beside A+P more than a year ago. Her current exhibition, a solo by London-based Lakwena Maciver, includes a sixteen-foot painting with the sparkling, multicolored slogan JUST PASSING THROUGH, facing out the gallery’s big bay windows.

That evening, as the crowds thinned and the clouds gathered, I dodged the barrage of downtown openings and drove up to Glendale’s Riverside Studios where Los Angeles Nomadic Divison was hosting a special screening of Edgar Arceneaux’s latest film, A Time to Break Silence. Splicing Martin Luther King Jr.’s anti-Vietnam speech (given just two weeks prior to Carmichael’s Garfield address) with a riff on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and shot in an abandoned Detroit church, the film was flanked by smoke machines and visuals from the seminal Detroit techno-collective Underground Resistance. One of UR’s own, Ray 7 was there to provide a live sound track to the film, while DJ Dex was on hand for the afterparty. He had his work cut out for him after a film whose central image was a stark, illustrated cutout of Dr. King, passionate pleading for “a genuine revolution of values” that has yet to materialize fifty years later. “We’ve attempted this screening-to-dance-party transition a few times before, though never too successfully,” Arceneaux admitted. But just as King’s speech ends on a note of hope, the sudden deluge outside kept everyone in long enough for the rhythm to get them. “It’s always the one or two really committed ones that get it started,” Arceneaux grinned. It reminded me of something Thelma Golden had said the night before: “Sometimes it only takes a small conversation to influence a person for a long, long time.” Live long and prosper, Art+Practice.

Left: Will Ferrell with Hammer director Annie Philbin. (Photo: Stephanie Keenan). Right: Dealer Michelle Papillion.

Left: A+P Artist in Residence Sandy Rodriguez. Right: Curators Jamillah James and Allison Agsten.

Left: Artist Claire Tabouret, curator Cecelia Stucker, and Lucy Griffiths. Right: Dealer Sarah Watson and curator Philippe Vergne.