Over the course of the past year, I’ve had the privilege of attending the press previews of three remarkable public institutions devoted to modern and contemporary art. In May, the new Whitney Museum building opened on Gansevoort Street in lower Manhattan. In September, The Broad was inaugurated in downtown L.A. Today, the new campus of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, located near the Los Angeles River in downtown L.A., offered the press its first view. Wait, you may well say, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is not a public institution, but a commercial, for-profit gallery, yet another outlet of the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth with locations in Zurich, London, New York, Somerset (England) and now Los Angeles. However, it is an art center with a difference, one that stands as a model for a new type of gallery whose mission is transformative.
The Hauser Wirth & Schimmel campus offers accessible public space and intends to become part of the community. It comprises a large courtyard, a garden and a breezeway that connects two major neighborhood streets, as well as a restaurant, bookstore and “book lab” (library space), all on street level and open to all. At the same time, under the stewardship of Partner and Vice-President Paul Schimmel, a former museum curator (MOCA LA and elsewhere) who has spent his career rethinking art history, the gallery will not only present curated, museum-quality shows accompanied by scholarly tomes, but will be a center of learning that aims to make contemporary art accessible. A dedicated space for education (an “education loft”) and an education director are part of the grand design.
The physical design of the gallery’s numerous spaces is varied and wonderful, ranging from the elegant, two-story, old world South Gallery to the extended series of white cubes that comprise the two spaces belonging to the North Galleries to the raw, unfinished qualities of the East Gallery. The space as a whole is enormous; lofty wood-beamed ceilings and skylights abound. The 116,000- square-foot flour mill and food manufacturing plant that once occupied the property was adapted and repurposed by Creative Space, Los Angeles, in consultation with the celebrated gallery designer Annabelle Selldorf of Selldorf Architects, New York.
The exhibition that opens the space–Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016, organized by Paul Schimmel and UC, Santa Barbara, art history professor Jenni Sorkin–magnificently epitomizes the gallery’s desire to educate while cerebrally reexamining art of the recent past and present. It is a groundbreaking show that elucidates the achievements and contributions of women to the art of sculpture on an international scale over the past seven decades. In one fell swoop it renders obsolete art historical texts that do not take the work of these artists into account. I will write further about this exhibition at another time, but want to point out that the work is stunningly installed, grouped according to chronology as well as to related sensibilities and materials. Much of the work is borrowed from museums and private collections. Several pieces are brand new, dating to this year, and a few were commissioned for the show. Among the loans is a monumental piece
by Magdalena Abakanowicz that came from the National Museum in Wroclaw (Poland), testifying to the fact that no expense was spared in realizing the curators’ vision for the show. The exhibition consisted of work by well-known artists as well as by several unfamiliar to me that I was delighted to encounter (among them the late Swiss artist Heidi Bucher, the Madrid-based Christina Iglesias and Lara Schnitger, who works both in Amsterdam and L.A.)
By coincidence, I went from Hauser Wirth & Schimmel to a meeting at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions) in Hollywood, which has on view a retrospective exhibition of 400 Gallery Tally artist-designed posters. A collaborative project initiated by Micol Hebron in 2013, these are posters for the world’s leading contemporary art galleries, which present data (in Guerrilla Girl fashion) pertaining to each gallery’s radical underrepresentation of women artists. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel offers an exception to the rule. Revolution in the making, at long last!