We watch the gutting and remodeling of this industrial block for months. Located just outside the BB DAKOTA Marketing Office near 2nd Street and Vignes in downtown Los Angeles, we have a front-row seat to the dust and noise. The makeover of this mammoth former-flour factory is just another sign of the times for the rapidly gentrifying downtown Arts District. What will replace this one-block plot? Probably more stupid expensive gift stores with artisanal found-rock paperweights and whip-stitched leather cell phone covers. We share a collective sigh and lament the doom of our favorite dreamy mural on the building’s exterior.
From the nearby coffee shop we watch as years of old paint, LA smog and DTLA flotsum (let your imagination soar) are pressure-blasted off the façade to reveal a gleaming turn-of-the-century building. The space, it turns out, will house a new feminist art gallery by Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. Did not see that coming. No small name in the art world and a stone’s throw from our office – this is our unexpected jam.
We email their PR office, pleading (in a cool way) to be invited to the private brunch press opening; to be the first after several months of din and dust to see this new space. We are a feminist clothing brand! Let us in! We assumed dealing with the limited construction parking alone would garner a golden ticket to the new site. Alas, we’re not cool enough. Rude. We resolve to sneak in like little feminist groupies.
As a woman who has snuck her way into many an event, I can impart that the best way to do this is to emphatically insist you belong there. Like as blue as the sky is blue, that’s how much your name is already on that list….besides it’s just a brunch. We walk up and say we are with BB DAKOTA and we RSVP’d. “Our name isn’t on the list? That’s strange! I’m sure we were confirmed.” After handing over our very official looking business cards somehow they let our big sunglasses in.
Through the impressive South Gallery, the entry opens up to ironically enough, a soaring glass ceiling. Irony aside, it’s beautiful like a gothic church made of art’s white walls. The immaculate space is a bright backdrop for the Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women: 1947 – 2016 retrospective. Ruth Asawa’s floating wire shapes are the stars, hanging like groovy Jetson lanterns at the end of the hall. The height of the room’s interior is punctuated by her tallest piece and all of a sudden it’s pretty exciting that this is an all-female show.
A typically cool and monochromatic Louise Nevelson sculpture adds weight in the opposing corner while a steel and wood forest of Louise Bourgeois soldiers look pleased on their custom curvy island pedestal. Signs of the old flour mill are evident everywhere: the initials of the company in the iron work and medallions of a globe with stalks of flour. The mix of the old and new is appropriate touch on this block.
A quick tour of the campus starts and we learn that the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 shuttled male high school students into shop class while females were sent to home-economics, leaving women without the skills to sculpt in wood or metal like their male counterparts. Women also struggled to secure large studio spaces and as a result their sculptures tend to be smaller in size to accommodate the limits of the domestic environments where their work was crafted. Fortunately, larger scale works throughout the rest of the campus overcome these historical limitations leading to impressive scale throughout.
Brunch is served in the newly plein-air courtyard (the roof removed to create the open space) in the shadow of Jackie Windor’s massive 30 to 1 Bound Trees (1971-72). The organic process-piece is made up of 31 birch trees bunched into a bouquet is like a skyscraper of – well trees and this new interruption to the urban skyscape gives the piece another meaning in this industrial setting. The bold totem is like a spooky Blair Witch Project artifact reminding you of the world outside this cement jungle or simply a monument to what once was — either flour factory or California ranch land.
But back to brunch. BBD babes don’t blanch at brunch. Cutest wittle avocado toasts ever.
We’re onward to the East Gallery that offers some colorful relief to the austere abstract modern pieces. Phyllida Barlow’s soaring wood and fabric sculptures are a playground of vibrant color and texture. The soft orbs are balanced by a precarious-looking pick-up-sticks scaffold, this would be the room to remind kids not to touch because LOOK! CATS! Lara Schnitger’s 2016 piece Notorious Five (2016) features the big-eyed felines peering out from furry lace sacks. Yes, a feminist show for sure.
Outside Shinique Smith’s Forgiving Strands is sure to win the most-instagrammed prize if feminist art-goers still Instagram? The original and rough breezeway to 2nd street is adorned in contrasting textures of soft pillow-like fabrics.
The North Galleries host quieter more meditative works. There you’ll find elegant kinetic sculptures that move only if you’re paying attention. Mira Schendel’s Little Train (1965) is made of 115 sheets of delicate rice paper suspended from a single cotton thread. Watching the sheets exhale under the gallery’s AC system is the quietest my mind has been since hour seven at Wi Spa. Gego’s stainless steel wire sculptures hang like silent gallery snowflakes; their light filaments another relief to pace of city life. Finally, Eva Hesse’s Augment (1968) lays there like a Gudetama egg. This is the gallery for me.
The complex is open as of March 13th, 2016 but some of the best stuff is yet to come. There will be a public garden for BBD babes to take a break in — insanely needed on this block, a soul food inspired farm-to-table restaurant called Manuela (coming in Summer 16), an herb and vegetable garden that will feed the new restaurant and a large courtyard for outdoor works.
Hauser Wirth and Schimmel set out to integrate art into everyday life by building the indoor/outdoor complex where people pass through everyday and as neighbors and we couldn’t be more delighted. Make sure to check out this latest win for Downtown Los Angeles.