A few weeks ago, after navigating clones of cubicles and browsing gallery brands at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair at the Barker Hangar, Arely and I ventured down the dark southern exposure of downtown to the opening of a highly anticipated after-hours….behold the new home of Night Gallery: a 6,200 square foot warehouse remastered by art space visionaire, and of Matthew Marks notoriety, architect Peter Zellner. Acrylic window treatments by artist Yunhee Min colorize the subtle grays of the building’s unmarked, square façade. An eclectic crowd and a few swarms of loafer-clad Bergamot gallery-goers indicate we have arrived to toast the face that is the new Night Gallery.
A giant shadow of it’s former self, previously a three-room black-walled former party-store in a Lincoln Heights strip mall, the new Night Gallery opens into a giant fortress of accented beige. High beamed ceilings flocked with skylights allude this is a space designed for daytime viewing. In fact, Night Gallery will no longer model their opening hours to draw the creatures of the night. Formerly only opened Tuesdays through Saturdays 10PM-2AM, the gallery has adopted a more generic 12-7PM schedule with their relocation. This news and a stellar article by Carol Cheh leave me fearing the same: has Night Gallery grown up?
Night Gallery’s opt to abandon their namesake nocturnal schedule in favor or a more pedestrian friendly day operation is disappointing. But I am hopeful. Maybe this will inspire other venues to experiment in the social scheduling sphere–extending occasions for creative types to cultivate in the dark wee hours of the night, convening for art and not just booze or underground electro beats (though I am a fan of both alternatives).
What is most promising about the new Night Gallery is the women behind the space, Davida Nemeroff and Mieke Marple. Nemeroff founded the original space shortly after arriving to Los Angeles in 2010, Marple joining her in 2011, with the duo announcing their decision to turn the gallery into a commercial venture thereafter. Together, they share an ambitious vision for Night Gallery’s future programming and spatial expansion: a four-phase plan literally moves the gallery outside-of-the-box template into a series of buildings-within-a-building structures. Phase two, to follow, will erect a spatial replica of the former Lincoln Heights space within the new gallery; while phase three and four foretell construction of a chapel out of felt and perhaps even amass to creating social theatrical amenities like bleachers for hosting lectures, screenings, and symposiums.
Building spaces and creating new experiences within an architectural and institutional space. That is what captivates me in hearing the future plans for Night Gallery and inspire questioning how the art gallery setting can hope to model itself in the future. How do art spaces construct the visibilities of our individual and collective experience with art? How do they address us physically? How do we encounter the temporal as a condition of the spatial?
On view now in phase one is a minimal selection of work by LA artist Sean Townley. The inaugural exhibition “The Mocking Hand” is [un]fortunately dwarfed and secondary to the architectural sublimity of the new gallery itself. The behemoth of space in the main exhibition area alone presents the flexibility to experiment with scale, media, and relationships. “The Mocking Hand” does little to activate the scene. Instead, I dream of audio-visual landscapes and immersive pieces, works inviting me to the clean concrete floor, demanding me to stay and wait. After a day at the art fair and catching an enlightening performance by Scott Benzel, I crave something a little less 2-dimensional–a total sensory experience or experiment rather than a heightened awareness of my place as viewer among these assorted, familiar, and similar forms.
Perhaps the most interesting sculpture on display is in the smaller gallery adjacent to the main exhibition area. A heavy stone mass with a brain-like protrusion is cut-out to reveal a hollow abyss beneath–I feel like I am peeking into an expensive drain or gutter as I examine what’s beneath. Majestically lit from above, the rectangular block appears monumental and central to the subtle asymmetry of this smaller gallery.
Wandering out back into the airy space, closed doors and bare desks indicate storage and office spaces along the perimeter–the latter forming walls to enclose another space-within-a-space deemed the “private lounge area.” Drenched in saturated blue and red lighting, the Dario Argento-esque aesthetic coupled with the [full] bottles of booze, plush sofa, and aroma of Palo Santo draw me to wallow in this refreshingly dark, windowless cave. It’s actually the only room reminiscent of the former Night Gallery–almost a homage to the original, compact and dimly lit lounge. Nostalgia for the past subsides quickly, however, as I am aware there is something brewing here in this pristine new space that is much, much, bigger. With some carefully curated finesse, and some risk-taking programs honoring it’s past as “an artist run space, for artists, by artists,” Night Gallery has the capacity to serve as a catalyst for a new generation of unorthodox art spaces and sites for institutional critique.