I traveled to Hollywood for The New York Times in 2009 to write about how the city has become the newest destination for emerging contemporary art galleries.
Since its glamorous heyday, Hollywood has become better-known for lingerie stores and head shops, strip clubs and by-the-hour motels. But in the last few years, the flashing neon lights of “Girls Girls Girls” have had to vie for attention with neighbors of a different breed a new collection of contemporary art galleries.
Despite efforts by the city to clean up Hollywood, its still seedy reputation means rents remain low. Frustrated landlords notwithstanding, it’s this abundance of bargains that have lured several emerging galleries to set up and slowly carve out the beginnings of a new art center in Los Angeles.
“This place is full of colorful characters,” said Michael Benevento, owner of the three-year-old Michael Benevento Gallery (7578 Sunset Boulevard; 323-874-6400; www.beneventolosangeles.com), among the first on the Sunset Strip. Mr. Benevento, who also has a gallery in New York City, was prompted to rent his 1,000-square-foot space because of its affordability and the presence of a nearby auction house. But he was also clearly lured by the Hollywood vibe. “The area is very rock ’n’ roll,” he said.
“This was a brothel,” he said, referring to his gallery’s previous occupant. “I could tell because there were about 25 rooms right next to each other, each of which probably had space enough for a single bed.”
Mr. Benevento’s decision to line his facade with reflective panels has made him a popular pit stop with local streetwalkers, some of whom use the mirrors to fix their makeup. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be an art project itself,’ ” he said. “It’s pretty great.”
Just down the block, Khastoo (7556 Sunset Boulevard; 323-472-6498; www.khastoo.com), a gallery opened late last year by Leila Khastoo, a 27-year-old Los Angeles native, features up-and-coming artists, many of them based in Tehran (Ms. Khastoo is herself of Iranian descent).
Like Mr. Benevento, Ms. Khastoo was attracted by the area’s rock ’n’ roll character. “I was always into music,” she said, “so I spent most of my teenage years on Sunset Boulevard.”
Continue down Sunset and you’ll find the monochromatic exterior of the Overduin and Kite gallery (6693 Sunset Boulevard; 323-464-3600; www.overduinandkite.com). Selecting Hollywood over the gallery-lined streets of Chinatown or Bergamot Station in Santa Monica was seen as a strategic choice for Lisa Overduin, the gallery’s co-owner. “We chose our space on Sunset Boulevard because we did not want to be near any other galleries,” Ms. Overduin said. Known for its ambitious slate of mixed-media projects, this two-year-old operation has quickly positioned itself as one of this city’s most promising spots for art.
Three blocks south of Sunset is the Circus Gallery (7065 Lexington Avenue; 323-962-8506; www.circus-gallery.com). Before becoming a place for contemporary art in 2007, the gray cinderblock structure was home to the headquarters of Casablanca Records and, after that, a pornography distribution warehouse.
John Knuth, the spot’s 31-year-old director, sees Hollywood as a potential art mecca. “It is sort of this blank space that is still affordable,” he said. “We are forging our own stand-alone history here. It’s manifest destiny.”