Three alphorn players stood at the front of a long room in downtown Los Angeles on Friday night, wearing tuxedos and holding their long wooden contraptions. “A very old, beautiful instrument,” dealer Iwan Wirth said to a crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, the newest outpost of the gallery that Wirth, his wife, Manuela, and his mother-in-law, Ursula Hauser, founded in Zurich in 1992. “They’re from Basel,” Wirth said of the musicians. He had flown them in to add something decidedly Swiss to his gallery’s L.A. debut.
The dinner, part of a weeklong series of openings and gatherings, took place in an unmarked warehouse-turned-restaurant a few blocks from the new gallery. The event had a smooth elegance that felt much more European than L.A. art events usually do. The expense seemed natural and beside the point, whereas, in L.A., largely a new-money town, the energy tends to be perpetually aspirational. In the two years since Hauser & Wirth began work on its 116,000-square-foot downtown complex here, that’s been a looming question: how will such a prominent international presence change the tenor of L.A.’s scene?
Hauser & Wirth has six other locations, including a large compound in Somerset, England. But it has always been a “California gallery in its spirit,” Wirth told members of the press last Thursday morning, as he stood on a winding staircase a few feet away from a suite of Louise Bourgeois sculptures. He explained that some of the gallery’s first artists—among them Diana Thater and Mike Kelley—were based here, before handing the microphone over to Paul Schimmel, the new gallery’s partner and vice president and the former chief curator at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
“I’m proud to be opening the first art center in the Arts District,” announced Schimmel, which seemed to imply the many other smaller art spaces in this neighborhood, known as the Arts District since the 1980s, don’t quite count as “centers.” Nor, perhaps, does MOCA’s Geffen building, only a few blocks away but technically in Little Tokyo. “I’m certain that people will call [Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel] a home away from home,” Schimmel continued. The gallery has a public courtyard, a bookshop, and, starting in the summer, it will also have restaurant (named Manuela, after Manuela Wirth). Breezeways are wide and digital signs point the way to different sections of the gallery, so visitors won’t get lost while navigating the former flour-mill, which is twice the size of the New Museum in New York and barely smaller than the freshly-opened Broad Museum a mile away.
Schimmel and art historian Jenni Sorkin co-curated the debut exhibition. Called “Revolution in the Making,” the show features sculpture by only women, made between 1947 and 2016. Its scope recalls the sprawling exhibitions Schimmel became known for during his years at MOCA (e.g., “Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974–1981”), and, like so many of those shows, it has a revisionist agenda: to insert more women into the story of postwar abstract sculpture.
The first room, gorgeously sunlit with white columns and a balcony, holds sculptures by icons Louise Bourgeois, Louise Nevelson, Ruth Asawa, and Lee Bontecou. Most but not all of these works are on loan from private collections or museums. A select few, like a welded steel box by Bontecou with a yawning, sooty opening, are for sale. Across the courtyard, in a bigger series of white-walled, rectangular rooms, Yayoi Kusama’s gray line of phallic nubs (A Snake, 1974) runs along the floor near Eat Meat (1969–1975), an oozy aluminum mound by Lynda Benglis. Senga Nengudi’s nylon-mesh sculpture R.S.V.P. Reverie-O (2015) stretches out from a corner held taut by magnets and sand bags. A group of concrete boxes on tall steel stands that Isa Genzken made in the 1980s shares space with cement and metal assemblages by Cristina Iglesias. This tendency to pair work based on shared use of material or other formal concerns recurs throughout the show, creating a sense of aesthetic unity that glosses over certain artist’s conceptual edges. It’s almost too easy to think of Nengudi’s work, for instance, as formally appealing without actually considering its reference to a contorted, confined body.
The day of the public opening, the galleries overflowed only minutes after the doors opened. Some visitors were in awe of the work and the space, there simply out of curiosity. Others, many of them artists and curators, unpacked the various complexities. Would a museum curator ever allow so much work to be paired for formal reasons? One dealer said that she didn’t mind seeing the work mainly for its beauty; the installation coincided with her aesthetic sensibility. Leila Hamidi, an arts administrator and artist, spent a few hours sitting at the coffee shop across the street with her friend, musician Tim Phillips, watching the crowds and wondering whether it blurred the boundaries between museum and commercial enterprise.
Eventually, the two of them headed a block down, through a propped-open metal door and up four flights of stairs, to a loft where a very different kind of opening reception was unfolding. The loft belongs to painter Henry Taylor, who has lived and worked around downtown for decades and shows with Blum & Poe. He’s turned his apartment into a by-appointment art space called Henry Taylor’s.
“I may have said I wanted to start something,” said Taylor, when asked if he’d thought about opening an artist-run space for a while. “But sometimes things happen spontaneously.” The recent death of his friend Noah Davis, the artist who founded the community-oriented Underground Museum, had motivated him to do something like this. Rents around the industrial part of downtown L.A. had begun to rise, in part because of ventures like Hauser & Wirth. Even his rent jumped, and leasing a gallery space became untenable. “So I decided to flip it,” he said.
Because he wanted to open the same day as Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, but only began planning in February, it made sense to start with a small show of his own work. He asked Yael Lipschutz, who recently co-curated the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Noah Purifoy exhibition, and her brother, artist-writer Mike Lipschutz, to organize the show. They were in Taylor’s studio one afternoon, rifling around as the artist cleaned, when they came across a folder of drawings Taylor made in the early 1990s, when he was in his late 20s. Back then, he worked as a psychiatric assistant at Camarillo State Hospital, where Charlie Parker detoxed from his heroin addiction. Taylor had sketched patients on a daily basis, and had also done a few paintings of these subjects. None of them had been shown. One painting, a crowded scene with a bald patient in bulky briefs at its center, had been burned in a house fire, though its raggedness looks intentional. In another, a cop’s legs loom large over a rendering of the hospital.
“When you hang out with Henry, he tells you stories about all these people he knew [at Camarillo]. This one woman used to call him Bill,” said Mike, standing in front of a group of framed sketches.
“She thought Henry drove a low-rider,” added Yael. “This is work he was making before he was really determined to become a professional painter. There are a lot of missing parts.”
“He was always making drawings and leaving some of them,” said Mike, pointing to a portrait of a man, with an only partly drawn torso. “Like, who knows what happened here.” In his recent 2013 show at Blum & Poe’s L.A. space, certain of his figures, depicted in overalls or on farms, had obscured features or half-finished faces. “He does it for different reasons now, but the missing parts have become Henry’s style,” Mike continued.
“It’s a very personal body of work in a very personal space,” said Yael. Across the room, the Lipschutz siblings’ parents were sitting on the couch with Yael’s two small sons. Some of Taylor’s friends were there too, snacking and chatting. The painter had just slipped out to show a friend his studio in nearby Chinatown. Schimmel wants his gallery to become a “home away from home”; Taylor had opened the doors of his own home for anyone who wanted to see it.
Click the slide show below for additional views of the “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947–2016” exhibition, open through September 4 at the new Hauser Wirth & Schimmel in Los Angeles.