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HYPERALLERGIC: 80 LA Galleries Band Together In an Effort to Survive the Pandemic

LOS ANGELES — In late April, Carolina Miranda of the Los Angeles Times shared a dire forecast for the gallery scene in Los Angeles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of the 35 galleries she interviewed, a quarter said they would need to shutter this year if the situation did not improve. We’re seeing similar patterns elsewhere in the country, as galleries close and sales plummet across the board.

To help mitigate losses in Los Angeles, gallerist Jeffrey Deitch came up with a promising proposition to create a “gallery association.” Called galleryplatform.la, the initiative initially began as a collective of 60 galleries but has since grown to 80. Starting Friday, May 15, 10 galleries will exhibit work on the website at any one time, giving them the opportunity to generate online sales. When businesses begin to reopen, the initiative will take new shape to foster continued collaboration in the LA gallery scene, including “joint programming, gallery maps and itineraries.”

“Collaboration is nothing new to LA,” noted participating gallerist Luis De Jesus in an email to Hyperallergic. Los Angeles does seem to have this reputation. I was reminded of two years ago when the Los Angeles Art Book Fair was suddenly canceled, and galleries, independent publishers, and others in the local art scene scrambled to organize an alternative fair (sadly, and unsurprisingly, the LA Art Book Fair was canceled yet again this year).

Participants of galleryplatform.la are a mix of blue-chip and smaller spaces, from Hauser & Wirth and Gagosian to Five Car Garage and Various Small Fires. This mix was purposeful — the idea being that bigger galleries with larger email lists can share resources with the smaller, scrappier ones.

Galleries are seeing this project as an opportunity to pursue new ideas and directions. Luis De Jesus, for example, is “really excited to use it as an alternative space where we can do one-off projects with artists that we don’t represent.” The gallery Susanne Vielmetter said, “we are aiming to promote some of our younger LA-based artists to help keep the focus on supporting our local art scene.” Other galleries, like Shulamit Nazarian, plan to showcase artists who had exhibitions canceled or postponed due to COVID-19.

In addition to its online viewing rooms, the galleryplatform.la website will spotlight curators’ projects. Curator Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer will inaugurate this section by sharing the work of around 40 artists who explore the timely theme of “biomorphic, cellular, and viral forms.” Galleryplatform.la will also periodically showcase three video profiles on an artist, a collector, and a gallerist. The first batch of subjects is based in Los Angeles.

You’ll get to hear from Demetrio Kerrison, who, together with his wife Gianna Kerrison, is a prominent collector of under-recognized artists of color. As Demetrio Kerrison told Hyperallergic in a 2017 interview, “Although the voice of collectors of color begins to emerge, our voice is still muted in the institutional system.”

The artist Christina Quarles, who recently joined the roster of Regen Projects, will also be featured. It should be interesting to hear from Quarles, who paints the human body in surreal domestic settings, speak about her work from her own home and studio.

Finally, the third video interviews two partners of the Koreatown-based gallery Commonwealth and Council, Young Chung and Kibum Kim. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to hear a frank, firsthand account of what it’s like to run a gallery during the pandemic.

While the Los Angeles gallery scene only really exploded over the past couple of decades, it has a long history. Galleryplatform is planning to run an ongoing column “on a historical subject pertaining to LA galleries.” Jonathan Griffin will pen the first article, focused on the Copley Galleries, which ran in Beverly Hills for just six months between 1948 and 1949. As Griffin has written before for East of Borneo, this short-lived gallery was “the inadvertent seed of one of the most important collections of Surrealist art in the United States.”

Galleryplatform.la is certainly ambitious, and shows a strong resolve to keep the Los Angeles gallery scene alive and well. Online sales have yet to bring as much revenue as in-person ones, but some gallerists are already seeing benefits of working with the internet.

“There is value in convincing cultural gatekeepers that there is more to internet-based platforms promoting art than simply conjuring mirages of wealth out of websites,” said Camille Weiner, director of Roberts Projects. “By expanding access to art, you engage with new audiences, oftentimes immediately and across large numbers. Different audiences and engagements: what’s not to love? Digital platforms are a valid medium for experiencing work.”

Luis De Jesus also added that “this period has been a welcome respite from the hectic, nonstop schedule of back-to-back gallery shows and art fairs. It’s given me time to think about the business — what’s working and what isn’t.”

It remains to be seen what the way forward will look like, but if it means galleries being more collaborative, it might be more interesting for both art goers and gallerists alike.

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