Exploring The Los Angeles Art Haven In The Heart Of Chinatown


Between the arts district, MOCA’s two locations, and The Broad, downtown Los Angeles is a must-visit for art-lovers. Hidden from the main streets and these famous locations are a smattering of some of LA’s best galleries, including a robust art scene in Chinatown. At the heart of this historic district is Chung King Road, which is right off Hill Street. “Road” is a misleading name; it’s a small pedestrian path tucked behind restaurants and crowded alleyways and lined with paper lanterns. The Chinatown area is known for a somewhat kitschy style, whose stores sell inexpensive antiques and Asian wares.  It saw a decline in the 90’s, and at the turn of the century a few galleries took advantage of cheap rents along the mostly empty storefronts of the inconspicuous Chung King Road.

Downtown was slowly revitalized into a hip destination in the mid aughts, and Chinatown enjoyed something of a rebirth despite the fact that it had barely changed at all. The distinctive pagoda of (the sadly now closed) Hop Louie still stands. Foo-Chow advertised that it appeared in the 1998 film Rush Hour well into the 21st century. The same wishing wells and shops largely stand where they always had. Except now among the nostalgic splendor there are a handful of the best galleries the city has to offer. While the summer season for art is usually slow, several well curated group and solo shows were on display along Chung King Road.  One one end is Coagula Curatorial, a simple one room space with an old checkerboard floor. Converted from a shop, the gallery still sells beer out of a fridge as it once did. The space was launched by Matt Gleason, whose magazine Coagula Art Journal championed the Los Angeles art scene before it was fashionable to do so. Their most recent exhibit just wrapped up, featuring a solo show by Peter Hess. Through intricate acrylic works of wooden structures, Hess explores the significance of  “once-living things, extinguished and pressed into a second life of utilitarian service. While alive, they sustain and engage us. Turned to timber, they frame our lives from cradle to coffin.” The pieces are most impressive for the mesmerizing detail of the unique grooves and textures of wood.

Peter Hess’ artworks at Coagula

Across from Coagula is the more politically minded Charlie James Gallery, which is about to wrap up group show “black is a color.” The exhibit sought to explore the relationship between blackness as a racial concept and the idea of color itself. Opposing the entrance was Lauren Halsey’s The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project: Tower 1: 20 of 1356. Halsey’s piece is a selection from a larger planned series of carved blocks similar to hieroglyphics, which depict and celebrate black culture. Adjacent to her work was Adee Roberson’s colorful Got to Keep Hanging On, creating a juxtaposition between the white-on-white of Halsey’s piece and the vibrancy of Robersons’. Above the door is a neon sign reading “Black Owned,” created by Patrick Martinez. Down a foreboding staircase at the back of the gallery was Wax Chromatic, an interactive installation by Alexander Reben. The visitor speaks the name of a color into a microphone, and the entire room is lit that color within a few seconds. Reben uses color as a powerful immersive tool like Ellsworth Kelly or Mark Rothko, taking those artists’ experiments to a logical extreme by having the viewer fully bathed in color. While Reben’s installation is separate from “black is a color” the two exhibits complement each other in their exploration of the relationships between color and outside forces, in this case race and technology.

Pieces at the Good Luck Gallery

In the middle of Chung King Road is The Good Luck Gallery, a space equally admirable in its curation as it is for its mission: promote artists who are self taught or work outside the traditional confines of the art world. Until August 26 the gallery is displaying “Summery Appeal,” a group show from various Progressive Art Studios. These studios are a creative outlet for talented artists with developmental disabilities. “Summery Appeal” features dozens of colorful pieces tightly arranged around the gallery walls, creating a bright welcoming environment. The Good Luck Gallery will be featuring the surreal art of Cathy Ward beginning on September 2nd. That same day, The Charlie James Gallery will open “On Going Home,” a group show exploring the complex cultural nature of “the intertwined relationship of origin, memory and place.” Coming up this Friday, August 18th, Coagula will open “The OJ Simpson Museum.” The exhibit examines a pivotal moment in cultural consciousness through artifacts like sports memorabilia, “Free O.J.” t-shirts, and similar mementos.  





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