A few months behind the times as usual, I discovered the (relatively!) new location for the Samuel Freeman Gallery only last Saturday. Ellie and I, unusually in town for the weekend, had decided on a gallery day in the Culver City area, and Sam Freeman was our first stop. After a number of years at Bergamot, in a spot passed on to him by the legendary Patty Faure, this gallery dealer--I have never taken to the fashionable term "gallerist"--made the move in order to establish a presence in the current epicenter of gallery activity in the Los Angeles area.
Purchasing a run-down 1950s law office on La Cienega, Freeman brought in Warren Wagner of W3 Architects to design a space that would be at once welcoming to visitors and fine viewing space for art. The gallery-going experience can be quite alienating, even for those of us who make a habit of it. You know what I mean: you walk in past the reception desk with barely a curt nod from the immaculately clad young woman who sits behind it, and find yourself in the familiar, sterile white cube where art reigns supreme and the viewer feels like, well... the intruder. Given that, aside from openings or Saturday afternoons, you rarely encounter any other living soul, these spaces echo hollowly with the sound of your footsteps and leave you feeling cold and, quite possibly, intimidated.
But art, in my personal understanding, has to do with more than our aesthetic eye and our cold, intellectual perception. It has to do with our humanity. At Freeman's behest, Wagner designed an environment that invites the viewer in and leads him through the spaces in a leisurely and comfortable way. The small central courtyard, open to the California sky, suffuses the space on every side with ambient light. The galleries, with their generous but not outrageously proportioned space, are partially lit by long, north- and south-facing skylights, and overhead vents allow for the pleasant, almost imperceptible circulation of natural air. The crisply designed office areas are at once accessible and business-like, and what in in gallery-speak is (used to be?) referred to as "the closing room"--where the privileged, well-heeled client is brought to view and finalize the deal on an expensive art work--is here a comfortable dining room with elegant furniture and a small, well-equipped kitchen attached.
It's an appealing space, where human scale architecture is matched by friendly reception and, this past Saturday, enhanced by an exhibition characterized by modest means, a very human whimsy, and at the same time an entirely unique presence: Blue McRight, the artist, has made sculptural objects of varying size from such commonplace materials as garden hoses, nozzles and sprinkler heads, bound tightly together with black tape and string to evoke both real (squirrel, rat...) and imaginary creatures of her own devising, or simply as pleasingly weird and idiosyncratic abstract compositions, draped against walls or across pedestals and gallery floors. It's what I take the words "amusing" and "artful" to have meant before their meaning changed. A delightful show.
But this is not an art review. This is in praise of a gallery space that dares to challenge the conventional by being as respectful of the viewer as it is of the art it shows. Ellie and I were delighted to be recognized, to be introduced to the gallery's (relatively!) new director/curator, Amy Thoner, and to spend some pleasant time in the dining room with Sam, regaled with a cup of cappuccino, some home-made bread... and a bit of art world gossip. All gallery experiences should be so user-friendly!