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Remapping the Local Art Scene : Galleries: Dealers are retrenching and downsizing to cope with financial realities, but they are also forming new alliances and moving to different locations.

March 09, 1994|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

"Musical chairs is part of the creative energy in the art community," says veteran photography dealer G. Ray Hawkins. If so, Southern California's ever-changing art gallery scene is not as depressed as it may appear--it may be in the process of rejuvenation.

From West Hollywood to Santa Monica, art dealers are on the move--retrenching and downsizing to cope with financial realities of the 1990s, but also forming new alliances and hanging their shingles on different spaces.

Indeed, the current upheaval--including plans for a major new gallery complex in Santa Monica, the addition of New York powerhouse Pace/Wildenstein and the loss of the venerable James Corcoran Gallery--will require a new map of the region's commercial artistic showcases.

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The gallery complex is pending final approval of the Santa Monica City Council, which is expected in about 10 days, according to Howard Robinson, Santa Monica's real estate manager. It will be called Bergamot Station, after a Red Car trolley station that once occupied the property at 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard, just south of the Water Garden complex. The development will occupy a 5.5-acre, city-owned site.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 10, 1994 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 5 Column 3 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Art dealer-- An article on the Southern California art gallery scene in Wednesday's Calendar omitted the fact that Sandra Starr, former director of the defunct James Corcoran Gallery, is going into business as a private dealer as well as an independent curator.

Wayne and Shoshana Blank, owners of the Shoshana Wayne Gallery, plan to turn five industrial buildings on the site into a cultural complex, including art galleries, architects' offices, nonprofit enterprises and a cafe. The couple are closing their downtown Santa Monica gallery at the end of the month in preparation for their move to Bergamot Station.

Several other well-established art and photography dealers have confirmed plans to join the project, including Burnett Miller, Patricia Faure and Craig Krull of West Hollywood, Peter Fetterman of Santa Monica and Dorothy Goldeen, who recently moved from Santa Monica to temporary quarters in Marina del Rey.

(Miller closed his La Brea Avenue gallery after suffering earthquake damage. Rent increases have forced Faure to close Asher/Faure on Almont Avenue. Krull is striking out on his own after a six-year association with dealer Jan Turner at Turner/Krull Gallery on Melrose Avenue.)

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Among other dealers planning to join the project are Ernie Wolfe, who specializes in African art, and collector Tom Patchett, who will launch a showcase for glass art. Hawkins says he will stay on Colorado Avenue, where he has a lease, but he is considering opening a smaller space in the new development. Blank is having discussions about relocating with dance and theater groups as well. Bob Barkume, who operates Cafe Bene at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, will own and operate Gallery Cafe at Bergamot Station, Blank said.

The site--which in recent years has been used for the manufacture of water heaters--offers a collegial community, security, easy freeway access, proximity to Westside collectors and plenty of parking. "What's good about it is that it doesn't have the look of a mall," Faure said. "It's industrial and more serious."

The major draw is low rent, however. At 75 cents a square foot, the rent is about half the price many dealers are paying at other locations. "I'd rather spend money on people than rent," said Faure, who has reduced her staff as her rent has risen and the art market has languished.

"We're selling art at 1983 prices and paying 1989 rent. We just can't do it," Wayne Blank said of Southern California dealers. "Lower rents will give us a big boost, but that isn't the only issue. We want to put some energy back into the scene."

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The project comes with risks, however, including a lack of leases. The city of Santa Monica purchased the property in 1984 for rail-related use that has not developed. Bergamot Station will be rented on a month-to-month basis because city officials want to retain "flexibility" in their use of the site, Robinson said. But the arts complex could only be displaced by a transportation-related project, he said, and no such project is in the works.

Blank said he wouldn't be pouring his own resources into the development if he didn't believe it has a future. Pointing to the city's active arts commission and his own relationship with the city--established earlier when he transformed a vacant hangar at the Santa Monica Airport into artists' studios--he said the development reaffirms Santa Monica's commitment to the arts.

If the project proceeds as expected, construction will begin on April 1, some galleries will open in the summer and inaugural festivities will be held in the fall, Blank said.

Another important new destination for the art crowd will likely be a West Coast branch of Pace/Wildenstein. The gallery was formed last October when Wildenstein & Co., one of the world's largest dealers of Impressionist and Old Master paintings, acquired a 49% interest in Pace Gallery, a leading dealer in contemporary art. A gallery spokeswoman confirmed Pace/Wildenstein's intention to launch a gallery in Los Angeles but declined to comment on the probable location or opening date.

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