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UNGALLERY

They like to party arty

August 21, 2003|Andrew Asch | Special to The Times

DJ Mark Ronson slaps a James Brown record on his turntables. A statuesque brunet wearing a camouflage-print dress shimmies to the thump of a sound system, a glass of Red Bull and vodka in her left hand.

Somebody should shush them. Don't they know you're not supposed to act this way at an art opening?

Those rules did not apply at last week's debut of the new Hollywood gallery One Eye: Space. The crowd surrounding Ronson and the dancer energetically schmoozed as if they were at a nightclub. And that was just fine with novice gallery owners Sara Lee and Stuart Knight. Mixing nightclub sass with high culture is part of their blueprint to shake up the art world.

"Art openings are about bad white wine. Maybe there's a dodgy cocktail band playing in the back and people are searching around for their next big art investment," said the London-born Knight, 33. "The art establishment doesn't understand that they're out of touch and that they don't know what's going on on the streets or how to present art."

Street culture and having fun happen to be the business of Knight and Lee, 30. Their day job is running the lifestyle marketing and events planning company S3 Media. They throw Red Bull-sodden parties with DJs spinning the latest beats for corporate clients such as Adidas and Virgin Megastores. They plan to summon the inner art lover from a nation of club kids in the same way they would get them interested in a movie or a pair of sneakers: They throw a great party.

Like their other events, Knight and Lee glean their databases of party people to determine the right crowd to invite to the event. If you're not on the list, you're out of luck. But if you receive one of the duo's formal invitations or e-mail blasts, entry into the 1,700-square-foot gallery is easy. There's no cover; better yet, drinks are free.

The featured event for the estimated crowd of 600 -- mostly filmmakers, musicians and scenesters -- was the debut solo show of the film noir-style photographs of Kevin Kerslake. But most of the debut's action was going on in the adjacent room.

That would be the warehouse-like lobby of the Gershwin Hollywood Hotel. People lined up for free Red Bull vodka drinks and Belgian beer and schmoozed like they were at a film festival. It was fitting because Kerslake, who also directed videos for bands such as Sonic Youth and Nirvana, founded the 3-year-old X-Dance, an extreme sports film festival.

He employed S3 Media to throw an X-Dance party this year in Park City, Utah. Kerslake, Lee and Knight had been friendly before, and Kerslake hosted two of Knight and Lee's informal art shows at his Venice loft in 2001.

Eventually Lee and Knight asked Kerslake to be the debut show at One Eye: Space, their first permanent gallery.

Kerslake collected a group of his photographs with an emphasis on eerie for this show. They're inventive, moody landscapes shot in California, Europe and North Africa, as well as soul-revealing portraits of rock stars such as Nick Cave, blue-collar people and nudes.

Kerslake, whose work has appeared in group shows at Hollywood's Photo Impact and Photek, believed nightclub-style art openings were the best way to exorcise art world stuffiness. "Artists want to feel a connection between what's up on the walls and the people viewing it. It's hard to do without the inspiration of the street vibe," said Kerslake, 41, wearing a baseball cap with a snowboarding logo.

The strategy worked. At the opening, six of Kerslake's photographs sold at $250 each. One of the buyers, Genevieve Sklar, a 26-year-old Internet producer from Venice, said she would have thought twice before purchasing art from another gallery.

"This is creative," she said. "It doesn't feel like an art opening. The wicked DJ and the free drinks help too."

Others weren't so sure that hearty partying was conducive to art appreciation.

"The art was just a second thought to most of this crowd," said Jason Burnley, 27, a television writer. "It was more about the music and the people."

Although Lee and Knight intend their venture to make a profit, Lee revealed that one of her reasons to open a gallery, often quicksand for cash, isn't wealth -- it's old-fashioned guilt.

"This is a labor of love," she said of One Eye: Space. "We access youth culture for multibillion-dollar corporations. We have to deal with how some of these companies hijack youth culture. Maybe this is penance."

*

One Eye: Space

Where: 5535 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 1-6 p.m. Saturday

Info: (323) 692-1023 or www.oneeyespace.com

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