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Blum & Poe gallery to unveil larger space

The 21,000-square-foot complex on South La Cienega Boulevard will include sleek galleries and plenty of room for entertaining.

October 01, 2009|Suzanne Muchnic

Six years ago, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe opened a 5,000-square-foot gallery on a forgotten strip of South La Cienega Boulevard. This weekend, the team will launch a 21,000-square-foot complex across the street -- at the hub of what has become a major center of contemporary art galleries in and around Culver City.

The new Blum & Poe has transformed a grungy hulk of a building into a pristine showcase with sleek galleries illuminated by dramatic skylights, a slightly rougher project space and lots of back rooms for storage, offices, private viewing and entertaining. The inaugural exhibition will feature works by an international roster of artists, including Chiho Aoshima and Yoshitomo Nara of Tokyo, Nigel Cooke of London, Florian Maier-Aichen of Cologne and Sharon Lockhart and Sam Durant of Los Angeles.

In the best of times, Blum & Poe's new home would be a notable addition to the scene. In the midst of a recession, the on-schedule opening is a bit hard to believe. But the partners, who bought the property in January 2008, never considered putting the project on hold.

"What were we going to do? We had the building," Blum says. "We had been thinking about this for a long time and preparing for it in a very big way."

The new gallery has a door on La Cienega. But the main entrance is at the back, where freshly planted trees soften a just-paved parking lot and form a border that will eventually screen out the blight.

"We have an acre of land," Blum says, walking into a flurry of preparations. "When you arrive, we want you to feel that you are somewhere else." An enclosed garden along the back wall can be a private retreat or "a place to hang out," he says. "We can have dinners there."

Escher GuneWardena Architecture, the Los Angeles firm that converted a brick warehouse into Blum & Poe's first La Cienega gallery, also has designed the new space. This time, the raw material was a larger warehouse that had been expanded to accommodate a manufacturing plant.

The architects have preserved the raw look of the exterior, filling unused doors and framing new ones with concrete. Inside, a long corridor with a low ceiling spills into galleries on one side and offices on the other. A rectangular atrium that glows with natural light is a portal to three galleries of various sizes with ceilings that soar to 14 or 20 feet.

"We started with one big volume," Blum says. "But we didn't want one big gallery, just because we could. We preferred specially proportioned rooms that create a balanced space for art and the body."

A relatively small private viewing room with access to the garden resonates with Blum in a different way. Measuring a mere 20 by 18 feet, it's about the size of the original gallery in Santa Monica, which opened 15 years ago. The partners were not the first contemporary art dealers to set up shop in Culver City and its environs. But they established a gallery to watch in their early days, and their 2003 move to South La Cienega sparked an explosion.

When it came time to expand again, they looked at other properties, Blum says, "but this was too good to pass up. The location, the parking, the size, you can't get another one like this. It's terrific."

They also considered opening a branch in New York or Berlin, but growing at home made more sense. "We like L.A.," he says.

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suzanne.muchnic@latimes .com

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