Like so many things in Los Angeles right now, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s new West Coast outpost, housed in the sprawling former corporate offices and industrial facilities for Globe Mills flour, is a work in progress. As L.A. leapfrogs from midcentury suburban dust bowl to a Hausmannian tapestry of midrise, mixed-use apartment blocks, the space by Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and Creative Space L.A. is perhaps an apt bridge between the shifting of Angeleno identity, cautiously mining its past to inspire visions of the future. Though technically a commercial art gallery, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel feels much more like a traditional European Kunsthalle, with publicly-minded spaces featuring rotating, curated exhibitions. It’s an incredible breath of fresh air in a city with a few too many private collections that have become civic monuments.
Its inaugural collection, Revolution in the Making, was curated by Jenni Sorkin, an assistant professor of contemporary art history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Paul Schimmel, a cofounder of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. The show pays homage to the cobbled-together nature of the building’s historical spaces and the architects’ restrained renovation, showcasing a wide array of transgenerational feminist sculpture, most of it made from ephemeral, translucent, or flexible materials.
Pristine artworks like Ruth Asawa’s untitled lobed sculptures hang in the grand hall along East Third Street. Phyllida Barlow’s massive and colorfully riotous Untitled:GIG is installed, almost on its own, in a large, plain brick-walled room, while Shinique Smith’s Forgiving Strands (in progress) watches over the adjacent covered breezeway. A tertiary gallery, also flanking the breezeway, provides a more typical "white box" setting with white walls and discreet wall text, showcasing the amazing milled-cedar array of Untitled (Nine Cones) by Ursula von Rydingsvard. A central 5,000-square-foot courtyard recreates Jackie Winsor’s 30 to 1 Bound Trees installation. The future Manuela restaurant project of Texas chef Wes Whitsell promises to bring pared-down Southern cooking to the complex this summer. And Skuta Helgason’s third ARTBOOK shop occupies a storefront at the entrance of the building, enticing neighborhood visitors and residents to walk through the complex’s arterial passage. The designers’ light touch and reverence for the existing building make the new architectural aspects of the institution feel slight.
Creative Space L.A. and Selldorf Architects have managed to make an art gallery out of humble materials that actually feels more like a public art museum, upending expectations and suggesting that Los Angeles can have grand, urban gestures delineated by the particularities of its own histories and proclivities—something critical for both the museum’s resident neighborhood as well as the city as a whole.