Jai & Jai Gallery, a 350-square-foot exhibition space sandwiched between a barbecue smokehouse and a former vintage music store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood, is a beacon in the city’s bustling young architecture scene. Whereas older generations strove for the empty warehouses of Culver City and Santa Monica, a new generation of designers is looking toward the inner city as a place to make and exhibit art and design, positioning galleries and art spaces like Jai & Jai as loci of experimentation for the city’s foremost millennial makers.
This scene at Jai & Jai is typical of an opening night: As a heavy mix of creative young professionals gossip about their latest projects, Jomjai and Jaitip Srisomburananont, the sisters behind the gallery, hold court with potential buyers, guide new visitors toward wine, and play host to what often has more in common with a low-key San Fernando Valley house party than any staid Westside art gallery opening. Jaitip explains to The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) that though the gallery’s social importance is somewhat unintentional, it reflects a deeply personal part of who they are as individuals, saying the transformation from art space to social hub “mostly happened organically; [our events] always have that ‘Jai & Jai vibe.’ It’s just like how we treat our family: You come to our house, have a drink, see some art. Thankfully, it’s echoed through our business as well.”
The Jais, as they are known by the ever-expanding social scene surrounding the gallery, keep a frenetic pace at these openings, and if you manage to grab their attention, it’s usually only for a few minutes. Mid-conversation, if you’re, say, discussing writing an article about the show at hand, Jomjai will pull out her iPhone to tap out an email (to you). She’ll then pivot to someone who looks like a prospective buyer and deliver him or her to the featured artist before moving on to someone else, maybe an intern snapping photographs or someone potentially cooking up the gallery’s next show. The Jais do this for hours, until the gallery shuts down and the party moves to one of the nearby dive bars. By the time you get home that night, you’ll likely have another email waiting for you and maybe even a press kit.
It might seem cliché to focus on this aspect of the gallery first, but it reflects a larger and equally obvious truth of the Los Angeles art and architecture economy of today: It takes a lot of hard work to make things happen. This tendency is something of a common denominator for the Jais, the resident social patrons who frequent their gallery, and the exhibited artists themselves. Of those two latter groups, many are early-on in their careers and necessarily run art and design practices parallel to their 9-5 jobs. They also use their exhibited artworks to fund or support client-based commissions for their own independent practices. Many other are fresh out of school, having recently launched their own practices, or are teaching at an area architecture schools. Jomjai describes the gallery as, “More of an open forum” than an incubator, where the sibling gallerists “allow an opening for new ideas.” According to the sisters, the gallery provides young practitioners “a chance to express themselves, their ideas and theories, whether they’re artistic, academic, or architectural.” Jaitip adds, “We like to engage everyone and for us, the gallery acts as platform that lets us do that at equal levels.”
Since it opened in 2012, a who’s who of L.A.’s rising stars have exhibited work on the gallery’s walls, creating a self-reinforcing narrative for the storefront as a kick-back space for the city’s young, energetic, and experimental designers. The gallery, which recently expanded into the neighboring thrift store, intentionally takes on challenging exhibitions and works with its artists to chart new terrain.
In 2015, Jimenez Lai of Bureau Spectacular wrapped the interior of the exhibition space in panels of his trademark architectural cartoons, transforming the tiny space into a cave-like work of art. The work, Beachside Lonelyhearts, is carved up into a series of truncated and geometrically-shaped canvases; fragments of it can still be found in Jai & Jai’s growing archive.
The year prior, Laurel Consuelo Broughton of Welcome Projects and Andrew Kovacs came together for a three-part show. Their Gallery Attachment and As-Built exhibitions took place in a parking lot across the street and inside the gallery, respectively. The parking lot show exhibited monochromatic, full-scale elements of architectural oddities while the show inside the gallery displayed a collection of measured as-built drawings made from the team’s collection of detritus outside. The duo also produced a zine to accompany and compliment their other trans-dimensional, multimedia works. Broughton told AN, “Before Jai & Jai the only spaces in Los Angeles for architectural exhibitions were institutionally sponsored. Being small and without institutional ties allows the gallery to exhibit work outside the traditional comfort zone for architecture and design,” to which Kovacs added, “Jai & Jai is an absolute asset for architecture in Los Angeles. I feel the gallery has a very open and flexible outlook that makes it possible to take risks with shows and explore new ideas.”
Mike Nesbit, independent artist and project designer at L.A.–based architecture firm Morphosis, has exhibited works of his “abstract-technical” art at Jai & Jai several times. His glitch-pointillist drawings and thickly-silkscreened, supersized concrete panel canvases filled the space last autumn for his Swipe show. The artist carted in massive slabs of cement coated in toothsome swipes of colored paint, lending a bit of L.A.’s abstract art bona fides to the space.
And more recently, Clark Thenhaus of Endemic Architecture deployed office-based research as an exhibition titled Mind Your Mannerisms that catalogs, interprets, and manipulates San Francisco’s architectural turrets in paintings and models. Thenhaus’s show is the eighth show at Jai & Jai in the last year, with probably an equal number of gallery talks and panel discussions to support the exhibitions and promote other creative endeavors happening in the space over this period, as well. Thenhaus described the value of a space like Jai & Jai to AN via email, saying, “The gallery enables a kind of exploratory freedom to more deeply consider and speculate on building and practice-related ideas in ways that cannot be achieved to the same level through more conventional outlets or client projects as a young office,” adding, “The value of this is, for a young practice, a way to stake an intellectual claim while also working directly on, and through, ideas related to disciplinary interests or to buildings that are yet to be fully designed or built.”
If it seems like the work seems is all over the place, that’s because it is, and by design. The Jais intentionally take on challenging exhibitions and work with their artists to chart new terrain. Jaitip explains, “The main component through and through and from the beginning, has always been to engage the audience, whether they agree with the work or not.” This engagement plays out in the constantly changing gallery displays, which transform the space over and over again as the year goes on.
Jaitip explained that for her, group shows like the 2014 show Chess, which showcased showpiece chess sets by a slew of designers, are the most rewarding, remarking, “To us, as gallerists, group shows are really inspiring to work on because [we coordinate] a group of people who believe in one concept and help bring them come together to tell a story. Chess and Bust were defining moments for Jai & Jai Gallery, as was Goods Used.” The gallery also timed the debut of their new online print shop with another group show earlier this year, Resolution – The Digital Print Group Exhibition, that used numbered prints of the work on display as a way of lowering the cost barrier for potential buyers. Jaitip explains, “We developed limited edition prints of these exhibited pieces to sell to a younger crowd and open up another branch for the gallery as a business and an organization that supports this type of success.”
Chess sets and cartoon-caves as cutting edge architecture? In L.A., yes. That’s because the L.A. art and architecture scene is in a primal flux, not because art and architecture haven’t gone hand-in-hand here since the days of the deconstructionists and blobitects, but because in certain segments of the professional and academic architecture scene, they have become one and the same. Whether it’s the proximity to entertainment culture, the easier access to larger studio spaces, or the more readily available infrastructure for large-scale art production, L.A.-based architects are dabbling in a simultaneity of production and exhibition.
Jai & Jai plays a central role in that conversation. As the Jais told me at the end of our conversation, they aim to keep working. “The goal is always to grow. Just grow, and to do that organically.”