New Art Space Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Arrives in L.A.

Jordan Riefe

Venerable art dealers inaugurate massive downtown space with exhibit dedicated to women sculptors.

Only six months after the grand opening of the Broad, Los Angeles gets another contemporary art space courtesy of Manuela and Iwan Wirth, renowned international husband/wife gallerists with branches in Zurich, New York and the U.K. For their new space, they have teamed with L.A. art world fixture Paul Schimmel on Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, a sprawling downtown space totaling 116,000 square feet.

“It’s not just a gallery, it’s not a museum,” Schimmel tells The Hollywood Reporter just days ahead of the March 13 opening. “It’s something else.” With nearly as much space as MOCA, the new gallery includes a restaurant, which will open this summer, a bookstore and a breezeway connecting 2nd and 3rd Streets. People with time to kill can look at art for free or sit in the courtyard or the public garden with one of the neighborhood's many murals as a vibrant backdrop.

“We’re not saying we’re not a gallery. We’re very much a gallery. I’d love it if this profession would see itself as part of the community,” says Wirth, a frequent visitor to the city for over 20 years. “You’ll be able to see art in the way that’s ideal. You can see it sober. You can see it drunk. It’s a place to drink and talk. I believe in that. There will be a bar. The restaurant will be packed with art.”

In the meantime, the galleries are packed with over 100 works by 34 artists for the inaugural show, Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016. Entering the south gallery through the building’s main entrance, visitors emerge into a sky-lit, two-story space 21 feet high. Welcoming them is a selection of steles and cairns by mid-century sculptor Louise Bourgeois. To the left, stretching nearly the height of the wall is a series of lobes woven from copper and brass wire by Ruth Asawa. Filling out the space are more earthbound pieces by Louise Nevelson and Lee Bontecou, whose three-dimensional works seem about to spring from the frame.

The north galleries house art by more modern names like Rachel Kaduri, Abigail Deville and Phyllida Barlow, who will represent the U.K. at the 2017 Venice Biennale. “It’s an extraordinarily important show,” says Wirth, calling “tragic” the treatment of women by the establishment as well as the markets. To make his point he indicates auction prices like the record $180 million for Picasso’s Women of Algiers, versus $10.7 million for Louise Bourgeois’ Spider, a record amount for a woman.

With its cornerstone laid in 1896, the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel building used to house the McDonald Grain & Milling Company. Back then Los Angeles was a backwater just beginning to awaken. In six short years the company was shipping their goods around the world and was renamed Globe Mills. Schimmel likened the building’s past to L.A.’s post-war art scene, which operated in isolation from Europe and New York before expanding. What began with Walter Hopps’ Ferus Gallery, including artists like Ed Moses, Larry Bell and Ed Ruscha, has in recent years become one of the world’s fastest growing markets.

While Light and Space artist Larry Bell currently has a show at Hauser & Wirth in New York, next year he opens an exhibit at Pepperdine University, and is currently in talks with London-based White Cube about another show. “Last couple of years been really great for me in terms of exposure,” says Bell, who flew in from his studio in Taos for the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel opening. “All of a sudden it’s more action than I can handle.”

Ruscha, who works out of his Culver City studio, recalls a recent trip to Berlin where he met a number of artists who split their time between L.A. and the German capital. “Downtown L.A. is a vibrant scene that is happening in all different directions,” he says. “There are some gigantic galleries here and some small ones, lots of small ones. It’s exploded. It’s like night and day compared to the sixties.”

“In New York they say, ‘How long will it last? The business is in New York.’ Well, the business is everywhere. It’s global,” says Wirth, adding, “the West Coast is finally getting the scholarly attention and the marketing attention that it deserves. All this interest is something my artists have been preaching for 40 years, and it’s finally happening.”