In Your Face: How Artists Transformed LA’s Urban Landscape

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Although there are “3 Movements” (or sections) to the “In Your Face” exhibition, which opened at the Angel City Brewery in conjunction with the District Gallery on April 11th, the majority of the show is the devoted to the Art Dock, the world’s first drive-by art gallery, located in the original Downtown Los Angeles Arts District

Here is “A Brief History of the Art Dock” by author and Art Dock curator Carlton Davis:

 The Art Dock, the world’s first drive-by Art Gallery, existed in Downtown Los Angeles from 1981-1986. The idea for this alternative gallery came one day when I and several other artists were sitting in the late afternoon sun in the loading dock of my loft. A car drove by, stopped, and stared at us. We thought that they thought we were an exhibit. We, the artists, became totally still. When the car drove away we broke into laughter. What a great idea, I exclaimed, a drive-by gallery in a loading dock. It seemed a logical extension of LA’s Car Culture, where we have drive-by banks, restaurants, and churches. The loading dock, where commodities are unloaded and loaded into the city, was a perfect place for a drive-by gallery. The Art Dock came into being.

In 2012 Carlton Davis published a book titled The Art Dockuments, which tells the history of the Art Dock (aka, the drive-by gallery). Davis also tells the story of when loft living was illegal, the beginning of the loft life in downtown LA, and the history of some of the alternative galleries, which populated downtown LA in the early 1980s.

Davis curated 40 different installations by 35 artists in the Art Dock, which was located in the historic Pickle Works Building, built in 1888. Also known as the Citizens Warehouse in the 1980s-90s, it was the very first artist loft building in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. This exhibition is very timely now helping to create awareness about this historic residence at the moment when the Pickle Works Building is in danger of being destroyed.

The City of Los Angeles purchased the Pickle Works Building in 2005 to facilitate the First Street Viaduct bridge expansion, which required removing part of the building along its south end. Even though the building has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the city is now recommending that it be demolished, due to structural instability. Artists and activists are banding together to help preserve this building and all it represents (including for many, their homes!)

“In Your Face” at the District Gallery features photographs and concept art from installations that were on exhibition in the Art Dock, photographs of some of the artists, along with some text panels with explanations. This exhibition is for anyone interested in finding out more about the rich history of the artists who made the arts district the thriving, creative environment it is today.

It was also fun to see a couple of relics from The Atomic Café – the old menu from this greasy spoon, once located in the building that now houses Señor Fish, at 1st St. and Alameda. It was standard practice to stop by The Atomic Café after a show at the infamous alt-rock club Al’s Bar, for some greasy Chinese food and the amazing punk rock Juke Box. The waitresses were memorable too.

Speaking of Al’s Bar, Irving Greines has spent the last ten years documenting the walls of the American Hotel, former home of Al’s Bar, the legendary punk and alternative venue which hosted bands ranging from Black Flag to Beck–and had the most revolting bathroom in LA club history. Greines picks out details of graffiti, murals, stickers and a mix of all of the above to tell a photographic story of the evolving street art style of the arts district. This is ground zero, and artists are paying their respects to the epicenter of a punk rock past.

Stephen Seemayer, in collaboration with Pamela Wilson, has taken stills from his late 1970s Downtown LA documentary Young Turks, which tell the story of downtown artists, and created photo collages in tribute to this period of Los Angeles history. Focusing on the artists who inhabited downtown from 1977 to 1981, and the places they hung out, these locations and the streets themselves, were a big part of the story.

More of Seemayer’s work is exhibited a few blocks away at the District Gallery, hanging through May 26. Stephen Seemayer’s tribute to Occupy L.A., “Signs of the Timesfeatures collages, which incorporate photos, stencils, and slogans inspired by the Occupy L.A. movement from the fall of 2011.

Both “Signs of the Times” and “In Your Face” feature works on the history of the Downtown L.A. area and the artists who are inspired by it. You can grab a beer at Angel City Brewery while you check out the “In Your Face” exhibition, and then walk a short block to the District Gallery to see “Signs of the Times.” If so inclined, you can hop in your car afterward for a driving tour of some of the historic locations you were just learning about:

James K. Hill & Sons
1898 Pickle Works Building
Banning & Center St. (near Santa Fe & 1st St.)

The Atomic Café(Now Señor Fish)
1st St. & Alameda

Al’s Bar & The American Hotel
303 S. Hewitt St.

Los Angeles City Hall (Site of Occupy L.A. movement)
200 N Spring St.

In Your Face: How Artists Transformed LA’s Urban LandscapeAn Installation In 3 Movements
April 11 through June 9th
Angel City Brewery
216 S. Alameda

Los Angeles, CA 90012

Stephen Seemayer: Signs of the Times (63 one-of-a-kind framed pieces inspired by Occupy L.A.)
April 25 through May 26
District Gallery
740 E. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90013 

Stephen Seemayer’s Young Turks


Pickle Works


The “art dock”


Pickle Works Building cut in two




Carlton Davis, and Ed Glendinning – Art Dock installation


Carlton Davis, and Ed Glendinning – Art Dock installation



Ephemera from The Atomic Cafe.



Irving Greines – URBAN WILDERNESS: Chaos Transformed In Your Face— The American Hotel


Stills from Young Turks: Top left: Fritz Hudnut. Top right: Gary Lloyd. Bottom left: Neal Taylor. Bottom right: Brett Goldstone.


Young Turks: Al’s Bar


Young Turks: Atomic Cafe



“Searching” by Pamela Burgess (top). Sketch by Carlton Davis (bottom).



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