From Bergamot Station to Museum Rowby Pam Douglas
Good-bye to BergamotOnce upon a time there was a cluster of more than 30 fine art galleries in Santa Monica near a dormant train station. The Bergamot Station Art Center with its crumbly parking lot and charming, funky structures was a destination for visitors ranging from the local community to international art collectors. For 26 years small showrooms flourished alongside major galleries and attracted thousands to enjoy original art for free.
Then the train came and brought developers. At the end of 2016, approximately half of Bergamot Station Art Center was sold. Red Car, the buyer, paid $35 million for the buildings that housed 18 galleries and other tenants. They raised the costs of staying beyond what independent galleries and small businesses could afford, in effect forcing them out.
Several are already gone including: Ruth Bachofner Gallery, Hiromi Paper, and Writers Boot Camp. Others are in the process of leaving. Some are negotiating to stay a little longer if their leases allow, and temporary installations may crop up for a while.
TAG PrevailsBut this is a story about prevailing, and how TAG Gallery found a new home at 5458 Wilshire Blvd., on Museum Row just blocks from LACMA, more than double the size of its former gallery.
As happened to the other galleries, the new Bergamot ownership increased TAG’s costs far beyond what would be possible. But TAG isn’t quite like most others. The artists the gallery represents actually own the gallery and employ professional staff to run it. 30 to 40 stakeholders were not about to give up on the gallery’s growing success after almost ten years at Bergamot Station and more than 20 years the gallery has been in business.
Rakeem Cunningham, the gallery’s Director commented, “TAG artists are an eclectic bunch. They really value their artistic independence. I wondered if we could find a gallery space large enough for 40 art shows throughout the year and if all these very different creative people could agree on it.” That began the adventure of finding a new location in Los Angeles’ daunting real estate market.
The Rental AdventureFor several months, the search went on. Joe Pinkelman, TAG’s president, said, “As anyone from L.A. knows, Santa Monica prices are impossible. We were willing to join the art scene downtown, so we searched there. We found a second floor with a staircase too narrow for art, an old church that couldn’t be seen from the street, buildings that needed total renovation, and one where the landlord threatened to throw the gallery out with no notice if he didn’t like something. We saw an ad for a place in the Culver City Art District. Great, we thought, except that it turned out to be a storefront far from the arts district in the middle of nowhere.”
Pam Douglas recalled, “The artists were getting worried because the gallery couldn’t stay at Bergamot another month and pay the huge new charges. It seemed for a moment the choice was the impossible second floor, the invisible church, the angry landlord, or the storefront from nowhere. Or closing down. TAG Gallery would be gone.”
“And then the clouds opened,” exclaimed Tom Wheeler. “There it was, right on Wilshire Blvd, immense and empty: 5458 Wilshire, a 1927 building near the Craft and Folk Museum, the Petersen Auto Museum, just blocks from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It has 5,200 sq. feet of exhibition spaces on two floors compared with 2500 sq. feet we had at Bergamot.”
Cunningham explained, “The additional space means the gallery can expand in many ways including its annual juried exhibition, The California Open. That gets around 2,000 submissions from all over the country and now we can exhibit more of those artists.”
Wheeler, who took charge of renovations added, “Of course, the Wilshire space needed work. Lots.”
He continued, “That’s when the TAG artists rallied. We all formed a force that had not existed in the gallery before. The artists themselves raised the cash for the renovation and worked like crazy towards the opening in May.”
Douglas reflected, “I’ve seen TAG grow from a small artists collective on Santa Monica Blvd., many years ago, to the art gallery at Bergamot Station, and now I’m witnessing it evolve to its next stage as a major art space on Wilshire’s gallery row.”
|TAG's new space, still under renovation as of 5/10/17|
The first show in the new building opens May 16 and has a public reception Saturday, May 20 from 5 to 8 PM. Featured artists are photographer Donn Delson, bone sculptor Jerry Hardin, pop artist Gary Polansky, and neon artist Linda Sue Price. In addition, there will be a group exhibit of individual works by other TAG artists.
May 16 to June 10
Reception: Saturday, May 20 from 5 to 8 PM
Free and open to the public
5458 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA