The Mistake Room: The L.A. Art World's Next Big Thing


Cesar Garcia is a man with a vision. Not just a good idea or two, but a radical vision for a new kind of art experience -- at least, new to Los Angeles. A scholar and independent curator, Garcia's first gallery space, The Mistake Room, lies in the manufacturing district on the southern edge of Downtown's industrial core -- an up and coming area known for affordable warehouse spaces and already home to Night Gallery and Francois Ghebaly Gallery, although that's not why Garcia picked it. More on that later. Garcia does have a complete renovation of the 4500 square-foot location in the works, to be completed at the end of this summer, but this first exhibition constitutes a kind of soft-launch, in large part because the artist, Oscar Murillo, specifically requested that he be allowed to work in the extant architecture that still bears the physical scars and energetic traces of its former use as a commodities processing facility. Garcia explains that Murillo's "Distribution Center" is "not necessarily site-specific per se, but it is usage-specific. It matters that it's a defunct manufacturing warehouse in the part of town where it is -- those issues are resonant with Murillo's practice. He's a Colombian/UK artist, mainly a painter, but who is interested in ideas about labor. He doesn't have a cynical eye, but rather a fresh critical perspective." He plans to engage the architectural and socio-economic history of the location, which is practically a readymade allegorical framework for him. It's almost too perfect.

The exceptional synchronicity of this first installment in the Mistake Room's program is happy, but it was not an accident. In the 18-plus months that Garcia has been engineering the launch, and the years preceding during which he formulated his life's work motif through rigorous academic study and global research, he was building a kind of house of cards in which the curatorial vision, location, advisory board (it's a non-profit), architecture, and exhibition programming all worked together as facets expressing a single idea -- of which Murillo provides a great example, as does the choice of architect, as does, as mentioned above, the choice of neighborhood, which was not about chasing a trend. "Where we are, the zoning history of what was called the Central/Alameda Corridor is fascinating. The area was heavily Japanese in the 1930's, then the war and the internment camps happened in the 1940's and it started to become something else, more Latino for one thing. The railroad connected to the harbor ports. It was always a transit zone and a transitional place -- and that idea of the movement of bodies and commodities is the perfect symbol for the kind of program we will be pursuing in the gallery. Plus the size and scale and flexibility was exactly what was required for the type of projects we want to bring there."

The Mistake Room, empty

Garcia was born in Mexico and raised in L.A. from the age of six a stone's throw from the gallery. He is interested, in addition to the homegrown, in Latino and Middle Eastern contemporary and historical art movements, and to that end he has spent a lot of time abroad in pursuit of his scholarship studies. When he would come home, he'd feel "disconnected to that history," he says. "In the L.A. art scene, there has been a lack of the grassroots middle -- there's been plenty of terrific independent, artist-run spaces; and plenty of A-list top-dollar galleries, but not very many of this kind mid-sized, public spaces. No Renaissance Society, no Serpentine Gallery. I wondered if that kunsthalle model was even sustainable in L.A. This is one of the most diverse cities in the country, but this is a major lack here." The kunsthalle model he describes is free of commercial and market pressures; you don't have to worry about things like foot traffic because you are a destination and a non-profit. "This 4500-square foot space would be too much to take on as a commercial enterprise, but for what we are doing, it's perfect. I can take traveling shows from regional museums, and offer ours to them in return, as well as hosting individual artist projects" -- a.k.a. important things that are not for sale, commissioned, curated, and otherwise, and with a focus on bringing established artists who have never shown in Los Angeles.

Alfonso Medina
Alfonso Medina

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Murillo is up through April, then the build-out starts. During that process, there will be a series of temporary installations and film series called Black Box that will "explore LA's industrial heritage and creative history, exceeding the general understanding of what a gallery is," and starting the citywide outreach in advance of the big late-Summer inauguration of the Alfonso Medina-designed space. That first show will be the Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai, known for his previous career as a rapper in his native Bangkok before RISD turned him into a New York-based multi-platform artist who incorporates elements of performance, video, sensationalism, and popular fashion into a painting-based practice that's all about Ab-Ex inspired action. His best-known works are painting-like constructions of bleached and burned denim that build images in layers which contain the evidence of their manufacture, use, and destruction. It's easy to imagine such work being quite at home in the program and space as Garcia has explained it.

Oscar Murillo, South London Gallery, installation, Sept 2013
Oscar Murillo, South London Gallery, installation, Sept 2013

Following that, TMR's curator Kris Kuramitsu's keystone group show kicks off a three-year program they are calling "The Global South" -- a series exploring the allegorical and sometimes literal idea of "south" as an internationally resonant social, economic, and cultural condition. Among other things, she has been looking at examples of the Eastern European avant-garde of the 60's-70's as well as sound-based practices in the Middle East. "We have basically been making lists of the best, most major things from biennials for example, that have never been shown here in L.A. -- and you'd be surprised at who is on that list!" Even TMR's architect is on it -- being renowned, prolific, and progressive, but never having done a major project here in L.A., despite having earned his MFA at SCI-Arc. Alfonso Medina (b. 1983 Longview, TX) established T38 Studio in 2009 as an architecture, design and research office based in New York City and Tijuana. "He thinks about borders, and he is sensitive to what artists need -- he's a central voice in manifesting the Mistake Room's curatorial voice."


The Mistake Room's inaugural exhibition, "Oscar Murillo: Distribution Center" opened to the public on Saturday, January 18, 2014. The Mistake Room is located at 1811 E. 20th St. Los Angeles, CA 90058. Hours: Wed-Sat, 12pm-7pm.

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