Many years ago, I did a Media/Law degree majoring in Journalism at Macquarie University (or as we liked to call it, 'Club Mac'). Needless to say, I dropped the Law with a year to go in pursuit of my love of the piano (never did this stop during the degree and never have I looked back either!) and kept writing blogs through all these years. Fast forward to July 2017 and we've come full circle - I have a featured travel piece published in Harper's Bazaar Vietnam. This got translated into Vietnamese but for those interested in the English version, read on:
La La Land – The new contemporary arts hub
By Van-Anh Nguyen
Traditionally, the first things that spring to mind when the name ‘Los Angeles’ is mentioned would most likely be the Hollywood sign, or maybe it's the tall palm tree-lined streets, movie studios, tandem bikes and rollerblades down Venice Beach, socialites rubbing shoulders with movie stars, designer shopping on Rodeo Drive and sunny sprawling beach lines. Enter 2017, the City of Angels has diversified and in the past decade, really put itself on the arts scene map globally as a nest for contemporary artists.
Downtown LA or as the locals call it, DTLA, is a district that has become a hub for artists, which has entered a revitalization in the last couple of decades. You can find large pristine galleries like the renowned Getty Museum and MOCA Gallery but delve a little deeper and a whole other world is revealed. More interestingly so, small galleries, converted warehouses with shared workspaces for visual artists, cafes with inbuilt galleries, studios amidst sweat-shops, Instagram-worthy murals and co-op boutiques that promote and support independent artists scatter the outskirts of DTLA itself. The grittiness and industrial feel of this area adds to the inspiration for artists - think old warehouses of many, many square meters, usually requiring just a small touch-up here and there before turning into a spectacular yet quirky showing venue. This is the burgeoning underground arts scene, an area that fosters artists that often address social issues and show left-of-field exhibitions in alternative spaces.
Kaye Freeman, an artist who was born in Hong Kong to Australian parents, raised in Japan and now resides in LA is the epitome of the melting pot that DTLA is for artists. As I approached the studio location, I could see a lady standing at the entrance of a large parking lot with her bright pink umbrella, green hair and puppy under her arm. As Freeman lead me through the Best Fresh Produce warehouse, a mixture of smells ranging from off-fruit to incense to hot food drifted with us. We entered a commercial lift and weaved to higher floors into Freeman’s studio. As she opened the door, a wash of light from big paned windows and an explosion of color hit me. The high ceilings and big wall panels were lined with floor to ceiling artworks and in the middle, huge larger than life sculptures that Freeman collaborates with Cybelle Rowe, another Australian artist (which I soon learn that their collective name is LOVE ARMADA).
Prior to focusing on her own art, Freeman was working as a set designer, having worked on several blockbuster film sets including Moulin Rouge, Anna and the King, Peter Pan and Matrix 2&3 to name a few. ‘I left the film industry initially to pursue my own art and to look after my sick mother in 2006. After she passed away as I had no family in Australia, I decided to move to LA to continue pursuing my own painting career’. As I walked through Freeman’s private studio, she pointed out the artworks that were created during her time looking after her mother which were darker sketches comparatively to her current works and sculptures she paints which are flamboyant, full of life with little vignettes of LA life like palm trees and Summer color palettes of sunsets. Leading up to Freeman’s permanent move to LA, she had been coming in and out of the US for over a decade.
Down the road to Freeman’s studio by the popular East 3rd St, only a 5-minute Uber ride away, you’ll find Poketo, a modern shop featuring a selection of stylish accessories, toys and homewares in a minimalist interior. For Poketo storeowner Angie Myung, opening her flagship store with her husband Ted Vadakan in 2003 in DTLA was an obvious step. ‘We started [the business] in our loft in DTLA until we moved our operation to our current shop in 2012. When we first opened our retail shop, this area was still really desolate but we loved this area and saw a lot of potential and we were totally right’ says Myung. The store hosts art exhibitions, workshops and other events that serve to foster the local creative community. ‘We did a lot of community activation with art shows and workshops and people started discovering this area and it is now the hottest area in Los Angeles’. With this resurgence and a lot of new restaurants popping up including a Wholefoods, it has attracted a lot of young people and created a nightlife scene however it has also resulted in skyrocketing housing prices.
Those Instagram-worthy murals
Murals have become quite the staple in DTLA and you can find the famous angel wings of @colettemillerwings or quotes by @wrdsmth amidst other gorgeous creations. This is a great way to explore the streets of DTLA. Locations to look out for are:
Surrounding Poketo are other independent boutiques such as Alchemy Works, cafes, and mural heaven. Street art has a new found appreciation and is held in a completely different light today with many street artists coming from all around the world to contribute to the colorful art found in DTLA.
I was keen to find a spot to rest my feet, quench my thirst and replenish my energy after having newfound inspiration through the artworks I had seen in so many mediums. The DTLA Arts District has some spectacular eats ranging from healthy bites; quick eats to fine dining amidst bars and cafes. Yet another quick Uber ride up the road from Freeman’s studio is a joint called Urban Radish. It stands on its own surrounded by warehouses. Upon walking into this warehouse, a delicious smoky aroma wafts by way of a sizzling BBQ, which mind you, caters to gluten free, vegan, lactose intolerant, whatever the dietary requirement is. Urban Radish is a grocery store for the organic inclined and houses a restaurant and butchery. To my pleasant surprise, I also found artisan chocolates including our very own Vietnamese brand, Maison Marou. Some other favorites include:
Bites & watering holes
Groundworks Coffee: This opts as a workspace for the digital nomads as well as a wonderful café for the coffee connoisseurs. 108 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Urban Radish: In the heart of the Arts District, this large warehouse upscale grocery store also has a restaurant and butchery focusing on quality produce. BBQs (conscious to vegetarians, pescatarians and omnivores) also occur with live jazz every Wednesday night from 6pm. They even stock Marou chocolate (a Vietnamese brand of chocolate). 661 Imperial St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Bestia: For the fine-dining lovers, this is an institution serving up Italian cuisine utilizing almost only entirely local and organic incredients. 2121 E 7th Pl, Los Angeles CA 90021
Fritzi Coop: The destination for chicken in DTLA, lead by star chef Neal Fraser (Redbird). A highlight includes the naked fried chicken, gluten free but crispy. Insider tip: If you need a break from chicken, order the bacon and beef blend burger (secret menu). 814 Traction Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90013
Angel Brewery Company: They say art and drinks go hand in hand so rightly so at Angel Brewery Company. 216 Alemeda St, Los Angeles CA 90012
THE AWESOME FOURSOME
If you move up a few blocks into the heart of DTLA, the larger museums nestle amidst the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall and LA Opera. Architecturally speaking, the large pristine galleries such as LACMA, The Broad and MOCA, each stand out on their own let alone the highly sought after exhibits that happen within their compounds. It is highly advisable that tickets are booked ahead of time in order to avoid queues. Many exhibitions are in high demand and don’t offer stand-by tickets. The Broad, opened in 2015 by philanthropists is a new contemporary museum spanning 120,000-square-foot, with a ‘veil-and-vault’ design by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The $140 million building features two floors of gallery space to showcase several exhibitions throughout the year, including Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room, a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This installation will be on view through September 2017.
The Los Angeles County Museum of the Arts (LACMA) with its iconic lamp post installation out front houses an incredible roster of exhibitions, both indoor and outdoors. Not only that, it hosts a series of Summer concerts in its foyer as well as theater. LACMA’s weekly chamber music series, Sundays Live, features the best of national, international, Los Angeles and emerging artists. These one-hour concerts are presented free to the public at 6 pm each Sunday in the Leo S. Bing Theater.
A place that sets itself apart from DTLA is the monstrous Getty Museum. A unique destination, the Getty Center incorporates the modern design of architect Richard Meier, with beautiful gardens, open spaces and spectacular views of Los Angeles.
Events and exhibits to add to the Summer calendar:
MOCA Store, July 25-Sept 25: The MOCA Store at MOCA Grand Avenue presents a limited-release Billabong Warhol Surf Collection celebrating Warhol’s love for Southern California surf culture. It will feature many limited edition apparel.
The Getty Museum: Concrete Poetry: Words and Sounds in Graphic Space, Daily through July 30: Featuring works by foundational figures Augusto de Campos and Ian Hamilton Finlay, Concrete Poetry explores how these artists invented new forms such as cube poems and standing poems and continuously re-created their projects across media. Poetry by contemporaries including Henri Chopin, Ernst and Mary Ellen Solt, and Emmett Williams also plays a prominent role.
Angel City Brewery: they have several weekly events but Sundays hold a Run + Yoga + Beer event (10am-12 noon) through to Paint Night (7:30-9:30pm) where within 2 hours, while sipping on a glass of Angel City’s original craft beer, an artist will guide you through a painting step-by-step.
All of the museums and galleries have their own gift stores however the DTLA area have some wonderful independent boutiques that if you’re after something a little left field or one-off pieces, you’ll love the area. Some recommendations include:
Poketo: homewares, jewelery and quirky cards are some of the things you can find at Poketo. 820 E 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Art District Co-Op: a shared space showcasing independent designs in jewelery, sunglasses, clothing through to artworks, furniture and even a barbershop. It also houses a stage where live concerts occur. Literally everything you want is right here. 453 Colyton St, Los Angeles CA 90013
Alchemy Works: an airy gallery-like space offering creative home décor, accessories and retro clothes as well as being an event space. Warby Parker also has a mini boutique inside. 826 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
The easiest was to get around DTLA is with Uber or Lyft, both offering Uber Pool where you can share a ride with other people traveling to a similar area as you, which then reduces your ride dramatically.
Although LA may be a far cry from the well-established arts hotspots like New York or London, what’s certain is that LA is going through some sort of a cultural renaissance. The need to move abroad for local emerging artists are not as prominent anymore with more and more coming in from all over the world, galleries multiplying and museums catching up to the quality. It’s an exciting time and if the past decade is anything to judge by, the arts scene is here to stay.
I'd like to thank Harper's Bazaar for having me as a contributing writer.
Much love & grace,