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Art and About

Cesar Garcia's the Mistake Room opens in downtown L.A.

By Deborah Vankin

6:46 PM PST, January 18, 2014

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The downtown industrial district just got a little bit cooler. The area, already home to Night Gallery on the southern edge of downtown, saw the opening Friday night of the Mistake Room. The nonprofit exhibition space will feature contemporary art and artists, as well as visiting curators from around the world.

The space -- a 4,500-square-foot former metal warehouse, still unrenovated and sporting cracked concrete floors and exposed insulation -- is the brainchild of former LAXART associate director and senior curator Cesar Garcia, who was also a curator of the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2012” show.

The inaugural exhibition, “Distribution Center,” featured paintings, videos and an installation by Colombia-born, London-based artist Oscar Murillo. The crowd at the private opening Friday was a mix of art collectors and gallerists -- some of whom had flown in from New York and foreign points beyond -- as well as local artists, curators and members of the Mistake Room’s board of directors.

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As the night went on, and the moon glowed brightly above the downtown skyline, this corner near 20thand Alameda grew increasingly lively. Guests crowded around picnic tables outside, feasting on tacos, hot dogs and wine.

The Mistake Room, Garcia said, fills a void in Los Angeles. Although L.A. boasts a lively gallery scene, nonprofit arts groups and large museums, he felt there was a lack of midsize, non-collecting exhibition spaces putting on museum-quality contemporary art shows. The Santa Monica Museum of Art is the closest place in the region that he could compare to the Mistake Room.

“The in-between spaces that in cities like New York are filled by the Drawing Center or in Chicago the Renaissance Society or the Kunsthalle in Zurich,” Garcia says, “there’s a network of these mid-sized spaces that produce institutional shows that often travel, but they don’t keep up collections themselves. But it’s quite new for L.A.”

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Garcia said art biennials around the world can be somewhat exclusive. He wanted to open a space that not only brought artists from around the globe to L.A. but also helped to disseminate L.A. artists' work. Part of the Mistake Room’s vision is to bring curators from other countries, facilitate local studio visits for them, and help them to put on shows at the Mistake Room and back in their home countries.

“If you’re a curator who lives in Europe and you don’t drive, your visits to L.A. are quite narrow,” Garcia says. “So we’re gonna do very active work to bring people here who are curating in their countries and create [international] opportunities for L.A. artists.

“The idea is to bring a program that presents the most promising emerging artists working outside of the United States,” adds Garcia, who was born in Mexico and raised in L.A. "And also very established artists and figures who’ve never been invited to show here.”

Garcia left his post at LAXART in summer 2012; he bought an around-the-world ticket and spent three months visiting midsized art spaces and artist’s studios around the world. It took about a year and a half, he says, to build the board of directors and raise funds to open the Mistake Room.

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“Now we plan to do a publication series documenting the history of these sorts of spaces,” he says.

The Mistake Room has two full-time curators -- Garcia is one of them -- and an assistant curator. In April, when the current show comes down, the space will be renovated by architect Alfonso Medina.

The 12-person board includes former Santa Monica Museum of Art board chairwoman Dr. V. Joy Simmons; Tina Perry, Senior VP, Head of Business and Legal Affairs for OWN, Oprah Winfrey's network; Jennifer Gross from Evolutionary Media Group and the artists Eduardo Sarabia, Glenn Kaino and Murillo, among others.

The public opening of the Mistake Room and Murillo’s “Distribution Center” is Saturday night. It runs through April 12.

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Twitter.com/@debvankin

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