Los Angeles is a region with plenty of unusual exhibition spaces. Pasadena's Side Street Projects operates out of a mobile trailer. The Finley displays art in a Los Feliz foyer visible from the street. A professor at Culver City's Otis College of Art and Design has a gallery in a small box. And all manner of budding curators have transformed garages into intermittent gallery spaces.
But a new space by collector and artist Danny First may just take the weirdness cake.
First has built a 10-by-12-foot gallery in his Hancock Park backyard using the exact shape and dimensions of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin — down to the plywood patches out front.
First says this isn't out of some weird tribute to Kaczynski and his anti-technology manifestos. It's the shape and the scale of the building that he found compelling.
"I've never even seen [Kaczynski's] cabin in person," First says. "It really has nothing to do with the Unabomber. The simplicity of the structure is something that appeals to me — it's like something that a kid would draw. I liked it from the first time I saw it on television."
For one, it's painted in moody shades of black and gray. And the interior looks like a typical gallery space, with white walls, bright lighting and blond wood floors.
Currently, there is a solo exhibition by L.A. artist John Monn, whose bright, shimmering pieces are made through a process of chrome plating. On Sunday, the Cabin will have its first public open house, timed to the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair, which is being held in Santa Monica through the weekend.
First's primary goal isn't commercial. It's to provide emerging artists without gallery representation a space to show, along with access to art world connections.
"I don't do this as a business," he says. "This is just to support."
Originally from Israel, First has lived in Los Angeles for almost three decades, establishing a successful merchandising business around a set of cartoon characters called Danny & Sally.
Art, however, has been a long-running interest. He makes wry ceramic sculptures of abstracted human heads bearing all manner of expressions, from dismayed to perplexed to amused. And he's shown this work at galleries such as ACME and Michael Kohn in Los Angeles.
But he is best known around Los Angeles for his role as a collector. He bought his first piece of art in the early 1990s — a drawing by Raymond Pettibon — and he has collected ever since. Paintings by established figures such as George Condo, Enrique Martinez Celaya and Kehinde Wiley (the latter of whom is about to be the subject of a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in New York) are some of his acquistions.
"Collecting," the congenial First says, "is an insanity."
He is also a patron, lending his art-studded home for museum events, as well as supporting emerging artists with materials and studio space.
The decision to build the Cabin came out of a desire to have a dedicated space in which he could show some of the artists' work to the curators, collectors and gallerists who often stream through his home.
"My goal is to connect the artists with galleries and curators," he says. "I don't do it as a business — just to support."
The Cabin does not operate like a commercial gallery. He doesn't have a list of scheduled shows planned a year in advance. And he doesn't take a 50% (or more) cut of the proceeds. In the case of Monn, he had simply enjoyed the artist's jewel-like pieces after seeing them at a group show in Culver City and offered to help him produce them, since chrome plating is expensive.
Monn sees it as a more personal experience than being in a gallery.
"Danny probably could have opened up a storefront and had a gallery if that's what he wanted to do," Monn says. "This seems more intimate ... People who go there to see my work, they're also seeing this collector's home. It's nice for them to see my work in that context."
Nine works from Monn's show have already sold. First says that after he recoups his expenses for materials, the rest goes back to the artist, to fund the creation of more work.
L.A.-based adviser Helen Lewis says that this system can take commercial pressure off of young artists who are just beginning to discover their voices.
"This allows them to experiment," she says. "This is a place for artists to be much freer. It's very generous — and very personal."
First says that Monn's show will remain up until he has the next one fully sketched out. "People keep asking me what the next thing is," he says, "and I say, 'I don't know!'"
He is, however, considering an exhibition of works by the self-taught painter Jay Tucker. "His work is so quirky and strange," First says. "And I like things that are slightly off."
But the idea is to keep thing flexible — and, above all, small.
"I started my business in a garage," says First. "You can do really interesting things in a small space."
An open house for John Monn will be held Sunday, 10 a.m. to noon. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for the exact address. The Cabin is near the intersection of Highland and Melrose avenues, Los Angeles, thecabinla.com.
Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.