Art Galleries of Every Description Add Another Splash of Color to Melrose

Nilson writes regularly about art for Westside/Valley Calendar

Melrose Avenue isn't usually considered a gallery row, but in fact more than 20 galleries of every description are tucked away among the antique furniture stores, the interior design shops and the motley clothing emporiums that line the avenue between Santa Monica Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.

The galleries--as Melrose itself--run the gamut, from high art enclaves to more commercial showcases to experimental outposts. Among the best known are the Jan Turner Gallery and Gemini G.E.L.--the path-breaking lithography studio and gallery that is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Those drawn to the provocatively funky also know the La Luz de Jesus Gallery, on the second floor of the variety store named the Soap Plant. There are plenty of others to consider--galleries that are either lesser-known or farther out along the avenue, both literally and figuratively.

LIGHT AND DAY: Upon entering the Kiyo Higashi Gallery, one is confounded by light and space--which is only appropriate since the gallery was designed by artist Larry Bell, known for his work in the light and space tradition.

Rainbow-colored light emanates from the juncture of wall and ceiling in the entrance hallway, which seems to slope downward--although that is an illusion of perspective. In fact, the walls are angled inward, and the floor is level. In an adjoining gallery room all the corners have been replaced with curves. "Without corners, there are no shadows," gallery owner Kiyo Higashi said.

The gallery has its roots in a favor born of a 30-year friendship. Higashi's husband, Robert, is Bell's longtime accountant; when Higashi went out on his own, Bell agreed to transform two buildings on Melrose into an office space for him.

Bell also offered to design part of the space as a gallery if Kiyo Higashi would open one and take him on as her first artist, Higashi said. "People kept telling me, you don't do this--you don't open a gallery and have only one artist."

But in the three years since the gallery opened, Higashi has built a strong if low-key reputation. She shows primarily abstract minimalist work and represents 11 artists, purposely keeping her stable small and eschewing what she calls "Madison Avenue marketing."

Higashi is showing the monochrome paintings of Roy Thurston, who applies 100 layers of lacquer to a plywood base, then scores it with a special tool he designed. The technique, Higashi said, "allows the color to be trapped in and lets the light out."

Roy Thurston through April 13 at the Kiyo Higashi Gallery, 8332 Melrose Ave . , Los Angeles ; (213) 655-2482. Open 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday .

A TO ZOLA: Fifteen months ago, Zola Fine Art--which provides contemporary art to art consultants, designers, corporations and the entertainment industry, as well as to private collectors--moved to Melrose from 3rd Street.

"We wanted to be more in the midst of it," said Alyssa Wostrel, the gallery's director of public relations. "And it's worked."

The gallery, named for owner Lisa Zola, represents more than 75 artists who do abstract or figurative work in styles Wostrel said range from "traditional to transitional to contemporary."

Zola Fine Art's last show, of work by Barbara Ashton and Shelley Lazarus, included traditional watercolors of New England scenes. On its walls now is an exhibition of abstract ceramic wall sculptures by Michelle Griffoul.

Zola Fine Art also has a philanthropic streak. It plans a special show in May of art for children that will benefit babies with AIDS.

The gallery also holds quarterly concerts--one is at 8 p.m. March 27--for a group of musicians known as the LoCal Composers.

Zola Fine Art, 8163 Melrose Ave . , Los Angeles ; (213) 655-6060. Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday .

ZEROING IN: "This is the most normal art gallery-looking space I've had," said John Pochna, owner of Zero One Gallery at Melrose and La Brea. "I resisted addresses like this when I started this place."

That was in 1980, when the gallery opened in the first of its five Hollywood locations as Zero Zero Gallery. After Time magazine named the computer its Man of the Year, the gallery name changed to reflect the 0-1 binary symbols that are the units of meaning in computer technology, Pochna said.

At the time, Pochna was resisting having his gallery pegged as a graffiti art showcase and wanted a name that connoted a wider range. "Zero one is the entire alphabet for the computer," he said. "I figured with a name like that, it wouldn't look as if I was part of anything."

Zero One still shows a range of contemporary and post-contemporary work. It represents artists in their 40s with scores of solo shows and emerging young artists having their first one-man exhibitions.

Although the gallery does not have a pronounced political bent, Pochna said, shows have occasionally been controversial. One gallery window remains broken and gated since a vandal took umbrage at a show in November of work by Aileen Getty and Robert Taub.

Upcoming is a two-man show featuring the work of Anthony Ausgang and a New York artist who goes by the single name Clark. Clark's most recent claim to fame, Pochna said, was that he served as the jury foreman in the Leona Helmsley tax trial.

Zero One Gallery, 7025 Melrose Ave . , Los Angeles. (213) 965-9459. Open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday .

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