‘The new Chelsea’ in our backyard


WHAT’S an urban arts district without its own nickname?

Downtown L.A. art gallery owners evidenced some anxiety about the matter back in 2003, when they pushed the city to put up a sign on Spring Street designating the surrounding area “Gallery Row” -- even though its galleries were farther apart than its bus stops and traffic lights.

Now Culver City, which has gained recognition in recent years for its growing number of highly regarded art galleries, may be acquiring its own catchphrase: “The new Chelsea,” a play off the “old” Chelsea, center of the burgeoning gallery scene in New York City.

Unlike city-sanctioned “Gallery Row,” “the new Chelsea” is unofficial, along the lines of the fashion world’s designation of a season’s most popular color as “the new black” (although at most gallery openings, one may observe that the new black is still the old black).


Although writers and others have been comparing the Culver City scene to Chelsea for at least three years, the phrase “the new Chelsea” surfaced this month when a senior editor at Elle magazine, Miranda Purves, wrote in the September issue, as part of an item on L.A. artist Mark Grotjahn: “Culver City’s gallery strip is the new Chelsea.”

Purves says that although Culver City is indeed “very buzz-y” when it comes to its galleries, the phrase just popped into her mind to describe what’s happening there, artwise. “It’s different than when Chinatown took off,” she observes of another newish L.A. gallery hub. “It’s more big-league; Chinatown is still more fringe-y, student-y.” (Perhaps this is why Chinatown is still called “Chinatown”).

Purves’ words were eagerly noted by art blogger Caryn Coleman, co-owner of Sixspace Gallery in Culver City, who declared online that “the new Chelsea” has entered “the publication art hype vernacular” (not a bad phrase itself, if you think about it).

But “the new Chelsea” may not be as new as it seems: Coleman says she used the phrase last year, in an interview with L.A. Weekly.

Christine Byers, public art and historic preservation coordinator for Culver City, says the only place she’s seen “the new Chelsea” is on Coleman’s blog. But she adds, “From where I’m coming from, the world of city cultural affairs, we think it’s fabulous.”

-- Diane Haithman