Q&A: Gavlak gallery opens in Hollywood

Gallerist Sarah Gavlak is thinking big these days -- as in 5,000 square feet.

Her new Hollywood gallery, Gavlak, opened Thursday night, joining Regen Projects, Michael Kohn Gallery and Hannah Hoffman Gallery in the neighborhood. It’s an ambitious attempt to expand the footprint of her smaller Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach, Fla.

The Hollywood gallery, at 1034 N. Highland Ave., launched with a group show featuring paintings, drawings and sculptures by contemporary artists from around the world, including L.A.-based Whitney Biennial artists Keith Mayerson and Lisa Anne Auerbach as well as Liz Craft and Vincent Szarek, Vienna artist Judith Eisler and New York artists T.J. Wilcox, Andrew Brischler and McDermott & McGough.


Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Philippe Vergne and Hammer curator Anne Ellegood mingled with other curators and museum staff as well as collectors such as Beth DeWoody and art journalists. Art world figures who’d flown in for the affair included Eric Shiner, director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where Gavlak is from; and Stuart Comer, chief curator of media and performance art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“I think it’s genius that she’s back in L.A.,” Shiner said. “It’s where she deserves to be, in one of the great art capitals of the world.”

Gavlak lived in Los Angeles from 1992 to 2000. Prior to opening Gavlak Gallery in West Palm Beach in 2005 with a Wade Guyton solo show -- and later relocating the gallery to the tonier Worth Avenue area in Palm Beach in 2008 -- she held a number of art world jobs in L.A. Among them: special events coordinator at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and research assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art. She also ran a small project space out of her Silver Lake home.

Gavlak’s return to L.A. is a homecoming of sorts, she said, during our recent conversation:

Why return to Los Angeles with a new gallery after all these years?
One of the things I loved, when I was living here before, is that L.A. is such an artist-driven community, and I was craving that. Also, I’ve sort of built my business in Palm Beach to a certain level -- there’s certainly more to do there, more shows -- but I wanted to expand and have a larger space to do more ambitious projects in, larger-scale sculptures and installations. Palm Beach is great, but it’s not an artists’ community like L.A. -- and I’ve been coming back and forth all these years since I left and watching the city grow, and I think the growth of my gallery and what’s happening in L.A. has been simpatico. L.A. is very vibrant and exciting right now. It just seemed like the right time.

A number of art galleries from the East Coast, in fact, and around the world seem to be heading west right now. Do you feel part of a movement of sorts, and did that play a role in your decision to open here?
Timing wise, yes -- but I think the reasons they’re doing it are different than mine. Having lived in L.A. and maintained relationships here over the years, it feels like coming back home. But certainly, the reason a lot of galleries are moving to Los Angeles right now is because there are so many great artists here -- and that, for me, was also a motivation.

In looking for gallery spaces, why did you choose Hollywood as opposed to, say, the very art-entrenched Culver City area or burgeoning downtown L.A.?
When I lived here in the early ‘90s I was an intern at LACE and I spent a lot of time in downtown L.A. and I lived in Echo Park. Maybe I have this idea of it when it was really crazy and renegade and gritty -- and I loved that about it -- but I feel like I kind of did that. I looked at other spaces, but I was kind of focused on this neighborhood. It’s very central, it’s near to Culver City, but it’s also easy to get to on its own. Shaun [Regen] I’ve known for years and have incredible respect for, as well as Hannah [Hoffman] and Michael Kohn. Various Small Fires is opening down the street; they were out in Venice and in September are opening a space here. I also wanted it to be easy, to be in a destination area for collectors when they’re coming from out of town and only have so much time. I wanted to be in a community.

Did you think about opening a space in New York instead of L.A.?
I was looking in New York for a while and it was just prohibitive, financially. And personally, I just feel more at home in L.A. than New York. I like the sense of community. It’s unique to the city and the art scene here. The people are nicer in L.A.!

You mentioned wanting to do larger projects in both size and scope. How does your debut show speak to this vision?
To be able to do a show with Vince Szarek -- the middle of the gallery is taken over by his sort of Western covered wagon -- or Orly Genger, who did the Madison Square Park commission last spring, has a big piece in the show. It’s a large, white, rope stack sculpture. Everyone’s contributed, for the most part, one single large piece.

I’m also really excited to see what film and video will look like in here. We created a little project space for film and video up on the mezzanine, where we’ll do artists talks and entertain. I couldn’t do that in Palm Beach, I just didn’t have the space.

Twitter: @debvankin