L.A.’s Crewest Gallery to close after 10 years as graffiti venue

Man One, co-founder of Crewest Gallery, seen in 2009 preparing for a show on street art from Iran. Crewest is closing after more than 10 years devoted solely to graffiti art.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Crewest Gallery, which helped graffiti gain a foothold in the Los Angeles art mainstream, will close Dec. 31, ending a 10½-year run that began in Alhambra and migrated in 2006 to downtown L.A.

Man One, the graffiti muralist who founded the gallery with business partner Harry Reynolds, said Thursday that he wanted to focus more on his own work -- and that a post-recession drop in sales also played into the decision to stop.

“If this was my only gig, I’d like to stay another 10 years” in the gallery business, said Man One, 41, who was born Alex Poli and grew up in Alhambra. “But my passion is to be an artist and make a living doing that -- which I have been doing. It’s time to venture and do bigger things.”


The calculus might be different if business were booming, he said, but the economic downturn has taken a toll. “Since 2009 there’s been a steady decline in the art-buying crowd. We can still sell a $5,000 piece, but it’s very difficult to sell a $300 piece. That tells me the people who have money still have money, but first-time collectors or young people who are into art aren’t able to spend a few hundred dollars on a painting any more.”

The most expensive pieces Crewest ever sold were in the $20,000 to $25,000 range, Man One said.

He plans to continue to curate shows elsewhere periodically, but “now I want to focus on my painting, opening my own studio and doing a lot more client-based projects. I already have a full plate of things going on,” including being part of a planned group graffiti-artist tour in Britain next year.

Among the projects he hopes to launch soon are a series of murals on skid row buildings, an opportunity, along with a great deal of other potential work for muralists, that depends on passage of a new city ordinance reversing a 1986 law that classifies murals with substantial written content -- therefore most graffiti art -- as prohibited commercial signage.

The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee is scheduled to take up the proposed law Jan. 15 having received a favorable recommendation from the city’s planning staff that creating a new category of art murals “will demonstrate the city’s commitment to the prosperous artistic and cultural life of its citizenry.” Building owners who want muralists to do their thing on their property would apply for permits administered by the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Crewest went for single-artist or themed shows, Man One said -- including an annual “Top of the Dome” show for Dia de los Muertos, in which artists painted on skulls -- so its finale, a multi-artist affair that’s “a bit of a hodgepodge,” is somewhat uncharacteristic. A farewell party is scheduled Dec. 29, two days before closing.

He said he’s exiting with pride, claiming honors for Crewest as the first Los Angeles gallery devoted exclusively to graffiti art. “We helped establish the playing field,” Man One said.


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