Artists prepare to shine at Open Call L.A. exhibition

Helen Kim and other Southern California artists bring their works for display at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

As he walked gingerly up a staircase in Barnsdall Park, John Cuevas balanced three card-table-size canvases on top of his head. Once he got to the top, he set down his paintings, let out a long exhale and snapped a picture of the long line that snaked out from the entrance of the Municipal Art Gallery.

“It’s an exhibition space that’s open to everybody,” he said. “So cool.”

Like the 34-year-old L.A. native, who showed up with a trio of kaleidoscope-like oil paintings, hundreds of Southland artists lined up outside the gallery in East Hollywood on Saturday to drop off their creations at Open Call L.A.

The event’s egalitarian format — for $20 a pop, anyone who lives in Southern California can enter three pieces — offers a unique opportunity for the huge swath of artists who might not otherwise get a chance to see their work displayed in a gallery.

“We feel we bridge the gap of showing everything from emerging to big, established artists,” said Scott Canty, the gallery’s curator.


Canty said that every year the open call, which got its start as an outdoor city art festival in 1950, brings in pieces that impress him. And ones that confound him.

“We hang everything that comes through the front door,” he said. “Sometimes you just scratch your head.”

This year’s more funky entrants include: a lava-looking green figure made of expandable foam in a can, a sculpture of old transmission parts welded to a set of keys and a montage of business cards that the artist named “My Card — Call Me.”

Simone Sello, a music producer from France who now lives in Los Feliz, used a plastic pipe, a trash can and lots of old receipts from Sapori Italian Restaurant in Marina del Rey to create his piece called “Disposable Art.” As far back as he can remember, he has doodled on the back of restaurant receipts, so he decided to store some of them and use them to create something.

“Maybe if I group them in a series they’ll acquire some value?” Sello said, laughing a bit.

While it was Sello’s first time having a piece displayed, other artists, like Nancy J. Johnson, who traveled from Fullerton to drop off her oil painting, are more familiar with the gallery world.

She was excited to hear that some big-name jurors — artists such as F. Scott Hess and Jan Davids — will decide who wins the $1,000 prize for best in show. She also heard that collectors sometimes use the event to scout talent. (Canty confirmed, joking that they often wear sunglasses to stay incognito.)

Although the main reward of seeing their work displayed won’t happen for a few days — the exhibit opens March 30 and will be up for two weeks — the artists didn’t seem to mind waiting in line Saturday and mingling with one another.

As an older man with a plaid shirt neared the front of the line, he rested his forearms on two big sculptures made of different colors of crumpled cellophane.

A woman ahead of him in line pointed at his similar-looking pieces and asked him a question: “Looks like you’ve found your thing, huh?”

He shrugged and said he didn’t feel like he’d found anything. She smiled and said he had.