Visual Feast: Richard Heller Gallery

By RACHEL MANY
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For over two decades, Bergamot Station, a sprawling 7.5acre, industrial arts complex in the heart of Santa Monica, has played home to one of the city’s most unique public spaces. With more than 30 galleries and a myriad of public programming for the masses, it’s no wonder the campus is heralded as a primary cultural destination on the Westside. Where else can you get a dose of culture, enjoy some eats, and relish in the ample amount of free parking? Yes, free. (If the artwork doesn’t appeal to your tastes, the parking surely will.) 

Sasha Pierce 2015, silkscreen on handmade Kurotani  paper, archival cotton paper and archival mending tape, 30.25 x 22.75 inchesAmong the cluster of worthwhile sights lies Richard Heller Gallery, a captivating creative space that presents a bold program of international contemporary artists—topnotch talent featuring the likes of Devin Troy Strother, Dustin Yellin, Michelle Grabner, Vanessa Prager, Corey Arnold, Zak Smith, Amy Bennett, and David Jien. Heller, himself, is quite the veteran of the complex, opening his gallery in 1996 in the burgeoning first years of Bergamot Station. He has seen his fair share of change and growth within the complex, more so now than ever before. Los Angeles’ Expo Line—the city’s first public rail line to connect downtown to Santa Monica—will stop alongside Bergamot Station beginning in 2016, changing the pace and growth of the treasured arts complex. 

With the arrival of so much new activity, we just had to pick Heller’s brain. After all, who better to discuss the complex’s continuing evolution and the progress of the gallery than one of the space’s most steadfast and venerable gallerists? 

LA CANVAS: You’re located in Bergamot Station. How do you like being a part of such a large community of galleries? How has the arts complex changed over the years?

RICHARD HELLER: When I moved to Bergamot in 1996, it was one of the true art centers—great shows were done here. My early shows with Marcel Dzama, Charles Gaines, Michelle Grabner, and, more recently, Devin Troy Strother, were all here. Sigmar Polke and Charles Ray at Burnett Miller. Mike Kelley and Glenn Brown at Patrick Painter. Anselm Kiefer and Yoko Ono at Shoshana Wayne. It’s still likely the only destination where you have at least 100 people walking in every day, even on weekdays, and you can still see some important shows here. I think my program makes more sense in the city, but I was born in Santa Monica, and Dogtown feels like home.

Strother N's on linen

LAC: How long have you been in LA?

RH: I opened my first gallery in 1986 with Bennett Roberts on La Brea Avenue. I was 25 years old. We gave Raymond Pettibon, Kim Dingle, and other masters of the universe some of their first solo shows at that space.

LAC: How do you select your artists?

RH: I’ve been in the business for almost 30 years, so artists come to me in various ways. Often, it’s recommendations from artists that are already with the gallery. But I look everywhere. It just has to feel somehow new and right and original to me. I think that the importance of originality has somehow lost its luster in much of what is currently being shown today, but it’s still the most important thing to me. If you hear David Bowie’s voice, it could only be Bowie. When you look at a Glenn Brown painting, only Brown could have made it. That’s the vibe it takes to hook me.

LAC: How do you feel about the new Expo Line station being built alongside Bergamot Station? Are there any general concerns among the current gallery tenants and yourself?

RH: It’s going to be so exciting to be able to park at work and take a train downtown or to Culver City. The train stops right here so it will really open up the ease of access for Bergamot, especially for out-of-town visitors.

Untitled Small Figure 66, 2015, 13.75 x 35 x 7.75 in, Dustin Yellin

LAC: Any LA-based (or non) artists we should be keeping our eye on for the future?

RH: I’m super-excited about Devin Troy Strother and Vanessa Prager here in LA. In New York, Amy Bennett, Dustin Yellin, Ryan Schneider, Matt Mignanelli, and Trudy Benson. In Portland, Corey Arnold. In Canada, Sasha Pierce and Neil Farber. And from all points of the world, Charlie Roberts.

LAC: Any art trends you’re witnessing in the LA art scene?

RH: I think that young artists, not just in LA, are under tremendous pressure to make it quickly. They don’t feel they have the luxury of time that it took previous generations to develop their ideas and get on the map. Everything is accelerated. It’s exciting… but I don’t think it’s sustainable.

LAC: What are you most excited about for the future of the gallery?

RH: Having the pleasure to watch the whole art world evolve and grow and die and resurrect itself with a certain amount of detachment and, at the same time, curious wonder.  I’m also excited about having an additional space or doing some pop-ups in town, giving people more access to the gallery. Let’s face it, driving on the 10 freeway is just fucked. But the train is coming….

Get your visual eye-feast by visiting Richard Heller at 2525 Michigan Ave., B-5A, Santa Monica, CA 90404

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