Photos by Asia Morris.
The recently renovated look of the 3,000-square-foot gallery space at the Art Exchange Visual Art Center (ARTX) in the East Village Arts District is truly contemporary, with its stark white gallery walls, the original concrete floors, now visible and polished, exposed brick and the skeletons of the recently found windows that have been hidden for decades now visible.
“I think when you walk in here, you look up, you look down, you look at the walls… everything in here has been renovated,” said Jay Hong, who has served as the executive director of ArtX for the past year. “I don’t think there’s a square inch that we haven’t touched. You feel like you’re in downtown New York.”
Still under construction is the mezzanine located above the gallery, soon to be used as office space for employees and casual programming, an apartment located above the studios slated for artist residencies, and the original 1925 windows above the main gallery, which the nonprofit is raising funds to uncover and restore to their original form and use.
“Until we started doing construction we had no idea [they] were there and it’s a huge find,” said Cameron Crockett, principal of Ultra Unit Architectural Studio who helped with the renovations. “It’s just impossible to replicate. One of the fundraising efforts is to try to raise funds so we can uncover and finish off these windows.”
Image courtesy of ARTX.
ARTX will celebrate its grand reopening this Saturday at 5:30PM, where all are invited to walk through the result of a year of renovating, revamping and reorganizing what many hope will become more of an established arts hub for the Long Beach community.
The ARTX campus, composed of four contiguous buildings, was set aside by the City of Long Beach for this purpose. The organization will continue as a community art center that “brings the community together to learn, create and exchange art,” according to a release.
“When I stepped into this about a year ago, there were a lot of people that wanted to do a lot of good things,” said Hong. “[...]and what I found after listening for a few months was that everybody wanted to do a good thing, but there was no coordination, it was like a centipede trying to move, but the legs weren’t coordinated. And so when I stepped in I just got everybody aligned and I simplified the vision of the project and really, that’s how we got it done.”
A three-pronged approach of city, state and private funding has given ARTX a second lease on life, according to Hong, and given what Gregory Pickens and Steve Elicker envisioned over a decade ago more of a foundation in creating another dimension to catalyze a thriving Long Beach arts scene.
During the November 3 Long Beach City Council meeting last year, when the project to renovate was unanimously approved, then Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal as well as Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia voiced their support.
“Congratulations to the team that has brought this forward[...],” said Garcia in a statement. “We have been talking about this site for such a long time[...] it is such an important connection for downtown.”
Several of the former studio artists of ARTX migrated to MADE in Millworks (when it was still MADE in Long Beach), before the arts organization closed its doors for renovations. The artists were asked to reapply to ARTX for a space in November 2015, although they wouldn’t be guaranteed a spot. In an effort to keep the group together that had been fostered at the former ARTX, the four found somewhere else to work and sell.
Now with its re-opening, four revamped studio spaces next door to the main gallery will be used by incoming artists Russ Quackenbush, Brendan Sharkey, Vivian Shimoyama, Suzie Edwards and Aingeel Talley, according to the site. The spaces also act as storefronts where the artists can sell their work and talk to visitors.
"The Art Exchange is in a perfect position to make a substantial shift in and a positive change to the Long Beach art scene,” said Ron Nelson, executive director of the Long Beach Museum of Art, in a statement. “At many public city meetings over the years, people have talked about a need for a place within Long Beach to showcase their work outside of an institutional or commercial setting. The Art Exchange is exactly what has been missing in our city’s cultural fabric, and it is emerging at the absolute perfect time.”
Acapulco Gold, 2016, by Christopher Kuhn.
ArtX’s current exhibition, The Best of Long Beach, will be on display at the grand reopening this Saturday, through October 23. The show includes pieces from a wide variety of artists including Bill Viola and Kira Perov, Brian Doan, Christopher Kuhn, Christine Nguyen, Kiel Johnson and husband-and-wife duo Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet.
The Best of Long Beach was curated by Michael Gibson, a resident of Torrance who recently curated a 40-year retrospective at the Albuquerque Art Museum, and local artist Sayon Syprasoeuth, a coordinator for Global Hybrid, an arts exchange between artists in Cambodia, Korea and the United States, according to ARTX.
White Reindeer Antlers (detail), 2016, by Maura Bendett.
ArtExchange is located at 356 East 3rd Street.