"My timing has been good--I’ve gotten to be involved during the time when they Getty undertook the Pacific Standard Time project, which really shone a light on design in the postwar California period, and that has always been the moment we’ve focused on, and to have Pacific Standard Time focus on that has really helped to promote our agenda." - Gerard O'Brien
Gerard O'Brien opens "The Landing" on Melrose, inside Reform Gallery
(all photos by David John)
Gerard O'Brien's (Reform Gallery) latest venture is called The Landing. Tomorrow evening, November 29th, The Landing is having its first opening with the work of Morgan MacLean. Reform Gallery is the go-to place when in search of California post-war craft/design/art in Los Angeles. Two years ago, Gerard moved his store to a stretch of Melrose, which has become an area concentrated with design gallery and stores (Galerie Half, The Window). This afternoon, I photographed the gallery as they were installing their first show, in preparation of tomorrow.
When O'Brien was considering the right location for his new gallery, he realized "there’s a raised landing along the store’s front window, and eventually I arrived at the idea of dedicating that footprint to telling art stories." Eloquent storytellers like Gerard are few and far between. I'm honored to post this conversation I had with Gerard last week. -David John
"The Landing's inaugural show will feature sculptures by artist Morgan MacLean. MacLean renders versions of discarded objects he finds in urban settings--both smaller items like crumpled bags and larger items like industrial refuse--in mahogany and other fine woods. MacLean starts by collecting abandoned items, then makes to-scale wood sculptures of them, turning these discarded remnants into what he calls "mysterious modern forms." A practitioner of ancient carving techniques, MacLean renders these pieces by hand without the use of power saws and without the help of assistants." (text taken from press release)
the installation of the first show at The Landing, works by Morgan MacLean
Tell me more about the Landing and how you see this gallery within a gallery. How will it transform over the years?
Gerard: Ever since Reform moved from La Cienega, which had a dedicated upstairs white box gallery, I’ve wanted to recreate that kind of environment within Reform. The space I moved into in ‘09--on La Brea--just didn’t really have an area that made sense. And now I’ve been in the space on Melrose for two years and as time has passed, the gallery has expanded. When it first opened, it was just the front room, then I opened the library room, and this year we opened the other back room, and I always was thinking, Where’s the right space to do the white box space? There’s a raised landing along the store’s front window, and eventually I arrived at the idea of dedicating that footprint to telling art stories.
It remains to be seen how the space will transform. I haven’t thought much beyond the first three shows, but I love the idea of having a dedicated area to tell more stories than what I’m telling on the floor. Craftsmanship--furniture and decorative art--is an art medium within itself, but the Landing is a place to show what is more traditionally defined as art.
What sort of work will you gravitate towards with The Landing?
Gerard: Sculpture is a medium I’m interested in--it’s a natural outgrowth of the work I’m doing in Reform. A number of craft furniture makers I’ve handled over the years have done sculptures as well. I also hope to show paintings, video art--whatever feels appropriate.
Morgan MacLean's work being installed for The Landing's first show
California funk glass in the backroom at Reform
Any new discoveries that you are particularly interested in at the moment? You showed me some insane 70's funk glass on my last visit.
Gerard: I’m definitely interested in the funk period in California, the 70s going into the 80s, especially in work from Northern California. Robert Strini works in clay and wood, and is one artist I intend to show at the Landing, and there’s a ceramicist from the 1950s named Myrton Purkiss, a student of Glen Luken’s, who did ceramic plates that were really, for all intents and purposes, paintings on clay. Each plate was unique and he would fire them and create little hanger holes on the back, so the plates could be hung as well as being used as a functioning plates. I see them as paintings on clay and I look forward to being able to show them that way.
How many times has Reform moved in Los Angeles, and how has the idea transformed into what it has become? What has been the most difficult & rewarding thing about building REFORM?
Gerard: Reform has moved too many times. We’ve moved three times since we started. The first was because of the opportunity that 816 N. La Cienega gave us, to be in La Cienega’s design quarter, which is one of the premiere design centers in America. When we first moved in, we just had the first floor and back garden, but then the second floor became available and I took it and built a staircase that joined upstairs and downstairs. I did not realize that the owner would sell the building, but he did--he sold the building when my lease was up at the end of 5 years. That’s what forced me to move to La Brea. The space on La Brea turned out not to be a great location for a myriad of reasons, but no location would have been great in 2008 because of the economic climate.
One of the great things about moving to Melrose is that it allowed me to leave that time and that business climate behind. Melrose has proven to be a really great location because it has great adjacencies, great restaurants and shops, and it’s become a new destination for design in Los Angeles. The people are the most rewarding aspect, both the clients and also the artist/craftsmen I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know. My timing has been good--I’ve gotten to be involved during the time when they Getty undertook the Pacific Standard Time project, which really shone a light on design in the postwar California period, and that has always been the moment we’ve focused on, and to have Pacific Standard Time focus on that has really helped to promote our agenda.
To have a shop and keep it interesting and fresh, it’s all about discovery and what story you can tell or what new object you can present to your clients. That’s a valuable lesson, especially during challenging periods: worry about the clients you have, not the clients you don’t have. There was a time when I was thinking about who I didn’t have as clients, but that was backwards.
Any overlooked California artists/craftsmen that you feel have a strong story/point of view and a large body of work that you want to bring into the current conversation on California craft?
Gerard: For sure. One story I’ve been involved with is J.B. Blunk’s, and there’s still more to tell about J.B., especially regarding his ceramic work. There’s also Robert Strini, who I’ve already talked about, and there’s Maurice Martine too. There are plenty more stories to tell, and there’s more material to shine a light on.
The Landing’s second show?
Gerard: Robert Strini.
Any words to the new collector?
I think that new collectors need to buy what they like and to feel very strongly about the pieces that they bring into their lives. I don’t look at things based on value, I look at them based on how they register with me.
Do you think appreciation for hand-crafted works and furniture has risen in the past few years?
Gerard: Absolutely. And certainly Pacific Standard Time did a great job of helping that story. Certainly with the shows at LACMA and MOCA and all the other shows--the show at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and the show at the Mingei Museum in San Diego, and the show at American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona--those shows for sure raised the profile of that sort of work.
Any important design fairs that Reform participates in?
Gerard: We have participated in the Palm Springs fair since its inaugural show in 2002, and that show--and the Modernism week that has sprung up around it--just gets better every year. The Palm Springs Art Museum has just broken ground on a new building, and is renovating the building that will host the architecture and design collection, which will only enhance the value of that show, as the museum builds a world class decorative arts collection.
We also participate in the L.A. Modernism show, Los Angeles Antiques Show, and last year we exhibited in the inaugural 1st Dibs fair called NYC20, and we probably will be returning to that show in the spring.
(a huge thank you to Gerard, Nicole, and Morgan)
The Landing's Opening
Thursday, Nov 29th 6-9pm.
6819 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles