As we exited g727 into the throng who were milling about the doors of the three nearly adjacent galleries, Stan and Ana passed out their handbills, prompting many short conversations. This slowed our entrance into the neighboring Infusion Gallery.
At each gallery, the three of us lit out on our own: Stan to talk to the host to see about leaving some of his handbills and to explore what mutual benefit their two businesses might have; Ana lingering on the images she liked; I doing the same. At the back of the gallery, they were offering the infamous “Two-buck Chuck” (Trader Vic’s “Charles Shaw” wine) for $2 a glass. For the first time in my life, I drank a glass. A man beside the desktop-cum-bar addressed me thusly:
“I want to show you something,” he said, reaching into an artist’s wooden canvas carrier.
He produced an 11″ × 14 ″ canvas depicting what was obviously his head in profile. It was an alla prima-style portrait in acrylic. Impatient for my response he asked,
“What do you think!?”
“Interesting…” I said, as it became apparent he had somewhat of a buzz.
He removed his glasses and turned his head away while holding the picture next to its model.
“You don’t have to do that… I could tell immediately that it’s you,” I said affably.
I went on to tell him how much I enjoyed self-portraiture, especially Rembrandt, who had one of the most prolific lifelong records of his image of any major painter.
“But I don’t have to tell you that, you’re an artist”, I realized.
“No you don’t,” he said. He repeated his previous process, removing his glasses and holding the painting beside his head, and again prodded me: “What do you think?”
I tried to look at the picture without prejudice and discern what he might have been trying to achieve. Finally, one aspect of the portrait struck me.
“I like how your ear is turned out, as if from another angle, like a touch of cubism. It makes you look like a good listener,” I suggested.
“I am a good listener,” he replied proudly. But apparently, that was not an intentional aspect of his portrait, as he gave no acknowledgement. He asked again: “So, what do you think?”
“Well, it’s a good likeness of you. I like it,” I said, trying to be pleasant.
He turned his head away, for a different reason this time, “I like it!” he said, mocking me, half to himself and half to the wine-desk hostess.
A moment later Stan came to tell me they were ready to leave. I said I’d catch up in a minute as I tried to finish the plonky wine.
Again, the narrow egress through the crowd was beneficial to Downtownster’s purposes. It created more opportunity for contact with potential site-hitters. We had spent an hour and a half at these three galleries and after some ten minutes of working through the mass we emerged onto a sparsely populated part of the sidewalk.
(Unfortunately, the day I returned [May 27th], Infusion Gallery was preparing to put in its next show. The exhibit on Art Walk night was interesting and diverse. They had images created in digital, photographic and paint media. Some of it was very good, but since it is gone now I can only discuss the space and its ambience. I had the pleasure of meeting the Gallery Director Heidi Calvert, who is a photographic artist and also presents her own performance art/burlesque/dance parties there.
Infusion Gallery is set up in an unexpected way. The center of the 18 foot-wide room has a built-in, poured-concrete stage elevated two feet off the floor and inset between the walls. The dimensions of the stage are 12 feet deep by 20 feet wide and this space was the most interesting gallery-within-a-gallery area I saw that night. It is a great space for medium-large to large canvasses or an installation or sculpture and, inherently, the work in this area seems more important. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from Noon to 6 p.m.
Heidi’s Calvert’s photography, which she shows continuously here, is erotic portraiture of women. Her work was in color and made use of unusual lingerie, wigs, locations and in one case, a mask. She showed one group portrait of Feminine Oddities, the burlesque troupe from the Hive who also perform at Ms. Calvert’s shows. Her next show, on June 13th [from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.] she calls Fever!, a “Medical Fetish Disco”. She said among what to expect would be scantily and suggestively clad “nurses” putting casts on “patients”, revelers in hospital gowns and electronica -themed disco music. For party information call Infusion Gallery at 213 683-8827.
We traversed 7th Street again, this time heading towards 6th, while discussing the various artworks. As we came to about mid-block I was stopped by the spectacle of the most stunning art-deco façade I’ve seen downtown. This was the only time I halted our little search party. This architecture demanded consideration. As I was extolling the beauty of this unique edifice to my companions, Stan said:
“You know what that building is?”
Ana and I both took his rising inflection as an invitation to make guesses and began chiming in accordingly: “a central bank”; the Electric Company”; “a federal building”; etc.
“I’ll tell you, if you’ll just let me,” he said impatiently. “It’s the Pacific Stock Exchange.”
As my eyes trained down to street level there was the plaque bearing the legend: “Los Angeles Stock Exchange MCMXXX”.
“Wow!” I said. “At the height of the Great Depression they built this!”
About a half a block before 6th, this building is at the very south end of the historic Spring Street Financial District. It was the end in another sense, in that the financial boom that spurred the creation of the district’s magnificent palaces ended cataclysmically, at the site of this building, in the midst of its construction.
Inside a shallow portico, the peerless entrance has a pair of 2000 pound-per side, 12 foot-high, solid bronze doors with inset, hinged pulls that resemble ornate pall-bearer’s handles. The bronze panels are covered inside and out in a beautiful art-deco recurring design like rugs intended as wall hangings. Around the portico is a famous bas relief, hand-carved into granite by Salvatore Cataina Scarpitta. These three famous stone plates are designed to embody the elements of capitalism: Finance; Production; Research and Discovery. They are like hieroglyphics declaring the purpose of the structure one is about to enter. The overall figure of the building resembles three steps of stairs of irregular height, the last the tallest, giving it both classic deco and monumental appearance.
The interior of this largely abandoned architectural marvel is stunning for its stone walls, floors, half-turn spiral staircase and balustrade all crafted from light and dark marble and travertine. Also, the deco light fixtures awe, from the entrance to the gallery outside the trading floor – a true masterpiece of interior space. This colossal room in travertine and marble has a forty-foot ceiling, a 360 degree gallery at the twenty-foot level, carved-marble molding, amber glass fixtures, and half-secreted, built-in observation decks commanding a view of the floor from each end. This seat of power in what was once commonly referred to as the Wall Street of the West was converted into a nightclub with minimal alteration to the architecture in 1986. In that year, what had become known as the Pacific Stock Exchange moved to downtown’s new Financial District. There they maintained a trading floor until 2001. The nightclub here has not been open for some time. A new set of tenants recently spent two million dollars restoring and re-outfitting the trading floor only to find themselves in a battle for their business lives. Former operators had been irresponsible to the point of impending liquor-license revocation and the present entrepreneurs unknowingly inherited this problem. On June 9th there will be a hearing to determine the fate of this enterprise, which can reopen history and classic beauty to downtownsters and visitors alike. I think a place like this should “not perish from the downtown earth”. If you live in the area, Kate Bartolo & Associates are spearheading the fight to keep the right to operate a club here and they would like your support. You can sign a petition in favor and, if so moved, can attend the hearing. If interested, contact Kate or Erin at 213 896-8906 or Kate@KateBartolo.com <mailto:Kate@KateBartolo.com>
Coming Tuesday, Part Three
Postscript: This article organically evolved into a monster – now over four times its intended length. Every time I interviewed someone to fill in the gaps, a plethora of worthy material emerged. Due to its length, I think I made the rational choice to break up the last installment into two. Incidentally, every building in the Art Walk stretch of the Spring Street Financial District is a treasure of downtown’s most prosperous period in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. A.S.