The gallery is not exactly a “gallery.”
Situated on an anonymous block in Silver Lake with a nondescript glass front, passersby could catch a glimpse of dozens of printed t-shirts with slightly familiar-looking logos hanging on the walls, behind them, three plastic trees draped with nylon jackets.
There’s no stuffy “by appointment only” placard on the door. No opening night parties with champagne passed in plastic flutes and waiters in crisp black uniforms doling out crudités. None of the usual middle-aged buyers, eager to exchange their wealth from cash notes in the bank to fine art they can hang on the walls of their fancy homes.
Paul Loya Gallery is a different type of space for a different type of artist. After spending a few years in a permanent space in Culver City, owner Paul Loya decided to pick up and make his gallery mobile. The old model — a brick-and-mortar in the pricey “gallery” district of Culver City where he would spend most of his days sitting around, waiting to show art to the odd walk-in, wasn’t working for him anymore. After launching an online auction area and shop where people could purchase pieces he was showing in the gallery, Paul was surprised to discover that many buyers didn’t even need to actually see the artwork they were buying in real life. He recalls a high-ticket piece he had shipped to Hong Kong after the potential buyers cold-emailed him. “The pictures on the site didn’t even do the piece justice, and they still bought it,” he remembers. “They loved it even more once they saw it in-person.”
Now, Paul rents the open space in Silver Lake for weeklong single-artist exhibitions about once a month. He’s saving money on rent, still has a robust online presence, and is able to support the artists he carries.
This new gallery concept — a mostly digital space with a temporary physical footprint — is a dramatic break from the traditional museum and gallery role. We’re routinely told by teachers and scholars that “Art is meant to be experienced in-person. You can’t get a real feeling for the art unless you actually see it.” However, a number of contemporary artists are challenging that idea, including Gordon Holden, Paul Loya Gallery’s latest exhibiting artist.
He’s the guy who printed those shirts and zipped that red vinyl jacket onto the tree, an artists who’s shown work at Art Basel — but he also has a robust presence in the digital and social media worlds where he posts a lot of content that could be considered an extension of his art.
Gordon acknowledges the shift in how people consume art. “The thing with the Internet now is people can just see things whenever they feel like it. Once people are a little more interested, they wanna see a tangible thing. Ultimately it’s about how it benefits that consumer. The people that come to take pictures and put them on Snapchat and Instagram and stuff… that’s why they came. It benefited them in that way.”
Gordon is no stranger to the whims of social media where he’s posted much of his content since he began creating. His brainchild and most recognizable work, a logo that reads “Consume Cool,” began as a one-off idea. Fascinated with the idea of consumerism in America and why some brands reach mass popularity and inherent “coolness” for years — like Supreme or Nike — while others are considered uncool after a few months, he began experimenting. “The Consume Cool thing just started as a thing I was doing after college, living in Rhode Island. It just started as stickers.”
Those tongue-in-cheek stickers turned into a full-on exploration. In Gordon’s latest show, the tagline “Consume Cool” is plastered onto shirts in the style of familiar logos like Versace, Blockbuster and Patagonia. The exhibit is a continuation of the conversation on commercial consumerism that Holden has been thinking about for years. “I wanted to take things that are commonplace — like brands that people recognize — and make [the concept] more relatable. But really, it’s the phrasing juxtaposed with the relational aspect that makes people think, ‘What is he trying to say with this?’”
He continues, “I hate how artists always go into this identity based thing because it seems cliche, but it will ultimately always circle back to that, even if you’re trying to avoid it. It’s all identity based, because that’s what people are really interested in — themselves. It’s also what people are most confused about as well.”
Much of personal identity, Gordon posits, is formed by the unique opinions that we hold on people, brands, politics and pop culture. You know that you’d pick Nike over Adidas, Beyoncé over Katy Perry, Prada over H&M, but why? Are the reasons personal, ethical or is it just because you saw someone wearing a pair of Prada slides and thought they looked chic as hell?
“I’m just trying to get people to go a little deeper, as a culture, to think about why it is that we’re buying things — why we’re super into this thing, or that brand,” he explains. By messing with the logo — the “identity” of a popular brand — Gordon thinks he can make viewers take pause for a moment.
“They see this logo that they think they know for a thing they think they like… but it’s off somehow. And that (hopefully) leads them to introspective thinking: ‘I don’t really know who I am, but I think I know who I am. And this thing is what I like … but do I really like it?’” he says with a laugh.
The somewhat confronting nature of his work can cause resistance, as most contemporary art does. “People always gravitate towards beautiful paintings. ‘That’s a beautiful painting, I’d like to buy that.’ But take something that’s more abstract in the production, and people will ask, ‘What is this about?’ You exchange the how with the why. Instead of asking, ‘How did you make that? It’s really pretty.’ it’s more like, ‘Why would he make that?’”