It all started with a tattoo. “I had no idea what I was going to do with this place. I had a logo in mind, which started off as a tattoo.” Danny Fuentes started his gallery, Lethal Amounts, without much of a business plan, but with an iconic safety pin ‘LA’ image that led him to create one of Downtown’s most daring and authentic galleries. Originally he opened the space selling t-shirts, after shopping his ‘LA Pins’ t-shirt around to no avail. “My thought was, I’ll make a little showroom off the beaten path,” Danny says, and started having bands play. His opening gallery act was a show on the (in)famous Angelyne. A huge fan, he saw her as the pure expression of what he could do with the space. “I thought I’d kick the doors open with her, as she embodies the DIY ethic…do it your way, don’t apologize for who you are, and be out there…be outrageous.”
A year later Danny would curate a showing of legendary photographer Leee Childers, whose work ranged from Warhol’s Factory, to Bowie’s and Iggy’s dirty, avant-glitter, to the genesis of the punk rock scene. Childers would be there for the show’s opening, only to die in LA a week later. It was an emotional, but fitting send-off to a man who’s career chronicled the underbelly of New York’s world of junkies, prostitutes, and underground music and art. Childers had many opportunities to show his life’s work the last decade, but found that it was Lethal Amounts that simply ‘got it’. He then followed with a show on LA deathrock protos, Christian Death, featuring photography of the great Ed Colver. The line went on for blocks with over 2,000 people in attendance. For a photography show featuring Rozz Williams to gather that much buzz, Danny was clearly doing something very right.
There’s been many a walk down memory lane in the name of giving punk rock and LA subculture its day in the sun within the gallery world, but Lethal Amounts doesn’t take a typical nostalgic or academic route. In fact, the curation and exhibitions give the impression Danny would rather take its legacy back into the shadows from whence it came. “It’s classy, but it’s trashy; not for people who would normally visit art galleries. This is a more ‘for-us, by-us’ kind of thing…I’m just doing what I like,” Danny explains.
The current exhibition of photography has the work of David Arnoff, where you’ll see a procession of punk rock heavies and general creeps like The Misfits, The Cramps, Johnny Thunders, X, and Nick Cave. Arnoff’s work gives a stunning glimpse of punk and deathrock life and style in LA, circa 80-83, both still very much small, but notorious subcultures. Newly on display as well, is the much lesser known photographer, Barry Kelvin. His School Days exhibition is a time capsule of photos from 1977- 78, only discovered by family members after his death last year. Images of the likes of Joan Jett, Dave Vanian, Debbie Harry, and of course, Joey & Dee Dee, in less posed, more intimate and familiar surroundings, line the walls. Kelvin was an insider, commonly found backstage or at the club, so his more relaxed (or wasted) subjects weren’t there to posture.
The gallery is centered between Monty Barand The Teragram Ballroom, and being good neighbors, the Monty’s Rio Hackford and Corey Allen were quick to spot Danny lugging his old records, animal skulls, and random detritus into his gallery. Danny says, “They were like, ‘I see Devo, The Ramones, and taxidermy — we gotta talk!’ We talked about doing Friday nights at the Monty.” With Danny curating the tracks, his “Pure Trash” on Fridays was as authentic as the smell of cloves out front of the Scream. Soon Danny was tapping whatever connections he had to bring in guest DJ’s, all celebs of the counterculture scene. With a packed house every Friday, the Monty Bar requested a second night. “I love the chaos of it all,” Danny says with a sinister smile. So witness those who lived fast and died young at Lethal Amounts during the day, or (re)live it any weekend night at the Monty when Danny hosts Downtown’s best slice of the darker side of life.
Written by Scott Meisse
Photographed by Eric Cacioppo