It is difficult today, amidst the seemingly endless arrival of sophisticated commercial enterprises, to imagine the beginning of the Arts District. Starting in the early 1970s, a cluster of artists elected to relocate to its abandoned industrial warehouses, attracting the eventual growth of an underground scene that was host to artistrun spaces, punk rock venues, speakeasies, and radical performance art. By the mid-1990s, it was officially credited with its current title. Yet within the present resurgence of art galleries marked by an influx of upmarket price tags and pristinely renovated galleries, the story behind newcomer MAMA Gallery recalls the roots of the region: the artist.
Eight years ago, owners Adarsha Benjamin and Eli Consilvio met through mutual friend, James Georgopoulos, a Venice-based artist now represented by the gallery. Both had been working in and adjacent to the art world, making their eventual decision to jointly open a gallery in Downtown Los Angeles a natural one.
Since its opening in late 2014, MAMA has prided itself on its mission to, as its name might suggest, nurture artists by putting them at the forefront. Consilvio stresses the focus of their initiative, avowing, “We needed to get behind people and their careers.”
The impressive scale of their building on Palmetto Street will be sure to provide ample accommodations. It houses abundant gallery space, a store featuring publications and artist editions, a private viewing room, and an extensive multipurpose space at the back of the building, which the owners use for events, performances, and concerts (even impromptu ones, as was the case when musician and artist Daniel Johnston unexpectedly performed in the middle of his opening last November.)
Through early June, MAMA Gallery is, appropriately, presenting a new body of work by Georgopoulos. “The Earth is Flat,” the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, is centered on the daunting theme of artificial intelligence and its uncertain relationship to our future. As such, remarkable multimedia works of technical acuity, including a 6,000-pound robot arm, a 1960s refrigerator outfitted with selflearning capabilities, and a self-driving car that utilizes a rare Japanese racecar chassis built solely by robotic hands, will be on view to the public.
The exorbitant nature of such works required the full support of Benjamin and Consilvio to accomplish, who were pleased to see Georgopoulos’ vision through. “He was part of the reason that both of us wanted to start a gallery,” Benjamin explains, adding, “I knew [he] had bigger ideas than he was maybe putting into fruition.”
From here, MAMA plans to expand on their current program, encompassing international representation (an exhibition of photographs by censored Chinese artist Ren Hang will open on June 18th) as well as a multidisciplinary approach, likely to include musicians and filmmakers. With such a stable outset, Benjamin looks forward to growing the depth of the gallery alongside Consilvio, remarking, “Though it wasn’t planned, I feel very lucky that great minds were thinking alike and that we’ve both ended up here.”
Written by Samantha Gregg
Photographed by Caleb Thal