At the new 50,000 sq ft Maccarone gallery compound just across the river from downtown Los Angeles, the architects Jeffrey Allsbrook and Silvia Kuhle of Standard Architecture have turned the creation of emptiness from well-worn koan into structural inspiration.
'By actually taking away everything and just keeping the buildings the way they are, you can experience what was always there without any distractions,' Kuhle says in the gallery’s exhibition space, which not so many months ago was a clothing tagging facility in a neighbourhood increasingly demarcated by white-walled build-outs of former warehouses. 'We didn’t do much,' Allsbrook adds, 'other than transform the space into a sort of emptiness.'
But for those who find the sanctity of less to be as overwhelming as the messiness of more, at least there is the reassurance that nothing, done thoughtfully, is actually quite something. An outdoor sculpture garden, once a railroad throughway, features crushed gravel like the edges of train tracks, and the promise, soon, of work by the artist Carol Bove. The entrance to the compound – which also includes project spaces and two lofty 10,000 sq ft studios for gallery artists Alex Hubbard and Oscar Tuazon – is an innocuous gate made from layers of metal grate, a nod to a different sort of invisibility in the changing neighborhood, and the 'overlay that happens when people keep repairing and repairing fences', Allsbrook explains.
As principals of their Los Angeles-based firm, Allsbrook and Kuhle sought emptiness not in eradication but in reflection. 'Next door there’s a similar sort of thing going on with chain link over other metals,' Allsbrook explains, 'and we’re fascinated because when you graffiti a flat surface it’s very legible, but when you graffiti these layers it becomes almost translucent.'
'The thing is that I just wanted this to be as blank as possible, in a funny way,' Michele Maccarone says. 'Blank in one sense and, in another sense, like, why come here? One is space, and another is light, and another is outside. I don’t see it as being new, I see it as being an extension,' she adds, sitting under custom parabolic LEDs that the architects had prototyped for the gallery to 'wash the wall as evenly as possible', as Allsbrook says.
The gallery’s inaugural California exhibition, of work by Hubbard, was installed at the same time as the fixtures, through a knocked-out hole in a wall that temporarily connected the artist’s workspace to the main gallery. Hubbard says he left Los Angeles because of the light, before moving back with a new perspective two years ago: 'I worried it would destroy my palette.' His pigmented urethane, resin and fiberglass paintings in the current show are displayed off the wall, and revel as much in layered opacity as in colour; they were, as Hubbard notes, created in the same conditions as which they are now displayed.
'I’m a major stickler for certain detail because I know what it takes for art to look as good as it possibly can. So basically, I’m just trying to perfect space for my artists,' says Maccarone, whose eponymous gallery also has two locations in Manhattan. 'My job is to provide the best space in the best surroundings in the best environment for the artists to do their jobs, because their job is way harder than mine.' She adds another understatement about the significance of nothingness: 'I don’t do shit. I mean, their job is excruciating.'