Galleries are traditionally thought of as spaces to see or buy art. However, what if they were more than that? What if they were places to hang out, eat a meal, do art research, spend a night, browse gardens, work on creative projects, see a concert, buy and browse books - all under one roof. Welcome to the emerging world of mega-gallery spaces.
Hauser & Wirth is leading the charge into mega-galleries. Last year, the gallery opened their fourth international outpost - this one in Los Angeles, California. They transformed a 100,000 sq ft space in an old flour mill, which takes up a whole city block on East 3rd Street in the Arts District. It's about the size of an average Home Depot, bigger than the current Met Breuer (aka the old Whitney Museum building), and bigger than the New Museum of NYC.
The Hauser & Wirth LA location includes a great restaurant, a bookstore, a research area, a community planting garden (which has a water fountain for dogs), an education lab, and a public breezeway.
The restaurant, called Manuela, is meant to be an informal gathering place where they serve local and seasonal food. "Food comprises a pivotal element of the experience of Hauser & Wirth’s galleries... the galleries are centered around a series of bars and restaurants conceived as social gathering spaces," it says on their site. This reflects the gallery owners enthusiasm for hospitality, gastronomy, and community. There's even a small lot garden with fresh herbs and vegetables for the restaurant. The education lab hosts lectures, concerts, and events for kids. The research room has information related to the current ongoing shows. The bookstore is done in partnership with Artbook, who Hauser & Wirth works together with to curate a large section of books around exhibits and themes that are rotated out every few months. It also has a range of books on modern art in general, as well as children's art books and a section for kids to play.
Hauser & Wirth represent about 60 different artists and rotates shows. They focus on letting the artists make the work they want and providing extraordinary spaces to showcase that work. "When we started our gallery in 1992, most of the important painters were taken, and local collectors already had strong relationships with galleries. So the niche for us was artists who were making more complicated work, work that needed support, that was highly important but not commercially successful. A lot of the artists we take on don’t have a market — our job is to build it,” said Iwan Wirth, the founder. In that same Vogue profile in 2013, it said that he estimates he spends around 95% of his time working with and for his artists and the other 5% on art sales in the secondary market.
The artwork currently being shown in the LA space is that of the late Jason Rhoades, who passed away in 2006. This mega-installation covers nearly the entire 100,000 sq ft within four rooms, with a depth and scale of the artist's work that cannot be matched. It's like walking into a alternative universe of Rhoades' art.
Having a multifaceted gallery experience seems like an inevitable way for these spaces to operate, both drawing diverse crowds while giving people more reasons to stay longer and come back to their space more often. You could even compare it to social media giants like Facebook/Instagram expanding their array of services to extend the time you spend on their platform by offering more possibilities of entertainment and consumption.
Hauser & Wirth has other mega-gallery locations in other places around the world, like their location in Somerset - a small town in England with a small post office and a couple of pubs. The Somerset gallery has become a major art tourism draw for the town. The gallery includes a farmhouse where people can stay overnight, browse a landscape garden, see art in renovated historical buildings, and walk through the meadow land... and, of course, buy art.
The way galleries transform into entertainment hubs and community centers will be interesting to see evolve, but it's clear they have no intention of staying inside a traditional white box gallery.