Earlier this month, dozens of museums, galleries and art spaces across Los Angeles hosted parties to commemorate the launch of Pacific Standard Time, a massive celebration of the L.A. art scene circa 1940 to 1980. While some of the larger institutions are tackling capital-I Issues—“Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles” at UCLA’s Hammer Museum, for example—other spaces are approaching the topic more obliquely.
Royal/T Café is normally a Japanese-style exhibition space, retail store and “cosplay” maid café in Culver City. (That’s short for “costume play.”) Through January 2012, the 10,000-square-foot storefront has more in common with Greenwich Village than Ginza, thanks to “East Village West,” an examination of Los Angeles’ influence on New York City’s early punk scene. The show is co-curated by artists Ann Magnuson and Kenny Scharf.
These days, Magnuson is primarily known as an actress, but East Village veterans of a certain age will remember her as fixture in the downtown Manhattan art scene. In the early 80s, she ran the highly influential Club 57, a neo-Dada performance space that helped turn St. Mark’s Place into a counterculture Mecca. Scharf, of course, is a renowned pop artist—and Keith Haring contemporary—whose work has been celebrated for decades.
Overall, “East Village West” is a success, even if you’re too young to remember the uproar when Quiznos opened on St. Mark’s Place. It’s not often one can see Basquiat hanging next to Haring hanging next to Tseng Kwong Chi—outside of a museum, that is. But as one ventures deeper into the installation (and, physically, into the space), it becomes the “Club 57 show.” Which is understandable—posters, photos and videos from Magnuson’s venue are an effective documentary of NYC’s downtown art scene. And for visitors of that certain age—let’s call them Baby Boomer Punks—the memories of spiked hair, skinny jeans and cocaine-fueled nights will come flooding back.
At least there’s no arguing the greatness of Royal/T, a converted office building located close to Culver City’s galleries and restaurants. Opened by philanthropist and avid art collector Susan Hancock, the space has already hosted several impressive shows. (I’m sorry I missed 2009’s “I Can’t Feel My Face,” curated by KAWS.) So even if you don’t take fashion cues from the cover of David Bowie’s album Aladdin Sane, it’s worth the trip to the west side.
Jeff Koyen is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter, @jeffkoyen.