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Opening September 14, 2008 at Cal Poly Pomona Kellogg University Art Gallery, Pomona

by Judith Hoffberg

Several themes prevail in recalling Space Gallery, which opened in 1975 and closed in 1995. The gallery’s late founder and owner Ed Den Lau selected a good 90% of the artists and their work, often for their great sensitivity to material. He also looked for subtle psychological tension. But most of all, he wanted artists who had high respect for craft. He looked for artists who were searching for essentials and he found them, creating a deep relationship between himself as gallerist and the artist. Since he was in it for the long haul, he watched artists develop over time before selecting them, evaluating their commitment to their practice, and surveying their aesthetic evolution with care and respect. These factors taken together were central to how he was able to organize such a high caliber cadre of artists.

Phyllis Davidson, "Topanga Canyon
Altar," 2008, oil on canvas.

Masami Teraoka, "The Cloisters/Venus and
Pope's Bullfight," 2006/07, oil on canvas.

This survey of artists associated with Space—arguably among Los Angeles’ premier galleries of the last quarter of the 20th century—draws on past history even as it catches us up on the work of this impressive stable of artists.  Ed Den Lau was a native of Hawaii who came to Los Angeles in 1957, worked as a landscape designer on behalf of major clients in a firm that did very well in the field. Then his mother died and left him a small inheritance. Since his interests were diverse, he decided to explore whether to open up a restaurant or an art gallery. He went to all the student shows at Otis in those days, where he met Masami Teraoka and was introduced to a Japanese collector and curator, Shimizu, then associated with the Minami Gallery. Shimizu invited Lau to come to Japan, to visit the private island where Shimizu had a gallery with a lounge that served as a greeting room to meet with visitors before they saw the exhibitions. That gave Lau a great idea for finding a space and building a lounge where visitors could talk, converse, study before they visited the exhibition space.

He spent several years going around to private and non-profit spaces, studying, looking for artists, analyzing how they operate. This time paid off, for when he did find a space on Santa Monica Boulevard not far from the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery now called "Hollywood Forever," he hired artists to help him build the space, including Michael Davis and Jeff Price. Lau also went to Barnsdall Municipal Gallery very often to find young talent, to see how shows were installed, and to make friends with curators, in particular Gallery Director Josine Ianco-Starrels.

He knew that he wanted a print gallery and hired Patty Davis away from Gemini G.E.L. to run it.  Soon he learned what a jewel he had hired, for she was the one who knew how to design space, imagined Space, as well as hang shows. Davis did it all.

Space debuted with a solo exhibition of Masami Teraoka, who at that time was master of the political-satirical print executed in the old fashioned manner of Edo prints, requiring 35 passes on the press just to get the right colors and registration. Many will remember the resounding success of such series as “MacDonald’s Hamburgers Invading Japan.” With the buzz of this inaugural show, Lau was on his way. Though he was bombarded with requests for shows from many Japanese artists, he decided on a different tack, focusing primarily on promising local talent. Lau followed with the second show, that of Sandy Bleifer; then Ann Page, who worked in paper to make kite-like sculptures; and next came Larry Hurst, who works in non-objective abstraction.

Openings were usually on Saturday nights, and Sundays were dedicated to many different programs, including New Music, readings, and eclectic dance (Flamenco was featured on one occasion). As time went on the exhibitions brought fans of the gallery together more and more as friends. The circle of artists increased to include those hailing from Japan, Australia, Germany and Costa Rica. This was the sort of place where one might have met the likes of playwright Edward Albee when he was in town. An exhibition titled "Thanatosis," a bold aesthetic discussion of death, was highlighted by Rachel Rosenthal’s then return to performance art.

Space exhibited ceramics and sculpture more than any other gallery in L.A. at the time, primarily a product of Lau’s personal taste. Jeri Coates, his gallery assistant throughout the years, indicates that as much as fifty percent of Space Gallery’s exhibitions were sculpture shows. When the gallery doubled in size, having acquired what had been Frederick’s of Hollywood’s warehouse, Lau helped shape "installation art" in Los Angeles by allowing artists the opportunity to create astounding and beautiful projects especially for the expanded gallery space.

Michael Davis, "Doomsday Clock," 2002, steel,
copper, graphite, plumb bob, cable and neon.

Norman Schwab, "Love on
the Run," 2005, mixed media.
Gallery Director Patrick Merrill curated the exhibition, which was conceived of and scheduled well before 2008. It was to honor the two decades of Space Gallery’s artists and exhibitions. Only a few months before Ed Den Lau passed away did Merrill learn that he had terminal cancer, so this was not intended as a memorial exhibition, but rather a celebration of a gallery that created a community. Of all the artists who showed at Space, five have passed away, but Merrill was careful to track down as many artists as he could to learn what they have been doing since the gallery closed.

From Michael Davis’ “Doomsday Clock” to Kazuo Kadonaga’s huge glass works, from Norman Lundin’s still life paintings to Joe Grant’s "Untitled House Shape," one can see how progress has changed the art but not the artists. Wes Christiansen continues to deal with figurative portraits and narrative in watercolor and gouache, while Robert Glover’s unglazed earthenware continues to capture the spiritual immateriality of clay. Seiji Kunishima’s work in flat, black granite blocks, stacked one on top of another, makes you feel as if you are looking at a "Suspended Pool," an apt title for a formidable, simple and elegant work. No medium in this exhibition is overlooked. The artists still extend themselves continue to develop aesthetically. What we are left with is a memory of significant threads making up the amazing tapestry of art in L.A. over a two decade span, all of it gathered and nurtured thanks to the eye and character of a master, Ed Den Lau.

Norman Lundin, "Studio in Half
Light," 2006, oil on canvas.