I was recently invited to visit the brand new Main Museum of Los Angeles Art, located at 4th and Main, in the epicenter of the downtown LA Art Walk. “The Main,” a non-collecting art institution dedicated to Los Angeles art and artists, is located in The Farmers and Merchants Bank—a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument—and its adjacent Hellman Building.

“Beta Main” opened October 30th as the first stage in an ambitious four year plan to create a 100,000 square foot arts complex featuring the museum galleries, a restaurant, a rooftop sculpture garden and an amphitheater. Currently, only 3,500 square feet of exhibition space are open to the public for the museum’s first program, “Performance Lessons:Suzanne Lacy Teaches Andrea Bowers Performance Art” on view through November 20th. The rest of The Main is still being designed by the LA-based Tom Wiscombe Architecture.

It appears that Beta Main’s initial programs are meant to be experimental, serving to solidify and build upon ideas for The Main’s future, including residencies for LA artists. Through artist and public feedback, The Main plans to refine its vision as it learns from its neighbors. In fact, from November 29 to December 8, The Main’s director, Allison Agsten, will meet one-on-one with fifty Downtown L.A. artists as a first step. These artists will also have an opportunity to display their works. The resulting “Office Hours” exhibition will be open to the public December 8 to 18.

The old and new collide as you take in the building’s rich history and lofty future plans. The Farmer & Merchant’s Bank building that houses a future phase of The Main’s expansion was originally built in 1905 and designed by the firm of Morgan and Walls in the Classical Revival style. It is one of Southern California’s finest examples of the early “temples of finance” which were popular at the turn of the century and contribute to the beauty of what used to be downtown LA’s financial district.

I was invited by the museum’s staff to explore the building’s basement. A sense of exhilaration came over me as I was handed a flashlight and some words of caution. As we entered the pitch black underground, I was guided through room after room of one of downtown’s historic treasures—a labyrinth of highly secure vaults, some open and others still sealed. My imagination ran wild as I envisioned stacks of money, jewels and gold filling the half dozen rooms. The urban explorer in me reveled at the vault doors, which were often 2 feet thick with intricate mechanisms and heavy steel bars.

Towards the end of my tour, we entered a door similar to what you might encounter on a submarine and went even further underground into a long narrow room with floor to ceiling shelves, several long work tables and rows of lockers. I imagined that this was the original bank archives.

No matter what the architects of The Main envision for its future, it is a treasure-trove of history and inspiration for the artists who will have the opportunity the exhibit in it. Los Angeles is blessed with yet another unique and inspired cultural center. I cannot wait to see what The Main has in store for us next!

Then (1923) & Now

Future plans for The Main Museum of Los Angeles Art

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