During an October opening at her gallery, Eddie and Moshe Brakha of Brakhax2 approached Denni Zelikowsky of Gallery 3209 to be a subject in their photo series, New Economy. She obliged, hesitantly. The charismatically irreverent gallerist prefers to create and curate images rather than be integrated into them. Like its founder, Gallery 3209 eschews convention for community, providing a safe space for the strange and the wild amidst rows of clinical white boxes in Culver City. With ample space, natural light falling in through sky lights and floor to ceiling windows, and an address ending in 90034, Gallery 3209 provides pristine digs for emerging artists. While waiting in the Brakhax2 studio before her shoot, the iconic black and white image of the members of Devo donning peach breasts with bright pink nipples caught the young curator’s eye. Moshe Brakha of Brakhax2 famously photographed such cheeky personalities as Madonna and Run DMC. After experiencing the collaborative process of Moshe and Eddie Brakha as a subject, Denni knew she wanted to exhibit this father/son duo at Gallery 3209. New Economy opens this Saturday January 7th. Arts Editor Drew Denny discusses Gallery 3209 with curator Denni Zelikowsky below.
When did you start Gallery 3209? What made you want to start your own gallery?
At Otis I had a tight knit group of close friends and colleagues who all made work I admired. After one passed away in 2009, I wanted to make our vision of a group show happen. I didn’t want to do a memorial show, but rather a group show as we had always talked about doing. I was given the opportunity to use a gallery space and hand-picked a couple artists from Otis. From there, Gallery 3209 was born.
Did you include your friend’s work in that first show? What was it like to curate while grieving?
Her work was part of the inspiration for the original show that started the gallery. Her most recent work, the work she made prior to her death, was shown salon style. We recreated the way she would have installed her work, including colors that she would always use behind her work, and tried the best we could do make it look as though she had done it herself. I believe that she would have been happy enough with the show to take off her top and run around… which she did quite often … It was difficult to curate the show while grieving, but it was incredibly therapeutic to do something that I knew she had always wanted to be a part of. I still feel as though she is my partner in this gallery.
Do you believe that conceptualism and catharsis are mutually exclusive?
Can you make an artwork or an exhibition that is both critical and emotionally accessible?
No, I do not believe they are mutally exclusive. A lot of conceptualism is born from a cathartic nature. Art normally comes from love, pain, and experience.
What sort of agenda are you pushing at GALLERY 3209?
The goal of Gallery 3209 is to show up and coming artists and musicians. I desire to give a platform to artists of all mediums and fuse together art and music. I want to create an atmosphere in which people who wouldn’t necessarily go to a contemporary art gallery can feel both welcome and inspired while being exposed to a culture they may not have sought out. Lately I have been collaborating with guest curators to widen my vision to a larger audience.
Are you a political artist and curator? Are your interests strictly formal or do you consider politics-gender-sexuality-and-or-community when curating?
I personally do not curate based on politics. However, art is and always has been permeated by politics which I believe gives a lot of power and ideas to artists.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of running the space?
I’m learning as I go along. I have had previous experience working for galleries, but running a one woman show is a new experience. Finding the work that I believe the audience will be stimulated by is something that is always the largest challenge. I am trying to straddle the line between being taken seriously and maintaining a lightness within the art community.
How is your curatorial practice affected by your upbringing in LA?
As an L.A. native, having grown up with a family background in art, I have high expectations of what I want in the gallery and have experienced the evolution of the gallery scene over the years. People have a certain idea of what “L.A. ART” is and I want to break out of what that is. I was inspired by a small gallery and music space on the east side of town and wanted to bring that idea to a larger audience.
Which space in particular did you use as a model for 3209?
Echo Curio, of course!
How is L.A. represented in your gallery?
I am constantly giving local musicians the opportunity to play in front of a different crowd than you would normally have at their show. I’ve always been interested in the underground music scene of L.A. and I feel really lucky to be able to have the opportunity to expose these talented people to a new audience.
I also have some events and have even had a food truck opening at my gallery. So L.A.! This particular food truck is called Sweet Beats and they sell sweets and also DJ from the truck. I don’t think this is something you would see at another gallery in the area.
What can Gallery 3209 do for artists and viewers that the other Culver City spaces can’t do?
Gallery 3209 is located on La Cienega Ave.—not to be confused with La Cienega Blvd. gallery row. That in itself is a representation of how we are trying to do something different. We offer group crits and are currently working on developing art programs. One thing that is very important to the existence of Gallery 3209 is the merging of music and art. Some of the bands we have had play at the gallery include Voices Voices, Chelsea Wolfe and So Many Wizards. We often try to pair the music with the art that is being shown for a multidimensional experience.
Do you get a lot of skepticism from the Culver City scene because you’re so young? How do you deal with the other gallerists?
Of course! I am always asked, ‘How long have you been open? Who owns this space? Oh—you, with the leather jacket? Interesting…’ And then a fake smile and nod. I feel that the skepticism only motivates me more and also brings people in because they need a fresh point of view.
What galleries, venues, or institutions do you believe belong to the same community as Gallery 3209?
I would like to say that Gallery 3209 is unlike anything else out there. Yes, I’m a dick.
What’s going on in your own practice? Are you painting now?
I am currently headed back into the studio after having traveled to both London and Israel. The inspiration I have from those travels are what is inspiring a new series.
When did you start painting?
My first memory of painting was when my mom threw a huge roll of canvas down in her own studio along with paints and just let me and my two sisters have fun. I am immediately engaged.
Do you attempt to innovate as you create artwork?
Innovation is constantly something I am attempting both within the mediums I use and the subjects.
Your work is quite sleek and abstract. What do you paint? What do you paint about?
I like to be more descriptive than conceptual about my work, so it varies.The materials I use are unpredictable and usually dictate the subject of the piece. Process is more important to me than the outcome. The material I use mainly—resin—is something that is not controlled to a certain degree, so I normally have to see where it takes me. I have no problem with tossing pieces as I go through this process.
How often do you visit Israel? Have you ever shown work there?
I visit Israel about once a year for inspiration and my 500 cousins all named Yosi. The only work I’ve shown in Israel has been to my five-year-old niece. She’s a huge fan.
What’s the lesbian scene like in Israel? Have you dealt with much judgment?
From what I have seen the lesbian scene is Israel is hilarious. Let’s just say … I have no place there and no prospects. Not so much judgment in Tel Aviv, but in Jerusalem there is a lot of stares at the way I look.
How many leather jackets do you own?
I am currently working on a small collection and have 3.5. If you find the other half please let me know.