The coronavirus has shuttered cultural institutions across California, some permanently, but in Long Beach, a new art venue with an emphasis on wellness is forging ahead with plans to open this fall.
Compound, a 15,000-square-foot complex with two exhibition spaces, restaurant and outdoor courtyard and sculpture garden, plans to open in late September in the city's Zaferia district. The nonprofit was founded by philanthropist and interior designer Megan Tagliaferri, who will serve as creative director, and will feature contemporary art exhibitions as well as immersive installations.
Lauri Firstenberg, former director of the noted Los Angeles exhibition space LAXArt, will serve as Compound's curator and artistic director.
The project has been in the works for more than five years and was in the final stages of construction in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But Tagliaferri didn’t consider pulling the plug, she said.
“We’re so deeply committed to this work and our community, that wasn’t even an option,” she said. “Of course, learning about COVID and safety was on our mind. But this moment we’re in, it just deepened our purpose as a space for people to heal and come together.”
That the complex has multiple outdoor spaces — to be used for yoga, meditation and gardening classes as well as artist talks, live music and film screenings — will help address safety concerns, Tagliaferri said. Exhibitions will be free and visitors can walk in off the street. Like other culture venues reopening after novel coronavirus closures, Compound will follow public safety protocols such as providing hand sanitizer and social distancing markers.
Tagliaferri, a member of the Scripps media family — her great-great grandfather was Edward Willis Scripps, who founded the E.W. Scripps Co. — funded the $1.2-million adaptive reuse project, which she designed in conjunction with BOA Architecture of Long Beach. Compound will rely on revenue from chef Jason Witzl's restaurant Ellie’s, offering farm-to-table Italian food, plus a gift shop and public programming grants to stay afloat. “And I’m committing my resources, over time,” Tagliaferri said.
Tagliaferri looked to other venues for inspiration, noting the indoor-outdoor flow of Hauser & Wirth in downtown L.A., the “sense of community and service and warmth” of the Underground Museum in L.A.’s Arlington Heights neighborhood and the artist commissions taking place at Ballroom Marfa in Texas.
Compound's exhibitions will be in two warehouse-turned-gallery spaces joined by the courtyard. One space will be dedicated to rotating, thematic exhibitions. The inaugural “Chaos to Cosmos” will include paintings, sculpture and photography along with video and film installations by artists such as Helen Pashgian, Gisela Colon, Billy Al Bengston, Lita Albuquerque, Fred Eversley and Eamon Ore-Giron — all works from Tagliaferri’s personal collection.
That exhibition, Firstenberg said, was planned years ago but feels timely in that it deals with notions of peace and the sublime and offers hope.
“It’s looking at intergenerational artists, and the intention was to create an accessible, cultural oasis,” Firstenberg said. “We’re not shifting gears and responding to this time, but the work we have in place will resonate — looking to the light at the end of the tunnel of this moment.”
Compound's other exhibition space, called the Laboratory, will have rotating immersive and interactive installations, all commissioned works, that will stay on view for six to eight months. For now, to aid with social distancing, only one individual at a time will be allowed inside the immersive exhibitions, and timed, online reservations are needed.
The inaugural showing, "Tidepools" by L.A. artist Glenn Kaino, consists of two installations and a sound bath. The first installation is a “cloud chamber” that Kaino collaborated on with friends at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Firstenberg described it as “a dream-like environment,” at once sculptural and immaterial. The second installation is a wishing well; it incorporates experiments with bioluminescent algae that Kaino conducted with
consulting scientist Dean Sauer. Visitors toss coins into the well, and seemingly magical effects play with our concepts of visibility and invisibility.
“When we hear of experiential installations, we think of spectacle,” Firstenberg said. “This is really the opposite impulse, it’s really about intimacy. He’s thinking about what an art of hope looks like.”
The commissions program is central to Compound, Firstenberg said. Works include a neon text installation on the facade of the building by New York-based Tavares Strachan that reads “You Belong Here” and a series of site-specific, abstract ceramic works by L.A. artist Anna Sew Hoy in the sculpture garden that Firstenberg describes as “serene, meditative, discreet.” The next site-specific commission will be by New York artist Leslie Hewitt.
Ultimately, Tagliaferri said, Compound aims to be a destination where “culture shifts consciousness.” Given the urgency of the times — the COVID-19 crisis, the economic uncertainty and the anti-racism protests taking place across the country — Compound is launching two initiatives before September, “a way we can get content to people immediately,” she said.
The online journal Compound-ed is set to launch Thursday with essays and interviews with artists. Compound has also partnered with the COVID-relief initiative Artist Relief to produce weekly artist-made wellness videos, such as artist-led meditations and poetry readings, posted on YouTube and Instagram every Monday.
Next up: a 2021 exhibition and talk series focusing on the intersection of art and activism. Strachan, along with community organizer and 2014 MacArthur fellow Rick Lowe and the late Underground Museum cofounder Noah Davis are among the artists who will be featured.
“While we’re going through this difficult transformational time, we will need to come back together, to stimulate empathy and growth,” Tagliaferri said. “I just wanted a space where people can be in community and be nurtured. There’s a lot of healing that is needed, and we are that warm, open space.”