Meet The Committee: Mara McCarthy

The founder of The Box, Los Angeles, talks about moving from China Town to the Art District, plus tips for the first-time visitor to the city

Andy Rementer, illustration of The Box, Los Angeles. Courtesy: the artist 

​What was your first encounter with art?

My dad’s an artist – so, probably in the womb! There was one time when I was pretty young, at a Kienholz show at MOCA, I saw The Art Show (1963-77), a collaboration with Nancy Kienholz. It was kind of like an art gallery, with figures installed in the space, and in the corner were two or three kids sitting together. I thought: that’s me! I appreciated that the artist was paying attention to everyone in the room. 

When did you decide to start a gallery, and why?

When I moved back to L.A. from grad school, my dad was interested in starting a space to show artists he felt were underecognized. I did my Masters in Museum Education, so I started The Box with the idea of a gallery as a teaching space. 

What’s been a significant moment in the gallery’s development?

In 2009, I invited Simone Forti to do a solo show at the gallery, and until then, I realized, she had always thought of herself as a dancer and choreographer. By putting together the show, she could look at her practice in a broader context, and adopt a new perspective on her own work. That was a really powerful moment for me.

Where is the gallery based today? 

We started in Chinatown, but eventually I thought it’d be cool to be close to the art institutions I grew up going to. So I found a place in the Arts District: it’s close to the museums, near Little Tokyo, and there’s this whole punk legacy here too, which I love. 

What do you hope Frieze will contribute to the city’s art scene?

It’s a chance to develop and support the community that’s already here. It’s also a chance to open us up to a new international community and continue the acknowledgement of L.A. as a major creative center – which only started recently and was long overdue. People need to see L.A. has its own energy.

What part of the Frieze program are you most looking forward to?

I’ve always respected Ali Subotnick’s taste, so I can’t wait to see what she’s putting on this crazy platform of the Paramount Studios Backlot. I’m really looking forward to seeing Corazón del Sol’s interpretation of Eugenia P. Butler’s The Kitchen Table in the skyscraper-set lobby; we showed the original 1993 documentation from Butler’s project at The Box last year.

What are you going to show at the fair?

It’s about showing our commitment to local L.A. artists. It’s be a quasi-salon style presentation, really full and busy. We’ll have some older Barbara T. Smith works, some Nathaniel Mellors, Naotaka Hiro, and works by Corazón del Sol as well as her late mother, who was based here. It’s really about honoring the people who live and made work here.

If someone had never acquired art before but wanted to start, what would you advise them?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When I was growing up, I was often the only kid among adults, and all they’d talk about was art; so I learned to talk about art too. When I moved to New York, I started going to shows at galleries where no one was talking. I was so confused. I think important work needs to be explained, to some extent. There is no shame in not getting something right away. We’re all constantly learning.

What makes L.A. unique as an art center?

Simply that a lot of artists are making work here. When I thought about having a space, I wanted it to be L.A. because it’s where artists are.

What’s one place a first-time visitor to the city shouldn’t miss?

My favorite view is from Angeles Crest, in the mountains above Altadena and Pasadena. It’s a beautiful drive, and then a beautiful hike and on a clear day or a full moon night you can see from Downtown to the fireworks in Anaheim: the whole beautiful range of nature and the city’s grandeur, all at once.

The 70 galleries at Frieze Los Angeles have been invited by a selection committee of peers, including Mara McCarthyDavid Kordansky and Shaun Regen among others. For Frieze Week magazine, we spoke to them about the LA art scene and what they’re looking forward to at the fair.

For more information on Frieze Los Angeles admission and tour tickets, please visit our ticket pages.

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