How Collector Stefan Simchowitz Transformed a Defunct Newsstand Into LA’s Newest Art Space
Is this a new low-cost alternative to running a gallery?
Is this the art-world equivalent of turning lemons into lemonade?
Controversial art collector Stefan Simchowitz has transformed one of his favorite former local spots—a newsstand in West Hollywood that fell victim to the broader demise of the print industry—into a new, low-cost venue for art projects.
The first show at the newly dubbed “The Newsstand Project,” which the collector describes as a “semi-permanent, pop-up exhibition space,” will open this Sunday. The inaugural exhibition, “Astral Oracles,” is a collaboration with local gallerist Michael Thibault.
For the show, the artist Lazaros will transform the space into a “spell shop,” stocking the bays of the stand with custom-made “spell-casting potions that explore the intersection of art and folklore.” For the past three years, the artist has been making his signature jars filled with flowers, dice, and other trinkets for clients seeking spiritual guidance.
Simchowitz says one of his favorite things to do in LA has always been to visit newsstands and browse magazines. “You see everything from fashion and cars to the New York Times. And it’s where I always bought my art magazines,” he tells artnet News. “Then all these newsstands started closing, including my favorite on Kings Road. And I was like damn, what a pity. It’s a real bummer.”
That’s when his wheels started turning. Simchowitz approached the owner of the building and inquired about renting out the space. “You’ve got all these people coming by here and there’s nothing to see anymore. I thought, let’s turn it into an art stand and let’s do exhibitions there because there are so many people who drive and walk by.”
Simchowitz thinks the newsstand pop-up, which will launch with a celebratory brunch this weekend, could represent a low-cost alternative to the gallery model. As a dedicated gallery-goer, he says he can testify to the particular inefficiencies of LA’s art-world ecosystem. “Running gallery spaces and museum spaces is so expensive. They’re open all day long, and oftentimes no one is there,” he says. “There’s no foot traffic.”
Simchowitz has some ideas for how to counter that trend. Yelp and Google both now indicate when a particular business is experiencing peak traffic, and he believes that kind of real-time information will help him keep costs in check. “We can open a newsstand during the hours when the internet tells us it’s busy and therefore save costs and staffing,” he says.
The newsstand’s size, he adds, is uniquely suited to showcase art—especially after a consultation with an architect and some minor renovations. The space is modest, so exhibitions are manageable to organize and domestic-scale work doesn’t get lost. “[It] can’t really be used for anything else,” he says. “Maybe you could sell flowers, but then you’d have to pay for refrigeration.”
The work on display in the first show is a mixture of objects loaned by Simchowitz and others that are for sale through Michael Thibault’s gallery.
“We’re not retailers, so we can partner with other galleries, artists, and nonprofits for collaborative situations,” he explains. Simchowitz deliberately left his name off the project because, with dozens of other similarly defunct newsstands all over the Los Angeles area, he hopes others follow his lead and embrace the opportunity to mount art projects with relatively low overhead.
As an added touch to the inaugural project, the artist himself will man the stand and engage with visitors. “It’s fun on many different levels,” Simchowitz says. “The element of transaction in this case—it’s almost like going to a fortune teller.”
Despite his reputation for wheeling and dealing and investing big in emerging artists without adhering to the art world’s strict codes of conduct, the collector insists that profit is not the main motivation—or even a realistic expectation—for his new endeavor.
“It’s more about testing out alternative systems of exhibitions and interaction. Even though the newsstand is cheap I can’t imagine I’m going to make a dollar out of it,” he says. “It’s more to engage people who are not going to galleries and museums or some people who are but are not doing it on a regular basis. This makes it really, really easy for them to have an art experience.”
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