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Artwashing Fight Takes Twist With Gallery’s Offer to ‘Ceremonially’ Close in Boyle Heights

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap] gallery owner in the Boyle Heights community has offered the “ceremonial closing” of a space to anti-gentrification activists who have been focusing their energies on pressuring art galleries in the area to close.

MaRS gallery — or Museum as Retail Space — in Boyle Heights offered its “symbolic and actual” closure as a result of the anti-gallery efforts during an interview that aired April 18 on the Design & Architecture show on KCRW.

Gallery owner Robert Zin Stark told the show that he has invited organizers “to offer the ceremonial closing of my gallery to contextualize the relevance of your cultural enaction.”

Boyle Heights has become ground-zero in community responses to the displacing effects of gentrification in Los Angeles. In the neighborhood known for its historic youth-led protest movements, a public and media battle has pitched young activists with a hardline stance calling explicitly for the removal of art galleries from the neighborhood.

In response, the activists known as Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement (BHAAAD) said in a statement to L.A. TACO that they were essentially calling Zin’s bluff.

“The move will only be genuine when Robert Zin Stark actually gets the f*ck out of Boyle Heights,” BHAAAD said. “Whatever he says on the media, whatever performance he puts together inside his gallery, the only thing that will be truly meaningful to our community is that he leaves and returns it to community control.”

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Zin’s gallery did not immediately respond to L.A. TACO’s request for comment. He has not so far not confirmed the action with L.A. TACO. But BHAAAD did confirm late on Monday that the group would be meeting with Stark. They said they expect him to close his gallery.

The BHAAAD statement included a portion highlighted with links: “We want to be clear about one thing -- ​THIS IS NOT PERFORMANCE ART​. Our comrades in Defend Boyle Heights and the community of Pico Aliso have told him face to face ​during our protests​ how his gallery is harming the community. MaRS has a direct relationship with the rising evictions, increasing policing and rapid displacement of working class communities. This is not a matter of opinion for him to interpret or debate on, it is a reality that the community faces everyday.”

BHAAAD is a coalition of organizers that includes Union de Vecinos, Defend Boyle Heights, and artists who have been organizing protests outside of galleries and other businesses.

In November, organizers flew out to New York to crash and protest at the VIP private opening for a Laura Owens exhibit at the Whitney Museum in Manhattan.

Owens is one of the founders of 356 Mission, another gallery that had taken up an old space in the western flats section of Boyle Heights, just east of the Los Angeles River. BHAAAD told L.A. TACO that the trip was funding by many people locally and nationally including members that attended the opening and “artworkers who understood the art industry deeply.”

A group of protesters went into the event with a banner that read “Laura Owens + Gavin Brown Fuera De Boyle Heights.” Gavin Brown is Owen’s New York dealer.

“People gave literally $25-$50 in average or donated mileage or housing resources to support the protest,“ a BHAAAD rep told L.A. TACO.

Owens and co-founder Wendy Yao will be closing 356 Mission in May, but told the Los Angeles Times that the closer had “more to do with the natural life cycle of an artist-run space coming to an end than any protests.”

“It was just time,” Yao told the paper.

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