A guide to L.A.’s lesser-known underground art museums

A city practically bursting with vibrant culture, Los Angeles is an epicenter for the arts. While its most renowned museums boast sizeable collections and widespread name recognition, they are often overrun with visitors, overly commercialized and pricey compared to lesser-known alternatives.

This summer may be the time to branch out with the plenitude of artistic and cultural hubs the city hosts: explore equally paramount but more arcane destinations for art. These three unassuming galleries are the perfect places to start.

The Underground Museum

The Underground Museum, founded by Noah Davis, is an exhibition space committed to promoting African American art. (Photo from Facebook).

Founded by late artist Noah Davis, the Underground Museum was meant to challenge the rigid bureaucracy of the predominant gallery system and introduce world-class art to a neighborhood that traditionally lacked the proper resources and access to cultural spaces. In addition to showcasing cutting-edge African American art, inclusiveness and diversity are core to the museum’s mission.  

Today, Davis’ legacy is survived by his family and, per his original vision, they have transformed the Underground Museum into a community center of sorts — replete with yoga classes, a forum for artist talks and a spacious outdoor garden, fittingly called the Purple Garden to evoke a royal and luxurious atmosphere. In addition, the space attracts a dynamic circle of artists and intellectuals of color, including “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins and singer Beyoncé, reflecting a historic magnetism reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance, and emphasizing the possibilities of bringing art spaces to locations other than the archetypal upper-class community.

L.A. Louver

Behind an inconspicuous black wall in Venice lies the entrance to the L.A. Louver gallery, a space committed to highlighting contemporary art from Los Angeles-based and international artists since 1975. Aside from representing works from 39 notable artists, including painter Ed Moses and sculptor Kenneth Price, L.A. Louver launched Rogue Wave in 2001, a program that exhibits artists living and working in Los Angeles to reflect on Southern California’s position as one of the world’s liveliest art scenes.

Few galleries manage to be as globally connected yet locally oriented as L.A. Louver, making this space a thoroughly unparalleled tour de force. From June 20 to Aug. 17, the gallery will present “EVOLVER,” an ever-changing exhibition of paintings and sculpture by over 50 artists who hail from different generations and backgrounds, clearly reflecting not only their own mission, but also the diverse stories that make up Southern California itself.

The Mistake Room

Physically, The Mistake Room is located in a renovated industrial warehouse at the southernmost edge of the Arts District but philosophically, the   gallery exists somewhere between an alternative art space and research institute.

The gallery’s programs operate on curatorial cycles that are constantly being reimagined and adapted to address new questions, practices and themes, all with the common goal of helping patrons discover new ways of existing and learning through contemporary art and creative expression.

The Mistake Room is singularly artist-centric as it allows collaborators to guide the direction of exhibitions and is an unwavering advocate of independent art spaces. Above all, the space believes in the value of making mistakes and actively seeks to create transformative moments that disrupt the status quo and provide glimpses of the future. In this way, the space becomes a transformative area not only for the art it houses, but also its visitors.

True to its name, The Mistake Room’s identity and exhibitions are unapologetically bold, a testament to its twofold vocation and inspirational belief  in creative expression.

Walking through The Mistake Room, one understands the power of mixing philosophy and art  as a third act in the process of existing.