Fresh Art for Little Tokyo

Amid the activity of restaurants and shops in Little Tokyo sits the neighborhood’s newest addition, Hold Up Art gallery.

Mix and match · Unlike many galleries with narrow focuses, the Hold Up Art gallery mixes “high” and “low” forms, from street pieces to abstract paintings, photos and sculptures. - Photos by James Violette | Daily Trojan

Opened in February by USC alumnus Brian Lee, who graduated in 2009, Hold Up Art has seen a steady rise in popularity in recent months. With the help from his good friend and fellow USC alumnus, Ben Kaufman who graduated in 2008, Lee drafted a business plan and took off running.

“I wanted to create a gallery that basically brought art together in one space, saying that all art is art whether or not it’s cheap art or really expensive art,” Lee said.

Lee, who curates the gallery with Kaufman said his background was an important building block toward opening the gallery.

“I was born and raised in L.A. and I was always doing art. I was always drawing and painting,” he said.

After committing to an art history major, Lee spent time exploring other departments, including communication and psychology, but eventually returned to art history.

“My art history background is really what drives my passion and that’s only possible because I took art history at USC,” he said.

Before opening Hold Up Art, Lee spent time working for well-known urban artist Justin Bua.

“My senior year I had to only take two more classes, so I took this drawing class, and the teacher was Justin Bua,” Lee said. “I basically got hired as his personal assistant for a year after college.”

Opening an art gallery wasn’t Lee’s goal from the start. After his time with Bua ended, he began thinking about his next move. Using the experience gained from his work as a personal assistant and his education at USC, Lee realized there was a niche that wasn’t being catered to.

“There are definitely enough people my age, or young people, that want to start getting into art that don’t have a comfortable place to go to,” he said. “That was the inspiration for the gallery.”

Lee decided to approach his gallery in a non-traditional way. To connect with his audience, Lee began using Facebook — something not commonly used by galleries —to involve interested people and make it easier for them to stay current with the gallery. Lee also thought he could set himself apart by opening his gallery in a part of town more commonly known for its eating establishments.

“Ultimately, the thing that makes us work as a gallery is that we are a gallery in a non-gallery area,” he said.

In addition to its standard display of art, the gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year. The latest, “Marxist Glue,” opens Thursday at Hold Up Art. The exhibit will showcase the work of street artists in the form of wheat-pasting.

“Wheat-pasting art is art that is already in the city,” Lee said. “It is up on walls, it’s up everywhere, and most people see it every day and don’t even think about it as art. But all the people that do it treat themselves as artists.”

Work from artists such as Mear One, Shark Toof and Robbie Conal will also be featured at the gallery. The artists will create their pieces on the walls of Hold Up Art this week leading up to the opening and the walls will later be either sold or given away.

Lee has big plans for Hold Up Art and said he would eventually like to supplement his gallery with a restaurant or a bar and, if the opportunity presents itself, to open Hold Up outposts in other cities.

By relying on hard work and progressive ideas, Hold Up Art is turning heads and changing the idea of what an art gallery is supposed to be. It is little wonder then why Hold Up attracts the next age of art appreciators.

“A gallery is the hardest thing to run next to a restaurant and we were able to take this old model of what a gallery is and re-evaluate it and change it so it becomes an easier process,” Lee said.