Saturday, November 22, 2008

A White Shoe Box

Art and architecture can work together in a clean well-lighted place. Almost every morning when I open the door to my gallery, I want to thank Fred Fisher, our architect. On a very modest budget, but with a great affinity for art, Fred designed a space that Suzanne Muchnic of the L. A. Times called “arguably the most attractive gallery at Bergamot Station.” With simple building materials, perfect proportion and refined lighting, Fisher’s space is the silent aesthetic collaborator with every artist. It’s certainly not as grand as mid-town Manhattan, but the luminous simplicity provides a pure and neutral space for all of our shows.

I met Fred in 1982, when he was the architect (and I was the builder) for a low-budget basement remodel. Deftly dealing with the existing conditions, Fred specified readily available materials. He transformed a dreary dungeon into a light, open study for film director Tim Hunter. Listening carefully to the client, and meeting on site with the contractor (me), Fisher and his partner David Ross brought the whole project in at $5,000.00—on budget. I love architecture, so I quickly learned of Fisher’s larger residential and commercial projects.

Frederick Fisher and Partners is an architectural firm with more than a close relationship to the world of art. In designing artists’ studios, collectors’ homes, and museum spaces, the partners have developed a broad reputation for excellence, and a refined design philosophy.

I kept up my association with the firm, and when I moved my newly founded art gallery to Santa Monica in 1996, I asked Fred to design the space. We agreed on a fee, met for about two hours, and developed a simple program outline. For Fisher, the challenge was to transform a large open volume into a series of proportioned white boxes. He already knew several of the artists, and was a fan of their work. In a short time, Fred made some simple concept drawings, and then called me for our second meeting. As soon as he showed the sketches to me, I knew it would work. He had drawn, in perfect proportion within the space, works by Adrian Saxe and Roseline Delisle. I was ready to build it immediately.

Since that time, I’ve been proud to recommend Fred Fisher and Partners to my friend Stephen Nowlin at Art Center College of Design’s Williamson Gallery. I was also pleased to recommend Fisher’s work to the Long Beach Museum of Art. And now, Fisher’s art facilities include P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu, the Flint Institute of Arts, Oberlin College Art Studios, L.A. Louver Gallery (try out the walkabout section on this site) and the Erburu Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

Fisher’s residential work is well known, too. Samples are posted on the firm’s website, and last spring the New York Times featured the Fisher-designed artist’s home in Ojai. Fred was awarded a 2007-2008 Rome Prize at the American Academy, and has just returned to Los Angeles.

All of Fisher’s work exhibits an artist’s sensitivity for the presentation of the artifact—pure, simple and isolated yet mindful of the properties of the given built environment. Fisher has written, “Galleries… are designed as purified spaces for experimentation and a wide variety of art media and exhibition formats. The renowned contemporary art collector Count Giuseppe Panza succinctly described the ideal gallery as a white shoe box.”