The Chinatown Art Scene: March Edition



Chinatown has more cool art than dim sum these days. Last Saturday night, the opening receptions for a bevy of terrific shows filled Chung King Road with art lovers. There was a live band in the plaza, and the red paper lanterns glowed overhead, but the real events were inside a quartet of great galleries.

At The Good Luck Gallery, running through April 2nd, the imaginative found-art sculptures of Willard Hill dance across shelves and tables. Tenessee resident Hill worked in restaurants in his hometown of Manchester from the age of 17 to 63. Twenty years ago, he began creating sculptures crafted from others’ detritus. Today, retired, he shows no sign of stopping. A flood of creativity pours from his hands and heart.



Hill uses foil, hangars, plastic bags, tooth picks, and cotton balls, among other commonplace discards, shaping them into ingenious and charming sculptures that tell beautifully realized stories.F23C9777

The pieces are lighthearted, but poignant. There’s a yearning in the figures, a longing for movement. F23C9776

A carnival of imaginative figures dance, pull carts, ride horse drawn conveyances, sing around a piano. There’s an immediacy and intimacy to his work that makes these figures spring to life. A viewer could imagine these pieces inhabiting a living world of their own when the lights go out and the gallery closes. F23C9773

Hill has crafted a world that’s colorful, bright, and slightly surreal. His use of found objects adds to the power of his pieces. He’s crafted so much from so little. This quintessential outsider artist has made literally thousands of pieces. The sheer scope of his work is astounding, the emotion captured in each piece literally shines.F23C9769

A very different show awaits viewers at the Charlie James Gallery. On display through April 9th, artist Guy Richards Smit presents A Mountain of Skulls and Not One I Recognize, a series he completed in just under a year. “I just constantly have a need to comment on things, even on the most basic image, like that of a skull,” Smit remarks.



Smit has crafted a mock newspaper with headlines that amusingly mock current events, public figures, and social cliches. Brilliantly satirical, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, Smit is a force to be reckoned with, read, and watched.

His skull series was created as a response to a trip to Bohemia and a visit to a church made of skulls and bones when he was in his 20s. “I could imagine each skull having had a fight with a landlord or a lover. I’ve held onto to those images. Sometimes my captions are mundane, and some have bigger messages.”F23C9751His skulls feature captions that describe human types and behaviors. Each skull, like each person, is unique – in color, shape, and physical characteristics. The works, created in watercolor and gouache, are as haunting – a treatise on the ephemeral quality of life – as they are amusing. F23C9750

At Coagula Curatorial , the first solo show by New York based artist Emma Sulkowicz, Self Portrait, is a riveting portrait of the artist as – a sculpture.

The 23-year-old artist will be taking her place on a platform during regular gallery hours for the first three weeks of the show, which runs through April 3rd. The experience of communing with artist, sculpture, and 3D printed replica is quite profound. What dimension do we exist in?


Above, Sulkowicz herself is on display, positioned on a pedestal and answering questions posed by viewers.

Below, In-Action Figure, a 3D-printed replica of the artist representing her past experience with the media, flattening her image.



On opening night, viewers were able to interact with the artist, and ask her questions on just about any subject they liked. Except those that objectified her.F23C9740

Objectifying questions could be posted to Emmatron, a life-size, and life-like sculpture on an adjoining pedestal. Viewers interact with Emmatron through an app,  programmed so that the sculptural figure can answer a series of pre-set questions. F23C9733

At the Gregorio Escalante Gallery, perfect, minute, rotating doll house displays take viewers into a world of madness, survival, and whimsy – all at the same time. Running through March 27th, Michael Criley’s “Dr. Awkward’s Clinical Findings on the Back Wards,” plunges viewers down an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole of sanity and insanity.


Criley was inspired by closed state mental hospitals in Lima, Ohio, and Weston, West Virginia. His mixed media creations tell the dark tale of a doctor and his abandoned patients. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. But not the ability to laugh, relate, and connect.



An imaginary doctor’s insane dissertation on insanity, the mechanical gizmos here are madly magical.

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Containing equal parts of whimsy and terror, the miniatures, collages, sculptures, and dioramas of Criley’s work will have viewers thinking a long time. Or perhaps it’s time to stop thinking, lest your mind play any number of tricks that lead you to an urban legend of a mental hospital gone mad. F23C9704 F23C9702 F23C9697 F23C9696

Provocative, fascinating, and different indeed – those are the four exhibitions that opened fresh last weekend. Hold the egg rolls – order instead a quadruple helping of awesome art in DTLA’s Chinatown gallery row.

  • Genie Davis, All photos: Jack Burke

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