Santa Monica


September 18th was the launch of Daniel Rolnik Gallery with its first show named "Smile Isle" - inspired by the notion that this small space facing the ocean would a little utopia of happiness. 

The rest of this history chapter is told from Daniel Rolnik's own voice:

I was curating a show for my friend Om, who was operating 3 gallery spaces at the same time in Los Angeles. One was on La Brea, another in Bergamot Station (a prestigious facility that houses galleries), and the third in Santa Monica - which is the location I would eventually take over the lease on and transform. Om's work as a gallery owner and curator was inspirational to me because he was the first person I saw that treated his gallery space as if it was a work of art.

When the show I had curated for him was about to come down, he told me he was consolidating all his locations into the Bergamot Station space and asked if I knew anyone who would want to take over the Santa Monica lease*. At first, I started thinking about artists that lived nearby who could turn the space into their studio or personal shop. But, when I went to sleep that night, I couldn't stop dreaming about opening up my own gallery. So, I called him the next day and said I’d do it.

He helped me work out a deal with the landlord and within a matter of days I was putting my vision to life. The space was a sublet, where I was renting a portion of another person’s gallery; an artist-dealer named Warren who had been there for years and years. He had already built a short wall to separate the two spaces and so it was perfect because the room was separated enough to have two distinct identities in the same location. I had a million dollar view of the Pacific Ocean out the window and a clear vision of what I wanted the gallery to look like.

The space started out with white walls, tract lighting, and a burgundy colored cement floor. For some reason, I couldn't get the thought out of my mind to have a bleached wood floor. So, I found a perfect match by accident and I set about with my best friend at the time to install it.

We had saws and paint and got the space to look like what I had in my mind. My buddy even hung the show for me since he was a wizard with making things straight and even on the walls while I got to work promoting it. The rent on the space was $1,800 per month (for about 200 square feet), which was a lot of money for me at first, especially since I would have to drop twice that amount on the first month to also include the deposit. So, I asked for help from my family. We split the cost in half and they continued to help me for the first 4 months of the gallery’s operation, after which I was able to completely take everything over and get it all together. At the time, and throughout all of the gallery's locations I was living at my mother's house. I figured that having my own place to live in on top of renting the gallery would be too big of an expense, so by eliminating it and my sanity, the only expense I had was the gallery.

Soon after our first show, I had a vision to paint one of the walls a deep dark blue, which took forever because I was using the wrong kind of paint rollers for a heavily textured wall. But once the blue was on there, it made the space appear larger than it actually was and I started feeling like none of the walls should be white anymore. Around this time I had also taken a trip up to Portland to see a couple of the artists in upcoming shows and got inspired by the colors of the city. When I returned, I walked over to the local paint store to buy strawberry shortcake pink, pool party blue, and basic yellow to cover the white walls with and it looked epic.

The whole space cheered up and people began staying for longer periods of time. However, behind the scenes there was a lot of tension with the landlord. His lease, after something like 10 years, was coming to an end and he wanted to do the last few months of it solo - in effect, not renewing my lease. I figured this was coming and so I had already started searching for another location. I packed everything into a UHAUL during the last day of my lease and as I was 5 minutes from my house Om called to tell me Warren had passed away. It was weird. Looking back, even though Warren and I had our tensions and arguments, he still let me do whatever I wanted with the space, which was incredible. I have to thank Warren for letting me run wild. 

*Prior to starting the first location, I had come up with the idea of a traveling art gallery. I had recently come off of a giant road trip across the entire United States - meeting all these epic artists face to face and visiting their studios. I thought it would be epic to be like a band traveling and touring the country - only as an art show instead of a music thing. When I was in Austin, TX the artist Tim Kerr (who was also in the punk band BIG BOYS) and I had a long conversation about it. He had thought about the idea too. Ours only differed a little bit. So, when I got back I mentioned it to the artist Trace Mendoza. Trace and I had a couple meetings with people about getting the whole thing together and I was coming up with ideas for it on the spot. I really didn’t have a concrete way of understanding it yet, I just knew I wanted to do it. We had someone we wanted to be a tour manager, and I had the artists and cities in my mind lined up. And eventually we met with a man who was willing to sponsor it. He was an artist and businessman who was very nice, but something about it just didn't feel right to me. I didn’t like the idea of having to obey an investor or sponsor's rules. For example, he wanted certain things to occur for his investment and those were that his art take center stage and also that we teach people about the joy of Jesus everywhere we went - which I found way too weird since I’m Jewish. And don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus was probably a cool and epic guy, but I just didn’t want to mix religion into something that was supposed to be secular. His idea was also that he wanted a semi-truck whereas Trace and I were thinking about using vans. Anyways, it got too overwhelming and the idea kind of just sat to the side as I got the opportunity to open the Santa Monica space in the midst of it.

Daniel Rolnik Foundation