Parlors and Pop-Ups: The Modern Artist Salon in LA
Written by Anne Wallentine
Follow the printed signs that say “Parlor” to a corner of an apartment complex in Los Feliz and you’ll stumble upon a cozy gathering chatting about the art hung everywhere in the space – including the bathroom.
Once every two months, artist and organizer Sophia Allison turns her home into a temporary gallery to showcase three artists’ work for an afternoon. Each artist gives a brief talk about their work, with time for the audience to ask questions and respond. Artist Suzanne Adelman describes it as “part French salon, [part] LA surf slacker, [part] groovy casual, [with] some pro wrestling” thrown in.
This is the modern artist salon: homey, welcoming pop-up events that allow people to talk about art and the world. “We’re making a space for people to come together…and have a conversation,” Allison says. She seeks out participants in all media, who frequently display works they have never shown before. Often, they are able to get feedback and iterate their concepts with other artists in attendance. As Nicole Stirbis, artist and frequent attendee says, Parlor “is about [building] community.”
Salons are as well. While they have always centered around intellectual debate, their artistic iteration has evolved into gathering people to discuss, connect, and maybe even buy something. Homes are not only convenient and intimate venues; they are also a free solution to finding functional space in stores or galleries. Jasper Sortun, a Santa Monica-based illustrator, hosted her first pop-up show at her apartment earlier this year over two weekend afternoons. She found the planning process exhausting, but the outcome a “really fun experience of having people over and mingling. It’s an excuse to have a party, but also have a purpose.”
The purpose is to continue the artistic conversation, through individual connections as well as sales. For artist and designer Karen Tong of Heo Ceramics, pop-ups are also about “being in the conversation.” Tong has shown her work at art and craft fairs and held pop-ups at local businesses like the Goods Mart and Ri-Ri-Ku, and, most recently, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. She seeks out venues to collaborate with that fit with her artistic ethos in order to “add what she has to say” – an approach that has enabled her to build a network of potters and artists who she now counts as close friends.
Tong appreciates social media as “a tool to further those relationships,” as well as extend the conversation to a wider audience, but emphasizes that the key is connecting in person. Sortun agrees, distinguishing the benefit of digital platforms to share and see work that feels authentic rather than making art “for” social media.
Ultimately, art is a conversation between maker and audience. Allison explains that part of her impetus to start Parlor was to see and discuss what others were doing, as art making “can be very solitary.” The conversation can be broadened through social media, but connection happens in real life – at events like these that, though ephemeral, generate meaningful interactions with art and each other.