More than Just a Phase
L.A. Gallery Helps UCI Art Students and Alumni
By Richard Chang
According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a phase is a temporary manner, attitude or pattern of behavior.
But a temporary art space in Los Angeles founded by a UC Irvine M.F.A. graduate seems to have left a lasting impact.
Phase Gallery — located on Albion Street in the industrial Lincoln Heights neighborhood of L.A. — has been showcasing numerous UCI art students and alumni since its opening in March 2022. About 10 out of 14 shows the gallery has organized have featured UCI graduate students and alumni.
Ewa Słapa, M.F.A. ’18, started Phase Gallery with a partner, renting an 1,800-square-foot space with high ceilings that used to be an office.
“That was the first idea — to make it a gallery space,” said the Polish-born sculptor and installation artist. “We knew it was going to be a temporary event space. This is just one iteration of the space. For us, it was the temporality of it, the impermanence of this endeavor – it’s a phase, just part of the time was devoted to this activity.”
Over the course of 19 months, Phase has presented intriguing, cutting-edge art shows, many exploring the experimental boundaries of contemporary art. Phase has been a beacon for original art, performances, crowded receptions, lively discussion and intellectual engagement. It has served as a safe, exploratory space that’s not really designed — or adherent to —the whims of commercial art sales.
“In general, people who (we featured) are formed artists already,” Słapa said. “They are seeming to be ready for holding the space on their own. The quality of the work was there. I think part of it is the strength of the (UCI art) program. There’s a very good selection of people. They go through a lot in three years, and they come more prepared and more ready and more integrated as artists, clear, and with strong practices. It’s a testament to the program itself.”
I think part of it is the strength of the UCI program... they come more prepared and more ready and more integrated as artists.
Kim Garcia, M.F.A. ’18, a classmate and friend of Słapa’s, participated in a group show, The Cold Read, in May-June 2022, and had a solo exhibition called Smoking in the Garden in May-June 2023. The title was a play on her middle name, Fumar, which means “to smoke” in Spanish.
“It is a gorgeous space. I was so excited when Ewa invited me to have a solo exhibition because the space lends itself to sculpture,” Garcia said. “I think organizing the ‘Cold Read’ group show a year before gave me ideas of how the space could host work, on top of the amazing roster of shows that were exhibited in the space. I was really excited to build a body of work specifically for that space.”
Garcia, a second-generation Filipina American, grew up in San Diego, and graduated with a bachelor’s in studio art from UCSD. At UCI, she obtained her M.F.A. in art, with an emphasis on sculpture, although she has done drawings, paintings on sculpture and videos as well.
Garcia has had solo shows in San Diego and at UCI, but Smoking in the Garden at Phase Gallery was her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles.
“It was exhilarating to have not only a solo exhibition in L.A., but have a very generous exhibition space to produce a substantial body of work for,” she said. “I'm really grateful for the experience and hope that it opens new opportunities in the near future.”
Other UCI graduates who have enjoyed solo shows at Phase Gallery include: Gosia Herc-Balaszek, Amy MacKay, Jackson Hunt and Chris Warr.
Image (above): Ewa Słapa (Photo: Courtesy of Phase Gallery)
Faculty On Board
Phase Gallery has also caught the attention of current UCI arts faculty. Jennifer Pastor, a sculptor, visual art professor and associate chair of graduate studies, helped organize Quadruple, an intramural UC M.F.A. pop-up show and critique. The June 2022 event brought together 33 M.F.A. students from UCI, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UCLA. Seven critique participants installed large or longer-term projects for the group critique, including current UCI M.F.A. students Gintaute Skvernyte and Devin Wilson.
“Because I started teaching at UCSD, came from UCLA, and now teach at UC Irvine, that represents different UC campuses,” Pastor said. “It just seemed like we should use those connections to help our grad students to expand their network of emerging artists."
Pastor said the focus and organizational force behind Quadruple stemmed from a past project that was developed around a critique class that she taught. “I wanted to extend the invitation among other graduate students and emerging artists, who are having similar conversations and emerging together. They should know each other.”
...we should use those connections to help our grad students to expand their network of emerging artists.
Other UC faculty who ran the critique and discussion included Amy Adler from UCSD and Yunhee Min from UC Riverside.
UC faculty participants included Amanda Ross-Ho, Anna Betbeze, Anna Sew Hoy, Anya Gallacio, Brandon Lattu and Lynne Marsh.
Słapa said the Quadruple show and critique were “really great.” “A lot of people came. They were very eager, very positive, very engaged. It seemed like it was very helpful — people were friendly and collaborative. For me, it really showed how similar discussions can be, and how unifying too. It’s really just talking about art in the most engaged way you can.”
Pastor said she’s thankful for Słapa’s countless volunteer hours as well as her energy and determination to create a space for young and emerging artists who are still in or not too far out of art school.
“Art is a very difficult field,” she said. “It’s competitive, like the music industry. Ewa opened her own gallery — she said screw it. She just did something, and she was able to do this. It’s going to be temporary, but they’re making their own context. They’re not waiting around for the commercial art world or other art worlds. For intellectual and creative reasons, they should be making new contexts for themselves. It’s something you do because you’re really driven by desire to create something that you think is important in a cultural conversation.”
Image: The Quadruple gathering on June 5, 2022, brought together 33 M.F.A. students from UC Irvine, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and UCLA. (Photo: Courtesy of Phase Gallery)
Słapa will close Phase Gallery at the end of September with a solo show of her own sculptural works. She and fiancé Brad Howe aim to reopen Phase in Malibu in September or October.
“There is a house that we are thinking of turning into this gallery,” she said. “There’s a lot of outdoor spaces, which are being covered with concrete for different types of events, like outdoor sculpture. You have to change a little bit, but we are trying to adapt it and continue.”
As she works toward the future, Słapa looks back on her UCI art education with gratitude. Some of her most influential instructors included Pastor, Ross-Ho, Daniel J. Martinez, Monica Majoli, Kevin Appel and Simon Leung.
“All the people I worked with were very helpful, smart and sophisticated,” Słapa said. “I’m so thankful there was space for thinking about art, as well as the time and attention toward discussing that art, with a lot of support and wonderful feedback. I really appreciated this time. It was a lot of growth for me.
“There was enough challenge and support — I think there was a really good balance of both.”
Image: Smoking in the Garden Installation by Kim Garcia at Phase Gallery, on view from May 13 - June 10, 2023. (Photo: Courtesy of Kim Garcia)
Learn more about Phase Gallery at its website, www.phasegallery.com.
Please visit our secure direct giving page and make a gift to support Art today!