Rick Garzon is not your typical art world founder. Relaxed, sitting in front of a new work by the artist Ashley Teamer, he’s equally eager to talk about sports and comic books as he is about the new home of Residency Art Gallery, which opened its doors in September. His disposition is one part humble and one part ambitious, all with a gentle but declarative nature.
Joining me—a comic book neophyte and ardent ignorer of sports—over Zoom, Garzon is clear about his goals and how much change is needed in the highly insular gallery ecosystem. He came to art by way of advertising but while working in media planning, he began collecting works by BIPOC artists and found the galleries to be unwelcoming to newcomers.
“I tried to buy a three- or four-thousand-dollar Titus Kaphar piece and they pretty much laughed at me,” said Garzon.
“There is a barrier to collecting artwork and a lot of galleries are apprehensive to sell to new collectors,” he continued. “But why is this artwork going into somebody’s bunker in Germany and not being seen by the people it’s meant to be seen by?”
He founded Residency Art Gallery in 2016 in South Central Los Angeles, which is where he grew up. It’s far from the city’s bustling and brutally pretentious arts districts like West Hollywood and Culver City. That’s by design for Garzon, who wants to bring collectors out of their expected environments.
“When I was living in Brooklyn, you never had to leave a one-mile radius of your house. Then I moved back to L.A. and it was like, I live in this predominantly Black and Brown neighborhood and I don’t really spend my time or money here,” recalled Garzon. “Historically, there’ve been very few commercial art spaces in South Central and I just thought, why not? I can make something here and have it in our neighborhood.”
Earlier this year, Garzon relocated Residency to the newly opened Hollywood Park retail district near SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. Spearheaded by Los Angeles Rams owner, Stan Kroenke, the ambitious development sits on nearly 300 acres and offers 890,000 square feet of retail along with offices and residential units. While, according to Garzon, there are still plenty of vacancies, the potential exposure for the gallery and its artists is significant.
In discussing the reason he joined the development early on, he said, “We’re getting bigger; I wanted to move into a more high-profile space, and I wanted to stay in Inglewood.”
For the inaugural exhibition in the new space, Garzon chose to reprise “The New Contemporaries” series. Volume three opened on September 23 and featured commissions by eighteen artists based in the United States, including Edmund Arevalo, Jonni Cheatwood, Cash Cooper, Maya Fuji, Daniela Garcia Hamilton, Rugiyatou Jallow, Gbenga Komolafe, Spandita Malik, Will Maxen, Nikkolos Mohammed, Kariny Padilla, Ronnie Robinson, Jacob Rochester, LaRissa Rogers, Esperanza Rosas (Runsy), Kristofferson San Pablo, Ashley Teamer and Michael Tran.
Serving as a tactile declaration of the gallery’s mission, the show explored the “various modes through which Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian artists define self-authorship in resistance to fetishization, commodification and appropriation within the mainstream media landscape,” according to a release.
“What we tried to focus on is how the figure is portrayed outside of a media context. When you look at the media, all you see are these hyper-exaggerated depictions of Black or Brown people who are either basketball players, entertainers, gang members or sexual objects. You really don’t see the average person just doing her thing,” Garzon added.
In keeping with their resistance to convention, in lieu of the typical stale canapés, Residency celebrated the opening with a party co-hosted by the multidisciplinary creative and learning community dedicated to Black and Latinx artists, Super. There was a public performance by the artist Autumn Breon and four DJ sets. In celebrating the work, Garzon is also celebrating the community and creating a cultural epicenter.
The founder continues to have his hands full. Following the success of “Vol 3,” Residency opened “Ask Your Ma About ‘89” on November 18. The solo exhibition features new works by Chinese-American artist Larry Li and focuses on his family’s experiences during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Named after a conversation with a family friend, the show explores the challenges that come with understanding familial histories. Li’s work, which is on view through January 20, 2024, fuses archival photography with the visual language of Chinese culture to create layered images that are both haunting and familiar.
“His work is phenomenal,” Garzon said. “You can tell his family is in all of his work and that’s the throughline for me when I work with artists. I want to know the story.”
Closing out the year for Garzon is the annual parade of party hopping and booth schmoozing known as Art Basel Miami Beach. He admits he’s not much of a Miami man, explaining that the city’s glitzy soirées aren’t appealing but the fair itself is useful. For it, Residency will present a solo exhibition by Texas Isaiah, one of the four artists represented by the gallery (the others being Li, Devon Tsuno, and Daniela García Hamilton).
With his debut at Art Basel Miami Beach, Isaiah’s new work is a meditation on loss, rest, and rejuvenation. The artist suffered from a challenging year that included deaths in his family. The result is a 16-piece show capturing two subjects who have shared similar life events.
“The project encapsulates what it means to rehabilitate yourself, both physically and mentally, from these traumatic experiences,” said Garzon.
It’s evident in the way he speaks about the artists that he works with that Garzon is passionate about both protecting them and promoting their work. Despite, or perhaps because of his camera-shy demeanor, the gallery owner is committed to playing the behind-the-scenes maestro—a quiet connector.
“In this industry, you have to be seen, you have to go to parties and have your picture taken with all of these great collectors and rich and famous people,” he said. “But that’s not me. I’m more about the work and what I can do to foster these young artists’ growth so they can have longevity and not be jerked by bigger galleries.”
As for his own longevity, Garzon is set on breaking the mold and shifting perspectives. He also makes it clear that he’s done the work in building something worth noticing and worth making the trek through L.A. traffic to see.
“I’ve shed the blood, sweat and tears and I don’t want to play the notice-me game now. I want the gallery to speak for itself,” Garzon said. “I want it to be unfuckwithable.”