Friday, Aug. 28, 2009 | 2 a.m.
- Grownup gameboys: A look inside Westwood Studios (10-7-1996)
Beyond the Sun
Normally when people open a gallery in the Arts District, they lease a storefront space, put up a sign and hold an opening.
Not so with Brett Sperry, owner of Brett Wesley Gallery, who is building a two-story mid-century-modern style building from the ground up at Charleston and Casino Center boulevards.
Sperry bought the property at top dollar and funded and designed the structure complete with a cantilevered front, floating glass facade, googie-esque pillars, a photography studio and 1,400 square feet of gallery space.
Maybe the first question you want to ask right now is: “How crazy is this guy?”
The economy is in the tank and the Arts District has taken a few hits over the past two years with a blue-chip gallery moving out and other galleries closing, including Main Gallery and Naomi Arin Contemporary Art.
But Sperry, a video game developer and silent partner in Naomi Arin’s Laguna Beach gallery, says his venture is not just business: “It’s about helping the Arts District go to the next level. There is definitely a commercial component, but also philanthropic. We’re always waiting for somebody else to do something. It’s a great city. There is a lot going on here. But how will the city evolve its cultural offerings if someone who has seen success here doesn’t contribute?”
Sperry has definitely seen success. At 21 he and a friend started a video game company in a Las Vegas garage that turned into a multimillion-dollar enterprise responsible for such hit games as “Command and Conquer.”
Sperry walked away with quite a bit of money and is still developing games. He’d originally hoped to become an architect. His building sort of gives him the best of both worlds.
In terms of art, the gallery adds something different to the area. The artwork he shows tends to have a more populist appeal, is less academic and esoteric than the work in other galleries.
The first opening in the new building is scheduled for Sept. 10. Titled “The Power of Seduction,” it will feature works by photographer Lawrence Schilling, contemporary Cold War-era paintings by Kevin Chupik and abstract bronze sculptures by Gerard Basil Stripling.
Marty Walsh, who owns Trifecta Gallery, welcomes the gallery, calling it the “best news ever” and saying it’s a sign of revitalization that could help set a standard for physical improvement in the area.
Some of the buildings are rundown, including the weathered S2 Art, one of the bigger moneymakers on the block. Wes Myles, owner of the Arts Factory, has finally made a sign of two-foot letters that spell “Arts Factory” and will be mounted on the building that is otherwise unidentifiable to passers-by.
Myles, too, is ecstatic about the new neighbor: “It’s a huge win for us. It’s more brick and mortar that’s here to stay that shows that there is more to do downtown.”
Sperry, a photographer and art collector, says he’d been wanting to open a downtown gallery for years. In 2005 he contacted Victoria Hart, the Westwood Studio creative director who is now the gallery’s director, sold his home in Tournament Hills and moved into a Summerlin condo to save money. When housing prices dropped, he bought a condo in Newport Lofts. He has been holding exhibits in the penthouse for nine months. His 19th floor space has a clear view of his new building.
Casino Center, the road that connects him to his new gallery, is part of a publicly funded urban trails project that will accommodate RTC’s new ACE bus line. Outside his gallery, new trees, lighting and public art were added to widened sidewalks.
Other movement is afoot. Gaia Flowers, a flower and art boutique, opened on Charleston Boulevard across from the Arts Factory. Globe Salon moved into SoHo Lofts, adding desired downtown traffic.
Valentino’s Zootsuit Connection and Paymon’s Bistro are now open for business in the Arts Factory and Preview Thursdays, held the night before each month’s First Friday, are drawing collectors and locals who are serious about art.
Jennifer Harrington, owner of Henri & Odette Gallery, is part of a team working on a Web site connecting downtown galleries, bars, restaurants and hotels. The site will list events and specials at the downtown spots and include a map to help people move from one place to another.
“We’ve had this great first wave,” Sperry says. “That’s happened and manifested. Let’s have a second wave that’s additive.”