Century City’s new Annenberg Space for Photography readies L.A. for its close-up

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Angeleno, February 2009

Unless you are going to meet your agent or financial adviser, Century City—beyond Craft or perhaps a visit to the Westfield Mall—hardly qualifies as a destination. But that could change with next month’s opening of the Annenberg Space for Photography. The 10,000-square-foot exhibition space, funded by über-benefactor Wallis Annenberg’s Annenberg Foundation, fills a much-needed gap in L.A.’s arts tapestry: It’s the only institution in the city dedicated exclusively to the medium of photography, a personal passion of the philanthropist. “The L.A. Center for Photographic Studies closed nine or 10 years ago, and there hasn’t been any space like that since, especially one that created a sense of community and cultivated ideas about photography,” says renowned photog/UCLA prof Catherine Opie.

Greg Gorman’s Bette Davis

Greg Gorman’s Bette Davis

The genesis of the Annenberg center, however, was hardly organic. After the demolition of the old ABC Entertainment Center (which housed the Shubert Theatre), the city mandated that the site’s new 2000 Avenue of the Stars complex include a cultural pavilion. But when the 12-story, glass-curtained office tower debuted two years ago—with CAA as its marquee tenant—the cultural space was still searching for a raison d’être. Enter the civic-minded Annenberg Foundation (also the force behind the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts, slated for 2012 in Bev Hills), which partly based its decision on what to do with the exhibit hall after conducting a review of the city’s arts offerings to determine what was lacking. The answer: photography.

For its inaugural March exhibition, Los Angeles, the Annenberg, perhaps playing it a bit safe in its debut, looks at the city through five different zooms: fine art photos, portraits, architectural shots, documentary imagery and pics that show L.A.’s cultural/social life. “One of the objectives was to focus on the human condition,” says Annenberg Foundation managing director Leonard Aube. The show—guest curated by Anne Wilkes Tucker, curator of photography at The Museum of Fine Art, Houston—features the work of 11 top shutterbugs, including Opie, John Baldessari, Julius Shulman, Tim Street-Porter, Greg Gorman, Douglas Kirkland and Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Times staff photographer Carolyn Cole.

Tim Street-Porter’s Schnabel House

Tim Street-Porter’s Schnabel House

Unlike most museums, the space won’t maintain a collection of works. It will, however, curate a digital archive of thousands of images for future exhibition. “Having another space to show photography is phenomenal,” says Photo L.A. director Stephen Cohen. “And because it’s more institutional, it will be able to show work that’s different from the galleries; work that’s not necessarily available commercially.”

So will CAA agents and the rest of the workaholic Century City crowd come calling? The Annenberg plans to seduce them with free admission, as well as photography workshops, lunchtime programming and evening lectures. “It’s a pretty nontraditional approach,” says Aube. “With its nonprofit backing and its universal accessibility, the space embraces institutional standards, yet is pushing the envelope on technology to create a space unlike any other.” —AJ

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