Economic optimism prevails in the Laguna Beach arts community, judging by the recent opening or expansion of four diversely specialized art galleries.
Avran Art and Design, a gallery devoted to contemporary art glass, photography and jewelry, just opened its doors on South Coast Highway, and Ritual Yoga Arts, a unique enterprise combining a yoga studio and art gallery, has taken up quarters at the former Esther Wells Collection Gallery, location of the very first Laguna art gallery.
Newly opened CES Contemporary and the Forest & Ocean Gallery leased spaces on 480 Forest Ave., a semi-circular building that serves as a visual gateway into downtown.
“We had our eyes on that building when the video store was still here; we dreamed of having this space some day,” said Ludo and Barbara Leideritz, owners of Forest & Ocean.
The couple share a passion for photography, especially black and white platinum prints, and travel, which has taken them to Europe and Asia. Ludo is a native of Holland while Barbara was born in Long Beach.
While maintaining a studio/showroom in a Costa Mesa warehouse, they yearned for a “real” gallery surrounded by similar establishments and foot traffic. Still holding down day jobs, Ludo as a furniture designer and Barbara as a nurse, they established a cooperative venue for photographers and ceramicists. That means that each artist pays a small amount of rent, and the gallery takes only a 20 percent commission, compared to the typical gallery standard of 50 percent. All gallery artists take turns working in the gallery, configured with seating and interspersed ceramics on tables and pedestals, like someone’s living room. Altogether the co-op includes three ceramicists and seven photographers. (www.forestoceangallery.com )
CES Contemporary, which moved from Laguna Canyon Road, is adjacent to the Forest and Ocean Gallery, also benefiting from the space long occupied by a video rental store. Carl E. Smith, the gallery’s owner and director as well as an artist and designer in his own right, created an elegant environment filled with works on paper, collages and prints by an international group of artists.
Smith grew up in town, graduating from Laguna Beach High School. “Growing up in a small community made me want to have more activity in my life,” he said. Wanderlust took him to the Czech Republic where he, through a friend, landed a graphic design job in Prague and also met his wife Simona. Sean, their Czech-speaking son, attends Top of the World Elementary. Now, the family divides its time between Prague and Laguna. “I find it necessary to travel but also to stay connected to a small town community like Laguna,” he said.
Smith traveled to art fairs and visited galleries, scouting artists in preparation for running his own gallery. “I had been connecting the dots between artists for the last 10 years and having my own gallery lets me show art of an international caliber,” he said.
When the Leideritzes and Smith submitted space specs to the city’s planning commission, it was smooth sailing. The building sits in a small “island,” whose commercial land use permits resident and visitor serving uses, while the remainder of Ocean Avenue is supposed to offer resident services.
“This building has high visibility and is, effectively, a part of our village entrance. Two such attractive galleries do much to enhance that entrance,” e-mailed planning commissioner Linda Dietrich.
When Gabby Levine moved from Los Angeles to Laguna and opened Ritual Yoga, 1390 S. Coast Highway, she intended to create a “non-corporate space” where the yoga community could take classes and congregate surrounded by art and good vibes. “Yoga and art are pretty well in balance. Artists are aligned with yoga since they tend to respect nature, physicality and spirituality,” she said.
The studio-gallery has a staff of 11 teachers working daily with 20 students, mostly locals, she explained. Works by Aron Bobo and Amber Rose Tibb add both color and calm. “I am glad that art sales are picking up everywhere, but we are here as a community space. People can come and just hang out and look at the art and not buy anything,” she said.
After working as an information technology manager at UC Irvine for 10 years and feeding her creative side as an informal interior designer, Marta Avran Juhasz realized her dream of owning an art gallery. “I was born in Hungary and had been surrounded by art and history,” she said. “Interior design has always been my second nature.”
From her Avram Arts & Design, 540 S. Coast Highway, she imports cast glass sculptures from Hungary and the Czech Republic, some of which depicts characters or scenes from ancient regional legends. She also features photography and jewelry and, on occasion, oil paintings. Having recently discovered works by European glass artists in London, she plans to bring them here. “This is my first gallery and I am eager to get my feet wet,” she said.