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Targeted by anti-gentrification activists, Boyle Heights art gallery shutters

PSSST Gallery was open for less than one year

PSSST Gallery’s now closed location off Third Street.
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Updated 11:42 a.m.

PSSST Gallery, a target of anti-gentrification activists in Boyle Heights, has shuttered less than one year after opening, reports Eastsider LA.

In a statement on the gallery’s website, founders place the blame for the closure squarely on activists, saying the gallery faced constant attacks. They say the space became, “so contested that we are unable to ethically and financially proceed with our mission.”

Boyle Heights has a long artistic and activist tradition, and organized opponents to new galleries in the Downtown LA-adjacent neighborhood often underscore that they are not against art. But they do see new galleries such as PSSST as tools of gentrification via “artwashing,” referring to the practice of real estate developers and speculators using artists’ presence in a neighborhood as a way to rebrand a formerly neglected area as highly desirable.

PSSST was targeted specifically, but it was not alone.

Some activists, notably Defend Boyle Heights, have organized protests in front of PSSST and other galleries during art openings. Graffiti reading “f**k white art” appeared on a gallery door in November; the Los Angeles Police Department was looking into the incident as a possible hate crime. (DBH has said it was not responsible for the graffiti.)

"Everybody Come Stand on the Alter" at PSSST @pssst.xyz - opens tomorrow 7-10 #pssst

A post shared by Contemporary Art Review LA (@contemporaryartreview.la) on

Activists have also called for all art galleries to leave Boyle Heights.

"We hope the rest of the galleries follow the example set by PSSST [and] leave Boyle Heights,” Defend Boyle Heights wrote on its Facebook page.

In PSSST’s case, part of what attracted the negative attention was the deal it struck with its its landlord, an “anonymous donor who invested $2 million to purchase and renovate the building and committed a free 20-year lease to the gallery,” says KCET.

That deal had the activists worried “the building could very easily be flipped and resold again to the highest bidder," according to a pamphlet distributed by the Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement, another group that called for art galleries to go.

The agreement also required the gallery to operate at “a queer-centered, experimental arts space,” which led activists to also accuse them of “pink-washing.” Like artwashing, it refers to developers using queer and gay people instead of artists to gentrify.

PSSST says the “divisive battle” between art spaces and Boyle Heights residents, “resulted in the mischaracterization of PSSST as being fundamentally in opposition with the varied intersectional communities we aimed to support.” It had told the New York Times last year, shortly before its opening, that it would focus on “underrepresented artists — women, people of color, or L.G.B.T.Q.-identified — who challenge existing structures within the arts.”

If there are any grand plans to flip the space, they may surface sooner rather than later. Now that PSSST has closed, it’s unclear what will happen to its vacated space. As gallery founders noted in their statement about the closure:

As PSSST does not own 1329 East 3rd Street—and our lease was directly dependent on us maintaining our 501(c)(3) status and mission—the owner will now assume control of the building. We have no say in how they choose to proceed or what they will do with the property.

In a joint statement about PSSST’s closure, Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement and Defend Boyle Heights say the neighborhoods needs basic community amenities, like a laundromat and an affordable grocery store, not art galleries. “Why was there funding for a 501(c)3 to run a gallery to attract new people to Boyle Heights, but not for services for the existing community?” they ask.