Chung King Road: Galleries in Chinatown's Arts District

Chung King Road Gallery | photo courtesy of Lenny Lloyd da Silva, Flickr

During the day, the little alley of Chung King Road, Los Angeles — only some 40 feet wide — is bare and quiet. The occasional lone straggler might make his way through the alley, a shortcut to get to Chinatown’s main attractions. But on art opening nights, which occur on Saturdays every few weeks, throngs of L.A. art enthusiasts come to check out the latest in a new wave of galleries settling into Chung King Road’s less-than-shiny streetscape.

It’s a strange and somewhat romantic scene, with the alley’s lanterns and worn-out gallery facades, as if pulled from some derelict 1950s movie set. Yet, it’s a scene that has become a new center for art in Los Angeles. Some describe it as a displaced Westside arts district — hip, edgy and young. And while the art is breaking boundaries, the galleries are still paying tribute to the culture of Chinatown; many have kept the original storefront names. Check out some of the galleries anchoring the growing art scene in Chinatown.

Black Dragon Society

961–971 Chung King Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Who You’ll See: The girl with funky hair and far-out tattoos.

UCLA art professor Roger Herman and his three partners head up Black Dragon Society, a former kung fu center. The art still packs a punch, and because of the experimental nature of the gallery, exhibitions can either hit or miss. Still, this is the place to find new talent, particularly with artists who have a knack for creating witty yet powerful dialogue through their works.

Charlie James Gallery

975 and 969 Chung King Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Who You’ll See: Coffee drinkers and students looking for newfound inspiration.

Owner/director Charlie James established his gallery here in 2008 after quitting his job at Microsoft and moving to Los Angeles, dedicating his space (and eventually two spaces) to emerging and mid-career artists from all over the world. A great range of diverse, contemporary art is shown here, all of which Charlie James connects to personally. He refers to his galleries as his "passion project."

The Happy Lion

963 Chung King Rd.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Who You’ll See: The couple who loves to talk loftily about art.

Come here for the brainy side of art. Behind every piece of art the gallery displays, whether it's New York-based artist Lauren Beck’s “dark feminist mystique” or L.A.-based Brian Will’s “string theory,” there’s some kind of context for intellectual and conceptual discussion. To say the gallery is thought-provoking would be understating the exhibitions — Happy Lion’s art will more likely bust through an ordinary understanding of art.