Used to Be a Skate Shop

Photo by Chris ZieglerIt sounds like a case of right person/right place/right time: Costa Mesa's Lab anti-mall had more empty retail space than it knew what to do with, Aaron Kraten had a garage full of art that needed a home, and—most important—Orange County would do real damn well with a scruffy-chic gallery dedicated to making all our starving artists substantially less starving. So Kraten made a phone call, pitched his idea to the right people, and got a rent-free slot to baby-sit with all the art he can take, at least until somebody rich moves a store in under him—and he's passing the savings on to you, the discriminating aesthete!

"We could be closed next week. We could last six months," Kraten explains, giving us a tour of his spanking-new 23 Gallery, currently occupying a former skate shop until a new vendor leases the property. "But I'm hoping to expose a lot of new artists. There's no charge for a wall or anything—as long as they can show some sort of relation to the theme of the show, they're in!"

No total shit, please, and no poetry. But otherwise, don't be shy about wandering through the door (and peeking at your grainy portrait on the resident Game Boy camera; video-game freak Kraten says, "You can mention 'Aaron will take old Nintendo cartridges for donation. Any video games anyone wants to give Aaron are welcome.'") and pitching your stuff. That's how they found some Japanese kid with a booklet full of stunning homemade prints, scheduled for an upcoming show. And that's how they'd like to find everybody: "Poke your head in and show me!" Kraten says.

He's understandably spazzing out with enthusiasm. It took only 10 minutes of negotiations to set everything up and then 10 days of renovations, funded out-of-pocket by Kraten's never-see-the-sunlight cubicle job in Garden Grove. Well, maybe we shouldn't be so cavalier with that "only"—after all, the birthing process is never easy.

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"Ten days," Kraten says with a sigh. "Ten grueling days."

Renovation buddy Jeff Ordonez, a regular hanger-outer at 23, moans disconsolately behind him.

"Ten no-bullshit, ass-grueling, bend-over, American-Me-style, toothpaste-tube-carved-into-a-shank kind of days," Kraten says.

"I thought we weren't going to talk about that time anymore," Ordonez says as he whimpers.

Fine. We won't. Instead, we'll mention the immense potential Kraten's baby gallery has to grow into a vital nexus for local art—if we're nice to it—and we'll mention all the delightful things you can see for free when you stop by. Besides Kraten's impressive stable of dreamy suburban-Basquiat-style paintings, 23 Gallery features a show of artwork based on trash, culled largely from Kraten's friends, which allows him to explain pieces with such statements as "The best part about this is he had to put drugs in a piece of meat and throw it over a junkyard fence to get it" and "I traded him a painting called You Fuck Too Much to get this."

Next on the schedule is a graffiti-art showcase—writers, take note—and after that, a print show and a wheat-pasted-poster show, not to mention the multimedia exhibits and performance-art pieces Kraten hopes to attract. Kraten hasn't hired a PR firm to get the word out, but it's possible he stumbled across his own motto: "Where the fuck else are you gonna find culture in OC?"

23 Gallery at the Lab, 2930 Bristol Ave., Costa Mesa; Opening reception for "Trash," Mon., 8-11 p.m. Through Dec. 21. Open Mon.-Fri., 4-8 p.m.; Sat., 1-7 p.m.; Sun., 1-6 p.m. Free.

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