There’s an Art Gallery in Los Angeles Modeled After the Unabomber’s Montana Shack

Danny First built The Cabin in his Hancock Park backyard

The debut this weekend of Hauser Wirth & Schimmel gallery, a 100,000 square foot exhibition space in downtown’s Arts District, exemplifies the global epidemic towards ever-larger galleries needed to mount monumental sculptures, paintings and installations. But one gallery in L.A. has decided to buck the trend: Artist and collector Danny First, inspired by the sparseness of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s shack, opened the Cabin in 2015.

Housed in his backyard near Hancock Park, the ten-foot by 12-foot gallery mimics the exact dimensions of Kaczynski’s infamous Montana cabin. That is where the similarities end. Instead of an antisocial loner, First invites one and all (primarily by appointment) to experience art in his miniscule, offbeat gallery. An avid advocate of Instagram and Facebook to announce upcoming exhibitions and events, First departs sharply from Kaczynski’s rejection of technology and embrace of anarchy. In other words, it wasn’t the Unabomber’s philosophies that inspired First. It was the scale and form of the building. Inside the spare, white-walled space, First mounts an eclectic program of (mostly) emerging artists.

In the past year, First has shown paintings by Tschabalala Self, surreal sculptures by French artist Theo Mercier, and photography by Genevieve Gaignard, among other works. On Saturday, March 12, First will debut a collection of paintings from Robert Russel, artist and husband of actress Lisa Edelstein (Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce, House). The series, titled Lisa, is an exhibition of nudes Russel painted of his wife. It runs through May 8.

In some ways, the Cabin is a natural extension of First’s love for collecting and commitment to patronage. His art-filled home often hosts fundraisers for museums, music programs, and even his son’s school. His own series of sculptures and benches emblazoned with epigrams (“On Hold For a Bigger Collector Than You”) sit side-by-side with work from Kehinde Wiley and George Condo.

First is motivated less by financial gain and more by the opportunity to provide exposure for up-and-comers. He offers visiting artists a residency at his studio on La Brea and hopes they’re inspired enough by the Cabin to create or curate shows for it. The residency not only offers space and materials but also exposure to curators, gallerists, and collectors. “I always enjoyed helping emerging artists get their career going,” First says. “It’s fun, and I like the idea of a gallery space without having to worry about selling things.”

His freewheeling approach to curation allows First to pursue a non-traditional business model. Unlike most galleries, which typically split revenue 50/50, First recoups his expenses for materials and gives the rest to the artist. He doesn’t need to hew to the conventions of a commercial gallery, planning shows a year or more in advance.

Mostly, First is intrigued by the challenges of a tiny space. “There’s only so much you can display,” he says. “But it’s not as intimidating as a large space for artists.” The lack of pretention and pressure allows artists to experiment. Gaignard’s exhibition, for instance, replaced the Cabin’s white walls with a site-specific and intricate installation of her former New England home. Each wall of the Cabin was meticulously transformed using collage, sculpture, and photography to tell an autobiographical story. “I’m always surprised to see what the space can handle,” First says.

→ The Cabin is by appointment only. Contact Danny First at 323.559.2346