The Creative Couple Behind ESMoA
By paul wiseman
Brian and Eva Sweeney at ESMoA.
Ever wonder where the next big LA art enclave will be? Galleries, lofts, bars, and baristas already fill nearly every Culver City corner, and the formerly fearsome Parks (Echo and Highland) and Skid Row–adjacent Downtown historic districts have evolved into hipster havens.
If Brian and Eva Sweeney have their way, the answer will be El Segundo. El Segundo? The unsung seaside city is where the Manhattan Beach–based creative couple is building the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA), the architecturally intriguing and ambitiously named nonprofit project that recently debuted on a single narrow lot on the city’s Main Street and sits next to the former site of the El Segundo Post Office, a building the Sweeneys also own and hope to lease to a restaurant tenant. The Sweeneys originally purchased the site (a vacant space between two buildings, which was widened by 10 feet to create a 25-foot-wide lot) as a place to store their collection of classic and contemporary art, which includes works by Klimt, Courbet, and Klee, among many others.
Eva, 43, is an elegant German-born architect with a master’s degree from SCIArc. She collaborated on the building’s design, which features materials such as stainless steel and white concrete blocks and an imaginative use of the lot’s limited dimensions. “We probably were a bit naïve,” she says of the storage center that morphed into a museum. “The project just kept getting bigger.”
Naïve isn’t a word often associated with Brian Sweeney. The 51-year-old developer was an Olympic sailor for the Canadian team in the 1984 LA Games, but today is known for savvy real estate investments.
The casually cool couple also founded Artlab21 Foundation as a private initiative to help artists. It’s now a nonprofit that supports public art projects, artist exchanges, and art education. Those are also elements of ESMoA’s mission, which is partnering with the “powers that be” in the city, including a community advisory board headed by Eric Busch, a former mayor of El Segundo.
Although the museum building is only 24 feet, 6 inches wide, it has a surprisingly soaring interior space and a clean, contemporary aesthetic. The light-filled rectangular box can be broken up into individual galleries or filled floor to ceiling “salon-style, with up to 40 pieces of art in each show,” Eva says. “For each exhibit there will be a different experience. We may even put pink carpeting down for a show featuring nudes.”
ESMoA opens invitingly onto the street, and includes a multipurpose room that can serve as a classroom or cultural laboratory. There’s also an artist’s residence upstairs with a separate entrance in the back, which is already booked for its first tenant, Michael Sistig, a painter from Cologne, Germany. The second will be a student from Otis, the school of art and design that’s located in Playa del Rey, just across LAX from El Segundo.
Education is an important element of ESMoA’s mission. “There are only four public schools in the city, and we plan to have art programs for every grade,” Eva says. “Art is everywhere, not just in a museum,” adds Brian.
An ambitious early ESMoA project is based on a large painting the couple owns called Anti-Arche, which imagines what would happen in a modern-day flood. The installation, planned for an undisclosed El Segundo location, would include large industrial containers whose contents—including a giant pink polar bear—have spilled out.
“We’re still talking to the city,” Brian says of the project. “We’ll see how it goes, but we’re optimistic.” ESMoA opens January 27. 208 Main St., El Segundo
photography by elisabeth caren
Fashion shoot: December 2013 issue of Los Angeles Confidential magazine.