Yes, Long Beach, you will finally get to step back inside Acres of Books—but it will, of course, be nothing like, well, Acres of Books. (For a full history, scroll below.) And that is okay because this is about activating a space that once was, seeing its potential future, and discussing how it can fit into the future of the Downtown Long Beach landscape.
Once a seemingly endless supply of books, the Acres of Books building is but a front-facing facade—deemed historic by the City when the property was set for redevelopment in 2008—and is now attached to the massive ONNI East Village complex.
And Studio One Eleven, as part of the upcoming Downtown Long Beach Art Walk, wants to invite the public inside the updated space on Saturday, Jan. 13, from 4PM to 9PM.
So what is ‘Counter:image’ at Acres of Books all about?
Long Beach’s most prolific and respected design firm, Studio One Eleven, has long been leading the charge on creating spaces within Downtown Long Beach that honor and harken to uplifting art, space, and design. (Think of when they brought the region’s largest design festival right to the heart of Long Beach.)
And with “Counter:image” at Acres of Books, they pretty much want the art to speak for itself.
“The exhibit invites us to explore diverse perspectives through the lens of multidisciplinary contemporary artists,” said curators Sinead Finnerty-Pyne of Studio One Eleven and Mario Ybarra Jr., the firm’s current artist-in-residence. “The exhibition fosters a visual dialogue that contradicts, compares, and contrasts mainstream narratives, challenging viewers to question the stories they consume. This exploration aims to showcase the power of artistic expression to reframe, redefine, and counter the images shaping our understanding of the world.”
Featured artists include (with artist descriptions by Finnerty-Pyne):
- Studio One Eleven Artist-in-Residence Mario Ybarra Jr. + Slanguage Studio
“We Activate our Cities” silkscreen activity and giveaway. “We Activate Our Cities” is a grassroots call to action, urging individuals to participate in revitalizing urban cores by bringing art culture, and design back into these spaces. The silkscreen activity and giveaway is a hands-on and tangible way to engage with the artistic process while contributing to the broader mission of activating cities through art.
- Monica Nouwens
Nouwens’ poetic exploration of Los Angeles captures the city’s multifaceted identity, transcending traditional documentation. The series delves into sharp contrasts between high-end consumerism, vibrant youth culture, and the harsh realities of homelessness, using a cinematic aesthetic reminiscent of old Hollywood noir.
- Phung Huynh
Huynh’s drawings on pink donut boxes and paintings unpack the complexities of immigration, displacement, and cultural assimilation within Southeast Asian communities. The artist challenges beauty standards and explores the complexities of assimilation and cultural negotiation among Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees through her unique artistry.
- Adam Leeman
Adam’s art delves into the ethereal realm of “empty space” within atoms—the very essence of human existence. Inviting contemplation of the unexplained, especially the marvel of consciousness beyond full scientific understanding, his work is inspired by the Space + Light Movement. Utilizing site-specific installations with a focus on color and immateriality through film, light, and sculpture, Adam orchestrates an exploration of unseen wonders. Encouraging a thoughtful pause, his creative endeavors prompt viewers to reflect on the everyday interplay of light, weaving mood and magic into our surroundings.
- Chakravartin Sokhomsan
Raised by Khmer refugee parents in Long Beach, CA, Chakravartin Sokhomsan, an activist, artist, and educator, found his artistic passion within the local Cambodian community. Chakra, a cis-male dancer, challenges norms by entering the female-dominated world of Cambodian Ballet, aiming to reshape perceptions within this classical style. Simultaneously, he connects Cambodian Ballet and Modern dance, crafting a narrative that reflects his diasporic identity.
- Seria Project – Dasha Podoltseva and Elena Orap
The graphic designer and architect duo’s project is a devoted exploration of brutalist mass housing in Ukraine. “SERIA__” aims to raise awareness of Ukraine’s architectural heritage, particularly the neglected ‘panelki,’ while considering the impact of the ongoing war on these structures. (presented by @art.territory.ua)
The history of Acres of Books is a storied and sad one
For many, the sight of former city leaders taking a sledgehammers to the side of Acres of Books in 2008 was cringe-inducing—for both the right and wrong reasons: City leaders thought they had a redevelopment project that was clutch while local book lovers thought they lost an essential, paper-structured cog in Long Beach culture.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome of our negotiations with Acres of Books, and I appreciate all that the Smiths have done for the community throughout the 75 years they’ve been in business,” read a press release statement from Craig Beck, then Executive Director of the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency. “The property is part of our Broadway Block project, which will celebrate the arts and further our revitalization efforts in downtown Long Beach.”
Bertrand Smith, for which the bookstore was named after, founded the first incarnation of his famed shop in 1927 in Ohio—and it wasn’t until he moved to Long Beach in 1934 that he returned to doing what he did best: selling books, collecting books, putting them on shelves, sharing them. He owned an array of shops—on near Broadway and Long Beach Blvd. (then called American Avenue), one near Pine Avenue and 7th Street, and one near 1st Street and Pacific Avenue (and that one was actually called Acres of Books).
Come 1959, the Acres of Books the denizens of Long Beach came to know and love opened at 240 Long Beach Blvd.
Here’s how historian and columnist Tim Grobaty described Smith’s collection of books:
Smith’s store was impressive, containing the sort of wildly eclectic (or simply comprehensive) books on virtually every subject, including 300 titles alone just on the life of Napoleon. His Western books were arranged by state and his fiction titles numbered in the tens of thousands. Like military books? Smith’s titles were thorough: You could pick up such forgotten treasures as “The History of the 57th West Middlesex Regiment.”
Smith had a particular affinity for religious books and the Pacific Avenue store featured books on virtually all of the world’s religions as well as Bibles in 22 languages. His disdain for science fiction was reflected in the fact that he kept those books in the “screwball section.”
It is missed, for sure, but luckily: We can look up the Bible in any language with the simple tap of a few buttons.
Acres of Books is located 240 Long Beach Blvd.