New Angeles Monthly

Art gallery profile for New Angeles Monthly, 2009. It was for a feature about unusual places to take visitors from out-of-town.

Jail House Rocks
by Greg Stacy

You have friends in town, and they ask you to take them on a little tour of your favorite places in LA. You think it over, and tell them you're going to take them to Jail. At first they think you're kidding, but then they start to get really fidgety when you drive them to that grim stretch of downtown where all the bail bonds places have sprung up in the long shadows cast by the Twin Towers correctional facility. As you and your friends step out of the car, they're anxiously clutching their purses and wallets and wondering if you've lost your mind.

But once they visit Jail, Lisa Nardoni's peculiar and amazing gallery, they'll forgive you for screwing with their heads like that. Jail is a real LA treat, hidden away in a part of town where nobody wants to go if they can help it.

Nardoni is the daughter of LA bail-bonds big-wig Eddie Nardoni, and for many years she worked in the family business while successfully pursuing her own artistic interests - including a stint in the '90s as drummer and bass player for indie bands like Six Volt Sunbeam and Black Angel's Death Song, and founding her own jewelry line, Maria Mars. By 2006 she and her sister Laurie were co-running Eddie Nardoni Bail-Bonds, across the street from the Twin Towers. When the space next door to their business became available, Lisa moved in and set up the first (and so far only) art gallery in the penal district.

The gallery is, if anything, even more incongruous than it sounds. The air outside is heavy with the desperation and misery of convicts on their way to the big house and their luckless loved ones scurrying around trying to make bail - and then there's Jail in the middle of it all, an oasis of funky creativity. Ex-cons regularly wander in as their first stop after being sprung from the Twin Towers, leaving behind the horrors of jail for the wonders of Jail. There are far worse ways to begin life on the outside.

Nardoni's shows sometimes feature a loose prison theme - such as Free Paris' references to Paris Hilton's incarceration, or the all-female show Seven Brides Electrified claiming to be the work of seven fairy-tale maidens who were locked in jail "once upon a time" - but this is no campy novelty outfit and the work displayed here deserves to be taken seriously. The shows are strikingly eclectic, encompassing painting, sculpture, assemblages, videos and more. Escape to Jail.

Jail Gallery 965 N. Vignes St., #5A * Los Angeles * (213) 621-9567