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Chinatown's new Velveteria gallery is a velvet painting paradise

by Kevin Ferguson | Off-Ramp

A velvet portrait of Miley Cyrus. Courtesy of Velveteria

One of the newest additions to Chinatown is — yes — another art space, but it's a gallery of a different kind. The Velveteria is a museum open to the public dedicated to one thing: velvet paintings.

Originally founded in Portland, Oregon in 2005, the Velveteria opened up just last month in LA's Chinatown neighborhood. The small museum has in its collection over 3,000 velvet paintings from all over the planet, including presidential portraits, rock stars and religious figures and much more. 

Kitsch is hard to avoid at the Velveteria — that much goes without saying. Though less ubiquitous than they were years ago, you can still find velvet paintings at thrift stores, swap meets and antique shops. Artists from Thailand, Mexico, the South Pacific, all paint on black velvet. 

Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin have been collecting velvet paintings for over 15 years now. When the original gallery opened in Portland, it was a hit—it even made it onto Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations":

For $10, viewers can see over 400 different paintings. Subjects range from Elvis, John F. Kennedy, to Jesus Christ. As Baldwin says: "People who died young and tragically always end up on velvet." 

There's a room devoted to black light velvet paintings, where among the nudes and landscapes you'll find heavy political work: several paintings by Vietnamese folk artists depict American soldiers as terrifying skeletons and hulking monsters. 

Caring for velvet paintings is a delicate business. When most paintings arrive, Baldwin says, they're usually covered in cat hair, Baldwin says they usually use a lint roller to clean up the works.

"Probably not good for really fine velvet paintings," Baldwin adds.

The Velveteria is Located at 711 New High St, Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Admission: $10. Hours of operation are Thursday- Sunday, 11:00am – 6:00pm or by appointment.

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