Large- and small-scale construction projects alike line the streets of Little Italy. Once the dust settles, more new restaurants, bars and upscale housing projects will open their doors. Designer and artist Louise Girling worries that the quickly growing neighborhood will continue to see fewer and fewer of the galleries, studios and showrooms that helped build and brand Little Italy's Kettner Art & Design District as one of the city's most interesting urban centers for fine art and high-end design.
"I mean, how many restaurants and bars can you have on four blocks, you know?" she asks, peering out the big, glass front window of her brand-new studio and gallery space, Modmatter (2064 Kettner Blvd.).
Girling is looking at a huge restaurant under construction across the street as she points toward a tiny, old Craftsman home tucked between two towering buildings.
"I've been eyeing Little Italy for so many years," she continues. "I hope it doesn't leave this kind of feel—this kind of grittiness that keeps it interesting—but you always have to mediate between what was there and how to keep it alive moving forward."
Girling will celebrate the official opening of her new space, which is dedicated to showing art and design, from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 5, with an exhibition featuring furniture by the architectural firm Manada and works by ceramist Lilith Rockett. Modmatter grew out of Girling's need for an office space for her architectural practice and her desire for a nice showroom to house her paintings and the furniture she designs. She ultimately decided to open a public gallery and show other people's work alongside her own.
"This space is—when it started, I had a little bit of an identity crisis," says Girling, an admitted art snob who attended the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied painting and graphic design as an undergrad and later earned her master's degree in architecture. "I was trying to figure out: Is it a gallery? Is it a store? And it basically became an exhibit space. This particular show is going to be much more traditional, but in the future, the [shows will vary]. The next event will be a dinner party, so it will double as a social event and a performance piece. People will be walking by and be, like, What's going on in there? So, just whatever inspires me—that's what I'll do with the space."