Various Small Fires' new location on Highland Avenue.

It should be no surprise that a dealer who named her business after a self-published art book by Ed Ruscha would customize her new exhibition space to suit her artists' needs. A.i.A. recently toured the final stages of construction for the new home of L.A. gallery Various Small Fires (VSF) with dealer Esther Kim Varet. The new Mid-City edifice for the two-year-old gallery features a permanent facility for sound art installations, a sculpture garden and a front desk that will be remade annually by a commissioned artist.

Walking through an alley entryway, Varet described how viewers "will be forced to walk through a ‘birth canal' of sorts. I've embedded speakers into the architecture for year-round audio installations, so your first experience of the gallery architecture is actually an audio experience." Varet hired Los Angeles architects Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee, who recently designed the new Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, Tex., to design the space after tearing down the existing industrial facility. 

"I created this space for the artists," Varet said. "I didn't design it for the ‘wow' factor." Though the new VSF is not tiny, at nearly 5,000 square feet, it is diminutive in comparison to new spaces at nearby Kohn Gallery (12,000 square feet) and David Kordansky Gallery (20,000 square feet). "You want to scale up, and it is so tempting to go downtown and get the really cheap spaces," Varet said. "But at these buildings, the architecture exists for factory workers or to warehouse garments. It was never for the purpose of showing art."

Varet counters the notion that all artists just want more space: "The main complaint I would hear from artists over and over again about showing in those spaces was, ‘What the hell are you supposed to do with that?'"

Before moving to Los Angeles in 2011, Varet entered the art business working for New York gallerists Paula Cooper and Friedrich Petzel. She studied art history at Yale and is currently completing a dissertation at Columbia University on conceptual art in Los Angeles in the 1960s and '70s. The move to 812 N. Highland Ave puts Varet in the middle of a burgeoning gallery center, where her neighbors will include Regen Projects, Hannah Hoffman (which is just a year old), Redling Fine Art, Gavlak Gallery and Gusford. A dozen emerging and established galleries have moved to this part of the city in the past two years, forming the third point of an art center triangle with Culver City to the south and downtown L.A. to the east.

The gallery opens today with solo exhibitions by Los Angeles artists Amir Nikravan and Scott Benzel, followed by a group show, "The Irrational Object," featuring Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, K8 Hardy, Jason Loebs, Vanessa Place, Ry Rocklen, Carissa Rodriguez, Kathleen Ryan and Amy Yao. The gallery will kick off 2015 with an exhibition by Liz Magic Laser and Anna Sew Hoy. Working in a combination of video, installation and performance, they are two of the more prominent artists showing with the gallery.  The first artist to design the reception desk is Miami-based Jim Drain.

Does the transition to a larger space in such a high-profile new location feel like graduating to the big leagues? "It doesn't, really," Varet said. "If it was laid out in a book, my first two years in Venice would be the introduction. And this would be chapter one."