Ocean Park is a relatively quiet, staid and beautiful neighborhood on the south side of Santa Monica, the iconic beach city and Los Angeles suburb.
It’s an affluent part of town that lacks pretension. Showy displays of wealth or heavy glamour are rare. It’s clean and neat and has streets of handsome condos and houses, including a large number of well-kept vintage Craftsmen bungalows sitting cheek-by-jowl next to smart, minimalist, contemporary jewel boxes in neutral colors surrounded by Malibu-style fencing.
There are lot of beautiful murals in this part of town. Some are large — epic, even — and some are small. Most of what could be called “street art” here fits neatly into the category of commissioned artwork, planned, vetted, approved. The artwork is organized and in its “proper place.”
So seeing the wild-posted wheatpaste street art (pictured above) by the graffiti artist who goes by the moniker “T-Smoke TCF” on a utility box was a bit of a surprise. It was like seeing a turd on a perfectly groomed and verdant lawn, a terrifying ugliness that hints at something awful waiting around the corner. Or, from another point of view, it was a welcome bit of absurd, comic relief writ upon the urban landscape.
There’s not a lot of this type of street art — illicit wheatpaste posters (“wheaties”), stencils, spray-painted art, or graffiti art — in this part of town. At least not anymore. T-Smoke’s artwork at the corner of Lincoln and Ocean Park boulevards is symbolic of a transitional in-between space in L.A.’s shifting beachfront cultural geography, between Santa Monica on the north and Venice on the south. It’s a middle area that is ever changing as the tidy, final creep of gentrification’s brings erasure to the vestiges of areas seedier past.
Not far away in Venice, there’s tons of street art. Ocean Park was once a gritty part of town. The poorer, perpetually stoned cousin to the really wealthy north side of SaMo. OP was Dogtown, after all, the celebrated birthplace of modern skateboarding and the legendary “Z-Boys” and the their sub-culture, and once among the most dangerous and violent surf spots in California. All these places now make up a troika of extraordinarily expensive seaside real estate. The value of a single condo along Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice could alone feed an entire village in rural Central Africa for a lifetime.
Venice and Santa Monica live together in a curious ying-and-yang symbiosis. Venice retains the patina of a much edgier, sketchier era in spite of its high property values and new wave of rich, stylish residents. Technically it’s a part of the city of L.A. It was way grittier a few decades ago, but has dramatically changed with the arrival of the industrial-corporate-tech-start-up-entertainment-production complex otherwise known as “Silicon Beach.”
Santa Monica on the other hand is also affluent and for much of the past century its north side (the neighborhoods beyond Wilshire Blvd.) was a vastly richer part town. It’s a proper small city with a huge pop-cultural imprint, in part due to its presence in so much film and television, and due to its intertwining with greater L.A., though it is legally an independent city in its own right. SaMo is a beautiful, urbane coastal utopia for well-educated, wealthy, politically progressive liberal elites that manages to live the breezy, sun-kissed good life while simultaneously exercising a benign tolerance for one of the highest and most visible homeless populations in the U.S. It’s been mockingly dubbed “The Republic of Santa Monica.”
But beautiful living can all be a little disturbingly anodyne. T-Smoke is a sight for sore eyes and a fly in the champagne. You can tell where culture’s edge lives and breathes in a city by where its street art begins and ends, and where that street art is commissioned and permitted versus illegal, from the underground up. Terrifying for some. Energizing for others.
Artist Yunhee Min’s site-specific floor mural for Hammer Projects takes center stage at the Hammer Museum of Art, Los Angeles. Usually artists are commissioned for Hammer Projects to paint the walls along a grand staircase that connects the museum lobby to a mezzanine that leads to a courtyard and galleries in an adjacent building. This is the first time an artist has left the walls blank and instead painted the floor.
Artist Sarah Lucas emerged in the 1990s as a so-called “YBA” (“Young British Artists”), one of a generation of British artists to capture the attention of the global art world. Her installation artwork pictured here is titled “Unknown Soldier” and is currently on view at the Hammer Museum of Art in Los Angeles. The artwork can be read on so many levels. Like much of Lucas’s work, there’s a sexual facet to the work. That sexual aspect, juxtaposed with the military concept of the unknown soldier, and the notions it conjures, war, death, masculinity (or is it femininity? Or androgyny?), and anonymity spawn myriad interpretations and readings of the work. Is this a comment on anonymous sex? Is that fluorescent light rod supposed to be phallic? Or is it just a light rod?
Do you ever see something really yummy when you’re hungry and get “hangry”? “Yes,” you say? Yes, you do? We knew it! Sometimes we do, too. Often times it’s while we hard at work at our office, super busy with barely a moment to spare between meetings to even think about grabbing lunch.
We had this experience recently when we saw the “Wall of Donuts.” Well, “Wall” might be too generous a term. It’s more like a “Rack of Donuts,” though, so really let’s call it a “Wall-like Rack of Donuts.” This mini-architectural novelty is one that turns the donuts into a decorative object, but n object that serves a very important function, too. You can walk right up to the Wall/Rack and pull the donut of your choice off and starts soothing you hangry hunger pangs immediately. It’s essentially a donut buffet.
The Wall/Rack was set up by a media company during a recent promotional visit to our advertising agency offices. Media and production companies, various third-party vendors large and small, that provide services to advertising agencies and their clients often pay visits to the agencies to pitch their offerings. They usually bring swag — caps, tees, pens, etc., branded with their logos — which are “take or leave it” and often in the “leave it” category. More importantly, they also often bring food, which is usually in the “TAKE IT!” category.
The food is usually unremarkable: Take-out food from the local Thai joint, spreads of soft-taco ingredients (also from a local joint), sandwiches and salads from Mendocino farms, pizza (from a local joint), that sort of thing. It can feel routine and is easily taken for granted.
But the Wall/Rack of Donuts distinguishes itself. It was a massively welcome change from the vendor food-swag routine. Of course, it’s gimmicky. But the donuts were delicious!
Here’s another one of these abstract, geometric murals by the artist Berto, who usually signs his work “LoveBerto.” His massive street-art works seem to be everywhere in Los Angeles, though his work can be found all over the world, including in New York, Berlin and in Sydney, Australia, where he first started putting up murals. The artwork pictured here is at the The Row, a new urban concept shopping, office and restaurant complex developed by re-purposing the old American Apparel factory buildings and the spaces around them in Downtown Los Angeles.
We’ve stumbled upon a new obsession the past few months. This in addition to those our other obsessions regular readers may be familiar with: Surfing and espresso. What is this new vice? It’s a Japanese reality television show called Terrace House.
You may have heard of Terrace House. If you have Netflix you may have seen it as a “tile” in the queue on your Netflix dashboard. The show is akin to American reality shows like Big Brother and MTV’s Real World. On the surface, it more closely resembles the latter, but with a distinctive Japanese cultural twist.
The premise of the show is as follows. Six total strangers, mostly twenty- and thirty-something Japanese, are selected to live in a beautiful house set up in a beautiful or fashionable locale. The six housemates go about their usual daily lives — work, school, play — and interact with each other at the house as they cross paths in their routines or as house members go on outings together. Often the main stage of interaction is a six-person dining table next to an open kitchen. There is, as the show reminds us in its upbeat intro, “no script at all” (or so they say). Cameras are set up everywhere in the house and follow the members around to capture the action and then edit footage into some kind of distilled weekly narrative.
Each episode covers a week of life at the house. From time to time, the shows cuts aways from the action in the house to a studio panel of Japanese celebrities and comedians who then comment and analyze what we’ve just watched. Sometimes this panel is more interesting than the events transpiring in the house itself.
One observation often heard about the show is that “nothing happens.” But that’s not true. Rather, compared to many American or Westen reality T.V. shows with their elaborately staged set-ups, hyberbolic personalities, and moments of emotional outbursts or enraged “acting out” (plus the occasional table-flip moments a la Real Housewives), it only seems like not much is happening. This is a byproduct both of the cultural context but also the the way the show is set-up. As a result, small things, minor faux pas or actions that deviate slightly from the expected social norms are emphasized and magnified out of what might seem reasonable proportion. A house member leaves their towels on the bathroom floor and it becomes the cause of much tensions and consternation that takes on a life of its own.
So how did this show wind up on Amercian T.V.?
When Netflix began to expand in the Japanese market in the 2010s, it scooped up a lot of Japanese T.V. programs or partnered with producers (in this case Fuji Television) to create original Japanese shows to offer on the company’s growing streaming service.
Via Netflix’s enormous global platform, shows like Terrace House suddenly found new, massive international audiences. Terrace House (or “Tera-Ha” how its sometimes called in Japan) eventually reached viewers in some 190 countries including the U.S.
The show has completed five seasons, three of which are available in the U.S. The word “season,” however, is a bit inaccurate. It’s better to think of the show in terms of locales and years rather than seasons in the traditional T.V. sense. The first two “seasons” each lasted a year and were set in a popular beach town south of Tokyo called Shonan, and these aired in Japan prior to Netflix’s picking up the series. It was a massive phenomenon and culminated in a feature film with members of the house continuing their journey to a point of logical closure. (Spoiler: The girl gets the guy, and so on.)
Subsequent seasons include Terrace House “Boys and Girls in the City” set in Tokyo, followed by “Aloha State,” where the locale is for the first time outside Japan, in a suburb of Honolulu, Hawaii. The show returned to Japan for “Opening New Doors,” which is set in the small, mountainous countryside town of Karuizawa about two hours by train from Tokyo.
A new season set in Tokyo debuted last week and will likely be available in the U.S. this summer. We can’t wait. Because addiction.
Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi’s massive art installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (or LACMA) is a giant, imposing, vanilla-tinted wave. Made of traditional Chinese paper — about 8,000 sheets! – and suspended from the gallery ceiling with thicks string and weighted with ballast stones, Jinshi’s object possesses a light and airy feeling forged from the natural world. The overall shape is of a large wave that looks like it’s pitching forward in the final nanoseconds just as it’s about break. If you’re a surfer, you’d instantly recognize the shape as a “barreling” wave primed for a tube ride. The title suggest the form is not an accident: “Wave of Materials.” If you’re in L.A., go see it while you can.
Rest In Peace, Michael Wolf. It was reported Monday that the Hong Kong-based German photographer had died at 65 years of age. His passing is a shock.
Wolf was already an accomplished photojournalist living in China in the early 2000s when he started to turn his camera lens toward the city he had made home for nearly a decade in an effort to document the city’s spectacular urbanization.
He captured the lives of its residents who lived in severely cramped quarters in a densely populated metropolis dominated by soaring residential skyscrapers.
In doing so he presented a distinct visual and aesthetic perspective on contemporary life in Hong Kong in the context of China’s hyper-rapid economic growth and overwhelming urban density. This culminated with his renowned and iconic images of tall and colorful high-rises packed together in a series titled the “Architecture of Density.”
Michael Wolf will be missed.
We’ve never heard of Alberonero. Have you? No? We didn’t think so. But now we have, and you have, too. And we’re all the better for it.
The artist’s building-scale abstract murals play with color palettes and geometric forms. These create the effect of colorful pixelation on the urban landscape.
Born in Lodi, Italy, Alberonero studied interior design at Milan Polytechnic. But his first foray into painting was through graffiti art as a teenager. Check out more of the Alberonero’s work on the artist’s website.
Seriously, it took a while, but here it is, the new website of the esteemed Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a.k.a., LACMA, the crown jewel of the L.A. art world.
It’s a much-improved site. The obvious biggest change is its design. Yhe user-interface ( UI ) design and its “look and feel” have been updated and dramatically in terms of color and style. Where once the site was white, clean and spare, much like many art museum and gallery websites, and much like the white walls of a gallery, the new site is dark, with a black background.
The new look and feel is at once bolder, though restrained and sober without feeling austere or aloof. The spareness and minimalism are still here, if not more so in terms of functionality, but the site feels friendlier, easier, less uptight, and clearly designed for our contemporary multi-device, multi-screen world where we access web content via iPhone, laptop and tablet.