Maximalist German publisher Taschen, producer of epic coffee-table books devoted to all things art and design, has recently given its Los Angeles gallery a wholesale pink makeover. It’s part of the company’s promotion of its new book celebrating the work and career of L.A.-based British artist David Hockney. The gallery is playing host to Hockney’s paintings. The pink exterior is accented with a bold, all-caps, blue treatment of the books title: “A Bigger Book.” The colors reference colors often used in Hockney’s many painting of Los Angeles. Pretty awesome.
This decorative installation artwork at the Converse concept store in Santa Monica, in Los Angeles, is a spooky and clever visual conceit. At a distance and without the context of the store, the viewer would likely be unable to perceive that the artwork is comprised of hundreds of Converse sneakers in various monochromatic shades. Up close, the viewer might fail to perceive that the composition of the sneakers forms a creepy human skull-like image. It’s briliant, if a little dark, but edgy and totally “on brand” for the fashion shoe company.
We never tire of revisiting this minimalist masterpiece by artist Robert Irwin at LACMA in Los Angeles. The colorful installation of fluorescent lights has a permanent home in a large ground-floor gallery at LACMA’s Broad Contemporary building. The title of the artwork is “Miracle Mile” and it is specific to its location.
The museum is on Wilshire Blvd. at the heart of an area named Miracle Mile, which was originally planned as an alternative urban district to Downtown LA in the 1920s. Wilshire eventually became one of LA’s main east-west traffic and business corridors and the “mile” area has since become a kind of “museum row” for the number of other large galleries and museums nearby.
Irwin’s artwork, in its length, geometry and brightly illuminated presence, is a visual metaphor for the commercial strip and aptly is displayed on a wall that faces and runs parallel to Wilshire Blvd itself. A long floor-to-ceiling window in size and proportion similar to the artwork separates the gallery from the boulevard and makes “Miracle Mile” a kind of symbolic mirror.
“Hot Mess” is the title of an artwork by Doug Aitken that features a beautiful photograph showing an aeriel view of the Las Vegas strip at night. The image is displayed as a back-lit circular framed object mounted to the gallery wall. At the center of the photo, just above the bright lights of the city, is the title of the artwork in a standard serif font.
There’s humor in this artwork, one of dozens currently on view as part of the artist’s massive retrospective exhbition “Electric Earth” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a.k.a., MOCA, in downtown Los Angeles. “Hot Mess” is part of series of circular photographic works that marry text and image in intriguing and ironic ways. In the case of this piece, the words evoke and connect several notions about Las Vegas.
Vegas is a unique and strange city among America’s big cities, and for that matter it’s unlike any city in the world in ways that are both obvious and not-so-obvious. As a tourist in the unlikeliest of geographical places, Vegas has traded on its image of being home to relatively legalized vice and moral laxity when it comes to these. Gambling, partying, hotel resort travel, and various types of adult entertainment (in addition to entertainment in general), plus a slew of massive trade shows and conventions, and flamboyant, whimsical architecture — all in the middle of the desert — make the city singular and a kind of “mess” culturally and symbolically.
The term evokes the idea of somebody or a thing that is scatterred, disorganized, troubled and possibly pathological. Vergas can seem like that. Much like a freshly spewed pile of vomit — from which the term “hot mess” is metaphorically derived — on the pavement from a drunk college student after chugging too many Jager shots. And Vegas is kind of like that. But it’s only one facet.
And yet, it has its own beauty. Seen from afar, like many cities and in the photo in Aitken’s artwork, Vegas appears like a glittery jewel, a Mikly Way galaxy of neon and LED coalesced into a distant blur of energy, enterprise, and urbanized humanity.
The first time you see “Death of a Clown” by artist Liz Craft, you can’t help but want to get up close to and examine it, to bear witness to its texture in detail, as if to confirm that the woman lying on the sofa is not real. You know its not a real person, you assume she’s not real, but a part of you thinks she could be, like those street performers who pretend to be statues. It could be a real person, lying deathly still, forezen underneath a thick coat of ghostly-pale make-up and improbable orange hair. And you can’t help but think of Sleeping Beauty. And of a character in a Hayao Miyazaki anime film. Unreal, yet rendered in three dimenions, life-sized, in the actual physical space of a gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
But this is a sculpture, an object. There is no performer.
Craft is a Los Angeles-based artist who runs the Paradise Garage art space and collective in Venice Beach. Her faux-naive sculptural objects and installations have a whimsical, fantasy quality, though, as in the case of “Clown,” there’s a sense of realism baked into the layer of dreamy, fantastical imagery. The colors beguile, at once bright and muted, at once like saturated and then over-exposed like some old polaroids discovered in a shoebox at a flea market.
We’re not religious. But museums are our cathedrals, our churches and temples, our shrines. MoMA may be the modern art world’s Vatican, but in terms of pure open space, MoCA’s Geffen Contemporary in Los Angeles comes closest to a giant cathedral like Notre Dame with its massive, cavernous structure. We’re not saying that this museum is equivalent to Notre Dame as far as degree of architectural achievement and historical significance. We’re saying that it is a big fucking space and one that invites reflection and a kind of awe.
The Geffen was kind of a happy accident. The building wasn’t purpose built to be a contemporary art museum. The structure is in LIttle Tokyo in Downtown LA and was originally built in the 1940s for the city as a warehouse and LA Police Department garage accommodating hundreds of vehicles. At the time, MoCA’s use of the space was purely practical.
While the main landmark MoCA branch was being built on nearby Grand Avenue in the early 1980s, the warehouse/garage in Little Tokyo was used as a temporary exhibition space dubbed the “Temporary Contemporary.” Its purpose was to host art shows until construction of the new main MoCA would be completed. The acquisition of the building made sense. The Temporary Contemporary was a success.
It was repurposed as a permanent exhibition space and extension of MoCA. Architect Frank Gehry led the effort. The Geffen’s location is walking distance to the main MoCA location in Downtown LA, and the former LAPD garage offers the kind of space that allows for sprawling exhibitions and epic, large-scale sculptural artworks and installations that might be more diffciult or impossible to mount in other museums.