Like a shiny extra-terrestrial bobble tucked into the foothills above Palm Springs, “Mirage” by Los Angeles-based artist Doug Aitken is among the most striking contemporary-art experiences of 2017. It’s probably the unofficial rockstar of Desert X, an inaugural exhibition of site-specific artworks mostly in the form of installations and sculptural objects spread across the desert landscape of the Coachella Valley.
“Mirage” is a literal house of mirrors. Its loose architectural form is a single-story ranch house in a nod to the region’s traditional housing style. But it’s a ranch house with a shape augmented by contemporary touches – a skylight, a balcony, a window-less chamber.
All that architecture is just a platform for Aitken’s bold visual statement and its main feature: The mirrored surfaces of the house inside and out. The exterior walls, and interior walls and ceilings, are mirrors reflecting the desert landscape outside and multiplying the reflections inside like a silverlight echo chamber. It is not enough to look at it.
Walking through “Mirage” is to be entranced by the unceasing play of light from every angle and reflective pane and by the all the possibilities in reframing your view of the bright desert outside through the house’s many windows
The artwork on these beautiful vintage 1970s-era surfboards is surprisingly well-preserved even though the boards themselves show some of the wear and tear that comes with use and age, bearing scars of repaired dings and discoloration. The boards evoke a time when surf culture was evolving and surfing was largely seen in the U.S. as a past time for rebels, outsiders and underground creative types. These are among hundreds of boards on view at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, California, which is worth a visit if you’re ever passing through the area.
A classic example of Los Angeles movie-theater architecture from the early days of cinema, the Vista on Sunset Boulevard in Los Feliz is a landmark. Built in 1923, it has been a part of the LA urban landscape for nearly a century, from the silent-film era through to the recent “La La Land,” which can be seen promotoed on the theater marquee.
When the late legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor appeared in the 1963 film classic “Cleopatra” in 1963, she unlikely never imagined that her likeness would appear as street art on a now hip stretch of Faifax Avenue in Hollywood. But so it is.
Film immortalizes. Street art, though usually ephemeral, has the power to do so, too, when photographed, now more than ever in the hyper image-capturing world thanks to the billions of us and our default digital habits via iPhones, Instagram and other social media.
This wheat-pasted artwork of Taylor will fade, be torn away or scraped off and disappear. But it has indelibly left itself in the memories of its viewers everywhere it appears whether on the streets of LA or as images saved across the global strata of devices and the cloud.
The artwork is signed by “Van” (no relation to the Van of this blog) and was put up on the window of an emptied retail space that has already been on the receiving end of the graffiti-tagging ritual that descends upon storefronts when a tenant leaves. The neighborhood is neither gritty nor overrun with graffiti, but given its hipster retail quotient (“HRQ”), it has become a home for an above-average volume of street art and, with it, the camptrail of graffiti art and sticker-bombed spaces.
This is due to an unusual confluence of Los Angeles geography, landmarks and neighboring institutions that draws an ideal demographic and market for style-centric retail and street art. At least a half-dozen shops catering to serious sneakerheads and street style sartorialists line both sides of Fairfax Avenue in a short segment between Melrose and Oakwood avenues. These include Crooks and Castles, Diamond Supply, Supreme and Hall of Fame.
The strip is also home to the legenday Canter’s Deli, a long-time late-night hangout for bands and entertainment industry types. Fairfax High School is here, too, where on school days thousands of students traffick in and out of the area.
At one end of the stretch is Melrose itself, one of LA’s most-established and fashionable shopping destinations for designer clothing, high-end and street. At the other end is CBS Television City, and a little further south, Farmers Market and the Grove. For those selling premium, limited edition Nikes and Addidas and complimenting these with hoodies and caps, the neighborhood became an epicenter for a market eager to buy their wares.
As for Elizabeth Taylor and Van’s artwork, she in her glorious, braided Cleopatra hairstyle looks fittingly contemporary. If women (or a dude, for that matter) walked out of the Supreme store with that hair and make-up, it would seem perfectly normal, just another of the myriad styles either intentionally or unwittingly drawing on and referencing pop cultural influences of the recent aughts and late Twentieth Century. Late 1970s disco culture tapped into the chic of the Egytpian-via-Hollywood braids look. It was part of a pornstar’s circa-early-1980’s look in the movie “Boogie Nights.”
For much of her early and middle career, Taylor was a beauty and style icon. She was also the subject of one of the world’s foremost and most famous artists of the post-modern pop-art era, Andy Warhol. Until her passing, she was Hollywood royalty, at the apex of the “A” list before if was even called that, relevant at a distance even long after she was no longer appearing in blockbuster movies and away from the limelight.
In a way then, Taylor is exactly right where she should be immortalized as street art.
The logo for Intelligentsia Coffee’s “Black Cat” Espresso is the head of a black cat. It’s a bold and literal graphic with class and style, rendered so that the cat’s head is seen from a 3/4-angle, giving it some visual dimensionality.
Intelligentsia has put the Black Cat logo on some of the various cups and saucers it uses at its various architecturally-inspired cafes. Transferring the branding across these is a straightforward 1:1 application of the literal logo. Sometimes, whether you’re drinking Black Cat espresso or not, you get your coffee served in one of these Black Cat-branded cups, and these look pretty cool.
But Intelligentsia has also created some variations of the logo and occasionally, if you’re lucky, you’ll get your coffee served in a black ceramic cup and saucer, where the Black Cat logo is rendered in a lightened gold hue. It’s elegant its knocked-out contrast to the black ceramic.
When you get your cappucino served with this black cup and saucer set, it’s kind of special. The black and gold add another layer of smart sophistication and a dash of mystique to the brand. That the cat is in gold instead of black is a deft touch that, for those familiar with the usual logo presentation, may be seen as an aesthetically clever and playful twist on a familiar and already likeable and strong visual cue.
All this further supports the larger Intelligentsia Coffee brand and reinforces the company’s reputation for great design and well-defined sense of style, whether expressed in the architectural design of its cafes or the form factor of its ceramic mugs or the high-graphical aesthetic of its coffee packaging and t-shirts.