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Judith Hoffberg

ART IN THE CITY:
IN SITES AND INSIGHTS


This column is dedicated to Joel Wachs, who will be leaving us after more than three decades of public service, the councilman who created the Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts and who has supported and promoted the arts not only to enhance the quality of our lives in Los Angeles, but also to create the economic vitality that drives this area. He has been named the President of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and we know that he will make a difference nationally not only as spokesman for the Foundation in New York City but also for all the arts by supporting freedom of expression in America and promoting this in Washington, DC so that free thinking and free inquiry will have a new and effective public spokesman. We will miss you here in L.A., Joel Wachs, but know that you will be there for all of us.

Projects from “Target Hollywood,”
Vermont Ave., Hollywood, sponsored
by Barnsdall Art Park:





Mark Housely, installation
view inside Squaresville.







Nancy Webber, installation
view at the Los Feliz Theatre.







Nicholette Kominos, installation
view inside restaurant Mako.
Los Angeles has no boundaries, no seasons, and no excuses for not being regarded as a "global city" with enough culture to nourish any soul. And so much of that renaissance of culture is free in the city, especially so during the summer months. Not to be outdone by numerous free musical offerings--from the Summer Nights at MOCA, and the World Music and Jazz series of the Hammer Museum, along with many events in the parks produced by Cultural Arts--there is an endless array of exhibitions in galleries and museums, which offer young and old a chance to expand the mind, animate the spirit, and extend the boundaries of visual literacy in this abundant community.

Present-day Los Angeles really is a festival all year-round. There is no summer hiatus, but a full-blast season full of surprises and delights. For instance, Barnsdall Art Park (itself currently under renovation) has taken a street in Hollywood by storm in Target: Hollywood: North Vermont Neighborhood Project, in which more than 30 artists are presenting their work in 21 local businesses along the 'hood, that is, the Vermont Avenue district between Hollywood Boulevard and Franklin Avenue.

Curated by Scott Canty and Michael Lewis Miller, some of the host venues include restaurants, clothing stores, a bank, video store, movie theater, travel agency, jewelry store, and a tattoo parlor. The curators have matched the art to the business, so that Nancy Webber's doubletake photographs of ordinary people who look like people in famous paintings by Cezanne, Kahlo, Toulouse-Lautrec and Bosch is an attractive addition to the long hallway leading to the movies at the Los Feliz Theater. At SquaresVille, 1800 N. Vermont, Mark Housley has installed three paintings in the windows, one called The Weed, one The Chamber of the Trembling Unicorn, complete with baskets of bananas, and the other a window full of pharmaceuticals. Once you see the street, you'll understand the connection.

This is a vital, walking neighborhood full of energy. The Electronic Lotus (a very good Indian restaurant) has some perfectly chosen multimedia works by Carolyn Applegate, while the House of Pies that has been on Vermont at Franklin for more than 50 years has paintings by Tom Shultz and Julie Zemel that really feel they belong, thanks to the redecoration of the place, in a typical All-American eatery. Even the Auto Club Travel Center is been involved. Diane Remick’s huge sunglass-decked portraits are just right for the travel service of the Club, while Doug Webb's ironic but joyful travelogues such as Caesar Salad (in the Roman Coliseum) make for a more pleasant visit. The most minimal of storefronts, the closet-sized Mako Restaurant, has three appropriate works by Nicholette Kominos which reflect spoons or tongues in the Richard Tuttle style.

You can see all this through August 31st, but don't wait until the last week. There are maps to direct you to all the venues. Temporary public art can make for surprising discoveries when you forego clean, well-lit walls of a gallery space.

Speaking of everyday places, the public library has evolved into something more than books: multimedia, film, video, genealogy, computers, performances, lectures, symposia, exhibitions, and so much more. So it is not unusual to see that this season, libraries are participating in a community-wide project sponsored by Side Street Projects, called 6 Degrees: Art in the Library, which involves 14 artists creating installations, exhibitions and performances from Santa Monica to downtown. Created for the real Millennium in Los Angeles, 6 Degrees is the first of a triennial, in which Side Street Projects will sponsor an exhibition highlighting the differences in curating among curators during the course of the project. This year the curators are Karen Atkinson, Sam Erenberg and myself, Judith Hoffberg.

Trusting each artist to address the context of the library's relationship to their work, the curators' purpose has been to serve the artists' major consideration: creating work for a public space and a public audience. Collaboration is the theme in relating the artist to the library and its clientele. Examples of a handful of these projects provide an idea how broad in scope some of these projects are.

Melinda Smith Altshuler deals with the problem of literacy in a site-specific project entitled The Politics of Literacy/Rising Hopes Fallen Angels, using found books, a ladder, sculpture, drawings of collaged book pages. The full cooperation of the librarian and the collaboration of the Friends of the Robertson Branch Library are keys to this project. Joyce Dallal, with the projected demolition of the Fairfax branch library, creates an exterior piece in fabric and vinyl, with pinwheels and kites in bright colors to make the place look festive. With Three Words, which have something to do with reading, she disguises text somewhat so it poses a challenge to decode, either by writing on pinwheels, writing backwards, or in difficult handwriting. Dallal makes the viewer consciously go through the decoding process, like a beginning reader.

Wendy Furman deals with the shifting perception of what "book" means. By using opulent colored backgrounds scattered randomly through the library and placed within the backs of the bookshelves, and re-jacketing books in pastel papered book jackets, library visitors are tempted to discover and hunt for other backgrounds.

The surprise for library patrons should be very surreptitious and enlightening. This all happens at the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch. At the same Hollywood branch, Steve Roden creates a sound composition using only the sounds of pages turning and various handlings of books and pages. The "reader" receives these subliminal sounds without effort during a private reading experience. John Cage would be proud.

At the Beverly Hills Public Library Sam Erenberg is re-configuring The Complete Works of Roland Barthes, first shown in 1999, for the Reference Reading Room. A table with 24 hand-bound books written by the late French linguist and social critic accompanies a suite of photographs of Erenberg's artist-friends, each posing with one of the books. The Reference Reading Room will be in use during the exhibition, making the installation an addendum to the normal library experience.


Laurel Beckman, "My
Pet Nose," 2001.







Sherry Millner, "Domestic
Boobytrap" (detail), 2001.







Ghita Kashabi, "Aleb Ba
(Alpha Bet)" (detail), 2001.



Sam Erenberg, “Habib/Mythologies,"
c-print, 12 x 12", 1998-9.








Gerald Giamportone, "Untitled
No. 2," wood/cork/rose
thorns, 34 x 36 x 47"



Gerald Giamportone,
"Untitled No. 2," (detail).








John and Toti M. O’Brien, “Mur-Moiré”,
still from performance, 2001.
Gerald Giamportone shows a group of tables constructed from materials such as cork, felt, formica, roses and wood. As a boy in Pittsburgh he spent a great deal of time in a building that was both a museum and a library. His interest is in the idea of "insertion" with regard to art and the library. So the tables will be installed in the rotunda of the UCLA-owned but seldom visited rare book library, the William Andrew Clark Memorial Library (2520 Cimarron St., near Washington Blvd. and Western Ave.).

Laura Stickney and Vilma Mendillo have been doing workshops at the Los Feliz branch library, teaching monoprinting and drawing, as well as bookmaking. Students conduct research in the library on an artist or scientist, then create one-of-a-kind books on their chosen subject. These books will be on exhibit, as well as the collection’s own bookwork on the life of famed scientist, Marie Curie, entitled: Marie Curie's Numinous Archive.

In a different sort of personal contact, John and Toti O'Brien will be doing performances at two different branches in August. Entitled Mur-Moiré, drawing on the specific history of the library as the gathering point of collective fictions and dreams that make up the imaginary and spatial place where we dwell. Included are video projections, spoken and recorded voices/sound in multiple languages, costumes and live actions. Much of the performance involves storytelling, but the process of telling drifts from a linear understanding of language to a more dreamlike one.

The Artists' Writing Reading Room, located at Side Street Projects' downtown gallery, is the third component of the 6 Degrees project. Curated by Anetta Kapon, some of the many artists here include Laurel Beckman, Stephen Berens, Linda Nishio, Carmine Iannaccone, Gita Khashabi, Brandon LaBelle, Franklin Odel, Erika Rothenberg, Allan Sekula, Susan Mogul, Susan Silton. These artists use writing in their visual artwork, or have a visual component to their writing. The schedule for all these events and all the artists are posted on the Side Street Projects website, on the Artscene website, and on posters throughout the city.

Notwithstanding special temporary public projects this summer, there are always the buildings. Keep an eye on Frank Gehry's Disney Hall, the new home-to-be of the L.A. Philharmonic, being built on Grand Ave. up the street from MOCA. Watts Towers continues with its renovation. Murals are everywhere in the leading city of public murals. But please, forget the angels, fallen or flying. Another great way to find art beyond the usual white-walled content is to take a ride on the Red Line, the Blue Line and/or the Green Line, L.A.'s new subway and light rail public transportation system. It's a great way to indulge yourself in some public art that is very good and very adaptable to the changing sections of Los Angeles. There is art in each station to enjoy and appreciate. For $2.70 roundtrip you can get on any one of the Metro Lines and get off at each station so as to see what art has done for the environment, for the travelers on the line, and for the neighborhoods. It's safe and may well take you somewhere you have not been before--geographically and aesthetically.

There is a great deal to view in the City this summer. All it takes is curiosity and the ability to use your eyes and your mind in a special way. Even certain graffiti (check out the Belmont Tunnel at Glendale Blvd. and 2nd St. downtown) can have character here in the City of the Angels, a city which is always defining itself, which is always in flux, but which always is enhanced by the large community of artists that make L.A. more than itself.