In the hour it took us to get from LAX to downtown on the Wednesday morning we arrived to Los Angeles, as we drove through the highway, I could already sense that LA was going to be different from what I expected. For some reason I envisioned a place where the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle coexisted with endless 99 cent dollar stores and that all this would be reflected in our visits to the different art centers; but what struck me instead was the transportation time it took us to get from one place to another. I found myself referencing Marc Augé’s term of “non-places” as we seemed to spend a lot of time in the car, moving through these types of spaces, on freeways trying to get from one gallery to the next. This experience made me think of how the contemporary art galley scene functions in a non-pedestrian friendly city like Los Angeles.
The larger and more centrally located museums like the MOCA, LACMA, Hammer and the Getty Center, worked as larger cultural hubs featuring not only local artists but many contemporary international artists as well; spaces dedicated to showcase a wider array of artists to a broad audience. But what interested me were the smaller galleries and their function in terms of content and location. Visiting these galleries I sensed a real collective sense of promoting new young local artists, these spaces that allow young contemporary emerging artists to showcase and build a community and show work directly related to their LA context.
Santa Monica Museum of Art
The Santa Monica Museum of Art, located in an old storage complex transformed into a cultural community, consisted of multiple gallery spaces isolated in suburbia in Santa Monica, just a few miles away from a big shopping avenue. I found it interesting to view the more commercial galleries that concentrated more on prints and paintings, in juxtaposition with the SMMoA’s exhibition Wire Instruments by Al Taylor.
In terms of audience, what is the difference of stumbling into an art gallery walking through the city and driving your car through the traffic on the 101 particularly for the purpose of visiting a specific gallery? It is worth to mention that LA is a car driven (pun intended) city, where pedestrians take second place in the wide streets and long blocks. What audience are these smaller spaces where contemporary art is shown intending to attract? I found that many exhibitions in these galleries scattered through the city concentrated in conceptual art as well as installations, galleries such as Redcat and LAX located on La Cienega Blvd. next to the Santa Monica freeway, featured independent local artists that create site specific large scale installations.
After driving past suburban houses with front lawns, we went over to the Christopher Grimes Gallery showing an installation by Olivier Mosset. The gallery’s location right next to a Hawaiian travel agency and gas station made me think of how these spaces function in direct relation to their geographical context. Who is the audience that visits these galleries? Are they intended to function specifically for people who know where the galleries are? Or do they exist immersed in these suburban areas with intention to expose this type of art to a different audience? How is this audience intended to interact with this type of conceptual art?
Thinking about this relationship of art and its audience in the Los Angeles context, I found the exhibition at the MOCA Geffen “Suprasensorial: Experiments in light, color and space” to be very successful in engaging the community to a contemporary art. Curated by Alma Ruiz, it features Latin American contemporary artists whose work focused in explorations of space and light created in the late 60s and 70s. The pieces in this exhibition are completely experiential and become completed by the viewer at the moment of their physical interaction. I believe that by bringing these types of exhibitions that challenge how one experiences the work, a codependent relationship is created between art and audience.
Penétrable BBL bleu (1999)
Kinetic artist Jesus Rafael Soto’s Penétrable BBL bleu (1999) is a penetrable structure that is meant to be felt and intersected by the audience.
Carlos Cruz- Dies Cromosaturación (1965) allows the viewer to be immersed in a chromatic space that changes as the viewer’s position also changes.
CC4 Nocagions (1973)
The exhibition’s last piece, created by Hélio Oiticica CC4 Nocagions (1973) features a pool where people can literally go inside while projections are shown.
These type of exhibitions create a closer connection of the viewer and contemporary art, especially in a city like Los Angeles, where the fast paced lifestyle and technology driven society make way for these moments of interaction and contemplation of sensory experiences.