Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA

Oax 01 Head

We may think of images and language as two separate things, but they’re not. They’re bound together in a million complicated ways, and it’s impossible to pull them apart. In a city like Los Angeles, we’re constantly surrounded by a swirl of words mutating into images (think the Hollywood sign, or a street artist spraypainting their name in neon colors) and images with easily recognizable meanings (a green cross, or a peace symbol).

In Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA, a series of murals on display at the Central Library, the artist collective Tlacolulokos takes on the endlessly complex relationship between words and images, and at the same time they explore the equally complex cultural landscape of indigenous people who have migrated to Los Angeles.

Oax 05 Crowd

This newly written visual history is meant to be a response to earlier versions of history, specifically the series of murals by Dean Cornwell that decorates the Central Library’s rotunda. Cornwell’s images tell the story that the City’s leadership wanted to hear back in 1933, the discovery of the New World, the spread of Christianity, the march of Civilization. Of course, the indigenous people represented in those murals were generally down on their knees, waiting for salvation.

Oax 10 Old Mural 1

One of the murals painted by Dean Cornwell for the Library in 1933

There’s no point in me trying to write about these murals, because they speak so eloquently themselves. I’ll let the images do the talking. Just a word about the way they’re organized. The murals are conceived as three sets of diptychs, and the title for each set is given in Zapotec, the language of the indigenous people of Oaxaca.

Gal rabenee ladxuu/For the Pride of Your Hometown

Ra galumbanuu xhten guccran nii/The Way of the Elders

Ne guitenala’dxinu ca binni ma cusia’ndanu/And in Memory of the Forgotten

Oax 30 Boy Bus

Gal rabenee ladxuu/For the Pride of Your Hometown

Oax 35 Boy Bus Close

Gal rabenee ladxuu/For the Pride of Your Hometown (detail)

Oax 37 Never Forget Close

Gal rabenee ladxuu/For the Pride of Your Hometown

Oax 40 Cal Wide 01

Ra galumbanuu xhten guccran nii/The Way of the Elders

Oax 45 Cal Close

Ra galumbanuu xhten guccran nii/The Way of the Elders (detail)

Oax 47 St Sign 1

Ra galumbanuu xhten guccran nii/The Way of the Elders

Oax 50 Tattoo

Ne guitenala’dxinu ca binni ma cusia’ndanu/And in Memory of the Forgotten

Oax 60 Corona

Ne guitenala’dxinu ca binni ma cusia’ndanu/And in Memory of the Forgotten

The exhibition, a joint effort by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library, is part of Pacific Standard Time. Of course, these photos don’t do the murals justice. Really you should just head on down to the Central Library and see them for yourselves.

Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA

 

Commemorating Japanese Internment by Evicting Little Tokyo Artists

Little Tokyo Artists

It’s been 75 years since the US Government issued an order to intern all residents of Japanese descent. DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners is going to commemorate that event in a special way.  The company will soon be evicting the tenants at 800 Traction, another reminder to the residents of Little Tokyo of just how little their lives really mean.

Of course, you hear about evictions all the time in LA, and City Hall has let us know repeatedly that renters are completely disposable when their lives are weighed against investor profits. Mayor Garcetti has used the Department of City Planning like a sharp knife in carving out his radical gentrification agenda, and tenants from Boyle Heights to the beach communities know they have a target on their back.

But still, this case stands out, because of the history involved….

You see, Little Tokyo used to cover a lot more territory than it does now. While 800 Traction is no longer considered part of the district, prior to WWII it fell well within the bounds of the Japanese community. Many Japanese residents lost their homes and businesses because of the internment. City Hall took more land away in the 50s to build Parker Center. More land, more housing, more businesses were lost when (ironically) Japanese corporations moved in during the 70s and 80s. And so over time Little Tokyo has been reduced to a shadow of what it once was.

But there’s another layer to this that makes it even more disturbing. A number of the residents at 800 Traction are Japanese-American artists who’ve been living in the community for decades. They’ve worked with local cultural institutions, creating art for the people who live in Little Tokyo. They have deep roots in the neighborhood and helped create the Downtown art scene when nobody wanted to live there. Many people have pointed out the horrible irony in the fact that real estate interests have spent a fortune on branding the area as the Arts District, all the while kicking out the artists who made the place happen.

The tenants could be forced out by the end of this month. It’s hard to say whether they have any hope of keeping their homes, but it can’t hurt to raise your voice to support them. Please write to Councilmember Jose Huizar, and ask him why he isn’t doing more to protect the artists of 800 Traction against the soulless vampires at DLJ Capital Partners.

Here’s a clear, straightforward subject line.

STOP THE EVICTIONS AT 800 TRACTION!

Councilmember Jose Huizar
councilmember.huizar@lacity.org

And don’t forget to copy Mayor Garcetti, so he understands the damage his gentrification agenda is causing.

Mayor Eric Garcetti
mayor.garcetti@lacity.org

If you want more details, here’s an excellent piece from the Rafu Shimpo.

They Say Gentrify – We Must Unify!

 

Culture Is Community

MM 000 Open Energy

Years ago I worked at The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Downtown. I loved working there, because it meant always being around art. That was very cool. But after a while, I started to realize there was a problem with museums. Just by their nature, they put barriers between the art and the audience. For instance, MOCA had a Rauschenberg combine in its collection. When it was first shown back in the 50s, it was an interactive piece and the artist expected people to touch it. But by the time it was acquired by the museum, the combine was worth over a million bucks, and if you tried to touch it, the security guard would freak out. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when artists become icons and their work ends up in institutions.

So it’s really cool when artists make work that’s always accessible to its audience. Art that’s part of the daily life of the community. That’s why LA’s murals are so important. They’re not sitting in a temperature controlled gallery surrounded by security guards. They’re out there on the street, in the midst of the community. And Pacoima is one community that’s extremely lucky in this respect. The streets there are loaded with murals. They come in all sizes, shapes and colors. They can be poetic, patriotic or political. Many feature pop culture icons, but some of them are all about ideas.

MM 005 VN SF EDITED

Van Nuys Boulevard at San Fernando Road

Once you get to Pacoima, it’s not even like you have to go looking for the murals. Just head up Van Nuys Blvd. and the art starts jumping out at you. This community has actively supported local artists, and it’s important to emphasize that this is a community effort. While individual artists put their names to the finished work, these murals are a team effort, and often they list the names of the many people involved in making it happen.

MM 010 LotV 1

Lady of the Valley by Levi Ponce, near Van Nuys and Arleta

MM 020 Born

Born in East Valley by Levi Ponce, at Van Nuys and Bartee

LA has come to be known as a mural mecca, but City Hall hasn’t always treated these artists well. In 2002, to settle a longstanding dispute with billboard companies, an ordinance was passed to make murals illegal. But it got worse. In the years that followed, the City obliterated a number of these works by painting them over. One article I read said that 300 murals were lost, but it’s probably impossible to calculate the real number. The City passed an ordinance to lift the ban in 2013, and since then artists have been making up for lost time. It’s weird, though, because while the City went after illegal murals with a vengeance, it’s never taken any serious action to crack down on illegal billboards. I bet if the artists had been able to shower our elected officials with campaign cash like the billboard companies have, there never would have been a ban in the first place.

MM 030 Sacrificing

Sacrificing to Protect by STP Foundation, near Van Nuys and Vena

MM 040 FK DR

Pacoima Kahlo* by Levi Ponce, at Van Nuys and Ralston

Many of the murals celebrate pop culture icons, like the two pictured here featuring Ritchie Valens and Elvira.

MM 065 RV

La Bamba/Ritchie Valens by Hector Ponce, at Van Nuys and Amboy

MM 067 RV CU

Closer shot of Ritchie Valens

MM 070 Elvira

Elvira en Pacoima by Hector Ponce, near Van Nuys and Haddon

But they also focus on lesser known names, people whose lives and work have a meaning to those in the community.

MM 060 Artistas

Artistas de la Comunidad by Hector Ponce, near Van Nuys and Laurel Canyon

This isn’t a mural, but it caught my eye. The caricature of Cantinflas, a forgotten star from another age, painted on the front of a shuttered fast-food stand, seemed both funny and sad at the same time.

MM 050 Cantinflas

The theme of freedom comes up over and over again. Sometimes it’s political. Sometimes it’s purely personal.

MM 080 Freedom Fighter

Freedom Fighter by Kristy Sandoval, at Van Nuys and Pala

MM 090 Decol

Decolonized by Kristy Sandoval, at Van Nuys and Bradley

MM 100 La Lady Liberty

La Lady Liberty by Levi Ponce, at Van Nuys and Bradley

MM 110 WO Boundaries

Without Boundaries by Levi Ponce, at Van Nuys and Haddon

There’s plenty of awesome art in Pacoima, but you can find murals all over LA. If you want to see more, The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles is a great place to start. If you haven’t been to their web site already, you need to pay them a visit.

The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles


*  This seems to be the second mural featuring Frida Kahlo by Levi Ponce at this same location.  I found an earlier version on the net that had the title Pacoima Kahlo, but I’m not sure if that title applies to the current version.

MM 120 Metro Market

Moving Forward in Reseda

The Reseda Theater

The Reseda Theater

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about how people in Reseda were frustrated. For years the business district in the heart of the community has been struggling, and projects that were supposed to revitalize the area somehow never materialized.

Well, there’s been some progress since then. Just recently a deal was struck to reopen the long vacant Reseda Theater as a multiplex, and to create 34 units for senior citizens adjacent to the building. The multiplex will be operated by Laemmle Theatres, which played a part in revitalizing North Hollywood with its complex there.

This deal is just a first step. Members of the community have been struggling for years to revitalize the neighborhood, and many hope that this project signals a turnaround. The Reseda Neighborhood Council and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield have worked hard to engage the community and rustle up the money to make this happen. For more details, see this article from the Daily News.

Reseda Theater to become Laemmle Multiplex

But redevelopment is only part of the equation. Bringing new life to a community requires a lot more than investment. It’s really about people. Creating community means creating a sense that the people who live in the area are connected, that they share something more than a zip code. This piece from the LA Weekly caught my attention.

Reseda Rising Artwalk Proves the Valley Is Cool

The artwalk was put together by 11:11 ACC and the Department of Cultural Affairs. I’d never heard of 11:11 ACC before, so I took a look at their web site and found out that they’re an artists’ collective operating in the San Fernando Valley. Sounds like an interesting group. If you want to check them out, here’s the link.

11:11 ACC

Seems like things are finally happening in Reseda. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Seen on the Street

Unknown Artist, Sunset west of Highland

Unknown Artist, Sunset west of Highland

Nothing against museums, but there’s something really cool about artists who put their work right out on the street. A, it’s free. B, it makes walking around the city so much more interesting. And C, the best street art engages you in a way that’s more immediate than the experience you get in a museum. You’re strolling down to the liquor store to get a six pack and bang, you run up against something somebody stuck on the side of a building. Or a chalk drawing on the sidewalk. Or a billboard towering overhead.

It’s interesting how people’s attitudes to street art have changed. Back in the 70s guys who went around blasting walls with spray paint were vandals. Ten years later a lot of those same guys were showing their stuff at the Whitney Biennial. You can still find artists who sneak around with an aerosol can in the dead of night, but you can also find artists doing large scale public projects with backing from a foundation.

Here’s a sampling of some stuff I’ve found roaming around LA….

People are constantly pasting stuff up all over Hollywood. A lot of it’s junk, but this caught my eye one morning as I walked past the Pacific Theatre.

Unknown Artist, Wilcox north of Hollywood

Unknown Artist, Wilcox north of Hollywood

These images of bottles have been showing up in various places over the past year or so. Honestly, I can’t figure out what it’s about, but I think they’re kind of cool.

Unknown Artist, Beverly near Detroit

Unknown Artist, Beverly near Detroit

Unknown Artist, Cahuenga near Franklin

Unknown Artist, Cahuenga near Franklin

Unknown Artist, Cahuenga near Franklin

Unknown Artist, Cahuenga near Franklin

Is anything more tempting to guerilla artists than an abandoned structure? This building at the corner of Argyle and Yucca was demolished a while ago, but I got a few photos before it disappeared.

Unknown Artists, Yucca and Argyle

Unknown Artists, Yucca and Argyle

This is a shot of the same building from the freeway.

Unknown Artists, Yucca and Argyle

Unknown Artists, Yucca and Argyle

Some artists keep it simple and rough.

Unknown Artist, Wilcox north of Sunset

Unknown Artist, Wilcox north of Sunset

Others spend a lot of time and effort to make it as polished as possible.

D*Face, Santa Monica near Flemish Lane

D*Face, Santa Monica near Flemish Lane

The image above is by D*Face, a classic example of someone who started out doing his own thing on the street, and over time became an established professional. To see more of his work, check out his site.

D*Face

Sometimes it’s a political statement.

Unknown Artist, Wilcox near Hollywood

Unknown Artist, Wilcox near Hollywood

Unknown Artist, Wilcox near Franklin

Unknown Artist, Wilcox near Franklin

Other times it’s just a statement.

Unknown Artist, Selma and Ivar

Unknown Artist, Selma and Ivar

Unknown Artist, Sunset near Gardner

Unknown Artist, Sunset near Gardner

I was out in Boyle Heights a while ago and I saw these banners decorating a fence that surrounded a construction site.

A row of banners at a construction site, First and Boyle

A row of banners at a construction site, First and Boyle

Lesther Cabrales, First and Boyle

Lesther Cabrales, First and Boyle

Izzy Jaquez and Diego Escamilla, First and Boyle

Izzy Jaquez and Diego Escamilla, First and Boyle

I was told that the project was put together by Self Help Graphics, a non-profit that’s been serving local communities for over forty years. Here’s the link.

Self Help Graphics & Art

Found this at a construction site in Downtown. Somehow it really seems to capture the vibe in LA right now.

Unknown Artist, Fifth west of Broadway

Unknown Artist, Fifth west of Broadway

I think I saw this at a construction site on Hill. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly where it was.

Unknown Artist, Unknown Location

Unknown Artist, Unknown Location

Obviously phone kiosks aren’t getting a lot of use these days. Local artists have come up with lots of different ways to transform them.

Unknown Artist, Hill near Fourth

Unknown Artist, Hill near Fourth

I’d seen these giant faces peering down from walls around town, but I didn’t realize they were part of a project by this guy who calls himself JR. Follow the link below to find out more. There’s a video you can watch that gives the lowdown.

Wrinkles of the City at DesignBoom

JR, Fifth near Main

JR, Fifth near Main

JR, Alameda and Traction, rear of building

JR, Alameda and Traction, rear of building

The image above can be found in back of Angel City Brewery on Alameda. And the mural you see below is right next to it.

Dabs & Myla and How & Nosm, Alameda and Third, rear of building

Dabs & Myla and How & Nosm, Alameda and Third, rear of building

Finally this billboard by Robert Montgomery on Broadway near the UA Theatre. Not much to say about this one. I’ll let the work speak for itself.

Robert Montgomery, Broadway near Ninth

Robert Montgomery, Broadway near Ninth

The Broad

Brd 10 Main

Last week I finally made it down to The Broad. I lucked out because some friends had an extra ticket and invited me along. I really recommend making a reservation. The lines for visitors who don’t have one are still super long.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

The front of the building on Grand Ave.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

Riding up the escalator to the galleries.

I got there a little early and spent some time just checking out the building’s exterior. It’s gorgeous. The two design firms that worked on the project, Diller Scofidio + Rensler and Gensler, worked from a concept they call “vault and veil”. The vault is where the museum stores its collection, and instead of trying to hide it, which is the standard approach, they allowed the structure of the vault to play a major role in shaping the space. The veil is the building’s outer layer, a porous sheath that lets natural light filter into the galleries.

Jeff Koons, Tulips

Jeff Koons, Tulips

A room full of Warhol.

A room full of Warhol.

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Bradford, Corner of Desire and Piety

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Mark Tansey, Forward Retreat

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Chris Burden, Bateau de Guerre

Looking at the works in Broad’s collection, it’s clear that the guy’s got a keen eye and an open mind. Unlike the super rich predators who’ve crowded into the art market looking for status symbols and investment opportunities, Broad is passionately interested in the ways that artists express themselves and interact with the world around them. Wandering through the galleries, I was struck by the depth and diversity of the works on view, but I was even more impressed by how engaging this innaugural show is. It can be tough just getting the general public to take a look at contemporary art. Believe it or not, some people don’t get excited about looking at massive hunks of sheet metal or walking into galleries filled with rotting vegetables. But the wide variety of pieces in this first show offer a range of experiences, and there’s something for everybody. If you’re an art scenester looking for challenging conceptual stuff, Mark Bradford takes over a wall to talk about post-Katrina economic realities in New Orleans. And if you’re a teen-age pop culture freak, you’ll probably want to whip out your phone and snap a few shots of Takashi Murakami’s giant psychedelic mushrooms. With works on display by Kara Walker, Joseph Beuys, Susan Rothenberg, Chris Burden, Ed Ruscha, Yayoi Kusama, Mark Tansey, Cady Noland and dozens of others, you’re sure to find something that will grab your attention.

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell'Accademia) Florenz

Thomas Struth, Audience II (Galleria dell’Accademia) Florenz

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Art you can read, from John Baldessari and Ed Ruscha.

Charles Ray, Fall '91

Charles Ray, Fall ’91

I’m really grateful to Eli Broad for pulling this whole thing together. Aside from the thrill of seeing so much amazing art gathered together in one place, I was excited to see crowds of visitors milling through the galleries. And these people weren’t just passively strolling from one room to the next. They were posing with the art, laughing at the art, and talking about the art. This really is a museum for the people.

If you haven’t gone yet, what are you waiting for?

The Broad

Park located at the side of the building.

Park located at the side of the building.

Pop Culture Past

VR 10 RR

Pop culture wasn’t meant to last. As the twentieth century kicked into high gear, products made for mass consumption were pumped out as fast as possible, generally with the idea that whatever the masses were dying to have one day would be tossed away the very next day. Permanence was considered passé. Forget about making things that would last forever. The idea was to make stuff that would last long enough to make a profit, and then jump on whatever trend came next. Studios threw out prints of old movies to free up storage space. Comic publishers tossed original art when their filing cabinets got too full. And developers bulldozed old buildings when they were past their prime.

But of course, people started falling in love with this stuff. In some cases it was just a sentimental attachment we felt for things we grew up with. In other cases we’d realize that this object we’d taken for granted was actually the product of careful, thoughtful design. And occasionally we’d come across something really beautiful. Some of this stuff was just too cool to throw away.

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You can find a staggering display of artifacts from our pop culture past at Valley Relics Museum. Curator Tommy Gelinas has been scouring the San Fernando Valley for twenty years looking for items that have something to say about the area’s history. The museum was set up as a non-profit in 2012, and in 2013 they opened their doors to the public.

Valley Relics is located in a business park in Chatsworth. It’s a small space, but it’s jam packed with objects ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. It’s kind of like if the Valley had an attic where people would put stuff they couldn’t use any more but couldn’t bear to part with. There are custom cars, video games, movie posters and plenty of neon.

VR 35 Ashtrays

But even though a lot of what they have on display belongs to the world of pop culture, Valley Relics has a broader mission. Here’s what they say on their web site.

Our endeavor is to collect, preserve, interpret, and present the history of The San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas in order to share with residents and visitors alike the stories of those who shaped the region and its role in the nation’s development.

So they’re not just trying to build a funhouse for nostalgia freaks. They’re really trying to tell the story of the Valley, and it’s high time somebody did. The massive plain that spreads toward the north from the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains generally gets short shrift when people talk about LA history, but you can’t really talk about the film or aerospace industries without talking about the Valley.

Of course cars played a huge part in the growth of the Valley. There were a couple of custom cars on display that caught my attention. One is the gaudy convertible driven by the owner of Nudie’s, the tailor that created one-of-a-kind outfits for country western luminaries.

VR 20 Car

The other is a humble VW decorated with a dizzying collage of images by artist Kent Bash. According to the text panel, the inside is supposed to be pretty cool, too, but it was hard to get a good look.

VR 25 VW

Music is a big part of the Valley’s history. It warmed my heart too see the sign from the Palomino glowing softly at the back of the building.

VR 45 Palomino

The club itself has been gone for years, but in its heyday it hosted many of the greatest stars of country music. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and many others played there. I only went a few times, but I will always remember catching the Collins Kids at the Palomino. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life.

VR 40 Joni

Valley Relics is a young museum, and they have a lot of work to do. Right now it seems like the idea is to just display as much stuff as possible. The collection could be better organized, and it would help if there were more text to give visitors some background. Their biggest problem is lack of space. The day I was there I spoke to a guy who said they had tons of objects stored in a warehouse, and that they’re looking for a larger building. I hope they find some place a little closer to the center of the Valley. I’m sure plenty of people would dig the collection, but the location makes it kind of a long trip for most Angelenos.

Still, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Right now their hours are limited, only 10 am to 3 pm on Saturdays, but admission is free. If you do make the trip out there, and if you’re as impressed as I was, I’d urge you to put some money in the box for donations. Gelinas and company have gathered some amazing artifacts, and they’re telling a story that even people who live in this city don’t know much about. Right now they’re trying to take it to the next level. Let’s hope they can pull it off.

Here’s the link to the web site. You should check this place out.

Valley Relics

VR 50  Shoe