By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
Los Angeles is an ephemeral art city, with a history of ramshackle studios, temporary stagings and artworks that go into books and museums yet all but disappear from the landscape. Pivotal artist David Hammons' old second-floor dance-hall studio, for instance, where, using grease, he printed parts of his body on paper, inspiring an entire scene of artists, is now a preschool playground. The site of Allan Ruppersburg's famous 1969 Al's Café, a weekly art-happening "restaurant" offering such dishes as Simulated Burned Pine Needles à la Johnny Cash Served with a Live Fern, is a vacant lot on West Sixth Street.
At the crest of La Cienega on Sunset, Mark di Suvero's famous, controversial 58-foot-tall Peace Tower was a platform for dozens of artworks protesting the Vietnam War. Niki de Saint Phalle, a few blocks away, set up relief sculptures filled with wet paint and shot them with a .22. Now only photos and stories. Kim Jones' walk down Wilshire dressed in sticks as his alter ego Mudman, Eleanor Antin's staged photo of a semicircle of boots on Solano Beach ... even Barney's Beanery on Holloway, the site of now-legendary late-night artist rants and antics in the 1960s, has become just another chain restaurant. What once was is now gone.
The remnants of 35 years of art in L.A. will emerge in Pacific Standard Time across 60 venues, but to dig one's bare hand into the roots of art, one must take to the road: One must drive Pacific Standard Time. So over the course of several weekends, I hopped in my Honda Civic and went afield, dipping into the lost paths of L.A. art history. I looked for what remained. When nothing remained, I imagined what once was.
Robert Irwin's scrim, 78 Market St., Venice
One of my first stops was a series of storefronts (numbers 74, 77 and 78) on Market Street in Venice. A stone's throw from Mao's Kitchen and now containing a bar called Nikki's, I found four white arches, leftover Italian flourishes from Abbot Kinney's mad dream to literally make Venice, Calif., like its European ancestor, full of ancient charm and canals. Kinney's vision ended with oil speculation, and once the oil was gone, in came bohemia. Market Street is significant. Galleries have periodically taken up residence there, and also artists, specifically Larry Bell and Robert Irwin, both known for using new technologies in an exploration of light and space.
It's difficult to imagine now, as one struggles to park on this beach traffic–clogged path, but Irwin painted the interior of No. 78 a flat white in 1980, and then knocked out the front wall and replaced the façade with a white scrim. You could not see the room through the scrim unless your eyes refocused. You had to wait for the effect. The scrim gave way from apparent solidity, revealing the depth of the room opening up in the light. As people passed in 1980, some saw it and some didn't. The piece remained unharmed for two weeks and then was taken down. Irwin famously took to the desert to think.
Dennis Hopper's iconic 1962 Double Standard photograph, an image of doubled Standard Gasoline signs, doubled streets, doubled mirror images, was taken at that weird little turn where Melrose ends at the edge of West Hollywood. I always thought Hopper was in a parked car and had staged the photo. Now I know he was in traffic, going east on Santa Monica, and that the photo was a snapshot, taken quickly before the honking started. The Standard Station — there was only one — is no longer there, but the photo comes alive when you are there. The witty convergences have all disappeared, making the instant captured by Hopper an even more poignant moment.
Stephen Shore's Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, June 21, 1975, Hollywood
The opposite of Hopper's wit is the corner of Beverly and La Brea, where New Yorker Stephen Shore took this less iconic but far more important photograph. It too involves a gas station, a Chevron, which is still there, but this photo is more about ordinary Los Angeles, the reality of location. Taking his cue from the deadpan pools, apartments and buildings in Ed Ruscha's artist books, Shore ends the dream of the West with the reality of the West. The intersection is not conducive to myths — it's too sober. Walking the spot is unremarkable, and that's Shore's point.
Asco's Instant Mural, Whittier Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, East L.A.
Myths explode further at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Arizona Avenue in East L.A., where Asco taped themselves briefly to a wall, creating Instant Mural in 1974. Harry Gamboa Jr., a member of the group along with Willie Herrón III, Gronk and Patssi Valdez, wrote that the event occurred on a building found in Victor Aleman's 1971 photo, titled Just Before the Gunfire, showing one of the antiwar protests of the Chicano Moratorium movement in 1971.
Arizona Avenue has been expanded since then — 1971's two lanes are now four. The street is still vibrant with shops and lively street action, but the building in Aleman's photograph, a structure that must have been proud of its art deco detailing, is falling into ruin. Only a commemorative plate on the death of protester Gustav Montag marks the events of 1971.
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