Come July, the L.A. River Will Become a Public Art Museum

The L.A. River will be one of many sites for L.A.'s first public art biennial.
The L.A. River will be one of many sites for L.A.'s first public art biennial.
Photo by Nanette Gonzales

At a presser this morning in Marsh Park, Mayor Eric Garcetti took a moment to recognize that the green space, situated on the banks of the L.A. River in Frogtown, used to be a parking lot. Presumably, its current incarnation is a hell of a lot more attractive than its previous one, and it represents just one attempt to make the river a focal point, ideologically, for recreational purposes and otherwise. 

Garcetti focused on the city's connection to its waterways — and the ways they connect the city — as he announced the roster of artists that have been tapped to create work for Current:LA Water, the city's first ever public art biennial. As it's explained concisely on the organization's website, the project will stage "large-scale art commissions next to bodies of water, both man-made and natural, including some alongside the Los Angeles River as a way to support the city’s broad and long-term goal of creating the river as a rehabilitated public corridor for art, culture and community engagement."

As the name implies, the biennial will take place every two years; the first will launch in July and run through August. According to Garcetti, L.A. was one of only four cities out of 237 that were chosen to receive grant money from Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, and it received the maximum amount of $1 million. He was joined at the press conference by that organization's Anita Contini as well as Danielle Brazell, head of the Department of Cultural Affairs (and former director of Arts for L.A.), who praised Garcetti for being an "arts mayor."  

Mayor Garcetti with Danielle Brazell, Anita Contini and Felicia FilerEXPAND
Mayor Garcetti with Danielle Brazell, Anita Contini and Felicia Filer
Photo by Gwynedd Stuart

Local power curators Ruth Estevez, director of the gallery at REDCAT; Rita Gonzalez of LACMA; Irene Tsatsos of Armory Center for the Arts; and art historian Karen Moss selected a dozen artists and art teams to create works that center around the theme of water. Not all of the artists are local, but a great many live and work in L.A.:

Refik Anadol and Peggy Weil (team); Edgar Arceneaux; Josh Callaghan and Daveed Kapoor (team); Mel Chin; Chris Kallmyer; Candice Lin; Lucky Dragons (Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara); Teresa Margolles; Kori Newkirk; Michael Parker; Gala Porras-Kim; Rirkrit Tiravanija; and Kerry Tribe.

Several of the artists are well-known, including Anadol, a Turkish artist who might be best known locally for his 2013 projection onto Disney Hall.

Ultimately, the idea behind this incarnation of Current:LA is to make people think about water — or the lack thereof — assuming they aren't already. Or as Brazell put it, "to create change on both an emotional and municipal level through the imaginative power of public art." At the very least, we'll have something nice to look at for a month every couple of years.


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