As I cruised along Mulholland Drive yesterday afternoon, I was transported into a new kind of artistic space. I continuously discovered an array of different interactive art exhibits and performances, unevenly distributed along the historic ridge-top pass usually traversed by movie stars in sports cars.
The site-specific installations occurred all along the 21 mile stretch of Mulholland, stretching from the Cahuenga Pass all the way to the point in the Santa Monica mountains where the iconic roadway becomes an impassable dirt road near the LA-96 Nike Test Missile Site.
For most viewers this artistic incursion into the normal reality of the city was entirely unexpected and even confusing... after all, what are all these people doing playing and watching music next to the road? What does that man have on his head -- and why does that particular star map stand seem to have so many customers?
Stephen Van Dyck, a performance artist, is the founder of Los Angeles Road Concerts, the name he's given to this event and three other similar ones, which have taken place since 2008 along similarly forgotten or unexamined stretches of San Fernando Boulevard in the Valley, Washington Boulevard, and Sunset Boulevard (the most recent one). The series, one of a number of L.A. projects that are rethinking how to view and experience art, seeks to investigate and reclaim the often ignored or overlooked public spaces that line our public roadways in L.A. Over 110 artists answered an open call to participate in the intensive one-day only affair, ranging from established to emerging names.
"There is a sense that anything can happen when you're out on the street, and I think that gives people permission to let themselves be open or even disagreeable with the status quo," Van Dyck said afterwards.
Some pieces consisted of words displayed in a variety of home-made signs proclaiming adages, like one along a guard-rail by Abbie Baron that read "You Can't Take it With You," drawing attention to the potential danger of such a narrow and winding byway. A reflective surface superimposed with the bold sentence "This is What You Look Like Today" pointed at drivers near the Coldwater Canyon stoplight, causing many to glance at themselves in the mirror cars as they passed (while they slowed down for fear of hitting the artists nearby).
Artists Vuslat and Ilknur Demirkoparan sat by the road compiling a giant open letter to the city of L.A. in black ink on a giant roll of brown butcher paper.
Other pieces brought traditional painting out of the gallery and off-the-wall, with artist Skip Snow offering any passerby a free painting, and another displaying a truck-load of what was labeled "Fast Food Paintings," by John Kilduff. Another stop on the route offered people the chance to help decorate a van in traditional hippie style, while musicians played drums and other people danced. By the end of the day, the van was covered in brightly-colored flowers, peace signs and smiley-face designs.
Artist Margie Schnibbe did a "performance" that involved hitch-hiking the entire length of Mulholland, while Michael A. Rippens walked 14 miles along the same path "to raise awareness for the Foundation of Awareness," according to the Facebook page of his new project, ambiguously titled AwareWalk/2012. One artist, Matias Viegener, was nearly arrested for attempting to drop a drone camera into Britney Spears' hilltop mansion. Christy Roberts gave rides to people while singing them classic rock songs.
Tyler Calkin created a bizarre and colorful peri-tetrascope helmet, which he wore atop a scenic overlook, inviting visitors to look through the multiple periscopes he had around his face. Two separate alternate star maps were available along the route -- one by Anthony Moses Sanchez addressing the covered up history of closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Hollywood stars and directors, the other by Corrie Siegel portraying the city of L.A. as if it were the site of a pilgrimage to an alternative Holy Land.
The culminating reception was supposed to have taken place at Sunset on a bucolic hilltop near the Missile site at the Western edge of the drive, but park rangers and various law enforcement made it clear, as they had throughout the day, that the artistic influence was not welcome. Never to be deterred, and despite receiving a citation, Van Dyck moved the reception down to the road itself, where local band The Lone Stars played a full set as part of a "pop-up club" across Mulholland from their audience as the sky turned pink and the lights of the Valley began twinkle into view.
Hundreds of in-the-know art world players attended the event throughout the day, but the real impact was more likely made on those who simply happened upon the happenings. One anonymous passerby at the reception couldn't believe his luck.
"I bike up here all the time and I love it here," he said. "It is so great to see so many people enjoying the beautiful views, but I didn't even know this was going to happen. When is the next one -- I can't wait!"
While he may be disappointed that another Mulholland Road Concert isn't happening soon, the L.A. Road Concert series will continue. You will be able to find out details on the next one (and view past projects) at www.LARoadConcerts.org.