Ray Bradbury, the fantasy-fiction mastermind who wrote Fahrenheit 451 and really did believe man would make it to Mars sooner than later, moved to L.A. from Illinois in 1934 as a teenager. His family first lived around Western Avenue. Then, in 1942, they moved into a Craftsman bungalow at 670 South Venice Blvd., right next door to a brick electric power house. Bradbury stayed there until 1947, when he married and moved closer to the water, to 33 South Venice.
That beachside house still stands -- the one at 670 South Venice had deteriorated beyond repair. So when New York gallery L&M Arts decided to open an L.A. space and acquired Bradbury's old lot and the neighboring electrical building, they razed the bungalow. To acknowledge that their new building stood on land with cultural cachet, near the door they put up a small plaque that says Bradbury once lived here.
Curator Yael Lipschutz saw the plaque soon after L&M opened and began fantasizing about a show inspired by Bradbury, made up of artwork that evoked the world of his fiction. When Bradbury died in June, at age 91, it seemed an even more pertinent idea. Lipschutz proposed it to L&M Arts' director Sarah Watson, who gave her the go-ahead. Then Lipschutz began assembling a wish list of artists and works. The show, which opened last week, is called "For The Martian Chronicles" after Bradbury's story collection about the colonization of mars, much of which he drafted at 670 Venice.
The exhibit includes galley proofs from Bradbury's original manuscript, housed in a Plexiglas case. Other than that, the references to Bradbury are loose. The show is less a response to his Martian Chronicles than a collection of fantastic visual chronicles all its own. There are 27 artists -- with more coming this week, as art waylaid by Hurricane Sandy arrives -- and these chronicles immerse you.
Sculptor John McCracken's Cordella (1988-92), a green fiberglass and resin plank, leans up against the back wall, and it's the first thing you see when you walk through the door. A similar black plank appears in the current LACMA exhibition devoted to filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, since Kubrick's set pieces for 2001: A Space Odyssey so closely resembled McCracken's work. McCracken himself, who died in 2011, compared his art to what an alien race might make, and this sculpture looks like an intergalactic mile-marker.
Halfway across the room from the McCracken sculpture, a cranberry-colored, cast polyester work by artist Fred Eversley stands on a pedestal. Eversley, an engineer before he discovered that making art was more fun, worked on the Apollo program in the 1960s. His art has always borrowed from the smooth surfaces and calculated curves of aeronautics and this sculpture, called Mars (2003), looks like a flying saucer repurposed as a hyper-modern fruit bowl.
Nearby hangs Anthony McCall's drawing, a pristine black-and-white study for a film he calls Between You and I, showing a dark figure underneath one of two cones of light, which doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere. Liz Deschenes' slick black photogram (an image made by putting objects onto light-sensitive material, rather than photographing them), mounted on aluminum, eerily and inexplicably angles out from the wall below it.
Other work is eerie for explicable, real-world reasons. In 1959, Larry Bell cracked the square of glass he place over a gold-encrusted box with a mirror inside, so the surface was fragmented and the reflection in the mirror off-kilter. It looks as if an accident left it scarred, though probably a less dramatic accident than the one that led to Corazon del Sol's Untitled sculpture. Her sculpture consists of a camera, weathered, scraped up and encased in a brass and glass box. The camera looks the way it does because she lost it when photographing an abandoned, icy building in Detroit. She fell through the ice and pulled herself out but had to return months later, when the ice had thawed, to fish out her camera. Now, it glows because of the way the brass affects the glass, and looks more like a treasure from lost Atlantis than a memento of something that actually happened.
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Bradbury would have liked this. Nothing he said about his writing or the world suggests he saw much distinction between fantasy and real life.
He went to an all-night party at the Caltech Planetarium once in 1976, to watch the photos of Mars taken by the newly landed, unmanned spacecraft called Viking play out on a big screen. In a Playboy interview from 1996, he describes NBC News' Roy Neal stopping by in the planetarium and forcing a microphone into his face. Neal said, "Mr. Bradbury, you've been writing about Mars and its civilizations and cities for all these years. Now that we're there and we see that there's no life, how does it feel?" Bradbury took a deep breath and replied: "There is life on Mars -- look at us! Look at us! We are the Martians!"