Lauren Halsey is kind of on fire right now. Brilliant, radiant, home-based fire. The smoke, akin to that found in her native South Central during its historic and painful Uprising in 1983 (before she was born), started straight out of Yale in 2014 with her MFA mixed media project, put that on sum10.put that on evreethang you’ll never be unFunky again. There followed flickers via a year-long residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. By 2018 she was hot and hotter with near back-to-back solo exhibits at MOCA in 2018, we still here, there, and a lauded Made in L.A. 2018 appearance the Hammer Museum, called “The Crenshaw Hieroglyph Project.” At this moment, she’s lighting up her first solo show in Europe, at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris. 

A CalArts grad who doesn’t drive a car, she operates at intersections, figuratively and literally — between her beloved community, art, architecture, public space and assorted black cultures, and often with real art posted on telephone poles in the community. At the Hammer, she drew upon ancient Egyptian myth-making and then flipped it many centuries forward, populating bas relief-like gypsum blocks with images of men in du-rags and graffiti scrawls. Here we also see her fascination with Afrofuturism and funk, as well as her drive to honor the trauma of loss within her community. 

Lauren Halsey, The Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project (Prototype Architecture), gypsum, in Made In LA 2018_ at the Hammer Museum, Installation view (Brian Forrest)

At MOCA, she created an immersive space of white caves that took viewers on a funky fantastic voyage, shining a magical spotlight on the diversity of everyday black cultural experiences in South Central L.A. In an interview at the time, she said, “There’s so much narrative about what South Central is from outsiders (but), to me it’s a dream world.” Thus, the space was brightly crammed, bubbling over with dioramas, references to black signs of the times (e.g. payday loans, church appeals, beauty parlors and get-rich schemes). Materials ranged from afropics to bits of tin foil and ceramic figurines of black people. Think about the opening credits of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, as though curated by George Clinton and Betye Saar.

So what’s next for her? Well, she’s fresh off of winning the Frieze Art Award and showing at Frieze New York this past May. The show in Paris, Too Blessed to Be Stressed, will be on display through September 2. She invited kids to carve things into gypsum at L.A. Times Festival of Books earlier this year, for a future project. And already on the books is a major show at L.A.’s prestigious David Kordanksy Gallery in 2020. One thing for sure, her fire will continue to rage on.

Lauren Halsey, Easter at F.A.M.E., hand-carved gypsum on wood, 2019 (Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery)

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