If you want to shop at Sparrow Mart, do it soon.
Stepping into a supermarket where everything is made of felt — every packaged food, every piece of produce, every slab of raw meat — is a bizarre and wonderful experience. British artist Lucy Sparrow's new pop-up art installation, “Sparrow Mart,” opened at the Standard Downtown on Aug. 1. On opening day, the shelves were fully stocked with rows of handmade felt products, all available for purchase on the spot.
Last summer, Sparrow opened a fully felted bodega called “8 Till Late” at the Standard High Line in New York City's Meatpacking District, and it was such a success that everything sold out and the exhibit closed more than a week early. Sparrow Mart appears to be headed for the same fate.
This supermarket is a celebration of consumerism, and L.A.'s consumers seem to love it back. Every day, shoppers have lined up to visit the store and take home pieces of art. Sparrow says, “It is absolutely crazy down here, unbelievably busy. I'm having trouble trying to keep stuff on the shelves, to be honest.”
Creating the 31,000 felt products featured in “Sparrow Mart” took just over a year. Sparrow says, “I have a couple assistants who work in the studio with me and other people helping. Just for the multiples, the sheer quantity of it is very hard to achieve on my own, now that it's leveled up.”
The first Sparrow Mart item to sell out was the Maruchan instant noodle lunch; the Jif peanut butter and Moon Pies also have been hot sellers. Sparrow says, “The fruit and veggies have been very popular. Watermelons and grapefruits sold out really quick. I'm scrambling and trying to make some more and paint some more, but I don't even know if that's going to be possible.”
Sparrow Mart is scheduled to be open through the month of August, and Sparrow was hoping the store would last the whole time, but that doesn't look likely. She says, “If it carries on the way that it's going, I think we'll close early.”
Landis Smithers, the Standard's Chief Creative Officer, spoke to L.A. Weekly from London, where he is working on opening the hotel chain's first international location. He describes Sparrow's art as “magical,” and says, “It's really nice to be able to provide a platform to not just emerging talent but to a young female artist.”
The supermarket, Sparrow's biggest installation yet, reflects her fascination with consumer products and mass production. She says, “It's never been a criticism of that. It's always been sort of like, 'Wow, look at these wonderful things.'”
When she's deciding which products to re-create with felt, she says, “Even if it's like subliminal or subconsciously, I usually go for red and blue products, but actually the most common colors in packaging are red, yellow and blue. I can measure it just from how much fabric I use making one store. It's always the red, yellow and blue that go the quickest.”
In the same way that people are drawn to certain colors, Sparrow believes the current political climate attracts people to her art. “No matter what goes on in the world, it's in times of trouble where artists really thrive, because it's kicking back against something. There isn't anything negative about my art. You'd struggle to find it but at the same time, the felt has this quite insidious nature where it likes to get under your skin and have a good impression on you before you even realize it.”
The tagline on Sparrow's website is “Sewing lives back together since 1986,” and she says that's because she feels like she's creating an alternate universe. “If it's one that's less toxic and where people are a lot kinder to each other, that's what I'm sewing back together.”
Smithers says that while Sparrow's art is cute on the surface, “It's not often you get to weave commentary and a touch of subversion in with such a fuzzy emotion.” He also appreciates the immersive nature of “Sparrow Mart.” “In this world, to be able to provide an experience that is truly joyful is a very rare thing. I think it is almost impossible to look at her work and not be taken to a place where you actually are forced to smile, and forced to suspend your reality. It's a positive experience without being emotionally devastating.”
To see “Sparrow Mart” for yourself, your best bet is to head to the Standard Downtown and join the line before the store opens in the morning. The installation is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (closed Mondays), and small groups are admitted at timed intervals. While “Sparrow Mart” does offer reservations, they can only be made in person and only for that same day. If you want to visit, Sparrow says, “It's a case of getting here early and checking in at the desk.” There are timed entries every half-hour.
While people should expect a bit of a wait, she urges everyone to come sooner rather than later, since pieces are already selling out. “It's disappearing every single day — it's just getting smaller and smaller — so the earlier you come, the better experience you have.” In other words, act now, these deals won't last.
“Sparrow Mart,” Standard Hotel, 550 S. Flower St., downtown; (213) 892-8080, standardhotels.com; Tue.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m., through Fri., Aug. 31; free.