If Grand Central Market is a barometer of time for downtown Los Angeles, Tim Hawkinson's Inverted Clocktower, an unassuming artwork wedged into the northwest edge of the building, is committed to the moment at hand. Unlike the contents of the public market, which have metamorphosed dramatically over the past few years, the clock appears unchanged since its installation 20 years ago. Perhaps it's an answer to an urban riddle, a relic that reflects only the present, while accepting the future and releasing the past.


See also: Grand Central Market Restaurant Issue

A decade after Adele and Ira Yellin bought the landmark Homer Laughlin building, in 1995, they commissioned the Los Angeles–based Hawkinson to design a work for an inverted exterior corner of its brand-new, six-story parking structure. Hawkinson's oeuvre already included many mechanized time pieces, such as Clock in Corner (1990), owned by the Yellins, a clock face with a crease down the center for mounting at the intersection of two walls, its hands straddling the deep valley between the split face. Hawkinson originally imagined a similar design for the downtown project, but the engineering proved too difficult for the location.

By design, Hawkinson's clock faces demand a close look. In a series of works first shown in 1996, collectively called Secret Sync, he slyly fashioned timepieces out of mundane materials — a tube of toothpaste, a hairbrush, packing peanuts and twist ties, a manila envelope, a Coke can.

While those works surprise the viewer by delivering an accurate record of time through an unexpected object, the clock at Grand Central Market challenges the purpose of a traditional form. Even the materials are not what they seem; the gray brickwork and masonry actually is graphite-reinforced concrete poured over foam. “Like a movie set,” Hawkinson explains. The façade ended up being the easiest way to construct the piece — a tribute to a fictional clock, evoking an extensive, imaginary history.

“The clock tower this commemorates never actually existed,” Hawkinson explains in his Altadena studio, surrounded by works in progress — geometric eggshell constructions, ears carved from potatoes, a Christmas tree of arrows and a model of another parking-lot commission, this time a 40-foot-tall, 80-ton sculpture for the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.

His idea at Grand Central Market? To explore what could have happened if a clock tower had been on the site — and the concrete for the parking garage was “poured right up against it, so what you're left with is this sort of cookie-cutter impression of it.”

Hawkinson says, “I think it gives this kind of flip-flop feeling of the space being positive and negative. It's a little bit funny, because there wouldn't have been a clock tower like that in L.A., so I guess in retrospect, maybe I could have done adobe structures.”

Initially, the work wasn't intended as a reliable marker of time; the Roman numerals were reversed and the hands moved counterclockwise. But it was thought that a backward clock could cause confusion for passing commuters and elderly neighbors at a nearby retirement home.

“When it was being built and they removed all the scaffolding, they got a call from a tenant at the retirement home telling them that their clock was backward and that they were going to have to do it over,” Hawkinson recalls with a hint of amusement.

So the clock was reworked, its hands now following the typical direction. The Roman numerals, however, remain in their disorienting order and the work stands, for those who pay attention, as a playful and mysterious curiosity.

The Yellins hoped that a newsstand would occupy the nook in front of the artwork, or maybe even a bike station, but the space remains empty. It's no secret that most people in the city these days don't look up to find the time.

“It's for the tourists,” Hawkinson admits, “who left their phones in their hotel rooms.”

See also: Grand Central Market Restaurant Issue

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