DATELINE: Los Angeles
After the January 17th earthquake Los
Angeles. an amazing thing happened.
My roommate and I stumbled into our
living room foolishly flicking on her
cigarette lighter to get us to the balcony
door. Once outside, our eyes immedi-
ately went to the sky, papered with the
northern hemisphere's winter constella-
tions, made fantastically visible in the
blackout. We'd forgotten that they were
there. It was breathtaking. And then the
aftershocks began. We knew that the
city, threatening to collapse beneath us.
breathed death that morning. Yet I re-
member those stars as vividly as the
groaning desert crust.
Why do I bring this up, this ephemeral
experience on our tiny balcony in the
Palms district? Well, I can't help think-
ing about the rebuilding of the city, a
project made quite pressing following
two years of civil unrest, wildfires, and
early morning aftershocks. Once again.
the city re-invented its urban spaces.
Here, art deco buildings are torn down to
enable parking garages. Structures built
before W.W.II qualify as "old". Los An-
geles' cinematic habit of masquerading as
every place else suggests a profound
schizophrenia at the heart of the city's
self-image. How does an individual ob-
tain a coherent impression of such a
place. a city covering several thousand
square miles? Even in your car (L.A.'s
metaphor of consciousness par excel-
lance), the extent to which the city is
available for consumption is extremely
limited. Except through the media. The
mediated incarnation of Los Angeles
proves its "real" self. A growing number
of the city's artists have begun to exam-
ine the effect this attitude towards the
built environment produces.
Steven Criqui's sleek paintings, on view
last year at both Food House and Kohn
Turner Gallery, neatly describe the visual
experience of Los Angeles as a space
filled with overlapping signs whose
number renders them illegible. Decep-
tively simple, the paintings consist of
panels of brightly painted biomorphic
shapes affixed to jokey, crenellated
backboards. Criqui's vision of the city
throws its contours into flat relief, leav-
ing it a sensuous, shimmering surface of
signage. In his recent photographs, he
takes the process a step further. The
works overlay images of, say, tract hous-
ing with his shapes, manipulating "realis-
tic" representation until the built envi-
ronment is unrecognizable except as a
fantasized, media-transformed realm.
John Souza's recent show, "Remember-
entering", at Sue Spaid Fine Art index
the built environment as the bearer of
cultural memory. Like a series of altar
niches in a post-modern cathedral, the
Entrances, as the works were called, en-
tice the viewer with their harmonious
colors, structural integrity, and exquisite
detail. Taking a quintessential L.A. twist,
the work places numerous architectural
periods side by side, complicating their
referentiality. A blood-red work remi-
niscent of a Buddhist shrine neighbors a
black, gothic spire and a white,
post-and-lintel structure complete with a
Roman pediment. To enter these struc-
tures, both physically and psychologi-
cally, is to wander into memories of cul-
tural legacies we have inherited without
fully comprehending them.
Christopher Williams' photographs deal
with the psychological dimension of
space. A pair of photos from his latest
exhibition at Margo Leavin Gallery de-
picts L. A's Department of Water and
Power Building downtown. Taken at
night, the black and white photographs
gleam with the singular effect of the
city's light pollution. The focus is sharp,
the detail is extreme. The high. Modern-
ist structure, representative of the two
things the city could not exist without,
rises monumentally. The history of L.A.
's capture of water and power encapsu-
lates the city of the city itself. Not coin-
cidentally, those are the two things de-
nied to residents after the earthquake.
Williams' shots, taken from the roof of '
the Museum of Contemporary Art, look
at the DWP across the construction site
of the city's new symphony hall. Taken
from numerous angles in a manner redo-
lent of Cubism, these photographs con-
sider the building like a memory whose
reality, from this vantage point, is finite.
that filled the gallery's narrow space.
Five variously colored Christmas trees.
each topped with an enormous star.
splash into the surface of a turgid. plastic
ocean. More than an obvious nature/
culture dichotomy, the work mobilizes a
view of culture heavy with the plastic na-
ivete of L.A. Or better, of its doppel-
ganger Las Vegas, that city of sin begat
of Los Angeles in the scorched Nevada
moonscape. Grotesque, over-the-top,
touchingly unique, each tree reeks of the
self-love of Las Vegas and its show-girls.
And more, the work rides the apocalptic
edge as only Las Vegas does. In sites as
Alexandrian as L.A. and Las Vegas, a
work like Pastor's resonates. Of course.
Alexandria was destined for collapse, its
monuments falling into the sea.
Which returns me to January 17, 4:31
a.m. In retrospect, our response to the
night sky and the tremors seems even
more sensible to me. After all, there
would be plenty of time to reconstruct the
city renowned for re-inventing itself. The
stars would only last until sunrise.
Wowing the L.A. art world, Jennifer Pas-
tor's one-person show at Richard Telles
Fine Art consisted of a solitary sculpture
Huerta, Benito; Ballou, Chris & Loftus, Kelley. Art Lies, Volume 3, October-November 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228036/. Accessed June 3, 2015.