I was having a rent conversation with a coworker. You know, one of those rent conversations that only people in LA, SF, or NYC have.
One of those conversations that frequently follows on the heels of a recent move, or a rent hike when you renew your lease. My coworker was explaining that he’s not a fan of LA, the cost of living is too high, and he only moved here because his wife is from here. While I agree that all too often half our paychecks go to keeping a roof over our head, I love LA for what it gives us back. Sure, you could move to Oklahoma City or Omaha and buy a house for what we rent in a single year here. But you wouldn’t have all of the free, accessible, and quality art shows, concerts, bars, restaurants, etc. that LA does. While we pay for rent – we often don’t have to pay for good, quality art. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is one of the foundational institutions that spearheaded free, quality art.
The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG) was established 1954, and committed itself then as a high quality, free public art venue. At its inception, LAMAG hosted classic masters of art, modern art, and crafts. The gallery has since narrowed its focus to here, the community at large, and it emphasizes LA artists. And LA artists from communities that don’t traditionally receive well-deserved shine.
With an impressive, local cast of artists, Here (https://www.lamag.org/portfolio_page/here-2018/
) introduces physical and conceptual boundaries as a group show. Here challenges us to look at our own communities: what they have been to us, who they are to us, and how they’ve both changed and how we’ve changed them. Here also reminds us that El Pueblo de la Reina de los Ángeles (LA’s originally colonized name under Spanish rule) is a complex space inhabited (sometimes not so fluidly) by diverse and intersectional communities. LA continues to be a shared space in both human geography and physical boundary.
Not uniquely, but in a very self-aware, meta conversation with the exhibition itself, Here asks gallery-goers to participate in the conversation about community. Pen and paper invites visitors to draw their neighborhood and answer some simple questions about the locale: what community means to you, where your community is, etc.8.5×11″ white rectangles greet new visitors and usher them out with a rather predictable representation of ‘community’: physical, geographical representations of geography. Frequently drawings of the 101, 405, 10, 5, and any other freeway you’ve spent days of your life in traffic on. The meta conversation lies in who visits this gallery and who has drawn these pop-up group show contributions. I don’t have these answers. Anecdotally I can guess based on those who I visited the gallery with, but LAMAG does ask for demograhic information on the way out (in lieu of an entry fee).
Videos, mixed media installations, and paintings greet visitors. Gloria Galvez created a video of a residential wall in her neighborhood, which pays homage to Tupac Shakur’s poem which reads, “Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else cared.” Galvez’s work brings us an excruciatingly localized space close to her heart, but also gives us a simple community fixture that we identify with in our own LA communities: a wall. But this wall also just looks like an LA wall. If you’ve lived in LA long enough…you know what this type of wall and mural looks like. A wall is also highly metaphorical and clever as a tool for discussion about communities, and it’s also a literal physical boundary being discussed by our current Administration. Er..I suppose it’s not a wall now, but artistic steel slats. But you know what I mean. Galvez is one of many artists who let us in on their secret (i.e. have unpretentious work), and invites us to share conversation ranging from the local to the global.
Umar Rashid has a powerful piece done in simple acrylic & ink on tea-stained paper. Rashid explores power shifts and conflicts, and Rashid reimagines a fantastical version of colonization – one in which imperialism in the Americas has been propogated by Africans. While LAMAG explores local instantiations of subjugation and 21st century power-dynamics in LA, Rashid brings us to the first ‘staking of claim’ to CA. Rashid reminds us of a deeply entrenched and cyclical narrative of ownership of both people and communities.
LAMAG offers us the heart of LA on a platter – big city appeal and rockstar art, with the personal conversation of how we fit in and interact with our city (and city’s history). It’s personal with global feel, and self-aware as a free gallery that sits on a plot of land formerly owned by Frank Lloyd Wright. LAMAG is a gem that sits unpolished in a hillside of Los Feliz. Rather…it’s unpolished until you walk inside.
Gallery: The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery
October 25, 2018 – January 6, 2019
Artists: Heimir Bjorgulfsson
Sandra de la Loza
iris yirei hu
Jane C. Mi
Anna Sew Hoy
Mario Ybarra Jr.
Hours: Thursday – Sunday