Jamie and I had had a long day of Talking About The Arts, or, more specifically, listening to other people Talk About The Arts. Funding, outreach, funding for outreach. This stuff is our life, and it’s really important, but since this particular meeting was at the Getty, by hour three we were itching to experience the arts.
So we did. After being greeted by Tim Hawkinson’s giant Uberorgan (giant being an understatement—it’s probably the only musical instrument that could fill the entire atrium of the Getty), we were anxious for more of his organic-meets-mechanical work. The accompanying exhibit, “Zoopsia” (which means “visual hallucination of animals”) was dwarfish by comparison—just four works—but not disappointing.
What I love about Hawkinson, whom I first encountered at LACMA a few years ago, is how he combines concept and craft. A Puritan work ethic shoots through my artistic soul: I can’t help but set aside big splashes of color and idea in favor of thousands of painstaking brush strokes or, in Hawkinson’s case, thousands of photographs of his own lips pasted as suction cups on a huge pink octopus. I also loved Leviathon, a baby stegosaurus-sized spine made up of tiny, muscular rowers. Next time I hear someone talk about anything being built on the backs of a group of people, this is what I will picture.
Even more riveting—if less explicitly creative—were John Humble’s photographs of industrial sections of LA and all 51 miles of the LA River. Looking at determined little houses sprouting beneath snake-thick power lines, shopping carts washed up on cement river banks and other bits of our bright pink and slate gray city, I had an overwhelming sense of, Hey, that’s what I was thinking! I felt like Humble and I saw the city in the same sad-and-beautiful, don’t-need-to-fix-it way. Then I felt kind of dumb for thinking that, because maybe that’s how everyone sees LA, and he’s a good photographer because he captured it.
Except, maybe not everyone: One woman looking at a photo of a man watering the lawn of his small Spanish-style apartment in front two of ominous silver silos couldn’t stop laughing.
“It’s hilarious!” she kept saying to her teenage sons, who didn’t seem to agree.
Humble took a number of photos of the southern suburbs of LA in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and I looked at these extra hard. When you live in the same area your whole life, it’s hard to tell whether you’ve changed or it’s changed. The South Bay wasn’t always a beachy version of Beverly Hills, was it?
No, it wasn’t: Here was Monsoon Lagoon, my favorite place to go for birthday parties (though I never went there for my own). I saw it as a small but satisfactorily tropical paradise. But this wide shot revealed it to be one unnaturally turquoise pool plopped down among acres of power lines and other metal structures.
It’s weird how pleased I was to see evidence that my childhood may have taken place in something other than just an upper-middle-class suburb (though it was undeniably that as well). Maybe because I have a lot of liberal guilt. But that’s old news. I think it was also because I found the other photos so powerful—the photos of places I’d never lived: Downtown, East LA, a sliver of space beneath the 105 freeway. I wanted to know that I was born into this LA narrative, that I didn’t just take up the city as a hobby my junior year of college, that the brightness and the dinginess and the humility was mine as much as anyone’s.