Los Angeles Public Art: Downtown to Watts

Volume 10, Issue 1

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Los Angeles Public Art: Downtown to Watts

by Sarah Schrank

Welcome to Los Angeles and CAA 2018! For those wanting to see Los Angeles' vast public art offerings, we at Public Art Dialogue hope the following suggestions of a few local favorites will inspire you to explore the city and surrounding environs.

If you stay in the downtown area, just walking around will reveal murals, sculptures, graffiti, and massive billboards. A trip to Broadway should include the Bradbury Building, an architectural marvel and a feature in a multitude of Hollywood films, including Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (1982). Walk outside the Bradbury and you'll encounter a sculpture garden, which leads you to a large piece by Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time. The 82-foot-long concrete wall commemorates Mason's life, which began in slavery in Georgia and ended in Los Angeles, where Mason sued for her freedom, and won. Levrant de Bretteville's sculpture marks the site of Mason's home, and the wall's embedded objects tell the story of her life as an activist, midwife, and entrepreneur.

Turn the corner and you'll find the Victory Clothing Company building and its enormous 70-foot-tall painting of Anthony Quinn, The Pope of Broadway, by Eloy Torrez. The 33-year-old mural is looking especially great after last year's major restoration by Torrez and the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles. Without leaving the downtown area, you can walk to El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument, the site of the city's founding in 1781, and Olvera Street, where David Siqueiros's beleaguered 1932 mural, América Tropical, under whitewash for eighty years, is now open to the public. The viewing platform is accessible, for free, through the América Tropical Interpretive Center at 125 Paseo de la Plaza. It'll be open during the conference but with limited hours because of concerns about winter sun exposure.

A five-minute walk from Olvera Street is one of the city's most playful artworks, Joseph Young's 1975 kinetic sculpture of light and synchronized music, Triforium. It was built to be the epitome of space-age psychedelic art but budget shortfalls and a host of mechanical and electronic errors led to decades of disrepair and local ridicule. With the help of contemporary computer technology and a 2016 structural upgrade, the awesome Triforium is up and running, and is best viewed at night.

From downtown Los Angeles' Union Station (across the street from El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument), you can catch the Metro's Red Line (yes, Los Angeles has a subway!) to the 7th Street/Metro Center station and switch to the Metro Blue Line, which will take you 10 miles south to 103rd Street. Once there, you walk about five minutes to the fabulous Watts Towers, Italian immigrant Sabato Rodia's hand-built monument to Los Angeles, which he called "Nuestro Pueblo." No visit to Los Angeles is really complete without a tour of Rodia's phantasmagoria of broken tiles, colorful glass, found objects, and shells, which are pressed into the surrounding wall, floor, and the towers themselves, the tallest one just shy of 100 feet. Built between 1921 and 1954, "Nuestro Pueblo" was Rodia's consuming passion until he abruptly abandoned Southern California to move north, deeding his property and the remarkable artwork on it to a neighbor. A source of both civic strife and immense local pride, the Watts Towers are a must-see.

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