Los Angeles encompasses so many neighborhoods, districts, and suburbs that nary a local can keep track of them all. In a city so sprawling and diverse, the idea of boundaries seems especially salient during our current epoch when notions of acceptability shift like sand in the wind even as divisive talks revolve around building permanent walls. “Here,” a group show currently on view at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, unites seventeen L.A. artists exploring concepts relating to spatial boundaries and personal barriers.
“Much of the show’s theme stems from my own love/ hate relationship with Los Angeles, having being born and raised here and spending a lifetime trying to traverse L.A.’s own internal boundaries and barriers,” curator Steven Wong tells me. “I have been interested in the construction of the racialized other in the United States for many, many years. With the exhibition ‘Here,’ I was inspired by how the creation of the ‘other’ can very well function on a localized level within Los Angeles with the conceptual development of collective identities and neighborhoods within the city. Of course the artists took liberty on their interpretation of the theme, but this is how I first conceptualized and curated the show.”
Upon entering “Here,” the first piece one sees is a colorful assemblage by iris yirei hu, titled Lessons from Wise Woman (Tongva Elder Julia Bogany), Grandmother Oak Tree, and Hands (2018). This multimedia piece represents hu’s endeavor to connect her own Taiwanese ancestry with traditions of Tongva people indigenous to southern California. Atop a patchwork sewn from Taiwanese floral-patterned hakka fabric, a large double-sided symbolic portrait that hu painted of her Tongva mentor is surrounded by arrangements of natural and manmade items such as a bird’s nest and handmade baskets woven from pine needles.
Also addressing people’s relationship to nature, Icelandic artist Heimir Björgúlfsson’s intriguing installation occupies its own small room where taxidermied birds perch on collagelike sculptures amidst photo-collages portraying bizarre artificial forms intruding on idyllic desert landscapes.
Other artists broach social issues relating to class divisions and inequalities. Annetta Kapon’s two-minute video, The Line Between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills (2013), pointedly exposes a stark longitudinal mid-street divide where Los Angeles’ cracked asphalt meets Beverly Hills’ new blacktop. Nearby, Gloria Galvez’ video, the mural in my hood is leaking something into the air i breathe (2017) fancifully portrays a painted neighborhood wall emitting mysterious bubbles symbolic of murals’ power.
A surprising aesthetic resonance emerges among several artists exploring civic transformation and slippery boundaries between public and private. Renée Petropoulos’ intricate mosaic-like watercolor abstractions of edificial barriers contrast with Patrick Martinez’ mixed-media paintings of dilapidated fences and signs collaged with tarps, tiles, and neon lights. In contrast to the open feeling throughout most of the show’s spacious galleries, an installation by Mario Ybarra Jr., Wilmington Good (2011, 2018), features sculptural cranes that invade one’s space, bringing to mind construction cranes’ current ubiquity as high-rise construction booms alongside surging homeless populations in L.A. The abstract forms of Ybarra’s cranes echo geometric shapes in Nancy Popp’s performance documentation of herself scaling buildings under construction, and zigzagged networks in Fran Siegel’s sprawling drawings of the Port of L.A. evoking urban roller coasters.
Other included artists are: Sandra de la Loza, Gajin Fujita, Jane C. Mi, Alison O’Daniel, Umar Rashid, Sandy Rodriguez, Anna Sew Hoy, and Henry Taylor. Each artist’s work expresses a strong sense of locality while treating of issues that transcend Southern California. United under the show’s open-ended theme, their diverse practices collectively reflect Los Angeles’ multifariousness in a sweeping manner that almost gives the exhibition a feel akin to a mini-biennial.
“Here” is on view through Jan. 6 at Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027, lamag.org