The Story Behind Eight Great Pieces of Los Angeles Public Art
Sure, we all know the Hollywood sign and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, but what’s the scoop on the rest of our city’s public art? Here are the backstories on eight of our favorites in Los Angeles.
"Torso" by Robert Graham
Carved from solid aluminum blocks, this elegant 2003 nude stands at the intersection of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way. The artist, who died in 2008, is considered a master of the human form. Quirky side note: He made a cameo appearance as a Venezuelan dictator in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring his wife, Anjelica Huston.
"Ballerina Clown" by Jonathan Borofsky
This 30-foot-tall dancer with a five-o’clock shadow was erected on a building in Venice in 1989; the sculptor intended it to be an homage to boardwalk street performers. The kicking leg, stilled for years after residents complained it was noisy, now moves during daylight hours only.
"Binoculars" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
This giant pair of binoculars marks the entryway to a Venice building, designed by Frank Gehry, that once housed advertising agency Chiat Day. Its giant message of voyeurism is as relevant in this age of hacked-cell-phone photos as it was when it was installed in 1989.
"Four Arches" by Alexander Calder
Most onlookers assume this swooping steel sculpture on the Bank of America plaza in DTLA is named after its shape. Not so: When Calder erected it in 1975, he was recalling an unrelated set of four arches at Cal Tech, which he helped his sculptor father make when he was just 11 years old.
"Hymn of Life: Tulips" by Yayoi Kusama
Three ten-foot-tall tulips covered in dots--the Japanese artist’s obsession since she began painting the pattern in 1939, at the age of ten--grace the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. We like the Little Shop of Horrors vibe to this piece, as well as the artist’s 2012 Louis Vuitton collaboration.
"Propeller Lenin" by the Gao Brothers
Installed recently on the corner of La Brea and Fourth Street, this shiny chrome bust of the Communist leader guards the front of the Ace Museum. The artists have depicted Lenin grimacing toward the street, where the happy capitalists of Miracle Mile shoppers go about their business. Look closely and you’ll see that his propeller hat is actually a baby walking a tightrope.
"Pool" by David Hockney
In 1988, Brit artist David Hockney used a long pole, blue paint and brushes to put squiggles inside the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel swimming pool. Tah-dah--an IRL version of his swimming pools on canvas. When bureaucrats protested (safety rules dictate pool floors be unadorned), then-governor George Deukmejian passed a law exempting the pool. Art lovers, 1; philistines, 0.
"The Virgin Mary" by Robert Graham
Completed in 2002 and installed at architect Rafael Moneo’s $250 million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels downtown, this cast-bronze and gold-leaf statue stands over a pair of imposing bronze doors, also designed by Graham. For a man known for his sensuous depiction of nude women, it’s ironic that one of his most prominent global works is a covered-up religious icon.