Art Parks, Earthworks and Sculpture Gardens
Submitted by Steven Rosen, Los Angeles
There are those who say the Grand Avenue Project’s 16-acre park between City Hall and the top of Bunker Hill should be "the new front lawn of the city," by which I assume they mean it should be downtown’s open space.
I disagree on that latter point. The whole downtown should be an agreeable open space. By that, I certainly don’t mean it should be grassy and free of buildings or pavement ? that would be silly. Rather, it should be so amenable, safe and exciting for pedestrians that they want to get out of cars and walk it.
That’s the kind of open space that would transform the urban experience in Los Angeles. When we want something more traditional, we already have our beaches and mountain parks, including Griffith Park. There’s no way a traditional 16-acre downtown park is going to compete with that.
And yet, the space should be used for something special ? something as exciting and potentially world-class as the new buildings and cultural institutions planned for Grand Avenue. Something that becomes its own destination.
An art park, earthwork or sculpture garden would be the answer. Here are several possibilities.
1) Not long after Robert Smithson created his famous "Spiral Jetty" earthwork at the Great Salt Lake, he proposed a similar "Spiral Palms" or "Palm Spiral" temporary project for dealer Douglas Christmas’ gallery in Westwood. It was to consist of 72 large palm trees planted in a spiral form. He died before it could be done and that seemed the end of it.
But in 2003, Christmas thought to revive the project with support from Smithson’s widow, artist Nancy Holt. This time he wanted a permanent installation. He first considered the site of the old CalTrans building, where some downtown residents wanted a park. But when the city wanted it for a new police headquarters, his plans stalled. The Grand Avenue park would be an appropriate site for it.
2) Recently, another important earthworks artist, California native Michael Heizer, installed a fascinating work called "North, East, South, West" at the DIA Art Foundation’s new museum in Beacon, New York. It consists of four geometric-shaped, 20-foot-deep holes in the floor. It has become the museum’s standout work ? an exploration of "negative space" that has a primal pull for visitors of all ages.
It’d be great if Heizer was commissioned to do something "negative" for the Grand Avenue park ?maybe a monumental fissure or something. Granted, the city would have to find a way to control access and maintain viewer safety, but it would certainly be an attraction worthy of the larger project’s ambitions.
Please look at the Sculpture Garden outside the Hirshorn Museum in Washington, D.C. It is beautifully designed & something spectacular could be included in our downtown park.
3) Maybe the Museum of Contemporary Art at Grand Avenue itself should use the 16 acres as a sculpture garden similar to the 11-acre Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. It would certainly become an attraction for its world-class contemporary art and exhibitions, and it would increase MOCA’s presence as a downtown institution.
4) Also, there’s much activity going on locally and nationwide in terms of saving and restoring historic neon signs. The American Sign Museum, which recently opened in Cincinnati, has worked with Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee as well as downtown’s Museum of Neon Art to preserve some classic L.A. neon. It even looked at a site for its museum in Los Angeles, originally. Since neon looks best outdoors, maybe that museum ? working with MONA ? could establish a glittering Neon Park in these 16 acres.
It might cause some initial confusion ? I can imagine hungry concertgoers coming out of Disney Hall at night and heading for the neon-lit beer-and-burger sign only to be disappointed there’s no tavern to go with the sign. But once people get used to it, it might be what any American downtown craves ? a way to incorporate its past into its future.
Bright lights, big city.
Palm spiral image courtesy of Adele Yellin. Neon sign photos courtesy of Ruth Wallach, USC Libraries.
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