Caveat: I’m not an art critic. I just know what I like and what moves me. But I lived in New York for eight years, went to the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the fancy galleries, the Gagosian, blah, blah, blah, and with the exception of Jeffrey Deitch’s extravaganzas, my heart was never stopped. But Los Angeles—shameless in its search for gaudy spectacle—has what Seattle doesn’t (ambition) and what New York physically can’t have (scale). It’s a sexy combination.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I went to the 14th Factory. I knew nothing going in—just that my astute friends said it was a must-see. And so we drove to a desolate street north of downtown L.A. and entered a large nondescript building (an abandoned jail) across the street from an old hospital covered in graffiti (itself an objet d’art). We signed waivers and entered from a bright room into one that was completely black. My eyes never quite adjusted, and even with the lights along the floor, I had a hard time seeing where I was in the room—where at the end, a kaleidoscope video of dancers played on a loop. I stood mesmerized—and then broke from the trance—and went along another dark hallway, not knowing anything about what was next. It was like an art version of a haunted house; each turn brought something surprising and unexpected, with a tiny dose of the foreboding.
Here I was staring at a black whimsical structure with curly shapes that made me think of Alice in Wonderland, and came upon a doorway. Inside, was an all-white nearly exact replica of the room in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We were there on a holiday weekend, and so the line was nonexistent. We were allowed to go inside and take photos for a few minutes to our hearts’ content. The lighting made it selfie heaven, and when I asked the man guarding the door, what the people before us had been doing, he said it had become quite a “thing.” (Normally, the wait in line to get in could take as long as an hour.)
One man, he said, came in full scuba gear—“the mask, the tank, everything”—and had his photo taken. A couple of girls arrived wearing a horse head and rabbit head. Others took the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme literally, and showed up in orange spacesuits. People later told me they’d gone into the room naked. The installation was totally of the moment—it was designed for our narcissistic selfie-taking culture—and though it was, in a way, a simple and obvious idea, no one had yet done it.
The rest of the exhibit inspired childlike wonder—one piece constructed of hundreds of pitchforks was elegant and simple and elaborate at the same time. Simon Birch, a painter who organized the exhibit and had multiple works in it, used the size of the space to his advantage—several pieces utilized numerous large movie screens that were placed at different angles and played various film footage at slightly different points. One piece featured a clever loop of buildings in Hong Kong, the camera peeling up or down. You were enclosed and surrounded by the buildings on the screen but if you looked into middle-distance, you had the distinct feeling of moving in an elevator very high above the world. You could get motion sick, even by standing perfectly still.
Another work showed the destruction of a Ferrari (turns out, it's Birch's) across several screens, timed slightly differently. Mesmerizing all on its own, but the next room featured the shrapnel and metal on a table, now art, and photos of the car’s destruction hung on the wall. A sense of humor never hurt anyone.
The show was not well-reviewed locally—the Los Angeles Times’ Sharon Mizota trashed it, calling it “a herculean vanity project in which everything fairly shouts “Art!” and dismissed the Odyssey room as “selfie-bait.”
But I’d argue that she’s missing the point entirely. At the Broad, another new museum that opened last year and houses the contemporary collection of Edythe and Eli Broad (Warhols, Harings, Basquiats abound), there is a quote from Eli Broad. In a room with a giant Jeff Koons sculpture of a bright bouquet of flowers and enormous technicolor Murakami paintings, it reads: “I like the fact that art reflects what’s happening in the world, how artists see the world.”
I do too, Eli.
If you happen to make your way to LA, the exhibition is open until the end of the month.