TIO, LA: Skirball Center, Celebrating Diversity
The visit to the Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center was an afterthought. After all, the award-winning space was designed as a play area largely for families and kiddos.
The truth is this magical, make-believe space, the result of a collaboration among educators, architects, artists, and designers, is for anyone in need of a break from today’s increasingly dark headlines. The Ark is where to share a timeless story – and to envision a better world (after a cleansing flood?).
In the Skirball literature, the Ark is a center of the Center’s doctrines of the contemporary virtue of hands across disparate societies and individuals: “The diverse menagerie of Noah’s Ark serves as a metaphor for human society.”
The Ark encourages children (and their grown-ups) “to work together for the greater good, to strengthen connections within and among families, to value diversity within community, to respect and protect minorities.”
Museum aides emphasize these messages; the Ark design encourages cooperative interaction.
But its power lies elsewhere.
A lion with a straw mane and chopstick whiskers lies down with a metallic lamb. An Asian elephant in the entry to the space really is all-Asian. He is made of a gong from Thailand; vegetable steamers from Laos; lokta paper from Nepal. His companion, a zebra has haunches fashioned from black-and-white wind turbines. The body of the two little birds (there to pick insects off the elephant’s back we assume) was made from boxing gloves; their heads were badminton shuttlecocks ending with small oil cans, the spouts of which serve as their beaks. Turn a crank and a wolf just inside the Ark’s entry howls. Turn another and the head of a giraffe goes up and down.
“Encountering these creatures, we become like postdiluvian children, just beginning to make sense of a new world, exhilarated by its possibilities,” wrote The New York Times.
Every Friday at the Ark, at precisely (or not) 3 p.m., the community of the moment is treated to a Martha Graham moment. A performance by two dancers in white (people and doves) underline the point of it all:
“… it is only through our individuality and difference that we learn to see anything at all. Universalism is also needed, of course. The challenge is not to see one way or the other, but both at the same time…,” added The New York Times in an overview of the space.
The Ark, then, is a celebration of play. We wander and remember wonder.
See a short video below of some of the dancing at Noah’s Ark:
Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico (through February 25, 2018):
A major, temporary exhibition currently up at the Skirball illuminates the life and work of one of the most fascinating cultural figures of 20th-century Mexico, Anita Brenner (1905– 1974).
A Mexican-born journalist, art historian, and anthropologist of Latvian Jewish descent who spent part of her youth in Texas, Brenner chronicled the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s and played a vital role in introducing Mexican art and culture to American audiences. Through more than 150 objects—including artworks by close friends Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Edward Weston, Jean Charlot, and Frida Kahlo―the exhibition underscores her efforts to build cultural understanding between the United States and Mexico.
As the child of Jewish immigrants in Mexico, and herself an immigrant to the United States, Brenner often found herself in the position of the outsider. That sense of self as The Other informed much of her work. She fought against prejudice she faced as a Jew; and as a Mexican-American, she worked tirelessly— through her books, articles, poetry, and the tourism magazine she founded and edited—to create a favorable image of Mexico in the minds of Americans.
“Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico” opens a conversation about the complexities of nationality and identity on both sides of the border by weaving together Brenner’s story with the history of Mexico and its relationship with the U.S. in the twentieth century.
“Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico” is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles, taking place from September 2017 through January 2018 at over 70 cultural institutions across Southern California.
Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty.
“The Skirball Cultural Center is honored to participate in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, which fully aligns with our mission to bridge people of diverse heritage and history,” remarked Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director.
In other words, the Brenner show, an intimate museum experience, is like the Ark, a gem. And like the Ark, the exhibit celebrates diversity and understanding at a time such values are challenged as never before.
Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day (through February 25):
In a variation on the theme of Botticelli’s most iconic image, his “Birth of Venus,” a hipster goddess on roller blades clearly over her perch on the half (scallop) shell after centuries of standing, heads out into the ‘hood on an adventure.
The convict-turned- author-actor-entrepreneur Danny Trejo makes an appearance too.
Che Guevara, Zapata, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, the Beatles are also on the scene, hanging out along with Who’s Who of Latin America deities, plus everyday folks, many obviously (rightly) pissed off about social injustice.
“Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark-Making in LA,” features more than 140 new photographs by the artist, which capture the vibrant face of muralism and related practices – street art, graffiti-writing, and sign-painting – throughout the city of Los Angeles.
The interdisciplinary artist whose practice considers race and representation, Gonzales-Day examines Los Angeles’ rich tradition of muralism, from the celebrated to the humble, the historic to the contemporary, and illustrates how murals invite participation from artists of all backgrounds, portray the experiences of diversity within and without communities and define the visual landscape of Los Angeles’ streets.
In a city characterized by an expansive sprawl of diverse neighborhoods easily bypassed via freeways, the exhibition encourages visitors to examine their surroundings, venture off familiar paths, and encounter new communities.
“I believe these images reveal more about Los Angeles and its communities, its struggles, and its losses than one can find in any book,” Gonzales-Day remarked.
Developed collaboratively between Gonzales-Day and Skirball curators, the project sent the artist on a 10-month journey across the city—from East Los Angeles to Venice Beach, from Pacoima to Watts.
As he traversed hundreds of miles, Gonzales-Day photographed the murals he encountered, and explored cultural influences such as graffiti-writing, street art, sign-painting, film, music, television, and commercial advertising.
His works document contributions by numerous prominent muralists, including Kent Twitchell and Levi Ponce, as well as artists who remain anonymous but no less important to the aesthetics of the city.
“Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day” is inspired by Los Angeles’ dynamic history of muralism, which has strong roots in the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s. During that period, Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros came to paint in the United States. The exhibition situates contemporary artists within this larger history of muralism, considering how Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and others inspired generations of artists to take their brushes, rollers, and aerosol cans to the walls of Los Angeles.
Since roughly the 1930s, muralists have chronicled important chapters in Los Angeles’ history, such as the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1984 Olympics, and the ongoing importance of the Hollywood film industry. As captured by Gonzales-Day, these public works also comment upon shifting representations of race in the city and the role they play in the politics of space. Although a decade-long ban on mural-making temporarily stifled the form until 2011, the practice has enjoyed renewed vitality in the past decade amid the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles and the rise of street art as a prominent and respected medium.
“Ken Gonzales-Day’s sensitive and dynamic photographs demonstrate how murals tell stories of Los Angeles communities and individuals. Accessible to everyone and often stumbled upon accidentally, murals reveal how art often stimulates conversation, bridges divides between people, and creates understanding,” said Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “The sense of invitation inherent in these public works and the ways they foster human connection are central to the Skirball’s mission.”
“Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day” moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, reflecting the unique concerns, aesthetics, and history of each area. A grouping of photographs highlights recurring themes that stuck with Gonzales-Day as he drove: reflections on the politics of space and belonging; the representation of cultural heritage; the cult of celebrity; and the very question of what counts as a mural and who gets to decide.
“Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day” complements the Skirball’s other major fall/winter exhibition, “Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico.” Both are part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a far-reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.
About the artist:
Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles–based photographer, interdisciplinary artist, and 2017 Guggenheim Fellow. His series Searching for California Hang Trees offered a critical look at the lack of documentation of lynching sites in California, while his series Erased Lynching sought to address the larger erasure of Asians, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans from the history of lynching in California and beyond. The Profiled series reached even further back into history to consider how the sculptural depiction of race, and its display, contributed to racial formation today. His work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally at LACMA, LAXART, the Tamayo Museum in Mexico City, the New Museum in New York City, and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; and he has been commissioned by LA Metro for several public artworks around Los Angeles. He was a key organizer for the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA Place and Practice symposium in San Diego and Los Angeles in May 2015. Gonzales-Day holds a MFA in studio art from University of California, Irvine; a MA in art history from City University of New York; and BFA in painting from Pratt Institute. He is a professor of art at Scripps College, where he teaches photography and related art courses.
Noah’s Ark photos by Clint Viebrock for Telluride Inside… and Out