Public Art: Here, There, Everywhere

12/10/2013 07:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


It's not that often that we Angelinos park our cars and just walk. Several weeks ago, I found myself strolling through Downtown LA rediscovering, to my delight, a treasure trove of public art, which I talked about in a recent program. The audience response was surprisingly enthusiastic.

Glorya wrote, "Loved them all, and have never seen any of them... So many of us are always in a hurry and really do not take the time. Terrible shame." Ann said, "...this city really IS such a great adventure." And Yassmin sent me a note saying, "I will be taking a tour of Citigroup Center very soon. I had no idea this wonderful art was in my backyard!" Inspired by these responses, I decided to spend more time driving and walking through the nooks and crannies of LA in search of art in public spaces.


Visiting the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena always puts me in a particularly good mood. Some of the most famous bronze sculptures by Rodin greet visitors at the museum's entrance, including his The Burghers of Calais and Monument to Balzac. These sculptures are installed to maximum effect amidst the beautifully designed landscape. It's interesting that another cast of Rodin's Balzac can be seen at LACMA's campus, though there, it is shown to a much lesser effect, being overwhelmed by nearby Chris Burden's massive Urban Light.


I wonder how many of you have ever walked in front of Pasadena's City Hall. The last time I did it was 15 years ago, when the new, gigantic sculptural portraits of Jackie Robinson and his brother Mack were unveiled there as a part of the Pasadena Robinson Memorial, a collaboration of three artists: Ralph Helmick, John Outterbridge, and Stuart Schechter. Somehow, I forgot how monumental these portraits are. Each of them is nine feet high and weighs 2,700 pounds. It is no surprise that people are constantly snapping photos of themselves in front of these formidable sculptures.


Not far away, in walking distance from Pacific Asia Museum, I literally stumbled upon the impressive life-size bronze sculpture of Christ being nailed to the cross. One wouldn't be surprised to see such work standing proudly in front or inside of a church. But here, on the pavement in front of a modest-looking building, the crucifix is placed almost flat on the ground. Christ is held and pressed down by two figures, one of them poised to strike the final nail into Jesus' hand. I looked around for a nameplate to identify the sculptor, but could not find it. After a little bit of research, I found out that the sculpture was commissioned by Fuller Theological Seminary and created by LA-based artist, Christopher Slatoff. So, I not only found an interesting public artwork, but also learned about Fuller Theological Seminary, with its beautifully landscaped campus.


Driving through Downtown LA along Main Street, I saw a rather dramatic mural of a single, moody cartoon-like figure decorating the wall of a rather nondescript commercial building. It was impressive enough to make me stop and get out of my car to snap some photos. Acclaimed Brazilian artist Claudio Ethos was commissioned a couple of years ago to make this 60 by 80 foot mural, which took him five days to complete - using spray cans, a few rollers, and only two colors.


Then, later in the evening, driving along Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, I was struck by two sculptures - installed and lit to the maximum effect. In the daytime, it is easy to miss them, but at night they really shine. One of them is a figure of a sitting man, whose translucent body looks as if it's made from metal lace. This is a sculpture by internationally known Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa.


A few steps away, there is a large, playful painted sculpture of twisting, dancing, and morphing flowers by Japanese artist extraordinaire, Yayoi Kusama, who is alive and kicking at the ripe young age of 84.


Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.