Art Takes Wing in Los Angeles With Angels and Billboards

Art Takes Wing in Los Angeles With Angels and Billboards – Brief Article

Laura Meyers

LOS ANGELES–Art has taken wing throughout Los Angeles this spring, with painted angels bringing forth messages of charity, whimsy and spirituality, while a separate museum-sponsored public billboard project created a new framework for the general populace to experience cutting edge contemporary art.

Inspired by the procession of life-sized painted animals in a dozen metropolises since 1998–most famously, Chicago’s “Cows on Parade”–the Southern California project started with a simple idea. Since Los Angeles is known as the “City of Angels,” why not turn it, literally and figuratively, into “A Community of Angels.”

Now, some 250 6-foot, 4-inch fiberglass angel sculptures designed by artist Tony Sheets and decorated by local and international fine artists, designers, commercial artists and school kids, are populating some of Los Angeles’ high-traffic centers, like Elysian Park, Old Town Pasadena and sections of Wilshire Boulevard, with the largest clusters of angels concentrated downtown. Most will depart by mid-month, when they are slated to be auctioned by Sotheby’s at a gala May 17 fete benefitting local charities.

Conceived by Cal Winslow, vice president of Volunteers of America, “A Community of Angels” became a joint project of that organization and Catholic Big Brothers, in association with the city’s own Volunteer Bureau, the Los Angeles Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Central City Association and a slew of local charities, foundations and businesses. Winslow purposefully departed from his predecessors in Chicago. He explained, “Cows on Parade is a for-profit operation, and they charge so much that small organizations couldn’t participate. Ours is really more of a community project with about 50 charitable organizations involved.”

The angels posed a formidable creative task, Winslow added. Chicago’s cows, Cincinnati’s pigs, Toronto’s moose, and Buffalo’s buffalo lent themselves to humorous and playful depictions. “We didn’t want only fine art and fine artists in bringing these angels to life. But the angel is a little bit more challenging to make whimsical than the animals in other cities,” said Winslow. After they are decorated, “a lot of our angels are just simply beautiful, whereas the cows were almost all just funny.”

The participating artists, who competed for the commissions created a diverse group of art objects. For instance, artist Steven Schubert, whose three-dimensional birchwood sculptures are exhibited at 40-plus galleries across the country, created a seated angel, “Tara,” floating in water. Janine Anderson’s “24-7” is painted with depictions of Los Angeles’ downtown skyscape.

Artist Barbara Ashton was inspired by the local landscape as well. Her “Palisades Angel” has vistas of palms and ocean as seen from Santa Monica’s seaside bluffs, also called palisades.

Artist Susan Krieg, whose work generally focuses on, she said, “archetypes of the feminine–I paint figurative women,” found the Angels project right up her alley. She was commissioned to embellish two angels. “My goal was to inspire a sense of awe. I collaged materials on the first angel, ranging from roofing compounds to beautiful Japanese rice paper. Then I integrated the collage with paint and gold leaf,” described Krieg. “This project took my art a step further.”

Well-known artists also participated in “A Community of Angels,” including Pierre Matisse, Hiro Yamagata, current prepubescent wunderkind Beso Kazaishvili (age 14) and designer Rani Rodriguez, famous for his Rose Parade float designs. Alexandra Nechita’s angel, “Eyes of Light,” was sponsored by the Dana Yarger Gallery and was chosen as the image for the project’s $20 commemorative poster.

A Community of Angels was hampered by a slow start, an uncertain economic outcome, and red tape preventing the placement of angels on city sidewalks or many public spaces. But the project’s Web site,, already had one million hits by mid-March. Organizers plan to offer 80 of the angels at the May 17 live auction with the remainder slated for auction online.

In the meantime, while Angelenos were motoring about town–visiting the angels, commuting to work or handling daily errands–they were also confronted with another public art project.

Beginning in January, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) presented an awareness campaign that itself was a public art presentation. Possibly the largest site-specific advertising campaign ever in Los Angeles, the multi-media ads, developed by TBWAChiatDayLos Angeles, were placed throughout Los Angeles to promote MOCA itself and contemporary art in general. The 150 different billboard messages, along with messages on other media, were designed to look like the commonplace, black-type-on-white-paper, art labels identifying paintings and other art objects in exhibits. But the billboard messages themselves were, essentially, conceptual art, describing their immediate surroundings with the purpose of engaging the general public in a discourse about current art and to prompt people to consider afresh their surroundings.

For instance, two billboards interact with motorists at an intersection of three busy streets (Olympic, Fairfax and San Vicente). One message states: “Three Roads Converging at a Pizza Joint, 2001” (there’s a Shakey’s Pizza at the junction). The other billboard shouts: “Cellular Symphony Behind Glass, 2001. Mobile phones, vehicles”–an obvious reference to L.A.’s car-and-phone culture.

“Men Running With Keys” is a billboard on restaurant row, where most of the famous eateries provide drivers with valet services. Standing tall next to a group of television satellite dishes at Sony Studios is a billboard proclaiming “Big White Dishes.” The message, “Red Glowing Lights, 2001. Brake lights and asphalt,” doesn’t catch drivers by surprise along a major freeway.

According to MOCA’s director, Jeremy Strick, the campaign was created to bring “the MOCA experience” out into the public “by lifting a visually distinct element directly from the walls of the museum.” Each multi-media message ends with a credit: “On loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles” or “Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.” Strick added: “MOCA provides a framework in which to experience contemporary art. This campaign extends that framework into the Los Angeles community, allowing MOCA to engage with the city at large.”

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