Klara Liden’s strange, spare installation at Reena Spaulings Fine Art consists of almost nothing. Titled “The Great Indoors,” it’s composed of three walls made of battered, repurposed plywood, painted with large white rectangles on one side and propped up with black benches and tables on the other.
Interspersed among the walls are two videos. One taken across the street in the lake at MacArthur Park depicts birds swimming around an abandoned, half-submerged shopping cart. The other is a close-up of a pigeon, sitting on sandy soil, accompanied by the soundtrack of a crosswalk for the blind: a robotic voice repeating the word “wait,” followed by an insistent beeping. The images are absolutely quotidian, but the effect is oddly entrancing.
The first wall visitors encounter is “Emily’s Office,” referring to gallery owner Emily Sundblad. Attached to its backside are a seat, a table and a makeshift lamp. It’s surely a nod to L.A. conceptual art trailblazer Michael Asher, whose 1974 show at Claire S. Copley Gallery centered on the removal of the wall separating the gallery from the office. Here, Liden does the opposite, creating a “private” office as artwork. This gesture is countered by a projection of the shopping cart video and the weathered gray surfaces of the plywood, both of which bring the outdoors in. The whole suggests an interpenetration of the inner workings of the gallery and its environment.
This theme continues in the main space, which is bisected by a larger wall. It is lined on the other side with undulating seating reminiscent of benches designed to keep people from sleeping on them. The benches face two windows that look out onto the park. The pigeon video is projected here, like a third window, and while I was disappointed to learn that it was not created at the park, it looks as if it could have been. The ensemble not only brings the images and textures of the outside in, but also directs one’s attention outward.
From this room, one can walk out onto an adjacent roof, where yet another wall-bench combo opens onto expanded views of the park and the city.
I found this exercise in redirection quite beautiful. It’s art that says, “Look around,” instead of “Look at me.” Still, it raises questions about the relationship between the gallery and its working-class environs. Perched on the second floor, viewers are literally looking down on the neighborhood. Is the gallery a rarefied place from which to appreciate a streetscape where shopping carts get stuck in the lake? Art has always made such spaces palatable, even romantic, for rich people. As discussions around gentrification and the art market flare in other working-class locales like Boyle Heights, perhaps we can take a cue from the pigeon video, which cautions us to wait and then sounds an alarm.
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Where: Reena Spaulings Fine Art, 2228 W. 7th St. (entrance on South Grand View Street), L.A.
When: Wednesday through Saturday (show closes Saturday)