CAROLINA A. MIRANDA
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Giant masks by L.A.'s Thomas Houseago take over Rockefeller Center

L.A.-based artist Thomas Houseago takes over New York's Rock Center with a series of giant masks

In a riotous campfire circle in the middle of New York's Rockefeller Center, a series of monumental faces — some bearing traces of Picasso, others of African masks, others looking like skeletal mummy visages on the verge of attack — have taken residence this week.

The dramatic piece of public sculpture is the handiwork of Los Angeles-based artist Thomas Houseago, and is part of an annual outdoor sculptural commission for Rockefeller Center. 

"Masks (Pentagon)," as the piece is titled, consists of five sculptures of faces — some more than 16 feet tall — crafted from a ghostly white industrial-strength synthetic plaster. Visitors can enter the piece and see the world from the eyes of these gargantuan figures. 

This is by no means Houseago's first big commission. He's done other work in New York, as well as on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. These successes make the British-born artist's story about landing in Los Angeles even better: he arrived in 2003 with $300 in his pocket — and not much else. (Jori Finkel wrote a good profile of him back in 2011.)

The Rockefeller Center piece, which remains on view through spring, was brought to fruition by New York's Public Art Fund and the real estate developers Tishman Speyer. Past commissions have included sculptures by Jeff Koons and Louise Bourgeois.

If you don't have any plans to travel to New York, don't sweat it. One of Houseago's forceful figures is now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art's permanent collection galleries on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. (See the embedded photo essay above for a peek.)

But all of this begs the question: when does L.A. get a big monster Houseago of its own? Get on it, people.

"Masks (Pentagon)" is on view through June 12. 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, rockefellercenter.com and publicartfund.org.

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