Art isn’t just for museums, galleries and private collections. It belongs in the public place, from a government building to a grocery store or car dealership.
“It should be in all neighborhoods, a part of one’s daily life,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs. “We [would be] enriched with beauty and creativity.”
In recent years, public art has become more prevalent in Los Angeles, thanks primarily to the city’s 1991 “percent for art” ordinance.
It requires developers of major city or commercial developments to spend about 1% of costs on public art, be it visual art, performance or arts-related publishing.
From Burbank to Northridge, one can find an assortment of recently installed public art projects. Each work reflects and enhances its site.
On the corner of 3rd Street and Angeleno Avenue in Burbank, in front of a new County Courthouse parking structure, stands the 1994 cast-concrete sculpture “Burbank Evolves,” by Tony Sheets.
The panels of the 30-ton piece portray a history of Burbank from 1542 to 1942. Carved images recall explorers arriving in the New World, Spanish missions, cowboys, ranchers, settlers, the railroad, movie making, and airplane and weapons production during World War II.
Sheets, the son of famed California painter Millard Sheets, has been creating public art since the 1970s. “Some people think what I do is staid or old-style,” he said, “but I think public art should be for the people who view it. It should stand on its own and say what it has to say.”
Close by in Burbank, at 730 Whitnall Highway, an apartment complex for people 60 and older has been touched by the hand of ceramic-tile artist Marlo Bartels.
His colorful 8-by-10-foot tile mural of farmland and purple mountains, placed near the building’s entrance in 1992, was also informed by Burbank history.
Additionally, he fashioned individual tiles with Burbank historical images--an airplane, a shaft of wheat--that resemble heraldic crests. Placed at various points, from above the mailbox to near the shuffleboard area, these icons add a playful touch to the complex.
Tiles by Karen Koblitz brighten a shopping center built in 1993 on Vineland Avenue at Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. Everything--from the market to the video store, drugstore and fast-food purveyor--is decorated with her earth-toned tiles, many of them depicting fruits. They can be seen when walking by, driving by or parking.
One must go inside United Beechcraft in Van Nuys to discover Michael Hayden’s 1994 electro-mechanical fiber-optic work, “Transrotation.” A line of “illuminators"--circular forms, flowing with a rainbow of changing colors, that rotate in a less-than-precise pattern--has been installed above the aircraft company’s front desk. This spirited abstract vision of flight exudes a warm sense of fun that permeates the reception area.
Look at the work from the side and it resembles a fuselage, said Hayden, who is also responsible for the major light and music installation between two concourses at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. “I really bank on happenstance, using it as a tool and allowing a lot of my fantasy to be actualized,” he said.
In Northridge, Paul Tzanetopoulos’ large wall piece from his “Stirring Designs: Auto Malapropos Series” went up inside a new Toyota dealership on Nordhoff Street in July. From his photographs of Toyotas--which he has digitized and then manipulated by computer--has come a mass of swirling fenders, headlights and hubcaps that some could construe as one big car wreck.
There’s “a bit of irony there,” and a “soft comic edge” to the work, said Tzanetopoulos, a serious car person who grew up around his dad’s gas station.
The dealership artwork is “a documentation of the ’94 Toyota line,” Tzanetopoulos said, with a focus on the changes in the cars from the previous year. The molten swirl of car images suggests the molten metal from which cars are made, and the transience of fashion. “All the information is there to be ferreted out.”
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New Public Art in the Valley
* “Burbank Evolves,” by Tony Sheets, 3rd Street and Angeleno Avenue, Burbank.
* Tile mural by Marlo Bartels, 730 Whitnall Highway, Burbank.
* Tiles by Karen Koblitz, Vineland Avenue and Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood.
* “Transrotation,” by Michael Hayden, United Beechcraft, 7240 Hayvenhurst Ave., Van Nuys.
* “Stirring Designs: Auto Malapropos Series,” by Paul Tzanetopoulos, West Valley Toyota, 19550 Nordhoff St., Northridge.