Manifest Equality art show in Hollywood displays love, civil rights in the time of Prop. 8

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A battery of fluorescent lights blazes in an emptied retail space on Vine Street in Hollywood. Once home to the discount emporium Big Lots, the cavernous building has been gutted of housewares and transformed into Manifest Equality, a temporary art show running through the weekend.

Pulling together a large number of works addressing themes of equality, justice, unity and love, the pop-up event intends to spotlight civil rights issues surrounding Proposition 8, which, since passing in 2008, has prohibited marriage between homosexual partners in California. The large-scale show exhibits work from hundreds of well-known and emerging names, including street artists Robbie Conal, Swoon and Shepard Fairey, and illustrative painters Barry McGee, Gary Baseman and Elizabeth McGrath. is in part the brainchild of Yosi Sergant, who helped orchestrate two Manifest Hope art shows -- one in Denver, one in Washington, D.C. -- in support of Barack Obama’s presidential run. After taking a position as communications director at the Washington-based National Endowment for the Arts -- and resigning last September -- Sergant, 33, moved back to Los Angeles and felt compelled to address his opposition to Prop. 8.

Sergant teamed up with publicist Jennifer Gross and event producer Apple Via to organize an art show that would capitalize on the bright lights of Oscar weekend.

“Los Angeles is one of the epicenters of creativity in the world,” he says. “And with the Academy Awards approaching, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the heightened energy and attention and start a conversation of substance.”

Through Sunday, organizers say they expect thousands of people to tour Manifest Equality, including film industry glitterati stopping by between Oscar events. An opening night reception Wednesday was expected to feature musical act Fitz & the Tantrums and DJ sets by artists Tim Biskup and Fairey. Another event Saturday includes performances by indie band Sea Wolf, singer-songwriter Sam Sparro and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, with DJs sets by the Crystal Method.

Before entering the gallery, patrons pass an elaborate heart-shaped string installation and a 100-foot-long collaborative mural of Lady Justice by graffiti artists El Mac, Retna and Kofie.

“The space itself is just as much a unique piece of art,” Sergant says.

Indoors, opening lines of the Declaration of Independence are scrolled atop the walls; another installation involves a full-scale house torn in two.

Artwork was still coming in days before the opening, and Sergant says that the gathered pieces represent an array of styles and media. “Oil paintings range from beautiful portraits of lovely couples to funny, lighthearted animation,” he says.

L.A. photographer Chris Anthony is showing eerily gloomy imagery of a masked figure in a dunce cap, blurred and distorted by a 150-year-old lens. Another local photographer, Dan Monick, is exhibiting two candid portraits chosen for their “melancholic hopefulness.”

Illustrative painter Barry McGee is donating a 22-piece installation, with proceeds going to the Courage Campaign, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group.

Also on display are five pieces chosen from the Manifest Equality art contest. More than 1,000 entries were judged by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Hammer Museum Director Ann Philbin and artist Ed Ruscha, among others.

“I believe firmly that artists have been at the forefront of presenting conversation,” says Sergant. “Artists have the ability to take complex social issues and distill them down into powerful visual language.”

Animator and painter Carlos Ramos says his offering has “a giant Godzilla blowing rainbows of love out his face. It just tickled me -- the idea of Japan’s biggest monster being an ambassador of equality and love.”