Column: SoFi Stadium’s art plan left Black artists in limbo. ‘Used as a pawn’ says artist rep
When SoFi Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in February, the new stadium may have looked spiffy, but its public art program remained incomplete — largely at the expense of Black artists in the program. Two major installations by a pair of prominent Black artists not only remained uninstalled, but at the time it was unknown whether the stadium was going to even begin the process of getting sites prepped and the pieces fabricated. This included a site-specific land piece by prominent African American sculptor Maren Hassinger, as well as a pair of architectonic installations by Afro Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea.
As I noted back in February, it was not a good look for SoFi, which is located at the heart of historically Black Inglewood.
Now a letter sent to the city of Inglewood lays out one artist’s frustrations with the stadium and the lack of clarity about the timeline and process.
“Maren Hassinger feels that she has been used as a pawn in the developers and the City’s efforts to have this massive commercial complex gain acceptance from the neighborhood,” went a missive written by Susan Inglett, a New York-based art dealer who represents Hassinger.
“The developers cannily selected a female artist of color born and raised in Los Angeles to create this space as an olive branch to the neighborhood,” the letter continued. “The City of Inglewood approved their plans based on schematics researched, developed and executed by the artist over the course of many months. Now that the stadium is built, the developer appears to have abandoned the project and the artist.”
Hassinger is a respected sculptor, born and raised in L.A., now based on the East Coast. Her work figures in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Inglett’s letter, which was sent to the city in early March, was made public as part of a routine meeting of the Inglewood Arts Commission on Wednesday evening — a meeting that raised more questions than it supplied answers. In addition to the commissioners, in attendance were Inglett, as well as Inglewood’s director of parks and recreation, Sabrina Barnes, and Jason Witt, a senior director of community affairs for SoFi Stadium.
Witt could not account for the delays. He told the commissioners that “the intention is still to move forward with the project,” but that “there are still some discussions to be had — internal — to make sure we align it.”
No timeline was forthcoming.
SoFi Stadium is supposed to have a great public art program, but works by Black artists are in limbo. Also missing: the historic sculpture of Swaps, the record-setting thoroughbred from Hollywood Park.
In his remarks, Witt intimated that the stadium was reconsidering the locations of some artworks. “Being able to see how businesses interact with our project, utilizing the lake, seeing how people — fans, essentially fans from football games — how they interact with the site,” he says of the SoFi environs, “has kind of changed how we look at how those different locations are frequented and how they are interacted with.”
Hassinger’s proposal envisioned a sequence of land-based installations on the southeastern edge of Hollywood Park Lake that would include garden areas, places to sit and reflect, as well as an abstract sculptural installation. As part of the project, she worked closely with the stadium’s landscape architects to make sure their design could adequately incorporate her work. To relocate the work to another site would, essentially, send it back to the drawing board.
“Maren was engaged to design gardens around the lake in order to provide a place of respite for the community, as well as visitors to the stadium,” Inglett stated during the meeting. “She does site-specific work. She visited the site. She created something specifically for that site. And it feels disingenuous to say that you want to see how people use the space. ... She’s frustrated. We’re all frustrated — to say that this all has to go back through the hopper again, after several years, without an end in sight.”
Reached via email, Inglett declined further comment on the situation.
A spokeswoman for SoFi says that the stadium has held up its end of the bargain. “We have worked with many artists over the last several years to bring our art program to life at Hollywood Park, and it will continue to grow,” reads a statement sent to The Times via email on Thursday afternoon. “All of our contractual obligations with Ms. Hassinger have been honored, which was for a conceptual design only.”
The statement says SoFi is indeed revisiting how works are placed on-site: “Coming out of the pandemic, we have been able to identify how our guests use the site. As a result, the art program continues to evolve as we take into consideration highly trafficked areas, as well as changes that result in the ordinary course of development.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, the members of the arts commission put pressure on SoFi’s representative to see the Hassinger installation through in a prompt fashion.
“We just want to express that we 100% support her position,” commissioner Aletha Metcalf said in reference to Hassinger during the meeting. “She’s been beyond patient and her contract should be given top priority.”
But the commission, ultimately, has little power. The city gave up its customary percent for art ordinance as part of its contract with the property’s developer, Hollywood Park. The contract states that the “Arts Commission does not have its traditional authority over the developers’ public art plans, public art works, art sites, art budgets, art content, art definition or developers’ expenditures.”
The short of it: Years after the public art process was launched for this gleaming, $5-billion stadium, it remains uncertain exactly how and when these art projects might get off the ground, much less be completed. Part of that is due to the city’s obsequious contract with the developer, which gives Hollywood Park 25 years — yes, 25 years — to get the work done.
That was a detail with which Hassinger was reportedly not pleased. “At 75 years of age,” wrote Inglett in her letter, “the quarter of a century timeline was cold comfort to Maren.”
It’s cold comfort to artists who have spent years laboring over materials and proposals, and cleared their calendars to make installations happen, only to be left in a state of complete uncertainty.
Unmentioned in the commission meeting was Arrechea, who designed a pair of biomorphic works to be installed over the eastern end of the lake. The artist, a founding member of the Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros has work in major museum collections and has had major public art installations in cities such as New York. In 2016, his “Katrina Chairs” — a series of bright towers set on plinths that resembled gargantuan chairs — served as an impromptu landmark at the Coachella music festival.
Reached for comment on the status of his piece for SoFi Stadium, Arrechea declined to go into details. He did say one thing, though: “All the news I get about the stadium is from the paper.”
Los Angeles landscape designer Mia Lehrer is working to peeling back the city’s concrete. Her latest project brings parkland to SoFi Stadium.
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.