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Entertainment & Arts

A little ‘Urban Light’ in the Broad museum? The story behind lobby’s streetlight sculpture

Urs Fischer’s street light sculpture at Broad museum

Urs Fischer’s streetlight sculpture “Untitled, 2012" stands in the lobby of the new Broad museum in downtown Los Angeles.

(Eugene Garcia / EPA)

One of the first artworks visitors see inside the new Broad museum is a sculpture that could be taken as a nod to “Urban Light,” Chris Burden’s outdoor array of old-time streetlights across town that has greeted visitors to the Los Angleles County Museum of Art since 2008.

The Broad’s “Untitled, 2012" is a withered-looking but functioning 12-foot-tall black-painted aluminum streetlight by the Swiss American artist Urs Fischer. His streetlight has five lamps -- four held somewhat precariously upright and one drooping from a hanging arm. It stands near the cavern-like entrance to the Broad’s ground-floor galleries.

The small forest of 202 cast-iron streetlights that Burden retrieved, restored and repurposed to make up “Urban Light” seem, by contrast, to be an emblem of solidity and endurance. 

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Is the Broad’s lobby lamp a nod to LACMA’s sidewalk lamps -- and a tribute to Burden, who died of cancer in May at 69?

Joanne Heyler, the Broad’s founding director, said she wasn’t thinking of “Urban Light” when she planted Fischer’s lamp in the Broad’s lobby, but others have made the connection. Heyler said she’s happy about the unintended resonance, because “it’s poignant.” Another sculpture by Burden is part of the Broad’s inaugural installation: “Bateau de Guerre,” a 14.5-foot hanging battleship he created in 2001 from scrap materials and toys.

Heyler said she initially installed Fischer’s lamp in one of the galleries but decided it wasn’t quite working aesthetically. She thought of moving it to a different gallery, and crew members began rolling it through the lobby.

When they passed the cave entrance, Heyler realized that the piece had found its spot. “I said, `Stop right there!’” she recalled.

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Fischer’s lamp, which Heyler sees as referencing the 19th century beaux arts style while beckoning people toward a collection of forward-looking contemporary works, evokes a battered human form. Think of Lumiere, the animated candelabrum from the Disney film “Beauty and the Beast,” decked out for a funeral and looking miserable. The label affixed to its pedestal says that the sculpture gives off light while seeming to melt away, “much like a candle would under the heat of its flame.”

Another big sculpture greeting Broad visitors in the lobby is an 8-foot-tall stack of more than 25 giant, white fiberglass dishes by Los Angeles artist Robert Therrien. Though likely not the artist’s or the curators’ intention, restaurateurs in the neighborhood may appreciate it as a subliminal inducement to museum-goers to eat out instead of going home for dinner and having to clean up afterward.

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