‘Someplace Else Right Now’: A walk through the art exhibition staged in Frank Zappa’s studio

Curator Ashley Sands walks past Tamara Kvesitadze's "Sphere, 2011," staged inside a drum recording booth in Frank Zappa's L.A. studio. It's part of an appointment-only exhibition titled "Someplace Else Right Now."

Curator Ashley Sands walks past Tamara Kvesitadze’s “Sphere, 2011,” staged inside a drum recording booth in Frank Zappa’s L.A. studio. It’s part of an appointment-only exhibition titled “Someplace Else Right Now.”

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Frank Zappa’s legendary recording studio, the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, has not opened its doors to the public until now. Fittingly, considering Zappa’s deep commitment to creative expression, the opening was done in the name of art.

A group exhibit with a title based on the Zappa song “Someplace Else Right Now” has taken up residence in the soundproofed wooden cocoon of a studio on the Zappa estate in Laurel Canyon since early February. Thanks to intense interest, its monthlong, by-appointment-only run has been extended through March 22.

“My inbox is inundated,” said curator Ashley Sands, adding that she has ways of vetting who is requesting to see the show. Some desire to take in the art by eight international artists, and some just really, really want to spend time hanging out on Zappa’s property.


The exhibit came together quickly and unexpectedly. Sands, who often works out of intemperate London, had her heart set on sunny L.A. She wanted to stage a group show -- something personal and unexpected. So she was thrilled when members of Zappa’s family -- friends of hers -- offered the studio as a location.

Zappa’s son Ahmet and his wife, Shana, acted as cohosts when the exhibit opened.

Once the space was secured, Sands spent time thinking about an appropriate theme and settled on “the idea of place as a departure point for creativity.” This made sense since UMRK was a jumping-off point for some of Zappa’s most creative work, including the album “You Are What You Is.”

Next Sands decided on eight artists, all of whom she had previous experience with: Larry Achiampong, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Yael Kanarek, Tamara Kvesitadze, Lisa Solberg, Keith Tyson, Isabel Yellin and Daniel J. Wilson.

Each artist contributed pieces centered around the idea of place. Georgian artist Kvesitadze’s kinetic sculpture, “Sphere,” which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2011 and was also scheduled to be shown in Austin, Texas, at this year’s South By Southwest festival until the show in Laurel Canyon was extended, is about “globalization, migration and lack of borders,” Sands said.

Sands opted to put that piece -- a sphere made of sculpted faces -- in a futuristic-looking drum room, which affords viewers a nifty window through which to observe it.

Solberg’s work is housed in a cavernous side chamber built beside the studio’s live room and used as a reverb room. Appropriately, Solberg’s piece, which employs bleach and paint on a large piece of canvas, is titled “Echo.”


Wilson chose the country as a whole as his place in a piece titled “America Says Hello,” which features a black rotary phone perched atop a pedestal that has been programmed to essentially robo-dial land lines across the U.S. Visitors can pick up the phone and hear a real-time livestream of what happens when people answer and receive no reply.

Ghanaian-British artist Archiampong’s work spirits guests to the the continent of Africa via an audio project very much at home in Zappa’s studio. He worked with an NGO called the Bokoor African Popular Music Archives Foundation in order to remix traditional Ghanaian highlife music.

Race and politics are also explored by Archiampong in a series called “Politicmen,” which features images of politicians with their faces seemingly erased into pure white space underneath their hair. Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are easy to pick out in this crowd.

“When you have eight artists, there are so many details to see to,” Sands said of her vision for staging the exhibit. “But its been really fun to work in this space. When I first walked in, I didn’t know where to go first.”

To request an appointment to view the show write to

Twitter: @jessicagelt