Some people in front had waited for seats since 7 a.m. A few in the crowd of 450 said they had flown in from Boston or Washington, D.C.
The source of the controlled chaos Sunday at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's subterranean Art Catalogues bookstore? A talk with Keanu Reeves, artist.
Reeves was unveiling his second collaboration with Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant, an art book titled "Shadows" published this month by Steidl. Grant, whose primary medium is painting, turned to photography to create this series of 54 images based on the movements of Reeves, her longtime friend. Twenty-five of the photos will be on view through March 12 at Acme gallery in L.A.
The book "Shadows" is laid out starkly. Reeves wrote a line or two of text to accompany each of Grant's photos of shadows — be that Reeves' outstretched hand, his face bowed in profile, his body bent over as if in the throes of a tribal dance. Many of the images are black and white. Some are colored by light pollution from the digital clock on the microwave oven that the photographer and her subject forgot was there as they shot in a New York apartment.
Reeves and Grant developed the layouts themselves, spreading proofs over her dining room table and pairing them with Reeves' words until the combinations felt right.
"After the idea, and before the photos, was the text," Reeves said at the event. "My intention with the text was an idea of shadows, to try and explore something personal and communicate something universal."
On the opening page, Reeves writes: "I was born twisted / I don't want to die."
The actor elaborated to the LACMA crowd: "It's pretty universal, we come out twisted, and we learn that we don't want to die."
The book contains 85 pieces of text in that vein, all written within a few days.
Grant and Reeves collaborated on another book for Steidl, "Ode to Happiness." Grant said that for the new book, she was inspired by a quote from Malcolm Lowry's 1947 novel "Under the Volcano": "I have no house only a shadow. But whenever you are in need of a shadow, my shadow is yours."
"I thought that was a wonderful quote, and it became the invitation," Grant said, adding of Reeves that "I knew where he was in his life, and 'Shadows' was a place where we could meet."
Grant said someone asked her whether it was important that Reeves was the model for the shadows, and she said it was.
"No one can move the way he can. He's a really extreme performer," she said. "That's a huge piece of why those images are so interesting. I knew that if I moved the camera as we danced together, as photographer and subject, we could create these wonderful optical illusions."
Added Dagny Corcoran, owner of Art Catalogues: "When you put a painter together with an artist who is in a different medium, they start sparking each other, and they force a different way of thinking."