Can a contemporary art exhibition that takes a critical look at democracy, politics, nationalism, race, and society provide an engaging experience for children? Sure thing, particularly when that exhibition features of roomful of sprouting onions, a gallery bathed in an azure light, a giant kaleidoscope, and an enormous flag billowing in gale force winds!
Now through June 28 the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles presents William Pope.L: Trinket, an exhibition of new and recent work by Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, an important figure in the development of performance and installation art since the 1970s. The exhibition is installed throughout the cavernous galleries of the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Little Tokyo, a building that was once a police car warehouse and was renovated in the 1980s by the acclaimed architect Frank O. Gehry. Trinket examines American history and politics through innovative and unusual works of art that can be understoodon multiple levels, making it a rewarding experience for all ages.
The centerpiece and title work of the show is Trinket (2008/2015), a spectacle that you experience with your ears even before your eyes, as the sound of churning winds dominates the space from the moment you walk in the door. The piece consists of a custom-made, 54 x 16-foot American flag billowing in airstreams made by four industrial-grade special effects fans—the kind used on film sets to simulate rain storms. It is the artist’s intent that over the length of the display the whipping flag will fray, flapping unpredictably and serving as a potent metaphor for the struggles and strivings of a nation. Adults and children alike will be thrilled by the sheer power—both physical and intellectual—of this installation, and everyone is sure to have an interesting take on why the flag includes an extra star!
The first work you see in the exhibition, however, is a teaser of sorts: a modest set of graphically painted onions, real ones, perched upon a tall table. One has fallen to the floor, and keen-eyed kids (and grownups, too!) will enjoy scouring the corners of the exhibition space to spy other stray onions. At last you will turn a corner and see Polis or the Garden or Human Nature in Action (2008/2015), an installation that features thousands of hand-painted onions piled across a grid of large tables. Some of these onions are withering and rotting, while others are sprouting green shoots through the flag-like designs of their skins, evoking ideas about growth and decay and questioning the durability and permanence often attached to ideas of nationhood.
Some of Pope.L’s best-known works are what he calls “crawls,” performances in which the artist, often in costume, traverses public space on his hands and knees. Two of these works are included in the exhibition including Migrant (2015), which features a large, multi-tiered shelf structure on which people dressed in white periodically emerge and crawl. (Note: very young children may find these actors a little creepy, but none of the performers were on site when we visited.)
Be sure you visit the galleries upstairs, which not only provide another excellent vantage to view the flag but also feature a wonderful video kaleidoscope. Climb up the staircase to a viewing platform and peer down into a well to experience a mesmerizing scene made with multiple mirrors.
Happily, the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA is well situated for some fun exploring before or after you see exhibition. Just beyond the museum entry plaza at 2nd Street is the Japanese Village Plaza (335 E. 2nd Street), a historic and bustling shopping center loaded with eclectic clothing and specialty stores like the automobile-themed Kools (110 Japanese Village Plaza), and plenty of food offerings, including sushi, ramen, pizza, shabu shabu, and more. Even if you don’t eat them, the rainbow display of macaroons at Lette (107 Japanese Village Plaza) is something to see! A few doors down the Yamakazi Bakery (123 Japanese Village Plaza) offers a tempting array of pastries and the popular Japanese stuffed buns called manju and sweet breads known as kashi pan.
The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA is open Monday and Friday 11 am–5 pm, Thursday 11 am–8 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am–6 pm, and closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is $12 for adults ($7 for seniors), $7 for students, and free for children 12 and under.
William Pope.L: Trinket: The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA 152 North Central Avenue Los Angeles CA 90012 213/626-6222
Photo Credit: Installation view of William Pope.L: Trinket, March 20–June 28, 2015 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, photo by Brian Forrest
Written by Stacey Ravel Abarbanel