Ken Gonzales-Day Murals at the Skirball


Kids spend a lot of time looking out of car windows in LA. And anything out of the norm tends to arrest their attention. For instance, a mural on a building –  a pop of color, that is expressed in a language akin to cartoons, will surely catch their eye. Kids don’t worry (as we sometimes do) what message is being heralded by the jarring, out-of-place image.  They just react in the moment, with pleasure or not. And that’s the right reaction – “Oh, hey. Look at that!”

There’s plenty of street art around LA, and a new show at the Skirball Cultural Center can turn your normal routes around the city into a scavenger hunt for found art. Ken Gonzales-Day, a 2017 Guggenheim Fellow, chronicled the murals of Los Angeles for ten months between July 2016 and March 2017 and 140 photographs of his project are on view at the Skirball Cultural Center until February 2018. Ken Gonzales-Day Surface Tensions: Murals, Signs and Mark-Making in LA is a simple exhibit, with a really fun element – a map of the city is painted on the floor to correlate the images to their location in the city.

It’s worth a trip to the museum just to collect a map available in the exhibit that you could stash in your car and use as a reference as you drive around town. The map gives a title and just a few bits of information about who created the mural, and when it was painted. Some muralists are famous (such as Kent Twitchell and Levi Ponce), some are anonymous, and many others are just inspired local chroniclers. Some parts of town (Santa Monica, Echo Park, Venice) have more art than others. You might just have to take a drive to find out.

I recognized a bare chested Jagger-like figure on an orange building that turned out to be Rick Cronks’ “Morning Shot” from Venice’s Speedwalk Boulevard, a classic created in 1991 and restored in 2012 – a close cousin of the image directly above it, inspired by Boticelli’s Venus (light blue image). That’s his “Venice Kinesis: Venice Reconstituted” and it’s also on Speedway in Venice.

Ken Gonzales-Day, “Jim Morphesis,” mural by Kent Twitchell, Hollywood Freeway at Hope St. exit, Downtown Los Angeles, 1984. Photo © 2017 Ken Gonzales-Day.

Some images are just plain fun, like the one above. And others, tell stories of neighborhood heroes or allude to historical origins. As the Skirball informs us, the mark-making history of LA goes back to the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s.

During that period, Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros came to paint in the United States. The exhibition situates contemporary artists within this larger history of muralism, considering how Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and others inspired generations of artists to take their brushes, rollers, and aerosol cans to the walls of Los Angeles.

Since roughly the 1930s, muralists have chronicled important chapters in Los Angeles’s history, such as the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the 1984 Olympics, and the ongoing importance of the Hollywood film industry. As captured by Gonzales-Day, these public works also comment upon shifting representations of race in the city and the role they play in the politics of space. Although a decade-long ban on mural-making temporarily stifled the form until 2011, the practice has enjoyed renewed vitality in the past decade amid the redevelopment of downtown Los Angeles and the rise of street art as a prominent and respected medium.

While you are at the museum, be sure to visit a second PST: LA/LA exhibit, Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico. Brenner was a trailblazer who was friends with artists on both sides of the border (US and Mexico) and spent her life worked to create cultural links between the two nations.

As always, the Skirball’s gift shop has wonderful resources to help you learn more.

SURFACE TENSION BY KEN GONZALES-DAY Murals, Signs, and Mark-Making in LA October 6, 2017–February 25, 2018.  Part of the Getty-led Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.

Skirball Cultural Center // 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. // Los Angeles, CA 90049
FREE on-site parking; street parking strictly prohibited

Tuesday–Friday, 12:00–5:00 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Closed Mondays and holidays

Last entry to Noah’s Ark is at 4:00 p.m.
Last entry to other Museum galleries is at 4:30 p.m.

$12 General
$9 Seniors (65 and up), Full-Time Students with ID, and Children over 12
$7 Children 2–12
FREE to Skirball Members and Children under 2
FREE to all on Thursdays