A few weeks ago, I wandered into a free admission day at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MOCA was hosting LA Transmissions, an 18-day investigation of music and art's cross-pollination curated by Mike D of Beastie Boys. In reality, it was a well-orchestrated marketing campaign by Mercedes Benz to build their brand. But, to my surprise, I didn't really mind. In fact, I was impressed by the corporate finesse that went into the exhibition.
Unlike the usual corporate-sponsored affairs, there weren't endless banners plastered with the company logo. Instead, Mercedes chose to go with a one large, shiny logo suspended from chains outside the Geffen. Its reference to large, ostentatious neckwear rappers don was very clear and appropriate. Underneath, a rainbow patio was laid out for visitors to chow down, chat and enjoy the free music concert for the evening. I haven't been inside yet, but the installation already brought a smile to my face.
Inside, first-time curator Mike D choice of artists hit same note of seriousness and play the exhibition proposed. A mesmerizing pinwheel installation made by Jim Drain and Ara Peterson transported viewers to a hypnotic wonderland. The artists say it was inspired by the "hypnagogic state" or the blissful moment between being awake and dreaming. After going through the forest of pinwheels, one looks back and is surprised to find the whole installation powered by mundane electric fans. The discovery of the fact isn't disappointing, but adds to the delight of discovery.
Another show stopper is unquestionably Ben Jones and John Pham's Roadtrip. Commandeering about two rooms, the pair have created a portal to an 8-bit video game world. It begins by going through a small tunnel of lights traversing back and forth. Just when you think you're about to return to reality, the tunnel delivers you into an immersive kinetic projection where you're speeding on a highway to nowhere. Desert darkness flits by and turns into scorching sunrise and back again. In every direction you look, cacti, rock and road speed by. It's an optical illusion for sure, but your mind can't quite shake the feeling it's moving.
Not every piece in the show is as elaborate. On the second floor, Takeshi Murata pieced together a montage of a voice gleefully announcing the prize up for grabs on "The Wheel of Fortune." A bevy of girls wave their hands over the prize one after another as if to make everything from a living room set to a yacht somehow appealing. Within the context of the exhibition, the video montage was a hoot. It perfectly captured the commercialist venture positioned as artistic endeavor visitors were all enjoying right at the moment.
So, where else did Mercedes pop up? In a discreet black room at the edge of the Geffen. In a dark room, a concept coupé gleamed under perfectly choreographed dancing lights. The lights were timed to the beat of specially composed music, which visitors can only hear when they put on the plush headphones that hung on the far corner. With the headphones on, the car and dancing lights combo looked like a page out of a car commercial, only live and in 3D (so they say).
The rest of the exhibition felt similarly expansive, playful and luxurious. iPads were stationed every so often beckoning visitors to listen to the Transmissions website (itself conspicuously free of branding). I don't normally stay and listen to the videos, but the seating, iPad and headphone convinced me. The free wifi was quite a bonus as well.
I came out of the exhibit with a renewed appreciation of what corporate partnerships can be, as long as both parties don't get too caught up in their own agendas. What was once a worrisome trend has become an art in itself. This isn't the last we'll see of partnerships like these, but I hope companies and arts organizations take a cue from Transmissions. Brand perception is all about the experience, not just the number of posters one is able to hang on the walls.
What did you think of the show?