Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

4/30/2013

Excavating LA's Recent Past

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

It is sometimes the small shows that shine the most. At the Hammer Museum, a small gallery on the first floor is occupied by the "archeological excavations" of the mixed-media artist Cyprien Gaillard.


Walking around the city as we do every day, we hardly think of Los Angeles as a place where history happens. To us, it is where every day unfolds continuously, where the now happens. But in Gaillard's hands, Los Angeles is recast as subject for historical scrutiny. 

The exhibit is dominated by bright yellow mechanical parts carefully stored in glass cases, mirroring the ancient tools that we could usually find in natural history museums. If these tools were prehistoric man's way of survival, then these yellow tooth-like objects are what we use to build our cities today. Suddenly, without much effort, visitors are transported to a possible future, when construction parts like become objects of curiosity. Decades from now, what types of mechanisms would we have to build?

Installation view of Cyprien Gaillard: The Crystal World at MoMA PS1, January 2013. Photo: Matthew Septimus/ MoMA PS1.
Gorgeous purple photographs adorn the walls, framed meticulously as if prized possessions in a home. Upon closer inspection, we find the photographs are polaroids of the cracks along Wilshire Boulevard. Rather than bleak gray, we are surprised by the beauty of color Gaillard manages to eke out of photograph. He did so by dunking polaroids in cold water before the chemicals could fully process on the sheet. 

12 Polaroids with mats and aluminum and Plexiglas frames. 40 1/8 x 28 3/8 x 1 5/8 in. (103 x 73 x 4.5 cm) framed. Copyright Cyprien Gaillard. Courtesy Sprueth Magers Berlin London.

In the same vein, Gaillard found time to take a second look at the manhole covers that pass unnoticed everyday. By framing these etches of manhole covers, the artist brings out the strange beauty of these city seals embedded into our urban infrastructure.

In this small but precious exhibition, Gaillard succeeds in elevating the negligible into something noteworthy. In so doing, he challenges us to take a second look at our immediate surroundings to find the beauty in even the grayest, most forgotten places. 


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