Whether or not you’ve ridden the K Line and seen its impressive station artworks, there’s a lot to learn in a new exhibition that explores the influences and processes behind them. Located at the Museum of African American Art (MAAA), which is currently nestled on the second floor of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Here: Arts & Culture Along the K features over 50 objects (drawings, photographs, paintings, and product studies) that inspired the large-scale station artworks that greet thousands of riders every day.
While much of the exhibition’s subject matter overlaps with the station artworks, that’s where the similarities end. The station artworks are spread over the entrances, mezzanines, and platforms of seven stations that punctuate a 5.9 miles-long route. In Here, thematic groupings, such as “gathering,” “music,” and “converging cultures,” organize the objects in the show. Contrasts of scale and materials are also at play. When you pass by Rebecca Mendez’s At the Same Time –– an ode to the passage of time charted by the luminous open sky –– in the underground concourse of the Expo / Crenshaw station, the artwork shimmers and glitters as a floor-to-ceiling glass mosaic. In the exhibition, you’ll see the archival pigment prints that inspired it, completed in 2017. Likewise, Erwin Redl’s Inside Out – Outside In – Inside Out, which you’ll experience ‘in the wild’ as a three-walled, stained glass-inspired sculpture that surrounds that station’s street-level entrance, is displayed in the exhibition as two four-feet long digital prints that render ghostly avatars ensconced in rainbow prisms of light.
What, I wondered, did the artists think of seeing earlier renditions of their large-scale works?
“I like it. This is my scale,” Geoff McFetridge nodded as he stood before two studies completed for Us as a Measure of Openness, a group of 18 large-scale enameled steel panels now installed along the platform and behind the ticketing areas of Westchester/Veterans station.
McFetridge started these artworks in 2014. He submitted them to Metro two years later, which to him felt like eons ago. To see these studies again in an exhibition, held seven years later, felt a little like being reunited with a past self.
Shinique Smith was also pleased to see the mixed media collages that inspired Only Light, Only Love, a rhythmic and colorful mosaic mural of mirrors and glass that is installed in MLK Jr. Station. “I didn’t send my work merely to be fabricated,” she told me when I asked her about the process. “I went to the studio where we matched colors from my original collage and chose finishes and nuanced areas of sparkle to enhance the depth of the mosaic. Mosaic and glass tile are very different materially and physically to watercolor, ink and fabric –– the weight is different, the flow is different, yet we created something that captures and magnifies the lyricism of my hand.”
Of course, when you’re transforming a painting into a large-scale public artwork, some things get lost in translation.
“Look at this shade of pink,” Jaime Scholnick said, gesturing to the screaming fluorescent line in Cop eating a POP, one of the acrylic paintings that inspired Layered Histories, a complex work made of porcelain coated steel with enamel glazes flanking the platforms at the Expo / Crenshaw station. “The fabricator couldn’t duplicate this color.” Yet these so-called ‘limitations,’ in her opinion, are what creating public art is all about. “You have to relinquish some control when you do these kinds of works,” she told me. “But that’s a good thing. It taught me about scale, and the boldness of my line. It challenged me.”
It was also the beginning of an exciting foray into large-scale public artwork. Now, Scholnick is working on her third public art commission.
The exhibition offers more, however, than a glimpse into the artistic process. Seeing these artworks displayed together in one room, grouped thematically and put in conversation with one another, speaks powerfully to the enduring creative legacy of the Crenshaw corridor, which has helped define the Los Angeles art scene for well over 60 years.
Then there’s the exhibition’s location. For Zipporah Yamamoto, senior director of public art and exhibition programs at Metro, the mall is the critical factor. “The fact that the exhibition is in a museum within a mall,” she told me, “makes it a public art project all on its own.” After all, museums and galleries tend to be self-contained. You’re less likely to casually wander into them. And a ticket is often required to gain access. Malls have fewer barriers to entry, and serve dozens of needs, desires, and occasions at once, providing people who may not have time to frequent museums with ready access to museum-caliber works. “A museum in a mall is a community-affirming place,” Yamamoto said.
“I think that malls are a nice future for galleries,” he told me. “While they were designed as sites of consumption, they’re also inviting places to wander solely for the pleasure of seeing things.”
Here: Arts & Culture Along the K is on view at the Museum of African American Art (MAAA) through May 12, 2024.
- Museum Hours: Wed – Sun, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Admission: FREE. Metro Art has also produced a FREE publication (downloadable here!) that tells the story of the exhibition, with additional interviews, poetry, imagery, and text. Hard copies are also available at the museum for visitors to take with them.
- Location: The Museum of African American Art (MAAA) is located in Suite 283 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Follow the museum for exciting events and programs in the works.
- Getting there: Take the K Line to Martin Luther King Jr. station or the 40, 102, 105, and 210 buses.
Categories: Metro Art