LAMAG, founded in 1954, has been in its current building since 1970. Located atop Barnsdall Art Park, it keeps good company in the historic Hollyhock House, built in 1921 by architect Frank Lloyd Wright for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. The park boasts sweeping views of the city and is a popular spot for picnicking, dog walking, dates and soaking up the sun. Yet the cultural relevancy of LAMAG is just as important as the splendor of nature.
LAMAG acts as the exhibition space for the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and hosts about a half-dozen exhibits each year. One particular exhibit showcases the work of a group of artists who received DCA grants, giving them the freedom to create new work. According to a release from the gallery, Los Angeles is only one of a handful of cities that regularly awards significant grants—as much as $10,000—to individual artists. These grants have been doled out annually since 1997, making the program 20 years old this year.
Through July 2, 2017, guests to LAMAG will get to view a retrospective that highlights all the amazing cultural contributions the program has facilitated. A separate area of wall space has been dedicated to each year, showcasing the artists, pieces and media buzz surrounding that year’s show.
Select pieces are highlighted and displayed in full and include 11 pieces created by artists who have since died. One such work is photographer Willie Robert Middlebrook Jr.’s “In ‘His’ Own Image” (1992). Middlebrook, who died in 2012, captured black life in L.A. using portraits in a way that he hoped would change the public perception of his community.
“I’m a black man in America—a large, dark, black man with dreads—and I’ve never robbed, beaten or stolen,” Middlebrook once told the L.A. Times. “I’ve never been to jail, and if you put drugs in front of me, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with them. And I know a lot of black folk like me. These are the kinds of images that need to be seen.”
Norman Yonemoto and his twin brother, Bruce Yonemoto, created the video installation “Framed,” which depicts the life of Japanese Americans incarcerated in internment camps during WWII. The Yonemotos’ mother had been held in one such camp in Northern California. Norman Yonemoto died in 2014.
Michael Brewster was an artist who specialized in “acoustic sculpture.” His piece, “Whistlers 2,” sits in a small annex. The sculpture consists of four speakers that, when activated via a button by the guest, play whistling noises, and where the guest stands will determine how the guest interprets the sound. According to the artist statement, “This nearly immaterial work draws us more closely to our surroundings, heightening our awareness of our individual and collective places in the world.” Brewster passed away in 2016.
Another room offers a literary lounge, where guests can grab a comic, book, script or magazine and read it while sitting on a series of brightly colored steps. Elsewhere, headphones enable visitors to listen to audio submissions, including a variety of music.
In addition to viewing the works, guests are invited to participate. Several questions are posted throughout the exhibit, and guests may rip off a Post-it® note, jot down their opinion or memory, and leave it behind for others to read.
LAMAG is open Thursdays through Mondays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. COLA 20 is on display through Sunday, July 2, 2017.