Art Dockument #1 The Cosmic Humeroid’s Joke 1981
“Art is my fate, don’t debate,” I wrote in my 1981 sketchbook. Strange fate, I think, driving back to the illegal loft I inhabit east of Little Tokyo and west of the Los Angeles River in the Citizens Warehouse. The life I live isn’t anything like what I imagined the L.A. artist’s life would be. The reality of the creative life in downtown Los Angeles is more like the outlaws running from the posse than the beach-attired avant-garde of Venice serving coffee to the elite come to see the latest creations.
My bed, a big heavy shield-shaped mattress and sturdy frame made of lumber, lies in the back of my pickup truck. The bed is upside down. Below the wood frame the limp pink-striped cotton slab sags into the truck’s bed, hiding all my clothes. The mattress edges drape over the truck’s bed. This playboy relic of the 1960s resurrected from the trash (urban mining, the activity was called) has been visiting Venice, while the authorities visit the lofts.
My loft! My enormous room! Gary’s Loft! Karen’s Loft, Ellen’s Loft! All the 20-some artists’ lofts in the old tallow factory (later furniture, book and soy-sauce warehouse) at the juncture of the river bridge, the very long First Street and the very short Center Street. First Street stretches miles from Mid-Wilshire, through downtown, across the Los Angeles River and disappears finally into East L.A. Center Street extends one block, the length of the warehouse. The artists think of First and Center as ground zero – the prime spot -- for the art community. Today the Los Angeles building inspectors were scheduled to make another raid on ground zero to catch the artists in the act of illegal living. Warehouses aren’t residential buildings. Kitchens shouldn’t be found. Beds are forbidden. Showers and bathtubs are suspicious. Clothes are proof of 24-hour inhabitation, which is against the law. Therefore, bed in truck, clothes under bed, I have day-tripped to the beach to avoid the inspectors.
As I depart the ocean’s edge, the late afternoon sun at my back paints the city’s immense roof-top-spotted and palm-punctuated land canvas in bright hues and black shadows. In the freeway distance, L.A.’s central city mound of tower shimmers. From the Venice beach perspective, Los Angeles is an astonishing Oz of vivid color, infinite and amazing potential. Venice, the beach slum turned into a cultural treasure and real-estate boon by artists, is proof of the tremendous cultural energy that spreads from the ocean to the mountain backdrop for the Hollywood dream, then reaches to the rising towers of great capital ventures on the plain beyond. Evidence of a cultural bloom erupts all over the place. In the empty place in front of every new office building, sculptures are plopped. In the lobbies of Bunker Hill and Figueroa Street skyscrapers, art exhibitions are embedded. Colorful murals adorn the walls along Venice alleys, the freeways surrounding downtown and the streets of East Los Angeles. Along San Vicente Boulevard a conceptual artist has turned the bus stop benches into art by striping them blue and white. On Sunset Boulevard even the billboards are art. Local artists believe Los Angeles is the successor to New York’s position as the center of the art world.
During the years of mid-century, Venice was the engine driving the cultural boom. For artists this was the ideal bohemian place to live and create the West Coast Art defining the new art capital. The sun, the surf, the sand was so California. The suntanned, nearly nude population mixed with hippies, roller-skating gangs and the health-conscious elderly was so exuberant. The remnants of the old real-estate dream -- to create a “new Venice” -- were visible in the shallow canals. The colonnaded end of Windward Avenue provided a curious cultural precedence. Artists found Venice, Los Angeles, California a bright, happy place to do their thing. The cultural elite, the rich and the Hollywood royalty embraced them and their work. The cool light-and-space art of the West Coast found its home.
The old storefronts and the relic structures of the once great, later shabby amusement park beside the Venice boardwalk created opportunity, and the artists moved in. These anonymous, dead spaces were converted into energetic live-in studios, and nobody objected. The sunny days and cool ocean breeze made a wonderful environment, and crowds of beach visitors were an interesting diversion. The gathering community of creative people added more stimulation. Venice became a hive of avant-garde galleries, coffeehouses and good restaurants. More people were drawn to the excitement. Counterculture vendors and strolling musicians found new customers. Beach bums found a beach to sleep on, and tourists to panhandle. The Venice mix of urban reality and tinsel-town fantasy hinted at an authentic cultural alternative, but the artists were soon priced out. .
Success brought developers and house buyers to the place once declared the slum by the sea. Rents soured. Stores changed to studios became stores again. Old structures were demolished and replaced by fancy architecture. Emerging artists and artists who weren’t anointed by critical acclaim looked for a new place to go. Downtown L.A. was the new place.
As my pickup enters downtown, my neighborhood bears little resemblance to Venice, except for the homeless. There are no hip coffeehouses, no garden restaurants, no wacky street vendors and no roller-skating musicians. My destination isn’t vibrant. It has no allure of leisure or fun. Where I live is hard and gritty. The neighborhood east of Alameda Street is mostly empty, except for a few surviving businesses, the wandering bums and the illegal artists.
The downtown L.A. artists colonize a land of railroad tracks, trucks and dumpsters. Their studios are hidden in two- or three-story structures dotted among the old industrial edifices beyond the new office towers and Skid Row. In buildings unrentable for commerce artists find the cheap space no longer available in Venice. Three feet above the sidewalk on the first floor of a warehouse built before 1900, I lease a 2,000-square-foot unfinished space for very little money. I think of my studio as more low than lofty. To build my studio dream, I contend with leaks, raids and rats. Today is a raid.
The first raid came last week. A building inspector arrived at an appointed hour after lunch. From our entryway stoop Gary, Karen and I watched him pull up in a big white car marked with the City of Los Angeles seal. He parked at the curb in front of the main entrance to the warehouse: glass doors flanked by brown pilasters and inscribed above in faded black paint “Citizens Warehouse, 1001 East First Street.” The tall African-American man, wearing a white shirt with striped red tie and pressed navy blue trousers, emerged from the automobile. In his left hand he cradled a clipboard. Joel and Marc, the artist-owner representatives, greeted him dressed in sneakers, jeans and tee shirts. We couldn’t hear the discussion, but from our prior strategy session with Marc and Joel we knew they intended to show the inspector only a few studios. Our four in the center of the building would be one group. Joel told the inspector he could only show the studios to which he had keys.
Keys wouldn’t be available to the door of the space on the second floor with the big hole in the roof connecting it to a newly built studio, nor to the door of “The Pit,” the space on first floor with the big hole in the floor connecting it to the basement. No guardrails surrounded the hole. No handrails protected the steep stair that descended into the dark cellar. None of these alterations were done with permits or adherence to code.
Keys to the basement wouldn’t be available. The basement divided into several sections. A middle section held the remnants of the old tallow pits. North of the pits was a section with the ceiling three feet above the sidewalk and a floor three feet below the sidewalk. In this low and broad space of more than 6,000 square feet, populated by a forest of short stubby columns, lived a couple with a three-year-old child. They had no natural light or ventilation. Their spaces were defined and subdivided by thin black plastic tarps hung from the joists of the floor above and spanning from column to column in a network of planes -- a lot like a maze. They had no kitchen or bathroom. They were having fun in this radical life style, but allowing the inspectors to see it would mean instant eviction. South of the pits was a space with an airplane under construction. A 20-foot wing lay on edge between columns filling the gap from floor to ceiling. Other pieces of fuselage and tail were scattered over the space. Around the pieces were many cans of paints and solvents, all flammable liquids. Should a fire inspector see this, some artists might go to jail.
The body language of the inspector revealed his annoyance. Marc, shrugging his shoulders, expressed his apologies. The inspector tapped a pen against the white paper on his clipboard and looked angrily at Joel. Joel looked at the paper with a bewildered expression. I imagined that this man was not happy with his given chore of playing a game of cat and mouse with these unconventional characters who were violating page after page of the building and zoning ordinances and getting away with it. Marc invited the inspector to enter through the glass doors. We left the stoop to await the inspector visit. Our preparations were complete.
My bed and my clothes were in my truck parked a block away. The rickety stairway in my studio that led to the basement and family space was barred with wood slats nailed over the door. Ellen’s mattress lay outside her locked and keyless loading-dock door, propped against the building. Karen and Gary’s clothes were buried at the bottom of a pile of painting tarps. When the inspector entered with Joel and Marc he found Gary and me playing ping-pong over a table specially built to conceal the couple’s bed.
Without a word the inspector marched past us and stopped in front of the open and empty alcove that was the studio bedroom. This space was usually enclosed by a gigantic pivoting partition. The 12-by12-foot wall was hinged to a wood column and could pivot 90 degrees on casters. The partition was pivoted out for the inspection, shielding a kitchen and a hole in the studio wall that led to Karen’s space. The bedroom was empty except for a television monitor positioned on milk crate. The monitor played one of Gary’s performance art video tapes. The inspector stared at Gary’s monologue then turned and stepped behind the pivoted partition. Joel and Marc trailed after him into the kitchen area. Between paddle-whacks of our game, I heard the inspector declare, “See what I mean?” Marc responded, “He spends a lot of time here. A kitchen is necessary.” The long silence meant they had moved into Karen’s studio.
The inspector wouldn’t find much incriminating evidence in Karen’s space. It was one large room with an entry door and three windows on the exterior wall that looked out on the railroad yard. Large layout tables filled the space. Paints, brushes and canvas covered the tables. Along the wall beyond the entry door, a toilet sat. No walls provided privacy.
The inspector’s tone became accusatory as he strode back into Gary’s space: “Are you telling me people use that water closet without privacy?”
“Is there something wrong with that?” Joel asked.
“Oh, I can think of about 20 things,” the inspector said in an exasperated tone. The three men approached the ping-pong table. Marc lit up a cigarette. Joel fiddled with a small ring of keys. The inspector folded his arms across his chest. The clipboard was pressed to his body. His head raised, he scanned the open ceiling. I asked the inspector if he wanted to see Ellen’s studio and my place across the hall.
“Of course!” he said, eyeing me with suspicion. Putting down my paddle, I grabbed my keys off the recently refinished maple floor and led the inspector down the hallway to Ellen’s door.
“Ellen’s out of town, I said, inserting the key in her lock. The door swung open. I flipped the light switch and stepped aside. “This is her dance and meditation space,” I added as the inspector entered the enormous room. The polished floor glistened.
“All the floors in this section of the building are maple. Aren’t they beautiful?,” said Marc, his cigarette dangling from his lips. Ash fell to the floor. Marc stepped on the ash and ground it into the polish. The inspector walked into the middle of the room, followed by Marc and Joel. I remained by the door, leaning against a white wall that extended more than 30 feet to an exterior brick wall with a gigantic metal-covered sliding door. Marc and Joel hadn’t been in this space since Ellen finished her improvements.
Ellen Fitzpatrick was a business executive. Most of the work on her space was done by workmen because she could afford the cost and didn’t have the time to do it herself. This studio was her sanctuary away from the competition and clutter in business life. Here she could do her devotions, meditate, dance and play her sitar in a vast uncluttered space. Her dream of the creative life wasn’t centered on making art. She did paint a little. Her dream was spiritual. She sought membership in an imaginative community, where she could engender the creative spirit in herself and others. We gave Ellen a name that asserted the motherly nature obscured by her workday outfits, connected her to the river in India, revered as a spiritual source, and identified her with an Indian guru. The name fit her well. It captured her flowing compassion, physically manifested in her big body and her long, lush hair that flashed reds and blues among the auburn strands. Ellen was called Gunga Ma.
I could hear Gunga Ma return at night. Her high heels made a determined clack on the floor of the corridor next to my studio. One evening shortly after her return, I walked in to find her standing in the middle of her studio, still dressed for day in a fashionable outfit, high heels, a long silk scarf draped around her shoulders. She was sanding her floor. A big circular electric sander was pulling her across the loft, making the scarf flutter like a flag. Her fabulous hair waved in the air like a huge canopy. I laughed. She couldn’t hear me, nor see me as I approached her.
I touched her shoulder. She nearly lost control of the machine in surprise at my touch. I grabbed a handle to help her regain equilibrium. She turned off the machine.
“What are you doing?” I asked with a big grin on my face. “You’re not really dressed properly to operate a floor sander.”
“I saw you and Gary and the others working so hard to make your studios, I felt I had to do some of the work of making my space myself.”
As I stood by the entry door, I thought about this incident while I watched the three men survey Gunga Ma’s space. The huge room, with its polished maple floor and the grid of square wood columns, had only one intrusion – a long white wall separating a private space from the main volume of the loft. The rest of the space was empty and defined by two red brick walls and two white walls edging the perimeter of the studio. Behind the white wall a shower, another un-enclosed toilet, and small sink cabinet with mirror above provided for Ellen’s physical needs. To the right of the entry door, along the white wall, a pile of pillows and a box covered with Indian silk cloth were the remnants of Ellen’s bed and clothes. There was no kitchen.
Joel, Marc and the Inspector stood in the empty space beyond the wall defining Ellen’s private area in the empty space. I visualized Ellen dancing around the wood columns in bare feet, wearing her colorful saris, her arms extending, bending and waving to music from a tape deck lying on the floor.
The three men walked to the far brick wall. A shrine to the Swami Muktananda was positioned there. On a small table flanked on either side by large vases filled with silk flowers, were two candlesticks, a bowl for incense sticks, a bunch of incense and a photo of the Swami. The bearded Indian guru was wearing an orange cap and orange shirt. His forehead was smeared with white and between his eyes was a red dot. Mutananda smiled. The three men bent down and stared at his color photograph. Joel lingered at the shrine, while the inspector and Marc crossed the studio. Marc picked up a sitar propped against the white wall. The inspector shook the large lock that pinned the 15-foot-long metal door against the brick wall.
“The railroad tracks lie beyond that door,” I called across the studio, while I imagined Ellen sitting in the open doorway playing her sitar and watching the trains pass under the First Street bridge spanning the concrete ditch of the Los Angeles River.
The inspector ran his hand over the galvanized metal surface of the door and turned to walk toward me. The three men converged at the door, stepped into the corridor, and started walking away. I was left to close the studio and hustle to get ahead of the group so I could open my place.
The inspector marched in and headed for the big silvery enclosure positioned in the middle of the studio. From the ceiling hung a section of Christo’s Running Fence wrapped so that it created a rectangular room. This parachute-cloth panel was taller than the ceiling such that the cloth covered the floor inside the rectangular space like a rug. This was my bedroom, now empty of the bed. The inspector stuck his head inside the open seam. He stepped back quickly and walked across the studio into the gap between the enclosure around the elevator, and the open wall of my bathroom. At the far wall of the studio he spun around, walked several steps forward and peered into the opening that defines a toilet and shower space.
Several steps more and he turned to his right at the edge of the next wall and stared at the mailbox emerging through a door. He tried the door handle but nothing moved. “It’s not a door,” I said, “It’s an art piece in homage to Magritte.”
“A what, to whom?” the inspector replied with a sneer.
“The artist is the surrealist Magritte. He did a painting with a train emerging from a door. I didn’t have a train, so I used a mailbox.” The inspector shook his head, and moved along my construction of separate walls that made a kitchen and bath. He stopped at the staircase beyond the walls and a metal sliding door. The door separated my studio from Rae’s on the other side of a thick brick wall. The staircase went nowhere. It ended at the ceiling. Under this stair was the stair that went to the basement. He traveled no further into my studio. Turning around shaking his head, he walked to the front wall of the studio and stared at the big metal roll-up door.
“This still work?” he asked banging the clipboard against the metal slats.
“There is a pull chain on the right side that will raise the door," I replied from my position next to the entry door. Before I could walk to him, he stepped to the chain side of the door and yanked on the long loop, pulling the wrong direction. The chain jumped the gear above and crashed to the floor. The inspector defiantly strode out of my studio. Joel and Marc followed him hastily out my door, out the entry door and into the street.
I heard the angry words of the city inspector. He said this rundown firetrap should be leveled immediately for everyone’s protection. He said the building should be closed down for all the infractions of code he saw. He identified the exiting violations, like the stair that went nowhere and the bathroom without a door. He was dismayed at all the ventilation violations where there were toilets. He observed that there wasn’t enough lighting, like in the studio with all the pillows. The last and perhaps most dangerous condition was the lack of earthquake reinforcement, he declared. Everyone who entered this building was at serious risk.
“You are fortunate,” he said to the silent Marc and Joel, “because I am not inspecting for these issues at this time. The question of occupancy has to be established first, and then the other rules will apply. The city has its procedures. You will have other visitors soon.”
The next evening Marc and Joel appeared at my door. They warned of another inspection coming tomorrow. Joel and Marc were part-owners in this secret real-estate development and were our sole contact with the city authorities. Joel, in blue shorts, black tee shirt and ragged sneakers, stood stiffly in the hallway. His hairy arms were folded across his chest; his hairy legs exposed. The unshaven face below the lush curly hair completed the casual bohemian attitude. Marc, in a red tee shirt, blue jeans and thongs, slouched against the wall smoking a cigarette. His full mustache moved above a smirking mouth.
“Don’t have a bed. Don’t be around when they come. That way the inspectors can’t tell and they can’t ask if you live in your studio,” said Joel. In a gruff serious tone, he added, “This new visit is the most serious threat yet. There are four inspectors coming tomorrow, building, plumbing, electrical and fire.”
“They have a task force after us now,” Marc said sarcastically.
“You have to get rid of anything that reveals you live here! No toothbrush! No dirty dishes! Have nothing around that hints you are here 24 hours,” Joel commanded.
“If the inspection does not go well, the building inspectors could lock us out of the warehouse,” Marc said with a broad smile. I could see Marc was enjoying this game. He believed artists had to be outlaws -- to live as they wished, to do as they liked.
“We are bringing the inspectors to this section of the building first,” Joel stated, backing away from my door. “Disappear.”
“You must keep up the pretense, continue the illusion.” Marc intoned in a somber tone, turning down the corridor and heading for Ellen’s door.
On other occasions, I’d heard Marc admonish artists for too-loud parties and lovers’ fights that brought the police. Outlaws avoid drawing attention was his motto.
I decided to take the recommended course of action and disappeared for the day, taking my bed and all my clothes with me. I went to the beach and swam nervously in the ocean worrying I would lose all the work of dry-walling the studs, insulating the ceiling, sanding the floor, building a kitchen and bath, and painting my 2000 square feet with the curious loading dock. Many artists, forewarned, disappeared and took their beds and clothes with them. The word was out on Center Street.
Full of apprehension and recalling the words of the inspector, I turn onto narrow Center Street from my day at the beach. That’s when I see the police. Two officers astride their motorcycles block the road. “It’s happened,” I mutter, “I’m homeless.”
I drive up to them. They wave me off. I halted. One officer rises off his bike and walks up to the truck window. “You can’t enter here,” he says.
I’m panic stricken. My worst fear has come true . We are evicted. I have nowhere to go.
“Can’t I even go in and get a few belongings?” I beg the officer. He looks at me strangely. “I used to live here,” I say desperately.
“Oh, that’s different,” the officer says, standing up straight and beginning to smile. “They are filming here tonight, and anybody who doesn’t belong here has to stay out.” The cop steps away from my truck, and waves me to pass.
The second cop signals to me. “You can enter,” the officer says, “but speak to the guy at the pay phone. He is the location manager and will direct you where to park.”
“I have to put this bed away,” I tell him. “I have to reach my loading dock.”
The officer turns to look at the back of my truck. “Are you an artist?” he asks, “I heard they live around here.”
“Yes,” I reply, “that’s part of my art. I’m doing an installation.”
The cop’s face twists into a sneer. He waves me on and I pull onto Center Street, where people swarm around camera dollies, and electric cords crisscross the street.
The 1001 East First Street sign above the entry to the warehouse is covered up. Above the two glass doors a new sign is installed. It says “Third Precinct.” A squad car for the New York Police Department is parked in front. The man on the pay phone sees me, drops the phone and rushes to my truck. “No! No! No! What do you think you’re doing?” he yells.
“I live here, man,” I reply. With a sigh, the man backs away. He yells to the crew up the street to let me through. They move to the sides of the street. The camera dolly is pushed off the road. I drive slowly toward my loading dock, maneuvering the pickup between sandbags, dollies and technicians. While the movie crew watches I turn and back the pickup to the edge of the loading dock. Jumping from the truck, I run to the entryway of 112 Center Street. The door is unlocked. I open my studio door and run to the loading dock’s door pull chain and begin to hoist the door.
“How long is this going to take, buddy?” I hear the location manager shouting in the street. I have to operate the chain carefully or it will jump the gear and fall on the floor, letting the door loose to shut. The door opens slowly. “You are holding up production,” the manager shouts at me as I stand above the street looking down on a crowd of Hollywood folks surrounding my truck. “It will go a lot faster, if one or two of your people help me offload the truck.” They do and I roll down the door, safe in my studio. I spend the night listening to sirens, shots, screams from the street, wondering if my studio has been condemned by the day’s inspection.
Nothing happens for a week. No one wants to discuss what happened with the building inspectors. Life returns to normal. Later, on an afternoon many days later, I and several other artists are enjoying the sun in the opening of my loading dock when an old Chevy cruises up and halts. The car, heavy and long, holds five worried-looking people. They stare at us in silence.
Gary, his eyes fixed on the car, says, “I think they think they are looking at an art tableau: Residents of Alien Territory. Maybe they got lost going to Laguna Beach.”
“A scene like Manet’s ‘Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ with clothes on,” retorts Michael, wiggling his eyebrows at the car passengers and emitting a brief aborted laugh.
“No, I think they are looking at a George Segal installation with figures more like the realistic sculptures of Duane Hanson called ‘Artists in Downtown’,” says Karen, speaking with her lips immobile and her body frozen in a relaxed position in her chair.
“Illegal artists in their lair,” Gary says, becoming motionless, slumped in his low lawn chair. Michael and I, sitting on the floor with our backs against the edge of the wall, our legs dangling over the lip of the loading dock and our faces turned to the car, become still. Jan, his back to the car, stands on the sidewalk, leaning into the loading dock with his arms extended and supported on the floor. He doesn’t move a muscle. The people in the car shift their heads to get a better view of the picture. They turn to each other, speaking words we can’t hear. We remain motionless. The front-seat passenger turns back toward us and, after several moments of silence, speaks: “Can you tell us the way to the County Jail?”
The tableau of artists remains motionless, each person contemplating whether to answer. The visitor asks the question again. He is asking the most common question asked on Center Street by passing motorists. In this area of downtown, far from the activity of shops and theaters on Broadway, the office buildings around Bunker Hill or the government edifices of the Civic Center, people come only if they have a business in the old warehouses or factories, if they are homeless and seeking anonymity, or if they are lost. Most of the lost are wandering around looking for the road that will lead them to the County Jail, a huge gray structure that lies a quarter-mile north of the Citizens Warehouse, past the chicken slaughterhouse, the oil field, the auto impound yard and, beyond, the freeway. The way is not easy to find. The streets by the river reflect the railroad era when they were made, they curve into each other and often dead end. Rail tracks run down them. Big potholes reveal the city’s disinterest. There is only one street that gets you beyond the barrier of the freeway.
Gary breaks the silence. He rises slowly to his six-foot-five-inch height and moves forward to the edge of the loading dock. Raising his right arm, he keeps his eyes trained on the man in the car. The two men stare at one another. Gary turns his head toward his arm and extends his index finger. He points toward the north. In a loud and clear authoritative voice, he says, “Go straight ahead. Pass the cold storage warehouse. Watch out for rats. Lots of big ones live there. Pass the slaughterhouse on your right. Watch out for fugitive chickens. Pass the walls that hide the oil wells and the towed cars. Watch out for the wild man without legs in the wheelchair. He charges from nowhere. Pass the paper-box factory. Watch out for the transvestite hookers. Pass under the freeway overpass and curve around the police arsenal. Watch out for the police battering ram. Stop at the corner of Vignes Street. Turn right. You will see all the bail bondsman trailers and the jail straight ahead. Got that?”
Gary’s arm slowly descends to his side. He stands erect and silent. His head rotates very slowly, and his eyes return to stare at the man. All the artists remained motionless. The four people in the car stare at the artists. We wait. They wait. “Good luck,” Karen says, her lips remaining almost motionless, her body still. The front-seat passenger, looking up the street in the direction Gary pointed, then down the street as if to see that he could retreat in that direction if needed, finally said loudly, “Thank you.” He hesitates for one last look before driving off fast, peeling rubber in the direction Gary pointed. When they are beyond the cold-storage building, we all slump, roll and laugh.
“I think I should start an art gallery in this loading dock,” I say. “It’s perfect for Los Angeles. In the city where there are drive-ins, drive-throughs and drive-bys of every kind -- restaurants, cleaners, banks, movie theaters, even churches and shootings -- there should be a drive-by art gallery. It solves the persistent parking problem. It allows the art patron to see art at the pace of automobile culture. The art lover will take two seconds of driving by with the occasional halt when something grabs the eye. This could give Los Angelenos their culture zap, quick and easy.”
“Come on,” Michael replies, “Street art ain’t no new idea. What about all the art billboards in L.A. and San Francisco, and the outdoor murals? Gang graffiti is getting attention from the curators. There are plenty of art windows in the storefronts on Melrose and Beverly. Artists do installations in downtown all over the place. What would be new about an art gallery in a loading dock?"
“Err … it’s behind rubber bumpers and a wooden rail,” I say, trying to think of something more amazing.
“If you have a street gallery in this hole in the wall,” Gary says, “you can’t be separated from the audience by a pane of glass. That’s too cowardly.”
A discussion ensues about glass as the ultimate isolator of art, and the intellectual merits of a drive-by gallery. Conversation drifts to the appropriate name for a drive-by gallery. Several alternatives are proposed. Michael suggests L.A.A.G, Los Angeles Art Gallery. Gary throws out Drive-by Gallery of Center Street. Karen proposes First and Center Drive-by Gallery.
“Nah, nah, nah,” I say. “Boring!”
Nothing seems to fit, and interest in the concept begins to wane, just like the sun now descending behind the façade of the warehouse across the street.
“The beach is closing,” I say, rising from the corner of the loading dock and dusting myself off. Gary and Karen rise and fold up their lawn chairs. Michael jumps down to the street. Jan, who has been silent through the discussion and proposed no gallery names, speaks. “It should be called the Art Dock,” he says, and walks off toward his studio at the end of the building.
We all laugh.
“That’s it,” I yell to Jan’s back. “That is the right name. The Art Dock it shall be.”
“Yeah? How long do you think your Art Dock will last, when we could be kicked out of this building any minute now?” Michael says as he heads to his studio at the other end of the building.
“Good question, but worth testing,” I reply.
Gary and Karen disappear behind the Running Fence to go back their studios. I cross the loading-dock opening to roll down the metal door. I am very amused. All I have to do is find an artist to put his work in the Art Dock. The chain that loops over the gear at the head of the dock jumps the sprockets. The heavy metal shutter clatters swiftly down, and closes with a loud crash. Kabang!
“An Art Dock,” I chuckle. “That will humor the powers that be,”