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The Art Dockuments
The Story of the Art Dock, the drive-by art gallery in Los Angeles from 1981-1986
I am currently seeking a publisher for the work.
The Art Dockuments are the story of the drive-by gallery, The Art Dock, which I created in a loading dock as part of my studio in Downtown Los Angeles from 1981 to 1986. The 36 Art Dockuments, which include a preamble and an epilog along with the story of each show, are more than a review and critique of contemporary California art in the 1980’s, but a tale of the Downtown LA Art Community from its beginning in illegally occupied loft buildings, through the zenith of its popularity in 1984, to its gradual decline when loft living was legalized and developers seized the opportunity to sell the lifestyle to an ever-growing non-artist population. The epilogue relates what has happened to each artist to 2011.
“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.