Feminist Art Takes the City


If cities are technologies in their own right, as many locative media artists have suggested, then Los Angeles is a supercomputer. Its infrastructure of automobiles and media spectacles has predetermined the levels of mobility, privacy, and personal interaction experienced by its inhabitants, and it's hard to imagine a public art project that could penetrate this facade. Milan-based Galleria Emi Fontana has created an initiative called West of Rome, whose most recent project breaks through this interpersonal barrier. Established in 2005, West of Rome is an LA-based program to consider the relationship between the audience and the city. They debuted by installing Olafur Eliasson's project, Meant to be Lived In (Today I'm feeling prismatic) (2005), in a "post-modern" suburban home, and the new "Women in the City" program brings ten works by artists Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, and Cindy Sherman to the great outdoors. Sherman's Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) (exhibited here on billboards) ought to be right at home so close to Hollywood, but they instead take on a new life by exiting the gallery-- one which underscores the ultimate isolation and masked humanity of female archetypes, by placing them among the roving masses, to be gazed at or not, as with any other billboard. Louise Lawler has reprised two older works. Birdcalls (1972-81) is a sound installation, presently installed at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, which mimics the sound of birds' mating calls in phonetically pronouncing the names of successful male artists. At the Aero theatre (the site of the work's original debut), Lawler screened A Movie (1979), a full-length feature film, shown sans picture, with only the soundtrack. Both works question the nature of display in contemporary art-- a query Lawler has successfully pushed into a variety of different media. Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger are both intimately acquainted with mass-mediated working processes. In this instance, Holzer's Inflammatory Essays (1979-82), Survival Series (1983-85), and Truisms (1977-79) are exhibited throughout Los Angeles in the form of posters, stickers, and LED signs "that challenge the viewer to react to the often-aggressive slogans." This is the first time in the United States that her Survival Series texts are also translated into Spanish, to speak to the heavily-Hispanic population in Los Angeles. Kruger is right at home in the world of advertising, given that she's long detourned ads, critiquing them in their own visual and textual language to reveal and confront gender stereotypes. For the "Women in the City" project, Kruger debuts a new video, entitled Plenty, which is a humorously subversive exploration of communication in material culture. It's interesting to present these women in this way, because they are among the first female artists to find great success in the international art market. Ironically, by placing their work in a consumerist landscape, their original intent is thrown into relief, prying the message from the shell of its object. Visit the project's website for a map of installations that will be up at least through the end of March. - Marisa Olson

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Stills, 1977-1980