Monday, November 28, 2005

garden of earthly delights

the parking garage at LACMA is supposed to be torn down on thursday. at least, after then we will not be able to park there anymore, allegedly due to demolition. too bad -- we just reclaimed it from the tourists in the wake of king tut. (which ended nov. 20, and, shamefully, i did not go. i guess i am not an egyptomaniac.) something like 900-thousand-plus visitors went to see that show. yeah, and this summer it felt like every single one of them was in front of me at the parking booth, endlessly paying their $5 while i waited in line to get to work.

today the l.a. times ran an op-ed about how the museum's razing of this very same garage to build a new art palace for eli broad will result in it sacrificing commisioned murals by artists barry mcgee and margaret kilgallen. hmmm, i thought. i don't recall seeing those. they must be on the employee-parking level, which is the level above where i park. after reading tyler green's commentary, i had much to think about, as well as a desire to see the murals before they are destroyed, which they surely shall be. (or moved, which would be nicer and would still mean i wouldn't get to see them if i don't go look soon.)

when i parked in the garage this morning, i noticed something was different about the semi-subterranean space. the usually barren walls and bland beige pillars with their little hieroglyphics stencils were covered with graffiti: everything from tags and witty slogans to full-on art from a can. i gawped about in amazement, then went to work, resolving to check it out at the end of the day when most people (and their cars) had gone home.

i had told calendar girl about the graffiti garden, so we explored it together, first walking down a row of the garage and exclaiming over the tags and comments -- from signatures of "tyler" and "tuna" to stuff like "PICASSO SMOKED THE CUSH" and, more plaintively, "when will they let us in?" -- as well as the more abstract attempts at expression, from a minimal, cartoonish self-portrait (?) to a wide tangle of thick, curving black lines, filled in here and there with shocks of dark pink chalk, that looked like a bougainvillea plant, complete with ants walking on the vines. then we did the proper l.a. thing and hopped into my pony and drove around the lot, starting at one end and coming back up where we began on foot. so many colors -- orange, red, black, blue, green, gold. tons of tags, many elegantly scribbled like something you'd see on the declaration of independence. some art was letters, the big phat puffy ones that are so often associated with graffiti. one set of names had their artists' avatars (perhaps) adjacent to their monikers, both wielding magic markers, standing next to each other and bookended by their work. i wondered if they were friends. nearby, next to a pillar, was a neat arrangement of a half-dozen spent spray cans, silent witnesses to the crime.

eh, i mean that metaphorically. this wasn't a crime. it's a building about to be torn down. it's a playground. it's a canvas. it's a fleeting attraction -- i told c.g. that i felt like we were touring the christmas lights in the fancy neighborhoods, creeping slowly along the slanted floor of the garage, stopping the car to gawk at the more complex renderings, some of which painted over the icons of tut's mask and mummy.

it was kind of amazing that these anonymous artists (well, are they really anonymous? they do leave their signatures), this phantom crew, would still go at their work with such decisiveness and creative force. after all, this will all be lost forever when the garage goes. it is to some a tragedy in the case of the mcgee/kilgallen murals, that these known artists' contributions will be lost (esp. kilgallen, who is deceased and died young). yet others would say that the public-art mural is by nature transient, whether it lasts five years or five days, and not meant to be preserved. that seems logical, but there is still a twinge of regret in letting these works crumble so prematurely into dust.

i told c.g. that i would drop her off at her bus stop, but she wanted to go see the soon-to-be-lamented murals. my head was still full of graffiti (and fixed on catching the second half of the steelers getting pounded by the colts -- sob!), however, so i decided to go on home. i will see the murals, however. after all, tomorrow is another day.

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