Art Appears… and Disappears… in LA

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

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Updated: Mysterious street artist hoaxes Downtown L.A., signs removed
By Deborah Vankin
September 19, 2012

A mystery street artist with a sense of humor has turned parts of downtown L.A. into a guerrilla art installation.

A fake city plaque, on the corner of Spring and 2nd streets, attributes a block of palm trees to artist Chris Burden. (Steve Devol/Los Angeles Times / September 18, 2012)

Eight neighborhood landmarks or areas have been marked with official-looking city placards that offer what appear to be background information about the location. One, for instance, says that a downtown dumpster was designed by Andy Warhol.

Though the artworks are unsigned, Culture Monster has learned that they are called “Art Appears” and are the work of the artist who calls himself Wild Life.

[Update, 12:08 p.m. Wednesday: At least two of the signs have been removed since Tuesday, one near City Hall and one near the LAPD headquarters.]

The artist Wild Life was half the duo (with Calder Greenwood) responsible for life-sized papier-mâché installations that sprouted up around town a few months ago, notably as the lounging sunbathers in an open construction pit on 1st Street and Broadway.

In “Art Appears,” one laminated placard appeared adjacent to a block of 16 bushy palm trees at 2nd and Spring streets. The sign named the trees “Thirsty Palms” — although misspelled as “Thristy Palms” — and attributed its existence to artist Chris Burden; the rows of trees are reminiscent of Burden’s “Urban Light” sculpture at LACMA. [The sign was removed beween Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, though as of Wednesday noon the bare post remained.]

The plaque appeared official-looking with the forged signatures of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch.

The sign read: “This purposefully under-watered palm grove, whose layout echoes the lamppost entrance the artist designed for LA County Museum of Art was installed here in sympathy with all those whose daily existence is a struggle for survival.”

Just around the corner, the looming Sister Cities signpost in front of City Hall South at 1st and Main streets was recast. A tiny “sister signpost” beside it, held up a laminated plaque bearing Villaraigosa and Deitch’s signatures, saying the Sisters signpost was designed by Yoko Ono “to promote peace by imagining a kinship between seemingly unrelated places.”

[The post was pulled out of the ground sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.]

The Sister Cities signpost – which displayed the names of more than a dozen of L.A.’s real sister cities such as Mumbai, India; Auckland, New Zealand; and Mexico City – was actually designed by City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s wife, Brigid LaBonge, according to the city’s deputy of arts and culture Kamilla Blanche.

The councilman is an avid reader of plaques, he said, and he took offense at the street art joke. “My wife designed it!” he said. “I hope we don’t get into a craze where other people are putting names on city monuments and they’re fabricating the credit. As someone who reads plaques, I think it’s real important to be correct and true and honest.”

Downtown Art Walk director Joe Moller said he appreciates the humor. “We’re constantly presented with misinformation and things that are not accurate,” he says. “The execution on the messaging of this art installation is very cool and interesting.”

So what, exactly, does Wild Life hope to convey with his elaborate hoax? To protect his anonymity, the artist — who is not working with Greenwood on the series of faux plaques — sent a message to Culture Monster through Stephen Zeigler, owner of the downtown art space 118 Winston.

“His only intention is to bring art and culture to the streets of Los Angeles by any means necessary,” Zeigler wrote in an email. “Look, the mayor’s name has shown up on much worse things than my stupid little signs.”

[Asked for Wild Life to comment about the signs’ removal, Zeigler related that the artist said: “I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did.”]

A telephone operator at City Hall’s citywide services directory 311, however, took the laminated plaque outside her workplace at face value. While on hold for a representative at the mayor’s office, Culture Monster asked the operator if, by chance, she knew who designed the Sister Cities signpost. (We hadn’t yet reached Blanche for clarification.)

“Oh, that’s Yoko Ono,” she said.

“Are you sure? Really?” Culture Monster asked.

“Yes,” she insisted. “That’s what it says on the plaque.”

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

Click here for a list of the eight placards of “Art Appears”

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