Art and the Urban Man, Part II
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Sometimes, come the end of the day, the Urban Man likes to stop making sense. Along with food and beauty, not making sense is a basic human need — and trust me, even people who live in L.A. are forced to make sense most of the time. When we need to stop, some people take drugs or dress in black, listen to chaotic lyrics or stroll into their living rooms and mess up their deepest relationships.
Lately, I like to drive down to BCAM for the lighting of the lamps. A year ago, as a public act of not making sense, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum installed two hundred old streetlamps in the plaza out front, all jammed together in tight rows. It's an installation by artist Chris Burden, and every evening, round about sunset, all the lamps go on. Often a small crowd gathers, and afterwards people mill around for a time, not sure what to do.
That's the purpose of art, these days, to break up common sense where too much has gathered. Like I said, a public service.
Anyway, the other day the Urban Man was experiencing some especially iron logic, and I required a little irony to set it off. In fact, I had been on the phone with an extremely organized person in India when a late golden sun caught the roof of the parking garage below my office and began creeping toward the sign on the Albertson's grocery store. Sensing the significance of the moment, I hung up, hopped in my '99 Ford Taurus, and headed for the BCAM streetlights. I knew I was cutting it close, so just in case, I picked out what irony I could along the way: A tall palm towering over a tiny pink house. A line of powerful cars jammed patiently along Olympic. Colored balloons tied to a sign announcing the Miracle Mile.
Okay, not much — and in spite of rush hour, I tried to rush. I wasn't, like, late for the theater or late for an argument with my wife, but it began to seem urgent that I be there for the exact moment of the lighting — after all, in such absurdity lies the aesthetic itself.
When I passed the lamps and saw they were not yet lit, trust me, I was greatly relieved.
Imagine me squealing into the lot across Wilshire as in a movie chase. Imagine me jumping out of my car, and starting along the crosswalk. In the middle of Wilshire, I swear I glanced away only once, and west at the sun setting through the skeletal outline of an empty building. It was pleasantly absurd, but not so absurd as when I turned back toward the museum and saw that in that brief moment that my attention had been diverted, the BCAM lamps had all been lit.
At first, I felt like a fool. Then I appreciated the greater irony of the fact that I had made it in time, but still missed the crucial act.
Such is art, thought the Urban Man.
Now a sound as of evening could be heard, even though it was Los Angeles. This sound included not just traffic, but the lowered voices of the people filtering among the thicket of streetlamps, as if through a forest. Two women sat together banging on old tin cans, and held a sign that read, inexplicably, "Recycle Music." When I asked, they said they were art students collecting money, but not for themselves. "Right," I said. I wanted to take their picture, but the batteries in my camera had died. And for one blissful moment, exactly as I had hoped, and perhaps as the artist had hoped, nothing made sense, and I could not explain to myself why I had come.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Photos courtesy of David at Art & Perception
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