Twenty years ago advertising mogul Jay Chiat came up with a radical notion for the workplace.
“He consigned the concept of private space to the scrap heap of office history — desks, filing cabinets, family photos, and all,” wrote Fast Company. “Instead, workers were given cell-phones, PowerBooks, and the freedom to be creative whenever and wherever the spirit moved them.”
“In place of a traditional office, Chiat gave his employees a Frank Gehry-designed “clubhouse” in Venice Beach, California. Here they could hold meetings, exchange ideas, and come up with brilliant campaigns — provided that they could find a place to sit. It was one of the boldest office experiments of the pre-Web era. And it drove a lot of people crazy.”
As it turned out Chiat was way ahead of his time; the virtual office didn’t work for workers who found they needed their own desks as well as each other’s company.
In an ironic twist, that Frank Gehry-designed “Clubhouse” aka “Binocular Building” on Main was later leased by one of the powerhouses of today’s virtual life, Google. But where Chiat had encouraged workers to work anywhere but at the office, Google has taken the opposite approach, creating a busy anthill of workplace-based staff, showered with enticements including free food and drink at counters located every 100 feet, in-house gyms, a climbing wall and free massages, an outdoor theater and a welcome mat for dogs.
As with other Google offices, it has become something of a citadel — albeit one that’s a fun palace akin to Willy Wonka’s secretive Chocolate Factory — both to Google-skeptics outside, and for its coders inside, many of whom are newcomers to the area, and get little free time to habituate themselves to Venice’s maverick character and lifestyle.
So Google Venice decided to create an artwork that reminded staffers of its specific location and put out a call to local artists, asking for mock-ups for a Venice-themed artwork to embellish a narrow hallway, about 48 feet long and 8 feet wide.
Patrick Marston, a muralist and painter who lives with his husband Michael Brunt on one of the Venice walk streets, pitched the concept of a mural celebrating the visionary Abbot Kinney.
He was the man who endeavored to recreate Venice, Italy, complete with canals, imported gondoliers and high culture. But he had to give up on the cultural aspirations for the project when he realized that Socal Venetians were more interested in the beach. Undeterred, he swiftly pivoted, creating instead coastal amusements that earned Venice the title of “Coney Island of the Pacific.”
The first conversation with Google Venice, recalls Marston, who trained as a commercial artist and moved into fine art, was not, “Hey, paint something not to make our people happy, but paint something to make them know where they are.”
The final work was unveiled a couple weeks back to a select few non-Googlers who got to step inside the office (more overtones of Willy Wonka and his golden tickets). This was after 278 hours of painting, recalls Marston, spread over 6-7 weeks, with work starting at 8PM at night and going into the wee hours.
“It was crazy,” says Brunt, “our whole life changed and we got on this new sleep cycle and it was unique and crazy funny. We watched Netflix the whole time — just to have some stimulation to keep us awake.”
“But we were such a team, the employees in the kitchen, everybody took care of us. We became very close with the night security and the kitchen staff, we had epic conversations with them. Then some of the employees — the coders — they would get excited about the mural. It was a very special time.”
Check out images of the mural along with reflections from Marston and Brunt on the work and its location, below.
Marston says he put into his mural inventions of the time period (Kinney opened his Venice of America in 1905): “It was a very optimistic time with the invention of the radio, the bicycle, the airplane, the typewriter — I think Kinney was 16 when the typewriter was invented — and that’s why I incorporated them into the mural, to give people a sense of the world Kinney was experiencing.”
When Marston initially submitted his scheme for the 48 feet long, narrow hallway, “first of all, I thought it was a fun adventure and was a little arrogant thinking, I can figure this out. But when I got into the space, I had to reconfigure the concept because it was longer than I’d imagined. The space demanded a certain level of excellence because you cannot get more than five feet from each wall so I knew people would be really scrutinizing it.”
DnA asked Marston and Brunt whether it was a contradiction to have Google trying to celebrate the Venice character even as it contributes to the change of Venice character.
Says Patrick Marston, “Venice has changed for years; if anything it has been invented and reinvented countless times, with different styles and movements. When people say they don’t want Venice to change, I say, since when?”
In addition to the inventions of Abbot Kinney’s time period (late 19th and early 20th centuries), such as the Penny Farthing, Marston also added some Venice surreality: “I put the whale on a bicycle because it was one of the ways I wanted to define Venice in a simple icon.
“It reflects whale watching on Venice pier, the tattoo and hipster vibe, the invention of the bicycle and the Venice Bike Path all mashed together in an 1800 Funkadelic Rollerboogie icon.”
“Abbot’s Dream” is intended to be permanent but is visible only to Googlers. You can find out about Patrick Marston’s other work at his web site, or you can see some of his mural designs on the streets of LA, like the “Aquarium” mural in Mar Vista.
There is another hallway that non-Googlers got to see while attending the unveiling of Abbot’s Kinney. This one, below, reminds staffers of the company they work for.