The Hollyhock House gets a psychedelic art takeover

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Hollywood’s Barnsdall Art Park is about to get bathed in color. A pop-up multi-media exhibition this weekend will introduce thousands of art enthusiasts to the work of Aaron Axelrod.

Aaron Axelrod. Photo by Nicholas Tatone. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Hollywood’s Barnsdall Art Park is about to get bathed in color.

A pop-up multi-media exhibition this weekend will introduce thousands of art enthusiasts to the work of Aaron Axelrod. This is the first time the hilltop park has been handed over to one artist, and Axelrod plans to blanket it in swirling video installations, massive neon-lit sculptures and crystal-encrusted art.

The Los Angeles native’s first career retrospective has proven to be both exciting and nerve-wracking to the 32-year-old. At Axelrod’s studio in downtown L.A.’s Fashion District, with deadlines looming, he paced the floor in a spray paint-covered outfit and spoke of the massive amount of preparations needed for such an exhibition.

“It’s pretty crazy that the city is giving me access to take over the entire campus. It’s pretty much one entire city block on Hollywood and Vermont. First I had to start just with the Municipal Art Gallery, a 10,000-square-foot space. There’s like 12 different rooms. Each room is going to be a different body of work.”

Axelrod plans to illuminate the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House using projection mapping. Five movie projectors will cover every corner and facade of the building with looped videos of shifting colors and psychedelic animations.

“I kind of wanted to douse it with paint,” he said, “but they didn’t let me.”

Swarovski Installation 4

Axelrod has dubbed this survey of nearly a decade’s worth of work — which is open to the public July 16 and 17 from noon to 9:30 p.m. daily — “Dark Matter,” referring to the type of matter that scientists say accounts for roughly a quarter of the observable universe. He enjoys that idea of the vast unknown. “We can’t really see it or touch it or taste it, but we know it’s there,” he said.

Axelrod’s vividly colorful paintings and videos draw from his experiences with ayahuasca, a plant-based brew used in indigenous South American shamanic rituals that triggers psychedelic visions.

“You see all these weird colors that you never even knew existed. You see geometric shapes, you see different patterns, all shapeshifting. And I kind of wanted to recreate that visual on to the Hollyhock House, just because it was the absolute most amazing, beautiful experience that I’ve ever witnessed, hands down,” he said.


Axelrod grew up in Sherman Oaks, was kicked out of Beverly Hills High School “for drawing on some desks,” and went on to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at CalArts. He has created art for various corporate clients, including Disney, Google, Vans and Myspace. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department even commissioned him to create a memorial painting for an officer killed in the line of duty. His work has been displayed in museums, galleries, and public spaces.

Aaron Axelrod Barnsdall Art Park Profile

It turns out that the Hollyhock House provided him with the perfect palette. Wright’s design (completed in 1921 and named a national historic landmark in 2007) was inspired by oil heiress and social activist Aline Barnsdall’s favorite flowering plant, the hollyhock. He incorporated an abstract hollyhock motif throughout the facade and interior of the house, even in the furniture and textiles, and at her request, had hollyhock flowers planted throughout the grounds. The Mayan Revival-style house reopened in 2015 after a four-year renovation.

“There are so many blank walls and angular surfaces. There aren’t that many windows. Everything is very square and rectangular and very geometric, and it lends itself very well to projection mapping, because each side is technically its own screen,” Axelrod said.

Read more about Axelrod’s installation in the Jewish Journal, where this article originally appeared.

Aaron Axelrod’s three-day takeover of Barnsdall Art Park begins Friday, July 15 at 7 pm with a “Breaking Convention” Summer Soiree fundraiser. His show “Dark Matter” will be open to the public Saturday, July 16 and Sunday, July 17 from noon – 9:30 pm daily.