Don’t come to the Big L.A. Portrait Gallery under the impression that there will be swarms of people, booming music and too many art installations to see. This isn’t the event in which others’ fever about an artwork spreads and makes everyone feverish before they can even judge it themselves. This isn’t an event to meet people or be seen; it’s a chance to appreciate art while being in a state of relaxation—appreciation in a purer form.
People on the way to the metro after work or strolling with their date through Grand Park can pause to take pleasure in the photos projected onto the wall of the L.A. County Hall of Records.
The 30 minute exhibition features 12 photography projects by various L.A. based artists. A slide with the artists name and a brief explanation of their art separates one series of photos from the next. One of the artists, Spencer Lowell explains on their website, “LA is more than sunshine and traffic.” The exhibits explore L.A. through its children’s diets, its police department’s predictive policing, and its cell phone towers disguised as trees.
A night after the opening, the crowd reached its peak around 10:30 p.m. at about 20 people. The event couldn’t handle a crowd twice that size. From half of the vantage points, flagpoles block the view of the projected photos.
Magenta-colored chairs are grouped together on a slanting patch of grass. Some people opt to sit on cement ledges. Check before taking a seat; cockroaches also like to enjoy their nights out.
Music accompanied the shifting photos. It played at an incredibly underwhelming decibel; it took me a while to recognize it as part of the art.
People attending the event enjoy the peace. Margaret Lam came with her partner. She described their experience as “relaxing.” They both “enjoy the quiet of the night,” Lam said. Lam has lived in L.A. her whole life and can’t believe there’s so much she doesn’t know about her city. “I feel like we live in a bubble and to see other perspectives was very enlightening, like for example the equestrian (exhibit). We didn’t know there was equestrian team in Compton.”
“Daring to Claim the Sky” by Melodie McDaniel presents photos of the equestrian teams made up of inner-city kids in the Compton Jr. Posse program. Even a sport with an elitist and exclusive history can be made accessible to everyone. The artist’s description slide explained that the program was an alternative to alluring gang and drug participation. Most students participating in the program earn scholarships to colleges and universities.
A group of friends, Benjamin Mei, Eric Wong, and Eric Ma stumbled on the event. “We were walking by to get dinner and we happened to see this free event. We were like ok, let’s check it out,” Mei said.
“I really liked the parts where it showed the immigrants waving their flags; people that were excited to be here. I really liked that because you could see the emotions on their faces. It was real and raw. It was like, ‘I’m in America finally’,” Ma said, describing the Newest Americans exhibit.
Another project titled “Underrepresented Glamour” featured people of color in L.A.’s creative industry. The artist Gizelle Hernandez is a master of light. In one photo, a black poet stands near a chain-link fence in his front yard. He sports baggy washed jeans, a t-shirt, and an over it an unbuttoned collared short-sleeve shirt. Despite the modest clothing and setting, Hernandez’s photo captures the sun as it spotlights the poet, making it seem as though gods in the heavens are anointing him.
The Big L.A. Portrait Gallery is a short half hour show and is only meant to attract small crowds over its month-long run, but its showcased artists sensitively capture a more personal L.A. that reveals much more than sunshine and traffic.
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