Art House of Horrors
Aimless and purely provocative art installations in a big empty building on Sepulveda Boulevard only succeed in making a strange place even stranger
By Christina Campodonico
Just when I thought all the Halloween decorations had been taken down in Westchester, I encountered a ghoulish sight at 9800 S. Sepulveda Blvd. A multi-headed papier-mâché monster sat behind the glass of the long-abandoned building, formerly home to the United Savings and Loan Association. When I entered the Welton Becket-designed structure, the gaudy Mickey Mouse piñata head looked as crazed as the pink-faced Donald Trump below it, while a shrieking figure, straight out of Hades or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” seemed to howl right at me.
Was this a warning?
I wouldn’t be able to tell until I explored more of this massive building and its eponymous art show, “9800,” representing nearly 100 individual artists and organized by six curators with the non-profit 501(c)(3) Foundation. While my constitution wasn’t strong enough to visit every floor of this expansive installation, each level that I visited was populated with a plethora of bad art.
After perusing a lawn of spray-painted t-shirts in the lobby with my friend, we ventured into the basement, where we discovered a host of horrors. A garbled mash of radio static echoed through the corridors into rooms holding more oddities than curiosities — cringe-worthy videos of lobsters clacking on clams and sharks skewered into shark-fin soup among them.
There were even more ghastly installations on the fourth floor. A lady’s wig attached to a fishing line dangled from the ceiling in one room, bringing suicidal thoughts to mind.
And then there was a room containing three large kitchen knives and instructions for visitors to pick up one of these lethal weapons and hold it inches from another person’s throat before putting it back down again. Whether meant seriously or in jest, WTF?!
Worse than these purely provocative pieces were artworks with lazy execution and aimless intentions —a bowl of yogurt left on a shelf, Styrofoam coffee cups clustered in a corner, hardboiled eggs strewn about the floor. Some artists were not above putting a single item in an empty room and calling it “art”— “Art Soup” in the case of one lone metal rice cooker.
Where the art of “9800” fails, it succeeds in making a strange empty building even weirder.
The show’s most effective pieces are the ones where you aren’t actually sure if the dilapidated look is entirely contrived or completely authentic.
In one gloomy corner of the basement an empty fridge lies on its side with its door flung open and a light bulb glowing within. It looks like a discarded appliance either bound for the junkyard or fresh from a post-apocalyptic future. Yet its haphazard position begs the question: Did someone flip it over, severing its ties with the nearby kitchenette? Or did the icebox just land that way after the last earthquake? That you don’t quite know is both mystifying and appealing. (As with many pieces in the show, there’s no placard naming the artist, nor the work, so it’s really anyone’s guess, though one floor had stickers on the wall with the artists’ names on them).
The same goes for another it-seems-like-it-was-aready-there installation on the main floor. Two leather chairs sit snugly by a curtained corner of the lobby beneath a tall wooden floor lamp. “Mad Men”-era accoutrements — two packs of Marlboros, stationery from some snub white-collar firm and a giant martini glass — are carefully placed. Reclining into one of these avocado-green chairs, you can easily pretend to be Don Draper. One visitor expressed his delight at actually being able to touch this art. (He seemed high, though.)
But between so many poorly executed installations, the building’s musky smells and a few cracked open rotten eggs — remember the eggs? — the whole experience was more stomach-churning than inspiring.
The real amusement of exploring this forsaken corporate landscape is in discovering its as-is eccentricities with which the art attempts to dialogue — exit signs that sit stacked up inside a fire extinguisher case like forgotten books inside a curio cabinet, a forlorn swivel stool that leans against a dusty door, and a water fountain whose outer casing hangs ajar like a dislocated jaw.
These strange moments of decaying beauty among a defunct temple of commerce appear to be the result of natural aging, however, rather than human touch. Had “9800’s” artists and curators taken better advantage of these organic instances they may not have needed to fill an entire building with scatter-brained schemes.
In the end, entropy triumphs over human intervention and the building is better left to its own devices.
“9800” is open from noon to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday (Nov. 13 and 14), if you dare. For more information, call (310) 328-8278 or email email@example.com.