Exhibit built from crowdsourced ideas explores the endless possibilities of art in civic life

By Christina Campodonico

A unique pedestrian bridge spans Sepulveda Boulevard at Imperial Highway in this rendering by the architecture firm Baumgartner + Uriu

The business motto of El Segundo is “Where Big Ideas Take Off.”

The El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) wants to help public art do just that with “ELSEGUNDISSIMO,” which opens Sunday.

The 27th exhibition experience in the art space’s four-year history, “ELSEGUNDISSIMO” is taking an unconventional approach to honoring El Segundo’s centennial anniversary. Though nodding to the past (there’s a display of old-time El Segundo postcards on metal plates), the exhibition mostly looks to the future — namely how public art and innovative architecture can make the city a better place for everyone who lives, works or visits there.

And who better to answer that question than denizens of El Segundo themselves?

Months ago, ESMoA put out a survey asking anyone with an interest in the city to respond to prompts such as “What is the biggest challenge that faces El Segundo today?” or “What kind of art would you like to see in El Segundo?” Responders could also email in suggestions, sketches and photos. Call it curatorial crowdsourcing.

“The whole thing is to get art projects not with a top down process, but rather from the bottom up,” explains ESMoA curator Bernhard Zuenkeler.

After collecting these ideas, ESMoA shared them with local, national and international artists and architects who designed projects in response to the survey results.

The results vary from practical to fantastical. One design by architecture firm Baumgartner + Uriu (B+U) is a proposal for a pedestrian bridge over Sepulveda Boulevard where it meets Imperial Highway. Another is a mockup for an air balloon ride above the beaches of El Segundo — a sort of aerial tourist attraction. A series of dioramas by Charlotte Voelskow and Sebastian Keller feature images of beachgoers romping in the sand with bedazzled space helmets (or could they be fishbowls?) popping off the page … and their heads.

The motivation behind that artistic creation is not so clear, but Zuenkeler explains that the driving purpose of “ELSEGUNDISSIMO” (the “issimo” meaning “extremely” or “remarkably”) is to get the creative juices flowing.

“So lots of stuff will be super crazy,” he says. “Maybe people will feel like this never can be done, but other things are pretty tangible.”

Like that pedestrian bridge over Sepulveda. Or light-up boulders, inspired by sea glass that would illuminate the pathways of a public park at night.

“We hope that this is just the beginning,” says ESMoA cofounder Eva Sweeney, who encourages locals and visitors to continue contributing ideas to the exhibition over its three-month run. “It will
be a logistical challenge, but we are open for it.”

Visitors will also be able to have a say in what may ultimately become of these art and architectural proposals. At the end of the show, a special jury and the public at large will be able to vote for their favorite public art ideas, which ESMoA will then take to the El Segundo City Council and L.A. County Board of Supervisors for consideration.

That openness to the endless possibilities of art in civic life is not unique to this one exhibition experience, however. It is part of ESMoA’s continued mission to be a hub for artistic experimentation and innovation in Westside and South Bay communities.

“We really think of ourselves not like a normal museum, but rather an art laboratory, which really means: ‘Here’s the place where you can do anything.’ There are no mistakes, nothing. Everything is allowed,” says Zuenkeler.

That includes breaking out of the museum’s four walls.

“For us to be involved in the city I think is very important,” says Zuenkeler, “because it’s not only this little space as a laboratory. We will only be as good as the people who perceive art outside of the space. Otherwise you always have this, ‘I go into the space, and there I look at art, and then I get out and that’s it, I’m done with art.’ But our idea is to get art out of the space and get really involved.”

 “ELSEGUNDISSIMO” opens at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 5, with introductory remarks by El Segundo City Councilwoman Carol Pirsztuk at 2 p.m., at ESMoA, 208 Main St., El Segundo. The exhibit continues through May 21. Call (424) 277-1020 or visit esmoa.org.