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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | SO SoCal

Conceptual Art That's All Wet

October 26, 1997|Danny Feingold

They hang like martyrs, lashed to pylons in the perpetually dark, eerily tranquil space beneath Santa Monica Pier. But the trio of orange boats is not a sacrifice intended to placate the gods of El Nino. The marooned vessels represent the centerpiece of "Twilight and Yearning," an installation by German conceptual artist Manfred Muller.

"I'm breaking a very positive, romantic image," says Muller, raising his voice above the waves crashing under the pier. "Normally you see boats floating on the water or lying upside down on the sand. You feel a little sorry for these," he says, gesturing at the upended hulls.

Muller's boats face away from the ocean, two angled at each other in close proximity, the third banished to the side. "I hate when everything is so symmetric," remarks the 47-year-old artist. "I don't want to create harmony."

The project was conceived in 1990, but it wasn't until late August that Muller and a crew of four finally mounted the 16-foot, 500-pound steel dories to the concrete pillars that support the pier (the artist raised most of the $68,000 cost of the project through private donations).

Muller's boats figure to take quite a beating over the next few months--they are three-quarters submerged at high tide, and during a bad storm a single wave can hurl up to 4,000 tons of water against them--but the artist plans to leave them beneath the pier, however battered, indefinitely. And if they come loose? "If the boats go out to sea, it's a very nice metaphor," Muller shrugs. "It's like Baudelaire's line: 'When shall we set sail for happiness?' "

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