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Make that gallery to go

The 'Ashes and Snow' exhibition's art may be lasting, but its structure at Santa Monica Pier isn't. After all, this is the Nomadic Museum.

November 25, 2005|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

ALONG with sand and shining blue water at the Santa Monica Pier, now comes the strange vision of huge walls of stacked shipping containers, staggered like so many Lego blocks to let in squares of light, and all in a parking lot usually frequented by beachgoers.

Perhaps the containers are for shipping, one thinks. After all, this is the Pacific Ocean.

The reddish-colored behemoths, however, are not here for sea transport but to make up the walls of a portable gallery, the Nomadic Museum.

The temporary structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban will house "Ashes and Snow," an exhibition of photographs and other works by Gregory Colbert that will go on display in the space Jan. 14 through May 14.

The construction is adjacent to the pier in the same parking lot where the familiar yellow and blue Big Top tent takes up residence for occasional engagements for Cirque du Soleil.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 01, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Nomadic Museum -- An article in Friday's Calendar section about the Nomadic Museum said children younger than 12 would be admitted free. Children 6 and younger will be admitted free. The article also said there would be seating for 800 to view the "Ashes and Snow" film in the museum. Although the viewing area will accommodate up to 800 people, there will be only about 100 seats provided.

But in its unfinished state, the thing is more of a Cirque du "Say what?"

On the day before Thanksgiving, yellow forklift trucks driven by men in white hardhats were busy transporting still more shipping containers across the parking lot from a holding area nearby, dodging cars and bicycles as well as foot traffic headed for the sand.

As described in its catalog, "Ashes and Snow" is the artist's "lifelong ongoing project that weaves together more than one hundred photographic artworks, a film, art installations, and a novel in letters."

The works, the catalog says, represent "a patient exploration of animals in their natural habitat as they interact with human beings" observed by Colbert during more than 30 expeditions to India, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Africa and other locations.

According to publicist Charles Windisch-Graetz, tickets to the Santa Monica show will cost $15, with free admission for children younger than 12.

A spokesman for the project says the artist plans for the exhibition, along with the Nomadic Museum, to tour the United States, South America, Asia and Europe for 10 years.

The traveling exhibition is organized by a company founded by artist Colbert, Flying Elephant Productions. Its president is environmentalist Paul Hawken, co-founder of the Smith & Hawken garden store chain and Erewhon natural foods markets. The tour is funded by the artist and a contribution from Rolex Institute, the philanthropic arm of Rolex SA.

Although the rest of the elements have not been put up, when completed, Ban's Nomadic Museum -- the architect's largest project in the United States -- will be topped by a gabled roof and will use recyclable items, including paper tubes, white stones and salvaged wooden planks, as building materials.

It is to include a movie screen and seating for about 800 people to view the one-hour "Ashes and Snow" film, narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne.

"Ashes and Snow" opened at the Arsenale in Venice in 2002. Its first exhibition in the Nomadic Museum opened in March in New York City on the Hudson River Park's Pier 54. According to Windisch-Graetz, more than 300,000 people attended the New York exhibition.

The 56,000-square-foot structure is being re-created in Santa Monica, but with a different configuration than in New York. The same will be true in subsequent locations, where the main elements will be rearranged to fit the contours of the space.

Some construction elements, such as the paper tubes, travel with the structure, but about 80% of the approximately 150 shipping crates used are borrowed at the location.

However it's arranged, the Nomadic Museum is big. And from the pier, perhaps the best view of the project is available through the windows of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Server Sean Shea-Clark, who has watched the crate-stacks going up during his shifts, thought it was "cool" that they were turning into walls for a temporary museum.

As Forrest Gump might say, life is like a bunch of shipping containers; you never know how they're going to stack up.

But on a recent visit to the restaurant, most lunch patrons seemed to be studiously ignoring the work going on down below. Restaurant manager Dan Flannelly said that most customers were more focused on shrimp than architecture.

"Nobody has really asked about it," he said, almost apologetically. "They're hungry."

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