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'Altered States' Artwork Gets Unplanned Alteration

October 15, 2005|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Spectators viewing Los Angeles' latest art exhibit found themselves in a real altered state Friday.

Vandals sneaked onto a 60-foot tower that forms an artwork called "Kariforunia" and swiped its centerpiece California state flag, replacing it with a Los Angeles city flag.

The unauthorized tampering baffled officials of the sponsoring Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, who quickly ordered the city flag removed.

The flag-filching, reported by puzzled visitors to the tower, prompted initial disbelief from MOCA officials. The tower is part of a major exhibition, "Ecstasy: In and About Altered States."

"It's a California flag. Hence the name of the piece, 'Kariforunia,' I've seen it myself. We have pictures taken yesterday of it. It's a California flag," said MOCA spokesman John Hindman.

The name is a reflection of the Japanese phonetic spelling of California. The installation, by Japanese-born artist Tatsurou Bashi, depicts a typical apartment furnished with a bed, couch and tables, including one on which seemingly sits a flagpole bearing a California flag.

The pole is actually the top 5 feet of an outdoor flagpole next to City Hall South. The mock apartment is perched atop 1st Street scaffolding that surrounds the pole. The installation is typical of Bashi's trademark encapsulation of "public art" -- the flagpole and flag -- within an unexpected private setting.

After one tower visitor used a cellphone Friday afternoon to tell MOCA administrators that the displayed flag was green, yellow and red and adorned with the official city seal and was not the white one bearing a red stripe and a bear, a MOCA employee was sent up the tower to search Bashi's structure.

He found the state flag hidden in a table drawer.

MOCA officials declined to speculate on who might have switched the flags. Others wondered whether Civic Center pride might be involved, because Bashi's artwork is positioned on City Hall property.

"I don't see how they could have gotten in. It's locked when the guard isn't there," Hindman said. "People here are scratching their heads over this."

He said the integrity of Bashi's work was not disturbed, adding: "I shouldn't say it, but it's kind of amusing."

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