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person of influence

Public Art Angel

Lauri Firstenberg gets art out of museums and into the streets

September 16, 2007|ELIZABETH KHURI | Elizabeth Khuri is assistant style editor of West.

HOW IT WORKS: Lauri Firstenberg founded the nonprofit LAXART two years ago to help both new and midcareer artists produce and showcase their work. Artists who collaborate with LAXART have had their work installed in LAXART's gallery-style space on La Cienega Boulevard and as temporary projects atop billboards, across freeway walls and, in the case of Joel Tauber, surrounded by pavement in the Rose Bowl parking lot. After Firstenberg picks the artists, the organization raises funds to produce the work, finds the site and helps cut the red tape that often prevents artists from producing bold public projects. "We try to help them realize their idea; often it's the first time an artist is working in a public space," the 35-year-old Firstenberg says.

WHY IT MATTERS: Grants often flow to artists once they've established themselves with a well-known dealer and museum exhibits. But getting to that point can be arduous. LAXART tries to help by giving young artists maximum exposure. For example, it gave conceptual artist Ruben Ochoa--known for converting a tortilla van into a mobile art gallery--his first solo show in its gallery space last year, and helped him obtain permission to create a mural on a wall along the 10 Freeway in East L.A. Gallerist Susanne Vielmetter decided to represent Ochoa immediately after the exhibition, and her gallery launched a solo show of his work Sept. 8. "When I saw the piece that he did for LAXART, that, for me, was a breakthrough work both in scale and ambition, and it was conceptually layered in an interesting way." After the LAXART exhibition, Ochoa also was awarded a six-month residency at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in Midtown Manhattan. He was one of four artists chosen for a program funded by two arts foundations, two private dealers and the National Endowment for the Arts (an organization sometimes tight with money for fine artists).

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Because of Firstenberg's efforts, art becomes part of your daily commute, something you see when you're stopped at a traffic light on La Cienega or parking for a UCLA game. "The interaction of art in the urban landscape, like encountering art on a billboard or on a wall, is a component of most international cities," she says. "Our location seems to be significant; it emphasizes heavy pedestrian traffic and heavy commuter traffic, and helps expand art audiences for Los Angeles." Vielmetter says Firstenberg's work also adds credibility to the Culver City art scene, of which the LAXART gallery is a part. "We truly need people like Lauri who do this kind of work. She can show art that is important and pushes the envelope and is cutting edge, projects that are sometimes difficult for younger galleries to pull off financially. And because they're temporary, she can do them faster," Vielmetter says.

WHAT'S NEXT: On Nov. 4, LAXART plans a silent auction, presented by Hermes, featuring work by established and emerging artists. (For information, visit www.laxart.org.) Firstenberg asked artists to curate the auction and select lesser-known and established artists to participate as a way to bring the art community together. The money to be raised "helps us continue to move ahead to the next project," Firstenberg says. Those plans include helping sculptor Jedediah Caesar--known for entombing trash from his studio in gigantic lumps of resin--to create a large abstract sculpture in a yet-to-be-named public place, and helping photographic artist Walead Beshty create a sculptural piece with audio elements inside a local mall.

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AT A GLANCE

SPHERE

Art

INFLUENCE

Expanding the audience for art in Los Angeles

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