Over the past decade, San Diego has evolved into a top public art destination hosting an increasing number of nationally and internationally recognized high-caliber artists. Looking further back, Chicano Park and UCSD’s Stuart Collection have been going strong since the 1970s and 1980s. Chicano Park, in homage to the Chicano experience, ecompasses 7.9 acres maintaining the largest outdoor mural collection in the United States. The Stuart Collection, a growing collection of 18 integrated public artworks throughout UCSD’s campus features heavyweights such as Barbara Kruger and Do Ho Suh. In 2006, San Diego’s International Airport revamped and formalized its public art program adopting a cosmopolitan approach. Today, Murals of La Jolla is expanding San Diego’s public art repertoire infusing La Jolla’s architecture with a contemporary edge by commissioning murals from sought after artists including the likes of John Baldessari and Mel Bochner. Since 2010, 24 temporary murals have been installed. In 2016, a diverse array of murals by L.A.-based artist Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia; a collaboration between Brooklyn-based artist Byron Kim and LA/SD-based artist Victoria Fu; and LA-based artist Heather Gwen Martin were added to the mix.
Initiated by the Athenaeum Arts Library and La Jolla Community Foundation, Murals of La Jolla commissions artists to create works in spaces atypical for public art. By selecting private buildings and funding the works through private funds, the program is able to avoid many of the traditional challenges faced by public art organizations. An advisory committee made up of heads of the major La Jolla arts organizations—Athenaeum, MCASD, Quint Contemporary Art, and Stuart Collection—commissions artists to provide site-specific proposals. Currently, there are 18 different sites throughout La Jolla, and the works will change every two to five years. “It’s always risky because you don’t know what an artist is going to propose,” project curator Lynda Forsha notes. “We invite someone based on their work, but what they come up with in the proposals is always a bit of a surprise.” From its inception, the installation of artworks by some of the most recognized names in art today has been key to the success of Murals of La Jolla. Forsha continues, “When I call artists to invite them, I have them look at the website, and once they see who else has been invited and made a mural for the project they’re pretty excited.”
Understanding a site’s scale and space is paramount as many of the selected locations provide subtle interventions allowing for a sense of discovery. “The murals are not in front of buildings, but in the in-between spaces. That was the genesis,” Forsha states. She describes Jean Lowe’s Tear Stains Be Gone, (2015) as “quiet and tucked away in an alley.” Where Mel Bochner’s 108-foot-wide, Blah, Blah, Blah, (2015) located on the backside of a building facing a parking lot “almost has a volume, you can hear it when you look at it.” Murals of La Jolla marks the first time Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia, Victoria Fu, and Heather Gwen Martin have created public art, and the first time for Byron Kim since Growth (1979).
“Demos Gracias,” 2016, Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia
Installation view: 2259 Avenida de la Playa
Courtesy: Murals of La Jolla
Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia’s Demos Gracias, located above Galaxy Tacos (a newfound local hub), presents a bright celebratory image of papel picado (decorative Mexican Folk Art paper) and prayer banners against a vivid multi-colored backdrop. The style of the mural connects with Hurtado Segovia’s oeuvre: bright sculptural paper constructions reminiscent of textiles embracing his Mexican heritage and religious roots. He states, “The concept of the mural lined up with general themes in my work having to do with Christianity, in this case, I thought of the practice of saying grace for a meal. Although the restaurant is a public secular site, it’s a place where friends and family gather to break bread together and this mural acknowledges the gratitude for such occasions.” Hurtado Segovia’s work encourages rethinking stereotypes of Christianity by placing it into contemporary art context.
Victoria Fu and Byron Kim collaborated for the first time on Suns, a “photograph of a photograph” capturing a lavender-orange sky at sunset. Although Fu is a video artist and Kim a painter, a shared sensibility connects their work. Fu states, “The work is a true collaboration, and represents parts that are typical of each of our artistic practices.” Forsha notes that Kim admired Fu’s abstract and representational video installation, Belle Captive at the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Kim born in La Jolla, now Brooklyn-based, is known for his minimalist abstract paintings exploring cultural identity. Even after his move, he has maintained a presence in SD, recently his MCASD exhibition, Pond Lily Over Mushroom Cloud: Byron Kim Adapts the Black on Black Cosmology of Maria Martinez (July 17 – November 1, 2015) featured the artist’s striking monochromatic paintings.
Suns involved Fu and Kim taking photographs in La Jolla, then Kim returned to Brooklyn and they worked separately on the two coasts. Fu took the starting image for the work from the top floor of the mural’s site, the Empress Hotel, a mainstay in La Jolla since the 1960s. She sent the photograph to Kim, he printed it, put it on his studio wall, staged and shone studio light on the photo, and re-photographed it. Fu states, “What appears as the sun is actually a reflection of a studio lamp. At a certain time of day, it’s possible the image in the mural will look a lot like what actually surrounds it in real-time, sunset on sunset–yet there is a visual framing of the studio context, a reminder of the printing and photographing process.” Ultimately, Suns explores the constructive and reproductive nature of photography.
“Landing,” 2016, Heather Gwen Martin
Installation view: 7724 Girard Avenue
Courtesy: Murals of La Jolla
Heather Gwen Martin’s Landing is one of the few murals painted directly on its site. It’s a feat, Martin’s intricate signature style highlighting color and movement translated onto a scale covering a three-sided, three-story building. Martin painted over Kim MacConnel’s Girl from Ipanema (2010), the first work for Murals of La Jolla. Coincidently, Martin studied under MacConnel as a student at UCSD and the two maintain a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. “Kim’s was done freehand, he went on a scissor lift and drew the curved lines from top to bottom, then we had painters fill them in,” describes Forsha. “Heather’s was much more technical, because the shapes are so complex, nuanced, delicate, and sinewy.”
Martin was on site for two weeks ensuring the colors and process mimicked her intensive approach to painting on canvas. The sharp orange backdrop stands out regardless of the time of day. Martin notes, “The intensity is high on afternoons when the sky is a clear deep blue. It was meant to work this way and also to work with the structures around it, especially the building it’s attached to.” The bright pink, green, and blue palette responds to the adjacent building with its stunning copper roo
f. Landing also implies movement through controlled fluid lines and organic shapes. Martin notes, “Forms move in from the top, push up from the bottom, wind around and slide into each other at and just beyond the corners.” Although a continuous design, she defined the edges so each of the three building’s sides function as its own painting.
Next year, a minimum of three new murals are slated for installation. While the identity of future participants is kept under wraps, Forsha promises to “keep attracting the most important artists of our time.”
“Blah, Blah, Blah,” 2015
Installation view: 1111 Prospect Tree
Photo: Philipp Scholz Rittermann