LOS ANGELES — Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced museums and galleries to shutter indefinitely, art has largely become a virtual experience. Artist and activist Warren Neidich was self-quarantined in a cabin at the top of Long Island’s south fork feeling “alone, isolated, and disconnected” when he came up with a way of seeing art without leaving the safety of one’s own car.
Neidich organized Drive-By-Art (Public Art in This Moment of Social Distancing), an exhibition of roadside artworks along Long Island’s Route 27, in early May. He explained by email that the “physical networks that normally produce solidarity in any community were uncoupled and disengaged and have been substituted by a dependence on the televisual and virtual. As time went on I felt a need to react and Drive-By-Art was the response. I contacted some artist friends to test the waters and the response was overwhelmingly positive.”
Following the show’s success, Neidich decided to bring Drive-By-Art to Los Angeles. Staging the project in a city where cars are not only a means of transportation, but an integral part of its identity and mythology has meant ramping it up. While Neidich organized the Long Island iteration himself, for Los Angeles he teamed up with Otis College of Art and Design professor Renee Petropoulos, art writer and curator Michael Slenske, and art critic, curator, and educator Anuradha Vikram, and extended the exhibition over two weekends. Memorial Day weekend took place on the city’s East Side and this coming weekend, May 30–31, will cover the West Side.
The number of participants in Los Angeles is also up to over 120, from around 50 in Long Island, and highlights the diversity of LA’s art community. Neidich related that, in comparison to the South Fork of Long Island, the LA basin reflects “a much more heterogeneous and variable assortment of individuals defining a community, especially when it comes to gender, race, age and economic status.” The exhibition includes both well-known and emerging artists and reaches across LA County’s varied neighborhoods, from south of downtown to the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys on the East and to Inglewood, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica on the West.
Even at a time of social distancing and a marked decrease in LA’s legendary traffic, navigating through the expanse of LA’s vast East Side to locate the artworks (and finding parking at some sites, for those who want to venture out for a closer look at the art) can be a challenge, but the fun of Drive-By-Art lies partly in the discovery of artworks in unexpected places, and of exploring different areas.
Many of the artworks are installed near artists’ homes or studios, such as Anita Bunn’s sculptures hidden in her Silver Lake garden and Dave Muller’s lawn installation in Pasadena (which includes a mini-installation by his daughter, Grace, also an artist); others are in bustling areas, like Kori Newkirk’s hanging sculpture in a Fashion District alley.
In addition to Drive-By-Art, a few area galleries are making it possible to see art in real life. For Parker Gallery’s three-part series Sculpture from a Distance, owner Sam Parker has turned the front lawn of his gallery, in a residential Los Feliz neighborhood, into a miniature sculpture park. And at the Lodge, Anteroom allows passersby to peek through the gallery’s storefront window into a room of artworks and curiosities.
As the art world takes small steps toward reopening, Drive-By-Art offers a means of reconnecting and, as the website states, “interacting with tangible objects in the real world.”
Drive-By-Art takes place May 30–31 throughout the West Side of Los Angeles. Sculpture from a Distance continues at Parker Gallery (2441 Glendower Ave., Los Feliz, Los Angeles) through June 13. Inside the gallery, A Page From My Intimate Journal (Part II) is open by appointment through June 13. Anteroom is currently at the Lodge (1024 N. Western Ave., East Hollywood, Los Angeles).