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LOS ANGELES — The idea of gathering in an indoor office with a bunch of drunk coworkers this year to celebrate the holidays sounds like an uncomfortable death trap given the rise in COVID-19 cases in LA County over the holiday season. Photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager explores this scenario — under the conditions of the growing pandemic — in a new sculpture exhibition entitled “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibit is staged in between LACMA’s main building and a rubble of dirt, where a group of museum buildings that were recently demolished for a controversial renovation project once stood, in the Smidt Welcome Plaza (AKA, the outdoor lobby).
“Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” features a dozen or so sculptures that look eerily like real people when photographed. (A real-life security guard who works at LACMA told me that occasionally they confuse the sculptures for real people.) Prager has arranged the sculptures in various scenes that make the exhibit feel like a throwback to the “mannequin challenge”: a drunken, older woman exposes her undergarments while dancing with her likely equally inebriated partner. A man photocopies his rear-end. Tears drip down a woman’s face, smearing her makeup, as she sits in the corner with her cell phone in her lap. Someone that looks like the boss exposes his belly button as he awkwardly grabs a younger man and woman for what feels like a photo opportunity. And an older woman sits in front of a messy desk and sad-looking leftovers while the party carries on behind her.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Prager was originally commissioned by Doyle Dane Bernbach, an advertising agency that represents Miller Lite, to help rebrand their decades-old “It’s Miller Time” campaign — the sculptures seen in “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” were also used for a television beer commercial. But in a press release, Prager expresses her own intent behind the piece: “Through my work I’ve been able to process things in the world that I’m questioning or struggling with which is one of the many reasons I feel this piece is important to the current social climate.”
More than anything, “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” serves as a photo-worthy example of the awkwardness that ensues when a room full of intoxicated, mostly white people get together during the holidays. LA County has modified their stay-at-home order multiple times in the past week to comply with county and state guidelines, but for now, you can see Prager’s installation until January 3, 2021.
Alex Prager’s “Farewell, Work Holiday Parties” continues at the Smidt Welcome Plaza at LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles) through January 3, 2021.