The wonderful thing about an art exhibition is what each person takes away from it. There are many seminal, beautiful, intriguing and disturbing works in the Manetti Shrem fall program’s centerpiece Dimensions of Black.
My takeaway, for whatever reason, was a piece, “DNA: Black Painting: II” by McArthur Binion, featuring his own Mississippi birth certificate and his personal phone book chopped into tiny pieces and put together again. It reminded me of those public television programs that trace people’s genealogy, and how people’s lives often just come down to a bunch of documents. I kept thinking about it the weekend after I saw it. There was a beauty in them being cut up and put together again out of order in black and white. It made me think of the quilts I sew that give me pause: What is so compelling about cutting up perfectly beautiful fabric into unrecognizable pieces and taking a lot of time to put it all together again? This is a document quilt, and it’s beautiful on many levels. I would love to know what other people’s takeaways were.
Going home again
Another piece that caught my attention when I walked through the exhibition for the first time was Jessica Wimbley’s “Untitled” (2005). I had seen a press photo of the piece weeks before, and I had used it to publicize the exhibition to media. Focused on getting word of the exhibition out, I’m embarrassed to admit that I never looked at the photo closely enough to realize it was not just any Victorian house. It was “my” Victorian house, or at least a property where I once lived.
The artist, a UC Davis MFA graduate, had donated the piece to the museum, and I found in researching her work that she had taken many photos of herself in front of people’s homes as part of a series. I was the caretaker of the property in the 1990s, before this photo was taken. It is a historic home, in the Italianate style, and one of the few houses left in Los Angeles from the 1870s, according to the Los Angeles Conservancy. An early resident of the home was Mary Foy, LA’s first female chief librarian and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement. The house was moved to its current location near Dodger Stadium and restored by the current owners of the home, people I had become friends with when I worked at UCLA.
My friends needed to relocate to an eastern college in a job change, and they entrusted me to look after their home during the few years they were living in another state. In one of those truly Los Angeles experiences, I watched after the locale as it was filmed inside and out for movies, television shows and other occasions that called for a Victorian home. The television show, Charmed, which aired from the ‘90s until 2006, was filmed at the house next door, with a few shots of the front of the Foy House. I think I saw the house years later in a Madmen episode, too.
Whenever I see a shot of that house, despite its authenticity, I always think the palm trees visible from the street in most shots, including this one, are a dead giveaway that it is located in Los Angeles. But maybe others don’t notice.