Tucked into a small plot of real estate among the eateries and service businesses of downtown El Segundo’s main drag, the ESMoA “art laboratory” is consistently one of the most intriguing visual arts venues in Los Angeles. Since its opening in 2013, ESMoA (short for the “El Segundo Museum of Art”) has already presented 19 distinctively themed (and numbered) “Experiences” in or near its single-room exhibition space. Every one of these shows has offered a unique, offbeat adventure in contemplation.
For 2014’s Experience 11: SCRATCH, prominent L.A. graffiti (“scratch mark”) and tattoo artists turned the ESMoA space into “a cathedral of urban art” by covering its walls and floor with images inspired by the graphic manuscripts of Albrecht Dürer and other historic figures from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The previous winter, visitors were invited to witness five Cuban artists creating conceptual art projects over the course of a month, ultimately displayed in their completed form at the closing finissage of Experience 7: STING.
Earlier this year, Experience 13: HOME considered how the display of art in living spaces influences our sense of domestic comfort. To that effect, the ESMoA gallery was transformed into a kind of walk-through apartment with various rooms evincing divergent decorative inclinations. Experience 9: SILENCE examined the nature of abstract art; Experience 15: SPARK delved into our creative imaginations with an installation based on an app version of Cornelia Funke’s Mirrorworld children’s story collection.
For the next few months (through January), ESMoA’s Experience 19: TOUCH presents a lively tribute to the Los Angeles art scene of the last four decades or so. One of the gallery’s long side walls is crammed from floor to ceiling with dozens and dozens of photos of significant L.A. artists taken by Jim McHugh, while the opposite wall is comparably crowded with original pieces by many of these portrait subjects. The floor space, too, is dotted with their sculptural works. Allison Saar’s 2010 sculpture “En Pointe” even dangles from a rope directly attached (via the ceiling) to McHugh’s portrait photo of Saar taken this year.
McHugh’s status as a favored art world photographer in Southern California allowed him to create iconic images of such legendary figures as John Baldessari, Mike Kelley, Ed Ruscha, Noah Purifoy, Lita Albuquerque, Gajin Fujita, David Hockney and so many more on view in this show. Raymond Pettibon’s original pen-and-ink drawing that became famous as the cover of Sonic Youth’s Goo album is here. So is a mesmerizing skyscape Cosmos painted by Rachel Lachowicz in eye shadow on Plexiglas. Occupying almost an entire wall in the ESMoA entryway, McHugh’s 1968 photo of 13 artists—including Mike Kelley, Chris Burden, Karen Carson, and Paul McCarthy—surrounding Rosamund Felsen in her influential gallery provides a striking introductory context to the whole exhibition.
Early next year, ESMoA’s 20th Experience, “PLAN,” a collaboration with L.A.’s Wende Museum of Eastern European art of the Cold War, will display pieces collected by the bureaucratic central planning departments of Warsaw Pact nations after World War II alongside artworks by Egon Schiele and others to demonstrate how planning processes can influence our aesthetic perceptions as well as the inevitable limitations of these processes.
ESMoA is regularly open Fridays through Sundays when their Experiences are on view. They also put on many special events in connection with each show. It’s a very cool place that reinvents itself over and over again with each new show that moves in and takes over the building. An experience, if you will, for everyone.
208 Main St, El Segundo, CA 90245