LARB correspondent Kate Wolf reports from this year’s Los Angeles Road Concert.
Sunset Boulevard: the most infamous thoroughfare in all Los Angeles? Its 24 miles run from the outer core of downtown head first into the Pacific, passing disparate pockets of poverty and opulence, chintz and trash, from bohemian enclaves to Dianetics’ baby blue hub, from the Dome to the Strip to the towering hedges of Bel Air, the shade of Rustic Canyon eucalyptus, the provincial lure of the Palisades and on to the abyss; its fabled drugstores, where the stars were discovered, its pavement where one tragically expired, and its mansions where another, a fictional has-been, planned her glorious return to the screen.
Last Sunday, the myth and the street came together to play host to the Third Annual Los Angeles Road Concert, a project started by writer, musician and performance artist Stephen Van Dyck in 2008 (San Fernando Road and Washington Boulevard were the previous Concert locales). This year, responding to an open invitation, a group of over 100 artists staged site-specific performances, installations, happenings and concerts on spots dotted along Sunset’s entirety, proving at times just how much one can get away with in the numerous sections of ignored or disused public space that make up the sidewalks of this city.
A sampling of events began at the intersection of Figueroa and Sunset around 2:45 pm when I was presented with a handmade carpooler badge by the artist Miggie Wong and directed to a newspaper dispenser filled with maps of “Places to Shit On Sunset Blvd,” compiled by John Burtle and thoughtfully accompanied by a piece of toilet paper (nearest place listed at that moment: the CVS across the street). From there I drove west to Portia and Sunset where, along a fence, artist Billy Kheel had set up dozens of pennants for nonexistent teams: the Pigs, the Gliders and Fruit. The flags, silkscreened by Kheel himself, combined recognizable color combinations (Lakers purple and gold, etc.) and were named in reference to three iconic cult families: Manson, Source, and the Children of God.
Near the Brite Spot I saw a low shack made of palm fronds and a pair of legs emerging from it. Though intrigued, I kept driving. I pulled over to a VW Jetta parked at Sunset and Golden Gate advertising itself as a “Video Art Taxi” but, sadly, found it abandoned at that moment. If Niko Solorio had been present, I would have been able to view works by L.A. artists such as Marnie Weber, Trulee Grace Hall, and Zachary Drucker, among many others, all from the comfort of a backseat.
At the little triangle park on Sunset and Edgecliff, Jonathan Gomez had assembled a Dog Disco out of sheets of colored plastic, complete with a mini disco ball, meant to bring together the cruising potential of both dog parks and dance clubs. In just twenty minutes, the disco had already hosted a German Shepherd and Cocker Spaniel.
A performance by the band Comfort Zone and a troupe of dancers all dressed in black at the Sunset and Vermont metro stop actually seemed to halt traffic, drawing various onlookers. From my car, I caught the last moments, as the dancers strut into the metro’s elevator and disappeared underground. Next I went over to Normandie and Sunset where Los Angeles Times music critic and fiction writer Margaret Wappler had set up a typewriter on the street and was handing out Los Angeles Birth Certificates. Some questions necessary before becoming a citizen: Where is your favorite strip mall, and why is it your favorite? What is the first distinctly L.A. sound you remember experiencing? Write down three emotions that succinctly capture your feelings toward palm trees.
Across the street Kate Durbin had just arrived and was beginning her Pile of Panties performance. In the fading afternoon light, she ripped open plastic bags filled with used underwear sent to her from women all over the world and piled them up into distinct little mounds of cotton and lace. Durbin herself was barely dressed and, after a while, some guys from across the way at the 7-11 finally realized what was going on and turned to watch over passing traffic.
On “Guitar Row” I heard someone starting up a rendition of the Doors’ “Break On Through,” and pulled into a red zone. Outside the Sunset Grill, seasoned performer Artie Vegas was playing with his band and special guest Tequila Mockingbird, and playing loud at that. “They’re fine with it — they asked us to do this,” Vegas said of the restaurant’s management. At last, outside the Grill, I crossed paths with Van Dyck, who always surveys his Road Concerts from the back of a motorbike, wearing a gold football helmet à la Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider. Currently his driver was inside, getting a soda. “This is the best day of my life,” he said. Surprisingly there had yet to be a hitch in almost six hours of events.
I left the Grill to try and catch the last bit of a performance below the Chateau Marmont by the musicians Corey Fogel and Jonathan Silberman. I arrived too late but had a pleasant chat with West Hollywood council member and double CalArts alum (Van Dyck and many of the Concert’s other participants also attended CalArts) John D’Amico, who had set up a welcome desk right at the border of Los Angeles and West Hollywood. “Welcome to West Hollywood,” he greeted unwitting tourists once they had passed the line. D’Amico, who received an M.A. in Aesthetics and Politics from CalArts in 2009 and also works as an architect, said he moved to West Hollywood in the 80s. Since then he had experienced the city changing for the worse, “misremembering its future.” He likes to think of West Hollywood as “an exciting, idiosyncratic place where people can come and transform their lives.”
So far during his time in council, D’Amico’s already established “Go-Go Dancer Appreciation Day,” as well as something called the “Groovy Guy Contest,” and he’s interested in art as well. When he takes his turn as mayor next year he plans on starting an initiative of 365 days of art in the city and of course getting Van Dyck involved. So, though I had reached the end of my road (festivities continued West, culminating with a naked photo shoot on the beach at sundown), talking to D’Amico I felt pretty sure something else was just beginning.
All photos courtesy Kate Wolf.