An unlikely art show pops up in a mausoleum in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – V The American Road of Death, first published in 1963, author Jessica Mitford criticized the United States funeral industry for undermining the dignity of the deceased and exploiting grieving families for financial gain. Why, if our everyday life is so commercialized, wouldn’t our death be commercialized as well? This was the main question asked by Dignity a plusan artist-curated pop-up show staged this month in an old municipal art gallery at Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena, a sprawling funeral home with hopeful plans to use its space for long-term arts programming.

° Сcurated by ArtCenter College of Design graduate Jasminne Morataya, the three-day exhibition featured sculptures and paintings by 14 different artists who dealt with themes of mortality and memory, their works briefly replacing the academic landscape paintings that usually gather dust during the mausoleum .

Morataia said Hyperallergic that her decision to host an exhibition at Mountain View, established in 1882 and home to Hollywood’s most photographed cemeteries, was the result of an ongoing research affinity, proximity to campus and a need for a gallery space that was not commercial.

Andy Bennett, Rapture (2023), top hat, button-down shirt, trousers, oxford shoes, socks, underwear, waistcoat, cape, bow tie, gloves and walking stick (photo by Lizzie Klein, courtesy of Jasminne Morataya)

Rents in Los Angeles, both residential and commercial, are expected to rise at least 6% in February after the City Council voted to end COVID-era tenant protections. Vacancies in the industry, where galleries often choose to set up shop, rose 2 percent earlier this year as banks tightened lending restrictions due to the economic climate. The lack of affordable options points to the need for artist-run spaces in LA, whose presence democratizes the kinds of art and projects seen across the city.

Sean T. Rudolph, Let’s Shake (2019), ink and watercolor on artist’s framed paper, 65 x 49 inches (photo by Angela d’Avignon/Hyperallergic)

“Hospital waiting rooms, law offices, cemeteries, old restaurants — they all have most of the existing infrastructure needed to hold a show, reading or screening, with minimal modifications,” Morataya said. “There are interesting relationships waiting to be built between the artists and the people who run these separate parallel areas in a way that might not happen with a traditional tenant-landlord project space.”

It was also not the first time the gallery was used by an artist in search of space. In 2010, the mausoleum hosted Eternity forever by performer Marnie Weber, who returned for the opening of Dignity a plus.

To reach the gallery, one must slide through the vast marble corridor of the cathedral-style Mountain View Mausoleum, lit by sunlight pouring through ornate stained glass windows; up the stairs past “numerous crypts decorated with Christian iconography and Masonic symbols,” as one artist put it. The room looks buried in the mid-1980s, with wall-to-wall stained jade green carpets and pale peach walls streaked with texture and dust. An open closet door reveals traditional gallery landscapes, now arranged against a rack of cleaning supplies, tissue boxes, and silk flowers. Sculptures sit in every corner, and every recessed wall contains a painting. A video area at the back was created to show memorial footage; plays “Olga’s Shell” (2023) by Anna Eisenman instead.

Anna Eisenmn, “Olga’s Shell” (2023), single-channel video (photo by Lizzie Klein, courtesy of Jasminne Morataya)

“Rapture” (2023) by Andy Bennett shows the battered costume of a classic magician – top hat, cape, bow tie, gloves, wand – all strewn across the floor as if vanished into thin air. The released magician is gone, that is, “caught up,” a millennial phrase derived from the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible and popularized in the 1990s by actor Kirk Cameron and Left behind book series.

“I think the work is about belief: in my case it’s belief in art, in the case of a magician it might be belief in magic, and in the case of religiously minded people it’s belief in God,” Bennett said. “And if the faith is strong enough, the practitioner transcends or disappears,”

Early screen technology focused heavily on digitizing the classic photo album, making images last longer than human memory if programmed correctly. Juliana Halpert’s “Untitled #1” and “Untitled #2” featured an egg-shaped metal keychain with a photo screen that shuffled pixelated images of her two cats hanging from a metal armature and mounted on a pedestal found in the gallery’s closet.

“My works are reminiscent of a time when digital images – and the idea that you could carry them in your pocket – were still new,” said Halpert.

Madeline Kellum, Harmonica (2023), oil and sublimation on paper, 40 x 50 inches (photo Angela d’Avignon/Hyperallergic)

What made both pieces particularly successful was that they appeared to be made in the same era in which the room is decorated. The postmodern look of the pedestal matched the shop-worn technology that Halpert incorporated, while Bennett’s missing wizard drew the eye to the floor, back to the aged carpet. Other highlights included an iridescent, mind-blowing painting by Madeline Kellum and two inks, blood and stained glass by Valentin Koziak. An empty pulpit stood in the center of the room with a colorful funeral arrangement.

“Choosing the mausoleum for the exhibition was not a particularly inappropriate decision. It brought me closer to my own values,” Morataya said. “People visited a historic part of Altadena, I engaged the community I live in, and the art was imbued with a contextual resonance that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”

Mountain View Mausoleum in Pasadena, California (photo by Lizzie Klein, courtesy of Jasmine Morataya)
Carlin Faucett, “Bent Progression” (2023), fired ceramic, variable sizes (photo by Lizzie Klein, courtesy of Jasminne Morataya)
Juliana Halpert, “Untitled #1” and “Untitled” #2″ (2023), digital keychain, metal stand, variable dimensions (photo by Lizzie Klein, courtesy of Jasmine Morataya)

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