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Shooting Star Triptik*

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The Routes of The Grand Illusion

3.5 ft x 9 ft (1.2 m x 3 m), 1986

European hand blown and American machine manufactured glass,

mirror, acetate, found objects, zinc, lead

This artwork was specifically created for my first ever solo exhibition, of The Underground Cathedral, a multimedia installation installation held in 1986 at an experimental public art gallery sponsored University of Southern California in Santa Monica. It is a sequel to the artwork, “Les routes de La Grande Odalisque (The Large Brain).” The composition was derived from a map of the main streets and freeway system of Los Angeles, from the Santa Monica Bay to downtown. 

The Routes of the Grand Illusion (Shooting Star Triptik)

It was placed, for the sake of this particular exhibition, a few feet in front of “The Large Brain” to contrast between two very different urban landscapes. The surface of the street and freeway map of LA consisting of a patchwork of disparate textures and opacities of glass, distorted and disjointed the view of the stained glass composition of a Paris Metro map viewed in the background, as seen here from a photo taken during the exhibition:

Interactive artworks: a map of the main boulevards and freeways of LA in the foreground, the Paris Metro in the rear

The contrast could not be greater: on the one hand, an enormous, centralized urban landscape with a highly efficient public transportation network, and, on the other, a disjointed, amorphous topography, buses – for half of a century the only form of public transportation from downtown to the seaside. Los Angeles was once the hub of the largest commuter train system in the world. Among its connections were smaller city centers, including those of West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica and Venice. They can be seen below on a current street and freeway map:

From the seaside of Venice and Santa Monica to downtown LA

In traditional stained glass design, the lead lines holding together a patchwork of glass are a functional necessity. In this case, the lead lines represent boulevards and freeway patterns, telling the story of the development of the city. Most of the street routes follow a vertical and horizontal grid, where others trace the former routes of the city’s old electric tramway system, affectionately known as the Red Cars. In most cases, the lines that are not part of the present-day grid are where trains once traveled.

The old Red Car system, where it ran from the Santa Monica Bay to downtown LA

Today, one can drive down divided boulevards where trains once ran in the middle. In the case of San Vicente Boulevard at the northern tip of Santa Monica, that middle ground, to the delight of joggers, is now a grass-covered park:

A slice of San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica

In May, 2016, a new light rail line of the LA Metro opened, connecting downtown to a short walk from the Santa Monica Pier and the Pacific Ocean. It runs along a pathway where the original Red Cars once traveled. Here is a map including the new Expo Line (in blue) and a dotted Westside Extension Line (in purple), which is currently under construction:

The LA Metro map including the new Expo Line (in blue) and Westside Extension (Purple Line) under construction

While adopting the traditional process and materials of designing and constructing a stained glass window as a starting point, I chose to mirror and echo the amorphous planning of my native city’s geographical character by creating a potpourri of cultural and anthropological iconography, including historical references to the entertainment industry, sports and transportation itself. The materials and processes I chose reflected the evolutionary transformation from a combination of desert, small farms and orange groves into a booming multicultural metropolis and media capital, which has, in turn, profoundly influenced most of the world – for better and for worse.

Duchamp's, The Large Glass

The work’s title, “The Routes of the Grand Illusion,” was intended to convey this remarkable development, as if a city was born by artificial insemination. The piece has both a title and a subtitle, just like the comparative glasswork, “Les Routes de La Grande Odalisque (The Large Brain),” which is a spin-off of Marcel Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).” Duchamp was an immigrant to the US. Like Duchamp, my ancestors landed on the East Coast, but unlike the artist, they eventually migrated to southern California. As for “The Grand Illusion,” this is taken from Jean Renoir’s classic film by the same name. Renoir, who had migrated from France to Hollywood, profoundly influenced American film with imagery reminiscent of his father’s Impressionist paintings. Reflecting such cultural processes, the topical imagery and terminology that I applied to both compositions of the two interactive glass artworks also conveyed how these disparate cultures have influenced each other.

In the case of “The Routes of the Grand Illusion (Shooting Start Triptik),” randomly found flat objects and photocopy transparencies laminated between thin sheets of glass tell a story of the cultural anthropology of the city. The main boulevards starting at the ocean converge downtown, where I laminated a multicolored translucent 33 rpm vinyl record between thin sheets of glass. Years before the creation of this artwork, I had found this old LP in a used record store. Upon drawing the composition on large sheets of paper attached to my studio wall, I discovered that not only did the size of the vinyl record precisely fit the area representing downtown LA, but its content perfectly fit the theme of the artwork, as if it were made to order. Such serendipitous circumstances have occurred repeatedly proven for me to reflect an inexplicably magical aspect of the artistic process, if not life itself.

In the early 1960s, stereophonic demonstration records were a fascinating new novelty. Typically, they contained what today we could call “sampled sounds” of urban life and nature. The one I found, of all things, is entitled, “Stereophonic Tour of the City of Los Angeles.” The sounds listed on the LP label include: “A trip to the Hollywood Park Races – International Airport – Riverside Race Track – Jet Bomber – Southern Pacific Freight Train.” Most curiously, the first of these sounds is “An Atomic Explosion.” For many years since creating this artwork that one detail remained a haunting curiosity, until one day it dawned on me that it was around the time that stereophonic recordings first hit the marketplace that the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, when everyone lived with the existential fear of nuclear annihilation.

Stationed at a nearby Air Force base, supersonic jet bombers frequently flew on test runs over the LA basin, causing quick, sharp earthquake-like tremors. Southern California had been at the forefront of the aerospace industry, the headquarters of the Douglas Aircraft Company located in Santa Monica. Today, that former aerospace manufacturing complex is a business park, where for years I have worked out at a gym. The image I placed in the vicinity of where the aircraft company was located depicts a few of their early commercial (DC) airplanes.

As I studied the map’s unusual shape, it struck me that this luminous multicolored record exemplified the melting pot of culture, as well as the meltdown of the terrain at the apocalypse. I noted in the overall form of the composition something akin to fiery trails of a streaking meteorite, with the burning LP record at its head. I positioned iridescent and mirrored pieces of glass emanating from the downtown area to the sea, intending it to appear as sparks trailing a hot ball of fire. It simultaneously struck me that a “shooting star” symbolizes the never-ending hopes and dreams of many who flock to Hollywood in search of that ever elusive grasp of the limelight.

It should be noted that the subsequent word in the artwork’s title, “Triptik,” is not a misspelling. Whereas there are three stained glass panels that together form a “triptych,” “TripTik is registered as the official name of travel itinerary map packets offered to members of the American Automobile Club.

Aside from “The Grand Illusion,” other references to film in this artwork can be found in the centerpiece of the triptych in the form of actual short strips of 35-millimeter acetate film, the colored segments that indicated editing points, when movies were constructed by splicing film strips together. Another short piece of film is transparent with two brown audio stripes running through it, for stereo recordings. There is also another short piece of film from an actual scene from a movie that I found on the sidewalk in the East Village in New York, just months before this artwork was created. It was covered with mud on a rainy night. Out of curiosity, I took it home, cleaned it and discovered a fragment of soft pornography. Today this strip of film has badly faded, the scene virtually unrecognizable. With regard to historical perspective, whereas colored glass never fades, I find this contrast of decay of celluloid, which is no longer utilized in filmmaking, an interesting contrast, as it also defines the artwork’s aging process.

I placed these strips of film in the heart of Hollywood, the horizontal lead lines on top and bottom representing Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards. Directly below is a brief excerpt from the screenplay of Orson Welles’ classic film “Citizen Kane,” the part when, on his death bed, Kane utters the famous last word, “Rosebud,” as a glass ball falls from his hand and breaks on the floor.

To the left is the weekly chart of the top hits of popular music that was known as the “Boss 30,” played on what in the 1960s was the city’s most popular music radio station, KHJ. This particular list from Aug. 24, 1966, includes many classic hits, including several pertinent to the summer months: “Sunny,” “Sunshine Superman,” “Summertime,” “Sunny Afternoon,” “Summer in the City” and “See You in September.” The number one hit at the time was “Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles. Among the hits of the moment were those by three legendary groups of LA’s then vital rock music scene: The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and Love.

To its left, in the area called “WeHo” or West Hollywood, is a chart of the male sexual response cycle from the famous Masters and Johnson study of human sexuality. West Hollywood is known for its large LGBT population. Directly below it is a diagram of two earthworms mating. Earthworms have the reproductive organs of both sexes, yet they share sperm with each other. I intended no judgment in making this juxtaposition, but rather posed as a thought that another species living directly below our feet has no reason or need to define, categorize, divide or isolate itself on the basis of gender or sexual preferences.

Farther to the left on the same middle panel is a cut-out portion of a map for tourists listing residential addresses of Hollywood stars. The visible fragment of the full list includes, among others: Mia Farrow, James Stewart, Fred Astaire, Polly Bergen, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Anthony Quinn, Jackie Cooper, Danny Kaye and Johnny Carson.

Farther to the right is the circular form of a black-and-white photocopy on transparent acetate of a ticket to a show at a short-lived psychedelic rock music club, located on the Sunset Strip known as, “The Kaleidoscope.” Among the groups that played there were the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Canned Heat, Traffic, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Grateful Dead, the Byrds and Love.

Complimenting such artifacts of the indigenous entertainment industry are also references to professional team sports and their historical roots in other parts of the country, for most of the major sports franchises that reside in LA originated elsewhere, as did their names. In each case, there is a diagrammed seating plan for either all or a specific section of the stadium where the teams played. One is of the Los Angeles Forum in Inglewood, where the Lakers of the NBA and the Kings of the NHL played from 1967 until 1999. However, superimposed over the seating plan of the Forum is a stat sheet of the 1949-50 Minneapolis Lakers, who won the championship that season. The name “Lakers” refers to the Great Lakes that are not far from Minneapolis. L.A. is not a city known for its lakes, yet the team’s name has never changed.

A typical section of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is juxtaposed with the scores of all of the games played by the Oakland Raiders during the 1968 AFL (American Football League) season. From 1982 until 1994 they played in the Coliseum as the Los Angeles Raiders and during their second season in LA they became, to this day, the only NFL franchise in the city’s history to ever win the Super Bowl. The Los Angeles Dodgers also played in the Coliseum when they first relocated from Brooklyn to LA in 1958. In 1962 they moved into the newly-constructed Chavez Ravine (Dodger Stadium).

The seating chart of the first level of Dodger Stadium is seen alongside a typical box score of a baseball game. However, this particular box score documents no typical game, for it details the statistics of one of the most famous games in the history of American sports, between the former Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees on Oct. 8, 1956. On that day, Yankee pitcher, Don Larsen threw a no-hitter or what is otherwise known as a “perfect game.” Perfect games are extremely rare and it remains the only time that one has ever happened during the World Series. Popularly known as the “Subway Series,” Yankees vs. Dodgers was once the greatest rivalry in baseball. Note: when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Los Angeles Angels, it is called the “Freeway Series.”

As with the Lakers, the name “Dodgers” also pertains to the cultural and geographical origins of the team, not to Los Angeles, yet the name has not changed. It came from kids playing stickball (a precursor to the game of baseball) in the streets of Brooklyn while “dodging” streetcars. Just as there are no significant lakes in Los Angeles, aside from small ones in city parks, since the alleged conspiratorial dismantling of the largest commuter train system in the US, there are no streetcars.

Another form of entertainment, amusements parks, is represented in a most unusual way, with a segment of a page from a book listing attractions, rides and games in addition to actual mechanical parts from what was known as Pacific Ocean Park (POP). The book was made for an auction when the park closed in 1967 after a decade of operation. The park stood on a since dismantled pier at the beach in Santa Monica. Among the rides listed are the Arrow banana train ride, the Eli-Bridge scrambler ride, and the Maritime sea-plane ride.

Of course, aside from the film industry and music business that dominate the fantasy world of Los Angeles, television promotes perhaps the city’s most profound influence on the world. It all began when I was a little boy. I recall waking up each morning to test patterns before daily broadcasting began. One of the most unforgettable moments of all was when the first human being stepped foot on the moon. Another was when a camera transmitted the first images ever captured on Mars back to earth.

Back on earth, in LA’s underground, the remains of life can be found. I placed a skull where the city’s military cemetery is located. Situated in the heart of the Miracle Mile district, right next to the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, are the La Brea Tar Pits, site of an exhibit of skeletons dating back to prehistoric life, which had been preserved in pools of hot, molten tar.

Beneath the surface lurks a variety of worms with sophisticated human attributes, while a land shark is seen floating around the affluent community of Beverly Hills.

Completely dependent on what are now horrifically congested roads and freeways, the city nevertheless has a glorious history of obsessive love for the automobile. Angelenos often define themselves and judge each other by what particular car(s) they drive. My composition brought subtle attention to this phenomenon through the incorporation of technical diagrams of the internal ‘organs’ of old cars (such as the chassis of a 1927 Cadillac) and a sectional diagram of a Mercedes Benz, the latter affixed to a fragment of gold-plated mirror, right where Beverly Hills is located on the map.

The main connecting arteries of the city are the freeways and I have delineated these main arteries with laminated plastic rings between thin sheets of glass. These rings were once typically used on racks in clothing shops to separate apparel according to size. Hence, the Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway, also known as Interstate 10, or Santa Monica Freeway, which begins at the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica and heads east all the way to Florida, is demarcated by a clothes rack ring for size 10. Bisecting this freeway, in West Los Angeles, is the San Diego Freeway, or Interstate 405, which is recognized in this artwork by the clothing rack ring size “L” (large). Appropriately the 405 is the busiest and most congested freeway in the United States.

There are two examples of the defunct commuter train system contained in this artwork: one a map of what was called “The Balloon Route,” which ran from downtown to the sea, then traveled along the ocean and looped back to downtown. The once scenic train ride that passed through orange groves and lush green countryside – that later would become the never-ending suburbs – featured luxurious dining cars. The second map includes the complete Pacific Electric Railway system, which is superimposed over a map of the metro system in Prague, Czech Republic, for no other reason than that I placed this semi-transparent artwork in front of the enormous illuminated stained glass map of the Paris Metro in an exhibition. However, in this case, one system once was an outgrowth of communism, the other capitalism.

Finally, symbolic of the diverse multicultural melting pot of southern California, interspersed throughout the city are hand-size maps of underground metro, (subway) systems from twenty-three cities around the world. Several of them are seen below. It was also my intention to make the commentary that highly efficient subway/metro/tramway systems exist in cities across the globe, regardless of the socio-economic systems of the countries where they are located. Yet, for many decades, Los Angeles which had long lost privy to the largest commuter train system in the world, became mired in traffic gridlock, without any other options.

Four years after this artwork was created, the first lines of the new LA Metro system opened, and major strides have continuously been made in its development. Still, it may take generations before an alternative efficient system of clean, efficient energy public transportation will serve the city, to the degree that is so badly needed.