May 29th, 2011

5th street los angeles 1905

Then Again

When I was a kid, used car lots used to string colorful triangular pennants above their merchandise. In a stiff breeze, the flapping pennants would sometimes make so much noise that the salesman would have to shout about the old Hudson or Studebaker he was trying to sell you, just to be heard. It turns out the guys who ran used car lots were ur-artists. In 2009, a French artist named Daniel Buren installed "A Rainbow in the Sky" above a courtyard in Pasadena, California. Had the used car salesmen of the 1950s known that they were standing under rainbows, they'd surely have insisted that the 1947 Oldsmobile at the end of the line of cars was a veritable pot of gold.

I was once familiar with the location in which Buren's piece was displayed, but in those days it was not a trendy shopping area. It was occupied by some old brick buildings and a maze of alleys off of Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena's oldest neighborhood. Some of the old buildings are still there, others have been cleared to provide space for the courtyard, and still others were demolished to make way for new brick buildings that were designed to be reminiscent of the buildings they replaced.

It's now an odd combination of the fake and the real (the building with the corner tower in this photo is new, the buildings to its left are old.) I've never seen this changed place in person. When I left Los Angeles the project was barely underway. I'm not sure if I'm sad that I didn't get to see it built, or if I'm sad because it got built, but those photos do make me sad. The pennants over the used car lots never made me sad. I think maybe they were installed by better artists than Daniel Buren.