Jenny Holzer & Mapplethorpe works go on show in a hospital

Eighty artists breathe new life into an abandoned LA hospital with an immersive, site-specific exhibition that explores what it means to be human

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Human Condition
Installation view of Human ConditionPhotography Gintare Bandinskaite

An immersive, site-specific exhibition titled Human Condition is currently taking up residency at a former hospital in West Adams, Los Angeles – once known as Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center. Opening in 1971, it was the first Black-owned hospital in the California city, running until the neighbourhood’s decline and revelations of criminal mismanagement and insurance fraud in 2013.

This month it’s being brought back to life through the work of 80 artists, including Jenny Holzer, Marilyn Minter and Robert Mapplethorpe, and 40,000 square feet of space. Intrinsic to Human Condition is a conversation about what it is to be human, and as such, its four walls are in constant dialogue with each work on display.

From the very first glance, the sense of human presence is evident and the building’s roof sign has been changed by Kelly Lamb from “The Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center” to “Flesh and Bone Zone”. Inside, sculpture and drawing, painting, performance, and immersive installations encourage exploration across two floors, including surgical rooms, maternity wards, a psychiatric floor, and a cafe.

On the first floor, the subconscious mind is explored by Holzer, David Benjamin Sherry, Gregory Crewdson and Chantal Joffe, amongst others. Whereas on the second, works by Daniel Arsham, Marc Horowitz, and Tony Matelli are accompanied by several others. In an eerie juxtaposition, the fourth-floor psychiatric ward has been re-purposed as a resting room, where visitors are encouraged to put their feet up and relax.

Running until November, below, we spoke with curator John Wolf about how it all came together and why these works are important.

These 80 artists showing differ in their practice, ethos, and aesthetic – is there something that unites them?

John Wolf: They are all united by the theme of the human condition. Each work in the exhibition celebrates an emotional, physical, or metaphysical aspect of our existence. 

How did you go about curating these names? And what were you looking for when selecting works?

John Wolf: The majority of the names on the list were chosen from a mental list of artists I had wanted to work with. Others were brought in at a later stage based on the space and various needs of the overall exhibition curation. I wanted to find artists whose work resonated on a visceral level, that spoke to the core of my goal to leave a legacy of creative joy. The works in the show explore the human condition, not only in its physical form, but also in the subconscious – turmoil that manifests in elation, whimsy, strife, conflict, and even trauma.

How important is the space to the art? Is there a dialogue here between the two?

John Wolf: Absolutely! The space is a vessel for the myriad emotions we experience in life: joy, pain, trauma, death, birth. This rings true with the viewer as they traverse the halls. When they see art displayed in this context, it is heightened, magnified, and more meaningful than if on a white wall of a gallery.

“The space is a vessel for the myriad emotions we experience in life: joy, pain, trauma, death, birth” – John Wolf

Can you tell us a bit about the burgeoning art scene in West Adams?

John Wolf: West Adams is a delightful cross-section in the middle of the city; it merges downtown with mid-city and is on the way to the beach from the east side. It's a gem we often whiz by on the ten. It has the greatest number of historical monuments over any other neighborhood in the city and is becoming a hot-bed of artist studios and pop-up spaces.

The exhibition explores what it means to be human. What, in your opinion, does it mean to be human?

John Wolf: To me, being human can be a real cluster fuck of not-knowing. We are seekers, lamenters, and idealists. It's the quest for knowledge and enlightenment that keeps me, personally, forging through the trials of life to achieve a next step. Sometimes that step leads in a dark direction – my 20s. Gradually, my gut and experience have better informed which steps lead to more or less pain and more or less happiness. Each work in this show illuminates that path for the beholder in one way or another.

What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?

John Wolf: To truly experience art. I hope with this exhibition, I've made art approachable and relatable. I hope people find this exhibition inspirational, and perhaps, leave with a sense of hope for their own goals, whether monumental or simple. And, well, I wouldn't mind if they left purchasing a work of art!

Human Condition is on show until 30 November 2016 at 2231 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA  90018

Full list of participating artists: Nina Chanel Abney, Ashton Allen, Daniel Arsham, Gintare Bandinskaite, Tanya Batura, Katherine Bernhardt, Louise Bonnet, Polly Borland, Delia Brown, Millie Brown, Kendell Carter, Ross Chisholm, Greg Colson, Chris Cran, Gregory Crewdson, Zoe Crosher, Mira Dancy, Marc Dennis, Marlene Dumas, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Nicole Eisenman, Amir H. Fallah, Louis Fratino, Derek Fordjour, Danny Fox, Louisa Gagliardi, Anna Glantz, Brendan Getz, Laurent Grasso, Heidi Hahn, Michael Haight, Brian Harte, Sebastian Herzau, Katie Herzog, Jenny Holzer, Marc Horowitz, Ridley Howard, Bettina Hubby, Leonhard Hurzlmeier, Matthew Day Jackson, Joshua Jefferson, Chantal Joffe, Jordan Kasey, Hoda Kashiha, Shay Kun, Friedrich Kunath, Owen Kydd, Kelly Lamb, Jonathan Lux, Tala Madani, Robert Mapplethorpe, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Max Maslansky, Tony Matelli, Simon Mathers, Patrick McElnea, John Millei, Marilyn Minter, Theo Mercier, JoshuaNathanson, Sarah Petersen, Vernon Price, Tal R, Christopher Reynolds, Holly Rockwell, Alexander Ruthner, Lionel Sabatte, Stuart Sandford, Yves Scherer, Max Hooper Schneider, David Benjamin Sherry, Kim Simonsson, Peter Stichbury, Claire Tabouret, Johan Tahon, Mateo Tannatt, Kenneth Tam, Ed Templeton, Kristian Touborg,Nick van Woert, Mark Verabioff, Matt Wedel, Bernhard Willhelm,Jessica Williams, Bradley Wood, and Alexander Yulish

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