by Naheed Simjee
A resurrected rapper by way of a hologram wasn't the only technological breakthrough that had people talking last week. Returnees from Coachella Part I flocked downtown on Thursday night for the opening of Transmission LA: AV Club sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and The Avant/Garde Diaries at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. The visionary and creative mastermind of the festival, Beastie Boy Mike D, invited 17 multi-disciplinary artists—including Family Bookstore and Roy Choi's Kogi Korean BBQ food truck—to create extraordinary site-specific installations that demonstrate the influence and inspiration that audio and visual art forms have on one another. The exhibition runs through 6 May 2012 with a full schedule of live performances.
"It's the new art, a new audience, new music and new technologies all together, and it's a wonderful fit with the fabulous new Mercedes that is being unveiled tonight," explains Jeffrey Deitch, director of the MOCA, who has been actively involved with the project since LA was selected for this edition of the festival's destination. The first Transmission festival was held in Berlin and curated by Dior's new head designer, Raf Simons.
The exhibition is an immersive experience in sensory stimulation. Upon entering the massive space, seductive lights and vibrant colors tempt patrons to freely explore in every direction. Immediately, Takeshi Murata's zany audio loop of a game show host's voice enthusiastically announces a series of prizes: "It's a new car! It's a new boat! It's a piano!" Exhibition-goers are lured to a projection of sequentially stacked images of The Price Is Right Showcase models revealing game prizes, and a totally unexpected surprise.
Another showstopper is Ben Jones' stellar creation of a triangular tunnel—paneled with Tron-like neon grids and sound bites of racecars zooming by—leading to an enormous room in which computer-animated projections take over the floors and walls, as if you're suddenly transported into a life-size version of Pole Position.
Ara Peterson and Jim Drain have created a series of hypnotic spinning fan-activated pinwheels mounted at different heights and depths. This segment of the exhibition pleasantly seems to slow things down and makes you feel as if you've stumbled into the control room at the Wonka Factory.
Tucked away unassumingly in a room further down is another work central to Mercedes' vision for the project. Visitors are invited to take one of the pairs of headphones hanging from the ceiling to listen to drum and bass tracks created by Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys), that perfectly sync up to a light performance surrounding the new Mercedes Concept Style Coupe. "The car itself is a sculpture and the original model was made out of hand clay," says Mark Fetherston, exterior designer for Mercedes. "There's a lot of shape and it's an expressive design statement. We've taken a more artistic approach and here, we're mixing with different people, so it's not just a typical motor show approach. We're trying to really attract new customers."
The robust aroma of Miscela d'Oro Espresso beans emanates from Robert McKinley's coffee bar installation, based on a concept that Mike D introduced to Deitch when discussing ideas for the exhibition. Mike D and McKinley—who also served as the co-designer of the entire exhibition—are self-proclaimed coffee obsessives and consume a lot of it. "There's been so many times where I've been at an exhibit and I feel like I've burned out at a certain point and if I could just get a cup of coffee, I could stay in the game a bit longer," says Mike D. "I wanted to give all the people here that opportunity. We didn't want to do it with just a cart, we wanted it to be an impressive cup of coffee, so we took it one step further and actually made it one of the installations in the space. Rob kind of went crazy, in a good way. The beans are from Naples. The coffee has a very classic Italian profile."
The exhibition also includes works by filmmaker Mike Mills, paintings by Sage Vaughn and Will Fowler, Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman's environmental installation combining fictional narrative with artifacts, Tom Sachs' Jamaican sound system-inspired sculpture comprised of several speakers, an axe, a chained iPod and tape deck, video art by Cory Arcangel and Sanford Biggers and a complete build out of a social space in which Public Fiction addresses the topic of the nightclub, that will also host several nights of live performances.
So what are the challenges of putting on a show of this magnitude? Mike D explains, "What ultimately prepared me for being able to do an exhibition like this was that, on multiple occasions, the Beastie Boys had to mount fairly decent size concert tours. Really it's this quandary of figuring out what's the visual presentation we're going to give our music while making it fun and exciting and new. Hopefully, it's something that people haven't seen or experienced before, so that's somewhat analogous to this project. What I've taken away from this and have been most inspired by is really just getting to work with the individual artists here."
"I feel like they really work in the realm of translating the idea and making it into a reality and experience that everybody shares," says Mike D. "It's inspiring for me, coming from a world where we have all these parameters, where you want to build something, but someone says, 'Oh, that will never work!' or you want to do a record cover, but the artwork isn't going to be the right size. These artists are really in the job of just being translators of creation. We've managed to do this by living here for the past two weeks and working 14 hours a day."
Mercedes is using the creative platform to redefine itself by associating with the art of tomorrow; as Deitch confirms, "This is exactly what we want to be doing at the MOCA." Transmission LA: AV Club will run through 6 May 2012 at the Geffen Contemporary.
Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
152 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012