Just Like Neon

When I was 10 my 5th grade class piled onto a bus and headed for the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I sat next to Wesley, who let me borrow his jacket and hold his hand. Upon entering the museum our class spread out. Some went to see a cow’s eye being dissected. Others stuck their tongues out in concentration while solving a life size puzzle. Wesley and I went to the electricity display, complete with those balls with live electricity inside; the ones that make you feel like a god as electricity follows your fingers.

I honestly can’t remember if I had experienced these orbs before or it was just an innate instinct to reach out and touch it. “People are still intrigued by the plasma effects, and seem to instinctively know to reach out a hand to touch it” the statement for the Larry Albright show reads. Albright was the man who originally patented those orbs- the “plasma globe”. Though the technology already existed he, “developed, patented and marketed the illuminated globe as a consumer item for the worldwide masses.”

So today, with a slight bounce in my step, I meandered down Lost Souls Alley only to arrive at a locked MONA, 136 W. 4th Street Los Angeles, CA 90013. I looked over the hours a multitude of times before pressing a little too hard on the buzzer. Readers, pay close attention! If the doors are closed during operating hours, ring the bell. The curator will come and open up for you. It’s just one of the many quirks to this gaudy gold mine of neon fun.

In front entrance is a show of Tom Zimmerman’s effortlessly beautiful photographs. These photographs depict a time when LA was alive with energy, buzzing with excitement. Each photograph actually induces a sad nostalgia, not the whisper of an emotion, not the inkling that you should be engaged, actual sadness, which is kind of beautiful. I spent a significant amount of time with each photograph; thinking about what the sign had been for, what its fate would be.

Finally it was time. I turned towards the curtain to get a peek at the wizard. I pushed it back and wandered around the space I had all to myself. The retrospective on Larry Albright’s work gave the place a fantastic experiential vibe.

It is this writer’s strong opinion that experiential art is a necessity in the contemporary movement. Viewers are inundated with thousands of images a day, what is to say the nine they see in a gallery will impact them any more than the billboards they saw getting there. So it is my opinion that the age old “no touching” rule should be tossed out the window. The art viewer should get to touch, pick up, climb inside of the art that they are experiencing. I firmly believe it will impact out specific age more that just an image, though I am not downplaying the power of contemporary painting and photography, as noted above.

Let me climb off my soapbox and continue. Albright’s pieces were all different sizes and shapes. You get to touch them and play god for a while, watching electricity tag along behind each of your fingers, following your chosen path. I felt like I was 10 again!. I finally pulled myself away from the pieces and wandered to the MONA’s most electric display. This part is strange. In the back right corner of the gallery, it literally looks like someone just dumped old signs on the ground, lit them and left them. When I was a student and first visited this museum, I was not the confident gallery visitor that I am now. I was timid, and a little confused. Were these signs part of the display? Could I walk around them? Were they supposed to be lit? Yes, yes and yes. Wander around and be completely engulfed in how strange it feels to come face to face with the giants you normally stare up at. Swim around in the feeling until your fingers get all pruny. 

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