Airports are obviously not the ideal setting in which to place fine art. Sure they are awash with eyeballs, but the eyes are attached to frenzied and/or exhausted psyches with singular focus: being somewhere else. This hasn't stopped nearly every transportation hub in the country from attempting to inject a little culture into the experience. Many years ago David Cross did a great bit, about a 9 panel series of paintings at the the Seattle airport, which fairly summed up the sadder aspects of this peculiar trend. This summer however, people traveling through LAX will have a chance to see a caliber of art not generally found in such places; the sublime, intricate work of Leigh Salgado.
It's easy to go overboard with superlatives when writing about Leigh's art. "Sensual", "opulent", "delicate", and "flowery" are commonplace in articles about Leigh. But while those terms may hit on the feminine grace inherent in Salgado's paper transformations, they do little to convey their power. Lace, petals, and Victorian lingerie aside, these are robust, potent works of art. They have been carved out, painted and burned by a strong, commanding hand. The mystique here may be equal parts Betty Friedan and Marilyn Monroe, but it never panders. I've heard tales of people being uncomfortable, and even aroused by Leigh's art. The extent to which the work is erotically charged has, as always, much more to do with the viewer than the artist. Would the art incite your libidinous id less if it had been made by Tom Wesselmann, or Lari Pittman? If there really is any abstraction here, it's in the way the work is absorbed by it's audience. Leigh's art demands consideration from a multitude of perspectives, ultimately drawing you in so close that you're breathing on the work. So, maybe it's that intimacy, that seduction, which unsettles people.
I first interviewed Leigh a couple years ago, and I was really nervous about it. Her art had seized my attention rather forcefully. I had struggled to discern a clear historical lineage or influence in her work, and to this day I've yet to see anyone, working within the same themes, approach them quite like Leigh. Once I heard her laugh though, I was instantly put at ease. Leigh Salgado has one of the best laughs I've ever heard in my life. It's a warm, wholehearted, and endearing sound. I was happy to hear it again last week when I visited her studio to see what she was making for the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. The work, which will go up mid-May and displayed through August is, appropriately, a series of interpretations of some Los Angeles points of interest. Some well known, others lesser so. Leigh walked me through it:
I chose different areas of L.A. county, to do kind of a fashion statement. Places tourists might want to visit. A couple of the places are popular destinations, but a couple of them aren't. But they're all named after a street. For instance, "Rodeo Drive". I don't go there very often, but I really like the window installations. It is kind of a fun place to take a walk, and also check out ACE Gallery and Gagosian. Then there's "Pacific Boulevard", which is really close to here, and there's a lot of Quinceanera shops. I just love those dresses. I always loved ball gowns. I don't buy them or wear them but I enjoy looking at them. "PCH" features elements of the Santa Monica Pier, like the Ferris wheel. I have a lot of nostalgic feelings towards Pacific Coast Highway. I rarely go to the beach anymore, but when I first moved to L.A., I went all the time. I used to be a big beach girl. The next one is "Pioneer Boulevard", where Little India is. That's a really fun place to visit. There are a lot of fabric stores and such. The first one I did for this series, and probably the most literal is "Fairfax Boulevard", where Little Ethiopia is. Which has restaurants, bakeries and thrift shops. The fashion aspects has to do with the thrift shops, but the green, white, and red pattern is influenced by the Ethiopian flag. Then there will be some smaller ones, which are kind of like accessories; gloves, hats, and sunglasses.
Now, I realize that my writing about this may be frustrating for those of you who won't be able to see the project. It's a post 9/11 world, and you can't just go to the airport on a whim, roam around and people-watch. But there's a certain poetic irony to this gorgeous work being encased in glass and staged within a highly stressed, otherwise ugly environment where people have to stumble upon it. The other reason I wanted to write about this is that I don't think Leigh Salgado gets shown enough. There are artists in L.A. that seem to be included in every damn group show that comes down the pike. Oh, there's the bunny guy again. Oh, look, it's the other bunny guy...again. Leigh isn't over-saturated. But now, with this project, Leigh's work will potentially have an audience, all over the globe, with thousands of people everyday. I can think of few artists who deserve that more.
LA World Airports, Exhibitions & Installations/City Of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs/Tom Bradley International Terminal, May-Aug, 2014
5/21/2014 Author's note: This project has been pushed to July or August, due to construction at LAX.