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Keeping outdoor art safe, almost a year later

By Sonali Kohli
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012, at 03:36PM
Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk

The Wende Museum's "Across the Wall" exhibit contains museum-quality prints of portrait paintings from the Soviet Union. It's been on display on Main Street since August 2011.

At first glance, it looks like a gallery’s been turned inside out on Main Street.

Just half a block from Skid Row, a maroon wall disrupts Downtown's urban sprawl, covered with framed portraits from the former Soviet Union. The art is part of the Wende Museum’s “Across the Wall” exhibit that’s been up since last summer to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall.

The exhibit, located in the Old Bank District at the intersection of Main and 4th streets, is part of the monthly Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk. But this exhibit is always on display, which means it has to be taken care of differently than indoor art does.

“All of those [materials] were specifically selected and tested to withstand an urban environment, inclusive of other street artists and the weather,” said Joe Moller, the executive director of the Downtown Art Walk.

The frames and methods of mounting them are similar to an indoor exhibit, but the art is high quality reproduction, said Donna Stein, associate director for the Wende Museum. The outdoor art is also covered with Plexiglas instead of the real glass that would be in a gallery.

Maintaining the art itself is the museum’s responsibility - this has involved refreshing the exhibit after the art withered a little in the rain, Stein said.

There were also two or three instances of people writing “politically active” remarks on the actual paintings, or removing the paintings from the frames, Moller said.

In those cases, the property owner took the painting down, or if the painting was stolen they framed and painted over the area, Moller explained. The property owner is also responsible for repainting the wall if it's tagged.

"I live down the street, and my office is above the installation," Moller said. "I want the wall to look the best it can possibly look for a variety or reasons, especially the art experience."

For the most part, though, people are respectful of the Downtown Art Walk's first endeavor at collaborating for outdoor art, he added.

He still sees people stop when they see the paintings on Main Street, taking a moment to glance at one of the portraits and read the frame, or snap a picture.

"It's interesting and empowering for people commuting to work every day," Moller said. "The images and stories put up by Wende were very parallel to the struggle that many of our neighbors and community members still struggle with."

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