When the Community Redevelopment Agency began upgrading the Grand Avenue corridor in 1985, incorporating sculptures into renovated public spaces was a key element. One of the artists who were won over to create and locate works was the inimitable Robert Graham, whose bronze sculptures from the intimate to the monumental have seduced the viewer for decades. Now, about 35 years later, the Grand Avenue Arts Corridor is trying to make Upper Street sing again – just as expanded viewing of styled exteriors has become even more pronounced since the pandemic spent most of public life outdoors.
A particularly elegant and unexpectedly emotional highlight of this plan is the new Halo – a redevelopment of the atrium and surrounding plaza of the Wells Fargo Center that will fully open later this year, but whose Graham Garden is already open to visitors. From August 19th – the birthday of the deceased artist – the original suite of bronze figure fountains from the mid-1980s was restored and now underlines the fresh landscape and the archetypal view of the city center in a socially distance-friendly inner courtyard, which at least nowadays is so quiet that even at lunchtime the soft gurgling of the fountains under the figures is as audible and charming as a babbling brook.
The concept and design of Graham Garden was staged by art consultant Karen Amiel and most importantly by Graham's son Steven Graham, who has run Robert Graham Studio and Estate since the artist's death in 2008 and oversees both his legacy and the completion of production Studio editions. For his part, Steven Graham told the weekly how extremely proud he is to be able to install these important works in a space that is not only beautiful, but 100% free, open and accessible to everyone around the clock.
The fountain figures I – III, 1983 and the fountain figures IV, 1986-87, all cast from bronze, have a decidedly sporty theme. Perhaps he was thinking of these ideas when creating these works, since Graham's first major citizen commission came from the Olympic Arts Festival, which coincided with the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Steven describes a very practical, even very personal experience of how this project comes about – something that involves a lot more than just moving sculptures from here to there. In fact, the installation itself is more poetic than simple centering. Graham describes that the largest of the works, Fountain Figure IV, undoubtedly represents an incredibly regal presence on the square, but the water feature of Fountain Figure III is very strong at every turn and the other two works are more embedded in curves within the landscaping . Overall, they guide you around the room and each creates their own unique encounters. Fountain Figure II is best seen with your back to the room, as if private. The variety of backdrops and times of day in the wide sky plays with the works and the water and is more than Instagram-capable.
Thanks to Brookfield's apparent commitment to the artistic portion of their vision, Graham was personally able to ensure that the works would be installed and honored in such a way that his father's dream of placing objects of beauty and contemplation everywhere is handled with the utmost care – an edge heightened by the official opening date on Robert's birthday and a gift that is reinforced by our urgent need for more livable public spaces.
Speaking of which, as the Halo DTLA website helpfully points out, and Bert Dezzutti, Executive Vice President, Western Region of Brookfield Properties, says, "The sculptures of Robert Graham and Downtown Los Angeles are inextricably linked." They map three other nearby locations Important Graham sculptures – Dance Door at Music Center Plaza and the Great Doors of the Cathedral, both of which are just one block north on Grand. and Source Figure to the south, another magnificent fountain halfway up the Spanish Steps towards the library. Why not make it a day?
The Graham Garden on Halo DTLA, accessible from 330 S. Hope St. and 333 S. Grand Ave. Further information can be found at halodtla.com/graham-garden.