Lauren Halsey brings the ‘street’ into artistic focus

Merdies Hayes Editor | 5/9/2019, midnight
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Originally, Halsey showed her initial experiments with carving on gypsum panels and painting colorful portraits on the columns at the Studio Museum in Harlem, N.Y. in 2015. She is a former artist in residence at that facility. It was there that she found the connection between the aforementioned funk music bands when she would stroll the community and notice vendors on 125th Street selling scale models of Pharaonic architecture. That led her to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she studied actual ruins from ancient Egypt, specifically the many paintings and reliefs.

Halsey contributed another architectural prototype last year to the Hammer Museum’s biennial “made in L.A.” exhibit. In this instance, her work was installed on the building’s terrace where visitors entered a large, open-air pavilion of carved gypsum panels reminiscent of both Egyptian and Modernist structures. Halsey designed the exhibit to encourage visitors “think through” and respond to the questions of access and/or practicalities of her future South L.A monument and how it might function in a public space.

Halsey is scheduled to have her first local exhibition early next year at the David Kordansky Gallery in West L.A. She asked the officials there to contribute the proceeds from the eventual sale of her Frieze commission to a worker’s center in South L.A. Halsey also wants to employ carpenters and apprentices at the Kordansky Gallery after she receives approval from the city for her civic art proposal in the Crenshaw District.

“It’s really a small alternative development project,” Halsey said.

Since the 1950s, generations of the Halsey family have resided in South L.A. She has used that experience extensively in her presentations. At MOCA Grand Avenue, she created “We’re still here, there” as an engrossing installation, composed of intertwining caves framed with free-form architecture. Rugs featured animal prints. There were Ankh symbols, and a black panther lined the floor while a series of objects and vignettes wee placed throughout the environment in serving as a “visionary archive reflecting the diversity of the everyday Black cultural experience,” she explained. “I’d liken it to a ‘maximalist South Central paradise.’”

In time, Halsey plans to open the doors to her new Los Angeles studio for a six-month period and invite the public to “carve” their own stories on the panels of her unique architectural structures, or at the very least contribute some images for other artists to incorporate into their designs.

“I want this to be a collaboration with me and the people within the neighborhood,” Halsey said. “We’re all authoring narratives around what it means to be alive now.”