On Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, you might not find it surprising to see a lot of street lamps massed together.
Or maybe you would be surprised indeed.
Here in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, over 200 vintage cast-iron streetlamps salvaged from Southern California cities, are massed in a strict formation, creating a presence in the street landscape.
This is an art installation and sculpture by noted Southern California artist Chris Burden, titled "Urban Light." Installed in 2008 with the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA, it has become a much-loved part of Los Angeles' public arts landscape.
Burden began collecting the old streetlamps after finding parts of them in flea markets. They were sandblasted, restored, repainted, and assembled in configuration on his property in Topanga Canyon.
In 2005, [The Man I Love] and I were lucky enough to be invited to Burden's home up in the part of Topanga known as the Mesa, and saw the installation in place outside his workshop studio. Set in precise rows, with the lamps only a few feet apart, the installation creates a perspective illusion that sometimes feels like solid-walled corridors as your eye loses the ability to see the gaps between the posts.
We wandered among the colonnades under a pale twilight sky, and then Burden turned on the switch, and the glass globes sprang to light with an almost audible hum. Suddenly the perspective changed - the ceiling of the universe descended and it was as if we were in a vast walled space, like a cathedral. Another writer has likened the LACMA installation to the great columned halls of the temple of Karnak.
In 2008 the lamps were installed in front of LACMA and the work has become a part of the streetscape on Wilshire. Today when we visited, tourists wandered the rows. A group of young girls in head scarfs posed for one another to take photos. Children are fascinated by the rows of lamps, and run, ducking and hiding, in between them.
At night the lamps come on at the same time ordinary street lamps come on, and remain lit all night until dawn.
Chris Burden is a provocative artist with a controversial history, and like other works, this has generated a wide range of opinions. But as far as I'm concerned, this is something he's given to the people of Los Angeles that makes living in the city more fun, and makes you think about the history of Los Angeles.
Read more about Chris Burden's "Urban Light" at this article in the L.A. Times.