"L.A. Angel" is not only art, it is also Los Angeles. Its title, its imagery, and its materials speak of the city's past and present, as well as its culture, industry and character. The center of "L.A. Angel" has a stylized, abstract human shape, constructed of lightweight honeycomb aluminum sheets used in the aircraft industry and accented with streaks of neon lights. The head of the figure is an enlarged version of a Fresnel glass lens, which is used by the motion picture industry for lighting sets during filming. Multiple colored neon streamers flowing out from both sides of the body resonate because of the history of neon signage in Los Angeles. Neon lighting was invented in Europe, but the world's first commercial sign in the United States was installed in Los Angeles by Earl C. Anthony for his Packard distributorship in 1922. The juxtaposition of neon and automobiles, the role automobiles play in shaping the city, and the symbolic relationship between the automobile and Los Angeles is displayed by the angel's wing made from a 1957 Plymouth "Fury" rear quarter panel.
Lakich wanted a quarter panel from a 1957 Plymouth Fury because she felt it was the "most angelic looking rear panel" on cars made during the 1950s and that the decorative trim looked like gold lam?. It was also relatively flat, making it easy to work with. However, she had difficulty finding one because they rusted and disintegrated due to poor drainage. After spending two years checking trade publications and visiting junk yards, Lakich was ready to substitute a panel from a Cadillac.(1) The 1992 civil disturbance following the Rodney King verdict made her more determined than ever to use one from a "Fury" because the name was expressive of the rage that engulfed the city. She finally located a panel in Phoenix through a trade publication, brought it to Los Angeles, and had it restored and painted.
"L.A. Angel," the largest work Lili Lakich has executed, is a unique piece of public art because it was commissioned to solve a specific practical problem. The extension of California Plaza on Bunker Hill created a tunnel-like effect along a section of Olive Street. In order to meet the City's lighting standards,(2) Metropolitan Structures, the developer of California Plaza, decided to install a light sculpture and asked the Museum of Neon Art in 1989 to recommend women artists for a $75,000 commission. Lakich, one of three artists considered for the project, presented three basic concepts, each in two different sizes: 1) "Angel's Flight;" 2) "Phantom Angel;" and 3) "L.A. Angel." "Angel's Flight" had three variations: "Pegasus," a central abstract figure and long spreading streamers; "Icarus," a central figure constructed of machine parts; and a combination of "Pegasus" and "Icarus." "Phantom Angel" incorporated a more representational figure than the ones in "Angel's Flight." The architect of the office towers at California Plaza, Arthur Erickson, decided to install the larger version of "L.A. Angel."(3)
Shortly before the work was installed in 1992, Metropolitan Structures threatened to withhold Lakich's final payment unless she gave them her copyrights and other ownership rights granted under Federal and State laws.(4) With approximately 100 works of public art completed in downtown under the Community Redevelopment Agency's public art policies, this was the only time a developer ever demanded the right to alter, reproduce, remove and demolish a work at their discretion. But this was not the only time Metropolitan Structures acted in a high-handed manner. The year before, they not only constructed part of California Plaza with material that was not approved by the Cultural Affairs Commission, they assumed a "take it or leave it" attitude when the Commission objected to their action.(5) Metropolitan Structure's threat to cut off Lakich's funds came at a particularly vulnerable time because she had to pay the installers of "L.A. Angel." Nevertheless, she refused to sign her rights away and attempted to resolve the matter through her attorney. When that failed, she sought help from the Community Redevelopment Agency. After the Agency informed Metropolitan Structures of their opposition to their demand, the developer backed off and quickly made the final payment.
Footnotes:1 "Angel Art: Lakich Neon Flies on the Wall at Cal Plaza," by Stacy Kravetz, Downtown News, March 1, 1993, p. 18.
2 Minutes of Cultural Affairs Commissioners, October 13, 1988, November 10, 1988.
3 Interview of Lili Lakich by Michael Several, September 22, 1999.
4 Letter from Jill S. Smith, Administrative Assistant, to Lili Lakich, re: Transfer of Licenses and Rights, June 25, 1992.
5 Letter from David H. Simon, President, Board of Cultural Affairs Commision, to Mr. Nyal Leslie, President, Metropolitan Structures West, Inc., June 26, 1991.
The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, October 1999.
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