She Built This City: MOC (My Own City) at The Rendon “Pop-up” Gallery
The Rendon Gallery, Los Angeles
through october 7, 2021
Written by Genie Davis
Mixed-media artist Susan Feldman has her own city. She built it herself, with imagination, found wood, bright yarn, paint, and a variety of other found materials. While it is in miniature, MOC (My Own City), nonetheless fills the gallery with colorful, playful, wildly innovative structures that one could easily envision as a real, living place.
Comprising 50 buildings that represent a vibrant Utopian neighborhood, viewers can traverse the entire community, which rises at varied levels throughout the gallery space, the brick walls of the gallery receding behind it as one wanders its “streets.”
Feldman has often created structural works in the past, but this site-specific city is perhaps her most colorful and warmly habitable space. The buildings and geographic features could be whimsical illustrations from an extremely hip and creative children’s book, sprung to life from magic.
Looking at the works, it is that sense of playful magic that most infuses it; this is a place you’d want to live, whether you had to shrink yourself to a Lilliputian size or whether the purveyor of a planned community in real life happened upon it and said “This. This is home.”
For Feldman, as an artist, it certainly is. “I finally felt that I had the right and ability to …create an entire world that I, and others, could identify with.”
Begun before the pandemic but completed as it hit, Feldman gives viewers a sense of place and pleasure that our still-in-the-pandemic-more-or-less souls crave. It’s a community that simply seems like a happy place to be.
First entering the gallery, the viewer is struck by the color, the irregular and compelling forms, and the sense of cheer. On closer inspection, the details, which charm and intrigue, stand out. And after exploration, to look at the city is to take in the full landscape of it, and feel its fairy-tale power to grow large, at least in the mind. Adding to the alchemy of it, Feldman created a soundtrack playlist to accompany the visit (she built this city out of…rock and roll!).
While each structure has its powerful charm, some favorites include “The Firehouse,” with its bright red truck; “The School” with its wall of vivid aqua paint; the restful greenspace of “The Campground” and the scenery in which the city appears to be set, “The Mountains”; the sweetly perfect globe in “One World Park.” There are skyscrapers and an intimately realized “Neighbor’s House”; a funky “Music Emporium,” and the welcomingly open door of the “Book Haven” book shop. “The Art Museum” is another true charmer, its modern façade so easy to visualize rising in LA.
In Feldman’s past architectural and structural designs, the color palette has been more muted. Here, the royal blues, radiant reds, burnished oranges, are at first look, the shining stars. But it is the structures themselves, their irregular shapes, angular roofs, detailed interior views, and clever exterior facades that are the most dazzling.
In a sculptural slight-of-hand, Feldman draws our eye first to the color and the adorable types of images that her town contains: garden, motel, carnival, The Pink House which is the government’s seat. But it is when we look through and into the color and see the rhythm and line, the overall design of the city, that her creation takes real root.
The sense of motion and airiness her “Flying Station” evokes; the wonderful artistry in “The Art Museum” with its askew planes; the zany, rockin’ out vibrations of “The Music Emporium” – all bring the city to life. That is the gift, and the wonder of this exhibition, that it feels so very alive.
Some of that life springs from the soaring, limitless architecture Feldman has created, and some of it from the combination of color, location choices (there is notably no jail or nursing home) and raw materials. But perhaps most of all, that life arises from a real energy from the mind that designed this city. It’s born of the crazy-quilt nature of the construction, which stands both as a collection of individual sculptural works and as an overall sculptural installation. And it also arises from a joyous, deliberate sense of motion within each construction, as if that plane could really fly, that door truly open, that garden really grow.
And there we are again, back to Feldman’s infusion of magic.
If you partake of that magic, there are even souvenirs – the keys to the city, among them. Perhaps if you choose those keys (there’s also a bright orange mug from “The Breakfast Joint”), they will unlock the door to your own special city or open the enchanting memory of Feldman’s.
MOC (My Own City) materializes at The Rendon “Pop-up” Gallery through October 7th, by appointment only. The Rendon is located in DTLA; address provided with reservation.