Where is the black public art promised by SoFi Stadium?

In a 2011 video produced by USA Today, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones takes viewers on a tour of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, designed by architectural firm HKS. In the nearly five-minute video, Jones reaches all the heights: the pitch, the stands, the club areas and, of course, the changing rooms. He also spends a good 30 seconds talking about something slightly unexpected: the stadium’s incredible art collection.

The camera pans past a large-scale mural by LA artist Gary Simmons that shows a field of blue explosions, and a massive tiered vinyl installation by German artist Franz Ackermann that adds bands of color deeply saturated to a transition zone around an escalator. What makes the stadium unique, Jones says, “is that some people might see a piece of contemporary art by a museum-quality artist, and they might say, what’s that got to do with a tackle? ? What’s that got to do with a wink? Well, it’s closer than you think. … In the end, millions of people could see it who otherwise would never see it in a museum.

Featuring a who’s who of international artists, which also includes Jenny Holzer, Anish Kapoor, Teresita Fernández and even a delightfully weird vinyl mural by Texas-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock, AT&T Stadium makes its art a showpiece. The collection is prominently featured on the stadium’s website homepage; visitors can also take specialized art tours of the stadium.

I don’t expect to have such an enlightened experience at Inglewood’s new SoFi Stadium.

There’s a lot SoFi gets right: the architecture – which is also by HKS – and groundbreaking landscape design by Los Angeles-based Studio-MLA. But the artistic program remains incomplete. Two major installations — by a pair of prominent black artists, no less — appear to be stuck in limbo. Also not found: Albert Stewart’s historic sculpture of Swaps, the record-breaking thoroughbred who won the Kentucky Derby in 1955. The bronze, which shows legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker on the galloping horse, once held pride of place on the old racecourse in Hollywood Park.

A view of the 1958 unveiling ceremony of Albert Stewart’s sculpture representing the famous Swaps, in the presence of his famous jockey, Bill Shoemaker.

(Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images)

The two missing commissions, as set out in an artistic plan submitted to the city of Inglewood, included a pair of architectonic installations inspired by the watery forms of Afro-Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea, a founding member of the Cuban collective Los Carpinteros and a figure who has had major solo public art installations in New York and at Coachella. (Arrechea’s huge yellow “Katrina chairs” were an iconic part of the Coachella festival scenery in 2016.)

The art plan also included a large-scale land piece by Los Angeles-born and raised Maren Hassinger, a deeply respected sculptor whose works often explore the intersection of race and landscape. His pieces, often made with gritty industrial materials such as galvanized wire, are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1979, she created a series of freeway-side sculptures titled “Twelve Trees”, which are now an integral part of Cal State Fullerton’s sculpture collection.

A representative for Susan Inglett Gallery, which represents Hassinger, would not comment on the status of the artist’s SoFi installation. Reached by phone, Arrechea said, “I don’t have any recent news, but I’m looking forward to working on the project,” and declined to comment further.

Two artistic consultants for the project, Lesley Elwood and Tiffiny Lendrum, directed my questions to the publicity office of Hollywood Park, the mega-development where SoFi Stadium is located. Similarly, artist Christie Beniston, who designed the planned backdrop for Stewart’s “Swaps” – which was to be located at the southeastern tip of the stadium – said she was unaware of the condition of his project and forwarded me to Hollywood Park. Everyone I contacted for this story, which included other artists in addition to those listed here, have signed nondisclosure agreements with Hollywood Park and therefore have not commented on the matter.

In an email, a Hollywood Park spokesperson said, “The project is ahead of the amount of funding that has been generated by construction to date. Over time, we expect additional developments to fund a wide range of artwork to program and play on the site.

A view of a series of floor sculptures that look like galvanized wire brushes.

Sculptures by Maren Hassinger displayed in the group exhibition “Signifying Form” at the Landing Gallery in Los Angeles in 2017.

(Caroline A. Miranda/Los Angeles Times)

Certainly, the stadium is not entirely devoid of art.

Already in place is a massive architectural piece by Ned Kahn that covers the facade of a parking structure to the west of the stadium, as well as graphic works by Erik den Breejen and Katie Shapiro inside the stadium’s elevators. , and a large-scale wall piece. by Sandeep Mukherjee who inhabits the interiors of the adjacent YouTube Theater.

But with the Super Bowl on our doorstep, in a stadium that sits in the heart of a city indelibly tied to 20th-century black culture, there are no finished works of a black artist. I repeat: none.

And it’s not because the art plan didn’t include works by black artists, because it certainly was. It’s just that these are the last ones run by the developers (if any).

A pair of sculptures by acclaimed Los Angeles artist Alison Saar, whose work explores the states of black women, are slated to land on the south edge of the resort’s Lake Park in June. (It was recently the subject of a very well-received two-part investigation at Pasadena’s Armory Center for the Arts and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College.) And in the works, a mural by painter Calida Rawles , who maintains a studio in Inglewood. Rawles, who is represented by Hollywood gallery Various Small Fires, is known for his canvases of black bodies floating in water in dreamy, floating states – one of which served as the cover for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel ” The Water Dancer”.

It’s unclear, however, if Rawles’ mural will be finished in time for game day on Sunday. A press release about the murals program – which also includes works by feminist artist Eve Fowler and Canadian graphic designer Geoff McFetridge – gave only a vague promise of “February”. The Hollywood Park spokesperson did not provide further details.

In addition to these works of public art, the stadium will host an exhibition of works from the Kinsey Collection, a collection of black art collected by LA philanthropists Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, in one of its stadium areas at the end of February. club. This, however, will be a temporary display.

Ultimately, the lack of a strong black visual arts presence on the site during Super Bowl week is a serious miss. Not only is it Black History Month, but this year’s Super Bowl halftime lineup will nod to Southern California’s place in the rap pantheon, with performances by Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige and Kendrick Lamar. The NFL seems to be attuned to the culture of the site; Hollywood Park developers, not so much.

Several chair-like structures bearing towering buildings, all painted bright yellow, stand on a grassy lawn.

A view of Alexandre Arrechea’s “Katrina Chairs” at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2016.

(Brian Van Der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Which also brings me back to the failed installation of Stewart’s Swaps sculpture. This would have been an opportunity to honor the site’s history.

I can’t tell everything in Hollywood Park. On the one hand, we’ve been in a pandemic, which has delayed, well, all. And there’s the bigger problem of the spongy nature of the development contract the city of Inglewood signed with the developers of Hollywood Park. The city has granted the stadium a deviation from the traditional percentage of the Art Ordinance, which requires developers to commission on-site artwork representing “1% of the valuation of the construction project”. In SoFi’s case, that would amount to a healthy $50 million investment in public art.

Instead, Hollywood Park was allowed to allocate an equivalent amount of expenses to a period of 25 years. In other words: Inglewood gave a wealthy developer a generation to deliver on his artistic promises.

Additionally, the development contract virtually excludes Inglewood from the process. As part of the discrepancy, as noted in court documents filed with the city in early 2021, the City of Inglewood’s “Arts Commission” does not have its traditional authority over art plans. developer audience, public artwork, art sites, art budgets, artistic content, artistic definition, or developer spend. Although the commission “has a responsibility to provide cultural testimony to on behalf of the City, as to the Developers’ achievement of their stated, changeable, and ongoing goals. »

What “cultural testimony” might be is unclear. Sabrina Barnes, director of Inglewood’s parks, recreation and library services, which oversees the city’s arts commission, did not respond to telephone and email inquiries from The Times.

The artistic plan of the stadium has — had? – promise. I hope it will be finished in my lifetime. In the meantime, for a good artistic experience in a stadium, I will turn to Texas.

James C. Tibbs