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Arts and Entertainment

Art Is Where It's At: Windward Circle

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A few months ago I noticed a nekkid lady’s torso perched on a plinth in the middle of the Windward Traffic Circle in Venice. Considering the calle vida thereabouts, this shouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. Yet, the utter incongruousness of a slick, black, metal, larger-than-life sculpture in the midst of "don’t harsh my mellow" Bohemia, made me stop and gawk. Regardless of yellow caution tape, I sprinted across to the island, which is roomy enough for the locals to gather and drum together on Earth Day, and got a lensful of sexy.

The statue was (and remains to date) unlabeled, but something about her looked familiar. It took me a half a latte at the Coffee Collage, before I remembered who supposedly lives on Windward Ave.: the celebrated and accomplished artist (and husband of Anjelica Huston) Robert Graham. Graham gets commissioned to do a lot of civic art. You’ve probably seen his work and not realized it at LACMA, UCLA, The Norton Simon, The Music Center, Los Angeles Cathedral, The Olympic Gateway and the median at Rodeo and Dayton, which is graced by a similarly shiny torso.

Of course, the Beverly Hills statue appears less out of her element than our girl, who at first glance, looks like she was kicked out of her boyfriend’s Ferrari and left to take the Big Blue Bus back to the sculpture garden. Not that I don’t like the way she stands out. Art should catch and hold your attention, after all. The city is working on refurbishing her island home. Perhaps when that’s finished the moderne style of the piece will blend in more--or not.

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There was a bit of a cafuffle back in ’05 when Venice Peninsula art collector, Roy Doumani, gifted this piece to the city. Some residents were upset that the community as a whole didn’t get a chance to decide what sort of art would best reflect the location, considering the circle is the nexus point that gets visitors down to the boardwalk/beach. See Lisa Ezell’s Free Venice article for a laundry list of objections.

At the time there was an effort to block the installation, but apparently that did little to prevent the well-meaning machinations of the donor and the city council. It’s pretty hard to look a gift horse, allegedly valued at $350K, in the mouth. Besides, it’s the work of a hometown boy, no matter his fame or tax bracket.

The torso may not be the best choice for Venice, but I’ve quickly gotten used to seeing sunlight glint off of insouciant breasts and proud thighs, every time I round the circle. I am so glad that Graham isn't known for his waifish stick thin figures. Talk about your Glamazon! My sisters in the movement may recoil in horror at the thought of a headless, limbless, voluptuous, “objectified,” female form holding a spot of honor in the heart of power-to-the-people, Venice Beach. I concede the point, but let’s lighten up a little and try to remember that a truncated body is more likely a reference to Greek classical sculpture than to Boxing Helena.

Now that, like it or not, this “Venice Venus” has officially moved in, I was wondering if the locals thought it was cool or crass. So, here's a cross section of opinion polled during my coffee break.

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My boss: “What statue?? I never go out there. I just realized they put the Venice sign back up.”

(Disappointed) Tenant of Windward Village Apts: "I thought they were gonna put a fountain there."

1st Barista at coffee house: “Is it a woman? I haven’t seen it up close.”
2nd Barista: “It’s kind of too dark looking. It’s cool, but it looks weird all alone there.”

A Mail Carrier (who prefers indigenous art): “It’s not my kind of art. They should have done something more like the area, like a surfer...”

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There is a dude that sits in front of the Post Office (directly across from the statue) and asks you for 20 cents. I’ve never had the nerve to ask: Why only 20 cents? But I gave him spare change in exchange for his unique perspective.

Mr. 20 Cents: “It look(s) good. She gotta booty!”

And if that’s not art appreciation, I don’t know what is.

Photos by Lori Nyx for LAist