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Arts and Entertainment

Help Restore A Downtown Piece Of Public Art Too Far Ahead Of Its Time

The Triforium! (Photo by Marc Evans via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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How many times have you walked or driven by that odd, six-story, futuristic sculpture on Fletcher-Bowron Square (the Civic Center Mall at Temple and Main) in DTLA without giving it a second thought? Well, L.A., Meet the Triforium—and get used to hearing the name because a group of artists, urban planners and L.A. enthusiasts want to give the "polyphonoptic" public art work a second life.

Artist Joseph Young was commissioned to create a work for the mall, and he envisioned a kinetic art piece that would react, with lights and sounds, to the motion of people walking past. It featured nearly 1,500 multicolored glass cubes and a 79-note glass bell carillon. The Triforium was dedicated in 1975 by Mayor Tom Bradley, but was too far ahead of its time—the computer system that operated the sculpture was plagued with issues, causing it to never work very well.

Now during its 40th anniversary, The Triforium Project, wants to restore and retrofit the sculpture using new technologies that weren't available in 1975. The organizers of the project include Tom Carroll, host of webseries Tom Explores Los Angeles, the multimedia music group YACHT (and creators of the 5 Every Day app), artist Qathryn Brehm (executive director of Downtown Art Walk, The Windish Agency, Tanner Blackman and the Do Art Foundation, Collective Studios) and City Councilman José Huizar.

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The Triforium was built when phone books were still in use. (Scanned image from the Los Angeles Public Library Archives)
"The Triforium Project is important to us because we see it as an opportunity to create a meaningful conversation between Los Angeles' past and future: to take something visionary, and frankly misunderstood in its time, and reimagine it for a changed world," Evans told LAist. "The Triforium, a piece of highly technological art designed to interact with pedestrians and the city itself, represents Joseph Young's hope for the future of Los Angeles—a future that never quite came to pass. We believe the future is only as cool as you make it, so we're making it."Carroll, whom Claire Evans of YACHT calls the "original ideator" of the project, writes that the sculpture, to him, represents the city. "The colors, the gaudiness and the fact that it sits [in a] failed public space. I love it." He adds, "The fact that most of lights have burned out, the fact that its been orphaned, seems crazy to me. The city invested $925,000 of taxpayer money in 1975 to create it, why just let it sit there?"

About two years ago, Carroll, Evans and Bechtolt kicked around the idea of doing an unsanctioned, DIY, pop-up performance in the space, but since then, the project has slowly grown into a bigger restoration enterprise. On Dec. 11 from 4-8 pm, The Triforium Project has its official kick off with a picnic on the Civic Center Mall. The public is invited to join in the celebration to wish the sculpture a happy 40th birthday (complete with free cake), onsite food trucks, music from dublab, as well as tours of the Triforium's normally off-limits control room. Giving guests a little context of the history of the sculpture wil be speakers Leslie Young, daughter of artist Joseph Young, and architectural historian Daniel Paul.

The project is hoping to raise enough money to relight the sculpture with LEDs and retrofit and update the computer systems.

"Los Angeles doesn't have a lot of public art icons," says Carroll. "We have Chris Burden's Urban Light—but as America's second largest city, we deserve more than just one."

Watch the Tom Explores Los Angeles video on the Triforium.

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