Past and present collide in beautiful ways throughout the Los Angeles Athletic Club‘s circa-1912 edifice at 7th and Olive. Hidden behind a wall covered in framed vintage photos, a loungey bar space with comfy leather furniture, mahogany molding, and a pillar made of stacked books is like an F. Scott Fitzgerald fever dream. Porthole-like windows offer a view into azure depths of the club’s swimming pool, the first in Southern California to be constructed on the upper level of a building (and still a pretty impressive feat). And in a studio up on the roof, an artist whose practice revolves around chronicling the history of Los Angeles is hard at work—if she isn’t on the basketball court.
Lauren Halsey, whose Crenshaw District Hieroglyph Project has become one of the most anticipated public art installations, was recently named the LAAC’s first artist-in-residence. The program, which offers workspace and club membership to L.A.-based (and, ideally, L.A.-bred) artists, is being spearheaded by the Uplifters, the club’s long-dormant cultural society. Two LAAC members, Suzanne Zoe Joskow and Jennie Taylor Tucker, are behind the resurgence. “As the art scene in Los Angles grows, people are really looking for where can be the social space where I go and see my fellow artists,” Joskow says. “And the LAAC was that for so long,” Tucker adds. “We’re really just trying to bring that back.” Author L. Frank Baum was a founding member of the Uplifters, and actor Harold Lloyd was once among its ranks.
Both women say Halsey was a natural fit for the residency. “Her work is about Los Angeles, basketball is a real passion and love and bigger holistic part of her practice, and she deals with history,” Joskow explains. “We liked the idea of her literally sitting on top of the building in the studio, looking down on downtown Los Angeles and making marks.”
A self-described “huge sports head,” Halsey wasn’t familiar with LAAC prior to being contacted. She grew up playing basketball alongside her cousin, NBA shooting guard Arron Afflalo, and was a member of prestigious local teams, including Amateur Athletic Union’s Adidas traveling squad and a YMCA team that played its championship game at the Forum. “I always wanted to play D1 for Tennessee Lady Vols under Pat Summitt,” she says. “I ended up making sculptures.”
During the LAAC residency, she’s continued working on carvings in gypsum panels for the Hieroglyph Project, a monument to South L.A. akin to an Egyptian temple that premiered in a smaller form at this year’s Made in L.A. biennial at the Hammer Museum. The act of creating the panels is physical in and of itself, and requires a sort of teamwork she says isn’t unlike what you’d see on a basketball court. “We have a rhythm as a team; when we’re at our best we all play our part in the way a strong starting five would,” Halsey says. “The maximalist installations I make can’t be made alone. I’m also not interested in that sort of singular process. We freestyle build together under wild conditions some times. It can get competitive, just as it was when we were kids. The spirit of teamwork gets us through every time.”
Though the club is private, Joskow and Tucker are looking for ways their art initiatives can reach the community; there’s even been talk of a first-floor gallery that would be open to the public. In the meantime, Halsey is making her art, making plans for rematches with the people she’s played ball with since she was a kid, and relishing “the freedom to integrate my love for sports with my love for art in one space,” as she puts it. “It’s an incredible high I’ve been chasing for a while now.”
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