Cultivating art, not arguing, at a law firm in Los Angeles

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Much of what is made in law firms are nasty trading tools: contracts, loan agreements, multi-page memos.

But this year, the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has allocated space in its offices overlooking the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles for art creation.

On the sixth floor are works in progress by Molly Segal, 38, a mid-career artist whose work focuses on themes such as decay and regeneration, stacked three or four deep against the wall.

“Never in my life did I expect to have a corner office,” Segal said.

One floor below, Edgar Ramirez, 32, a painter who focuses on themes such as trade and labour, stencils on cardboard canvases, using text from street signs he finds on his drive from the suburbs.

“The space gives me the freedom to work at a slower pace,” said Ramirez, a recent graduate of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.

The two artists are part of the company’s new artist-in-residence program, the brainchild of one of the company’s founding partners, John B. Quinn, an art enthusiast who will occupy much of the seven floors of has filled the company’s offices with contemporary works of its own collection.

Quinn draws parallels between the creativity of artists and that of his own trial lawyers.

“Artists are the antenna of the human race,” he said in an interview. “They’re telling us what’s going on, what we can’t perceive yet.”

For their sponsors, artist-in-residence programs have a bit of cachet and mark the places as fertile breeding grounds of ideas. For the artists, they offer contact with new people and new environments in a way that stimulates creativity. And they often provide two things that are always welcome: space and money.

During the four months of their residency, which is currently underway, the law firm of Segal and Ramirez gives $1,500 for artist material and $5,000 a month, a handsome stipend, even if it only matches what a partner at a top-notch firm in a day can invoice .

While museums and other institutions have had artist-in-residence programs for decades, law firms have traditionally not been sponsors, although Columbia Law School welcomed its first resident artist, Bayeté Ross Smith, this year.

At the other end of the sponsor spectrum is New York City’s Sanitation Department, which has had an artist in residence for more than 40 years.

The current artist, sTo Len, 43, started in September and will have room for a studio in the department’s central repair shop in Queens.

Using art to cope with the effects of industrialization, such as pollution, Len was recently artist in residence for a wastewater treatment plant in Virginia. He said he was still researching what kind of work he might be able to do, but said he enjoyed a recent garbage truck ride through SoHo at 5:30 a.m. — “to see the drill.”

“For me, it’s a backstage pass to the inner workings of the city,” he said.

The department’s program was developed in the 1970s by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, an artist who has remained in an uncompensated position. Ukeles wanted to elevate the status of the often underrated work of plumbing workers, or mothers, to art. For perhaps her best-known work, “Touch Sanitation Performance,” she visited approximately 8,500 sanitation workers for 11 months during the New York fiscal crisis.

“I looked at each person individually—for example, at 6 a.m. roll call or in a truck while they waited to dump their cargo at the ship transfer station”—to shake their hands and say, “Thank you for bringing NYC alive kept,” she said. said.

Building on the example of Ukeles, the Department of Cultural Affairs established a more formal artist residency program in 2015 that will sponsor three artists this year, including Len, and pay them $40,000 for work for a minimum of one year. Melanie Crean is an artist who works in the city’s Design and Construction Department, while Kameron Neal works in the Records and Information Services Department.

Gonzalo Casals, New York’s commissioner for cultural affairs, said the artists help communicate to the public what the agencies are doing. “It’s a training that the artists have — it’s the thinking, the perspective, the creativity,” he said. “That unique perspective, the approach to solving problems, but also the quality of art. It makes us human.”

Pieces created by two New York City-based artists have made their way into museum collections: works from a series by Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya (pronounced PING-bodee-bak-ee-ah), who collaborated with the city’s Commission on Human Rights , were acquired by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and works from a Julia Weist series, which was embedded in the Department of Records and Information Services, have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and other institutions.

In Los Angeles, Quinn said he thought he might partially create the residence as the pandemic emptied the company’s offices. So while many of the firm’s nearly 400 attorneys and support staff in Los Angeles work remotely from home, he and bankruptcy trustee Alexis Hyde, hired by the firm to lead the project, have transferred two offices to Segal and Ramirez for the four. months of residence.

(They have received 142 applications for the first residencies, which end next month. They will announce who will be taking up the next residencies in January; they plan to continue the program through at least 2022.)

“Alexis and I got this idea, wouldn’t it be cool if we had artists here, and the people at the company could see them at work and walk in anytime and get inspired by the creation that’s going on,” Quinn said.

Until the residency, Segal sometimes shared spaces with 11 or 12 other artists, and her most recent studio in LA’s Arts District faced a dumpster. Ramirez worked out of his parents’ garage in Torrance in the South Bay.

“A residency like this makes sense,” he said. “It helps you grow. Other artists do not have this support with space and financially. I’ve never had that support and am grateful every day.”

The artists’ work will be featured in a pop-up exhibition downtown in January, the company said. Quinn has promised to introduce them to his industry contacts, and he said he would buy at least one work from each artist for his collection.

Quinn drops by at least once a week when in town to see the performers. Segal said one of the company’s secretaries, Albert, drops by a few times a week to see what she’s working on and asks how things are going.

While interaction with their fellow office workers was limited during the pandemic, the environment still influences the artists’ work. Segal said the view of cranes and skyscrapers stretching to the horizon means that the visual themes of her work now include more built structures and her work has become more vertical.

When she applied for residency, Segal was concerned that the judges would question some of her interests. “A lot of my work involved orgies,” she said. She was afraid the judges would say, ‘We love the orgies, but this is an office. Do you think you can make work that isn’t about group sex?”

But the lawyers put no restrictions on what the artists create. Some of the new works in her office/studio have silhouetted birds and a water park.

Ramirez, who hadn’t spent much time downtown because “parking was too expensive,” gets his inspiration from the contrast he sees daily on his drive to the studio. Traveling through some poor neighborhoods, he became interested in signs he saw aimed at poor people, inviting them to sell their houses or take out loans, signs he considered predatory.

He tore them down and took them, bringing the reality of the streets to an office tower whose tenants, he thinks, rarely see such signs.

Ramirez makes them look like.

“I wonder, do they care?” he said. “I was wondering how to handle that with someone on the other end of the spectrum, especially financially.”

He expects that the conclusions he draws will inform the art he creates in their midst.

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