Rick Lowe, acclaimed for art-as-urban-recovery, returns to L.A. for a residency at Otis College
Culture Monster recently gave an update on the Watts House Project, the “collaborative artwork in the shape of a neighborhood redevelopment” that aims to carry out a long-haul upgrade of 20 private homes facing the Watts Towers on E. 107th Street.
Now comes news that Rick Lowe, the Houston-based artist and activist who planted the seed for the project 15 years ago, will be back in town as an artist in residence at Otis College of Art and Design. He’ll begin with a free public lecture on Jan. 13, then spend nine weeks helping graduate students in the school’s Public Practice program, who are training to create art in the civic realm.
Lowe’s chief accomplishment is Project Row Houses, which he launched in Houston in 1993. The initial work of rehabbing 22 abandoned homes in the city's Third Ward as a community center serving both aesthetic and social ends has grown to 40 structures, according to the Project Row Houses website. Michael Kimmelman, art critic of the New York Times, wrote in 2006 that it “may be the most impressive and visionary public art project in the country.”
After getting Project Row Houses off the ground, Lowe came to Watts starting in 1994 and tried to do the same. The Watts House Project was the focus of his contribution to “Uncommon Sense,” a spring 1997 group exhibition of conceptual art at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Lowe’s installation at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary was a three-room house-cum-information center that told viewers what he was trying to accomplish a few miles away in Watts.
In his review, Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that “the artist's open-ended ideas for loosely coordinated community projects that don't require massive infusions of funds -- or numbing civic bureaucracy -- together make for a vibrant sense of possibility marked by welcome pragmatism. The Geffen’s 'model home' offers inspiring information, but the real project is rightly taking place far beyond museum walls.”
Lowe went back to Houston after having laid the groundwork for the L.A. effort. He handed the reins in Watts to L.A. artist Edgar Arceneaux, who remains the project’s executive director. In 2006, Lowe helped initiate Transforma Projects, an attempt to aid New Orleans’ comeback from Hurricane Katrina.
His lecture, “Towards Social Sculpture: A Conversation with Rick Lowe,” takes place at 7:30 Jan. 13 in the Forum at Ahmanson Hall on the Otis College campus, 9045 Lincoln Blvd. The Nimoy Foundation, established by actor Leonard Nimoy and his wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, is funding Lowe’s residency.
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: Rick Lowe; rehabbing a house on E. 107th Street for the Watts House Project. Credits: Otis College of Art and Design; Watts House Project.