When SoFi Stadium hosted the Super Bowl in February, the new stadium may have looked stunning, but its public art program remained incomplete — largely to the detriment of the program’s black performers. Not only did two major installations by a pair of prominent black performers remain uninstalled, but at the time it was unclear if the stadium would even begin the process of site preparation and room fabrication. This included a site-specific piece of land by prominent African-American sculptor Maren Hassinger, as well as a pair of architectural installations by Afro-Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea.
As I noted in February, this wasn’t a good look for SoFi, which is located in the heart of historically Black Inglewood.
Now, a letter sent to the city of Inglewood exposes an artist’s frustrations with the stadium and the lack of clarity on the schedule and process.
“Maren Hassinger feels she has been used as a pawn in developers and the city’s efforts to get this massive shopping complex accepted by the neighborhood,” said a missive written by Susan Inglett, a merchant. New York-based art that depicts Hassinger. .
“The developers have expertly selected a Los Angeles born and raised artist of color to create this space as an olive branch in the neighborhood,” the letter continues. “The City of Inglewood approved its plans based on designs researched, developed and executed by the artist over several months. Now that the stadium is built, the developer appears to have abandoned the project and the artist.
Hassinger is a respected sculptor, born and raised in Los Angeles, now based on the East Coast. His work is in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Inglett’s letter, which was sent to the city in early March, was made public as part of a routine meeting of the Inglewood Arts Commission on Wednesday evening – a meeting that raised more questions than she provided no answers. In addition to the commissioners, Inglett was in attendance, along with Inglewood Director of Parks and Recreation Sabrina Barnes and Jason Witt, senior director of community affairs at SoFi Stadium.
Witt could not explain the delays. He told the commissioners that “the intention is still to move forward with the project”, but that “there are still discussions to be had – internally – to make sure we align it”.
No timeline was set.
In his remarks, Witt hinted that the stadium was reconsidering the placement of some artwork. “Being able to see how businesses are interacting with our project, using the lake, seeing how people – fans, basically football game fans – how they are interacting with the site,” he says of SoFi surroundings, “ has kind of changed the way we look at how these different places are frequented and how they interact with them.
Hassinger’s proposal envisioned a sequence of land installations on the southeast edge of Lake Hollywood Park that would include gardens, places to sit and reflect, and an abstract sculptural installation. As part of the project, she worked closely with the stadium’s landscape architects to ensure that their design could adequately incorporate her work. Moving the work to another site would essentially be sending it back to the drawing board.
“Maren was engaged to design gardens around the lake to provide a place of respite for the community, as well as stadium visitors,” Inglett said at the meeting. “She does site-specific work. She visited the site. She created something specifically for this site. And it seems dishonest to say that you want to see how people use the space. …She’s frustrated. We are all frustrated – to say that all of this has to go back through the hopper, after many years, with no end in sight.
Contacted by email, Inglett declined to comment on the situation.
A SoFi spokeswoman said the stadium held its end of the bargain. “We have worked with many artists over the past few years to bring our arts program to life at Hollywood Park, and it will continue to grow,” read a statement emailed to The Times on Thursday afternoon. “All of our contractual obligations with Ms. Hassinger have been honored, which was for concept design only.”
The press release indicates that SoFi is indeed revisiting the way in which the works are placed on the site: “Coming out of the pandemic, we were able to identify the way in which our customers use the site. As a result, the artistic program continues to evolve taking into account high traffic areas, as well as changes that bring about the normal course of development.
At Wednesday’s meeting, members of the arts commission pressured the SoFi rep to quickly complete the Hassinger installation.
“We just want to express that we support his position 100%,” Commissioner Aletha Metcalf said in reference to Hassinger during the meeting. “She’s been more than patient and her contract should be given top priority.”
But the commission, ultimately, has little power. The city waived its usual percentage for the art ordinance as part of its contract with the property’s developer, Hollywood Park. The contract states that “the Arts Commission does not have its traditional authority over developers’ public art plans, public art works, art sites, art budgets, artistic content, definition of developer art or expense”.
Bottom line: Years after the public art process was launched for this gleaming $5 billion stadium, it’s unclear exactly how and when these art projects might start, let alone be completed. This is partly due to the city’s obsequious contract with the developer, which gives Hollywood Park 25 years – yes, 25 years – to do the job.
It was a detail that Hassinger apparently would not have been happy with. “At 75,” Inglett wrote in his letter, “the quarter-century timeline has been cold comfort to Maren.”
It is cold comfort for artists who have spent years working on materials and proposals, and who have emptied their calendars to make installations, to find themselves in a state of complete uncertainty.
Arrechea was not mentioned during the meeting of the commission, which designed a pair of biomorphic works to be installed on the eastern end of the lake. The artist, a founding member of the Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros, has worked in major museum collections and made important public art installations in cities like New York. In 2016, his “Katrina Chairs” — a series of light towers set on plinths that looked like gargantuan chairs — served as an impromptu landmark at the Coachella music festival.
Contacted to comment on the status of his piece for SoFi Stadium, Arrechea declined to elaborate. He did say one thing though: “All the news I get about the stadium comes from the newspaper.”
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