LA Residential

Los Angeles

Left: Olafur Eliasson. (Photo: Emily Kang) Right: Installation view. (Photo: Fredrik Nilsen)

Behind the pale gray facade of a newly built faux-Neutra home at 1482 Inverness Drive in Pasadena, a disc of shimmery transparent plastic—one can’t help thinking a giant LifeSaver—sways ever so slightly on a string. The disc shatters a blinding beam of narrowly focused light, scattering it into multiple eclipses and self-devouring ovals. Elsewhere, a cylinder of what looks like smoky, nicotine-laden glass—dichroic, one expert labeled it—creates modulated, rainbowy effects. A giant ball rotates over a very functional-looking kitchen, casting pentacles on the walls. And then the centerpiece: a long, narrow, eavelike beam of glass, jammed into one of the house’s strenuously nondescript walls, forms a gleaming porthole onto Los Angeles and cleaves that keyhole portrait in twain, presenting us with the confounding ecstasy of the City and Its Double.

This is “Place To Be Lived In (Today I Am Feeling Prismatic),” the brainchild not only of Olafur Eliasson but also of gallerist and impresario Emi Fontana, who organized the Pasadena project as part of “West of Rome,” a growing global constellation of site-specific installations. The glamourous Fontana greeted me outside the Inverness house on the show’s opening night with such extraordinary fervor I felt I had collided with some gaily laughing aristocrat from an early-sixties Antonioni picture. It was Fontana’s idea to bring together Eliasson’s Wagnerian giganticism, famously displayed in his two-fisted conquest of Tate Modern, and the sleepy, blandly handsome landscape of woodsy Pasadena—a geography familiar to fans of James M. Cain’s toxic brand of exurban unease. “I like that it makes you feel you are underground,” Fontana said, grinning devilishly. “There is a certain confusion once you are inside . . . that allows you to enter the work more deeply.”

“Place to Be Lived In’s” first-nighters were a motley, happily confused-looking crew of academics, ink-stained journalists, and the odd strand-of-pearls-tugging representative of the purchasing class. In what must have been an attempt to keep the festivities low-key, the celebratory hoopla was limited to two metal coolers of bottled water in the house’s sexily überfunctional garage. The faces around me carried the hurt look of underpaid teaching assistants who had expected the Grey Goose to be flowing like water.

The newly anointed Eliasson, now synonymous with the rhapsodic management of elephantine venues, had a pleasingly modest, shambling, studentlike manner as I peeled him away from the assembled visitors to pepper him with questions. “I wanted a different engagement in domestic space,” he said, “moving from a more institutionalized way of seeing . . . into the domestic sphere. I want you to be in a place that you know is a home, and I want for you to question how much time is appropriate to spend there, to spend on each individual work. This space is small, dark, private. . . . I wanted it to be outside the megalomaniacal project of my recent work.”

Left: Installation view. (Photo: Fredrik Nilsen) Right: Emi Fontana (Photo: Emily Kang)

“What does this all have to do with Los Angeles?” I asked him. “I wanted to block off the view, to go to a place where people really live instead of the stereotypical Hollywood vista that is ‘Los Angeles . . . I wanted to leave a little gap, like the peephole, for people to look at downtown. That voyeuristic approach makes for a stronger link to the tissue of the city.” Leaving the show, the photographer Emily Kang pointed out that the strongest link to “the tissue of the city” was the series of shuttle buses that schlepped a passel of bewildered patrons from the Rose Bowl parking lot (!) up a series of winding switchbacks to the warehouselike home. “Somebody should do a piece,” Kang gasped, “about the contrast between those poshy echt-modern off-the-shelf walls, and the guy driving the bus with the Nelly ringtone on his cell phone!”

As the Nelly-blaring shuttle bus returned us to base camp, Ms. Kang fumed that the drivers transporting art lovers, Sisyphus-style, up and down the hill, would never even get to see the inside of 1482 Inverness Drive! “I think they’d rather have the fifteen bucks an hour than look at the spinning discs,” I told her. And just like that, the fake-nineteenth-century streetlamps of Pasadena popped on, giving us a silent object lesson in the relationship of Lyrical Light to the Unsmiling City.