A Q&A with Maya Emsden about Metro Art's public program and Barbara Kruger's installation at Union Station in LA
Frieze and Metro Art present Untitled (Questions) by Barbara Kruger at LA's historic Union Station, as part of the artist's major public project across the city. We talked to Maya Emsden, Head of Metro Art, about the role of art in the public transportation system and her hopes for Kruger's project.
Frieze: Can you tell us more about Metro Art in Los Angeles?
Maya Emsden: Metro has an extensive art program, where we commission contemporary artists. As a transportation service, we focus on our customer experience and for our art program we think about enriching that experience. For this location in particularly (Union Station) we try to create a sense of place. It’s a very long passageway and we are trying to create a micro sense of place and a macro sense of place in terms of LA county overall.
How do you select the artists and projects featured in the stations?
We are looking for artists that reflect the really wide diversity of LA county and ridership that we have, we try to have something for everyone - not that everything is for everyone, but there’s something for everyone. We have opportunities for artists that are established, like Barbara Kruger, but also for emerging artists.
How does Barbara Kruger's installation respond to the transitory context of a station?
Union Station really is the hub of our transportation system. We have trains that come from outside of the state and within the county, as well as LA Metro’s rail and buses. Barbara’s work here is so bold and eye-catching and while some people may stop to look at it, others might rush by. Barbara’s idea was to have her work installed vertically, so that you become actively involved in reading the work. We hope that her series of questions generate a moment of self-reflection for each individual looking at them, but also be a prompt to start conversations between people and that’s the whole intent of the work.
Why do you think public art programs and initiatives such as Metro Art are necessary in a city like Los Angeles that is already rich with museums and creative spaces?
There are a lot of museums in LA County, we are so fortunate. The reason we have so many here is that there’s an audience of both artists and general public that is always interested in the new, the innovative and the risk-taking and that's why we rotate our exhibits and always keep it fresh. LA is such a vibrant place, you can be an artist here and work in a very solo environment or you may wish engage with other creatives and cross-pollinate with other artists and LA’s the perfect place for this. The sky Is the limit for an artist in Los Angeles!
What's on your must-see list for current exhibitions in LA?
My top pick is Betye Saar’s exhibition at LACMA (until April 5). She is an incredibly important artist for LA and the world, and helped us start the public art program at Metro in the 1980s. I love her work!
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) is building the most ambitious transportation infrastructure program in the United States and is working to greatly improve mobility through its Vision 2028 Plan. Metro is the lead transportation planning and funding agency for L.A. County and carries about 1.2 million boardings daily on a fleet of 2,200 low-emission buses and six rail lines. Metro Art enhances the customer experience with innovative, award-winning visual and performing arts programming that encourages ridership and connects people, sites and neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles County. The Metro system houses one of the largest, most far-reaching collections of public artwork in the region. Find out more @Metro.Art.LA and metro.net/art.