CULTURE

Inside an Abandoned L.A. Hospital Turned Creepy Art Show with Robert Mapplethorpe and Marilyn Minter

Eighty-six artists have transformed the former Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center into an immersive and rather unsettling experience.


It took a bit for the art advisor John Wolf to realize he’d come upon his dream opportunity: A few months earlier, a client had mentioned in passing that they’d purchased a former hospital building in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, which would remain uninhabited for months before being converted to apartments. Then, suddenly, it clicked: the former Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center would be the perfect venue for the show Wolf had been planning for ages, a rumination on the human condition that he’d kept a running list of artists for months.

“At first I didn’t know what [the artists] would think,” Wolf recalled of making his initial proposals. He needn’t have worried: Soon, no less than 86 artists agreed to take part, and he started in on clearing out the space’s leftover detritus (mostly syringes and mammogram machines).

An Abandoned Hospital Is L.A.’s New Hottest Gallery

Gintare Bandinskaite in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Amir H. Fallah in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Leonhard Hurzlmeier and Nick van Woert in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Millie Brown performing “Body Rainbow” in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Polly Borland in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Marc Horowitz in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Christopher Reynolds in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Chantal Jogge and Jenny Holzer in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Jenny Holzer, “What a shock when they tell you it won’t hurt…,” 1989.

© 1989 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Matt Wedel in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Bradley Wood and Haas Brothers at “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Théo Mercier in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Polly Borland in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Tony Matelli in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Tanya Batura in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Nick van Woert in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Daniel Arsham and Tony Matelli in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Brendan Getz in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf

Bettina Hubby in “Human Condition.”

Photo by Gintare Bandinskaite, courtesy of John Wolf
1/19

Up until the end of November, the resulting exhibition, “Human Condition,” covers the first, second, and fourth floors of the former institution, including everything from the pharmacy and the cafeteria to the former maternity and intensive care units. (He skipped the third, having taken a liking to the psychiatric ward on the floor above.) A few mementoes remain, too: the X-ray displays are now getting a second life as photo lightboxes, and the bed curtains are proving useful dividers to separate the scads of artists, which include Robert Mapplethorpe, Jenny Holzer, Daniel Arsham, and Marilyn Minter.

Of course, there are the dozens of patient rooms, too, which meant ample room for individual installations, some of which are more on the nose than others. Max Hooper-Schneider’s sculpture involving pig blood, for example, is quite at home in the operating room, while Millie Brown suspended herself from the ceiling of the morgue during the opening. Macabre or not, each of the 200-plus works go back to Wolf’s goal to embrace all aspects of humanity, a theme undeniably amplified by the setting. After all, Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center, the city’s first black-owned hospital, wasn’t shut down because of disrepair, but insurance fraud: It was reportedly brought to closure after it came out that the building had been illegally housing homeless Angelenos on what was technically taxpayers’ dime.

The hospital’s current iteration, however, is a bit less dark. Thanks to Christopher Reynolds, the cafeteria is a shade of cheerful (and apparently appetite-suppressing) shade of pink, while Amir H. Fallah brightened things up even more with grow lights and cacti. And then there’s Wolf’s personal favorite – an interior space designed by Adam Bram Straus, inspired by Bradley Wood’s paintings of Westchester County, and complete with a sofa and a cocktail table. “You feel like you’re in this very well designed home,” Wolf said. “But then you look out and see that you’re actually in an intensive care unit.”