Badir McCleary stands in front of a jagged 340-ton boulder levitating 15 feet in the air. Buttressed by the walls of a concrete walkway, the two-story rock greets visitors outside the Los Angeles County Art Museum (LACMA) as they pass under its gray, craggy belly.
“Why is this here?” Badir asks, gesturing toward Michael Heizer’s awkward and unpolished sculpture, Levitated Mass. “What’s so artistic about a large piece of rock?” Plucked from a nearby quarry, the rock is an unremarkable bit of rubble, no different than thousands of others unlucky enough to wind up as gravel in someone’s driveway; it wouldn’t warrant a second glance if you passed it in the desert. But hoisted high above the ground against the backdrop of slick, sunny L.A.? The boulder becomes baffling, frustrating, even romantic in its refusal to explain itself. It just is. Unapologetic, watchful, baking under the Californian sun without a tan line in sight.
“What does it mean if this big rock is here?” Badir asks again, still grappling with the mystery. “Is it just taking up space? Would this even be a conversation if it were in the middle of nowhere?” The L.A. filmmaker stands alone with Levitated Mass but isn’t lobbing rhetorical questions into the air surrounding LACMA. He’s filming the third episode of Remote, his ongoing series on the power of public art. “This episode is all about perception and how people perceive the art,” says Badir, who admits that visitors to LACMA unsurprisingly “hate the rock.”
While the aptly titled third episode, “Perception of Public Art,” explores what happens when public art comes inside (and vice versa), the series’ second installment transports viewers to Badir’s hometown of Philadelphia, where murals and markers shape the city’s cultural and historical identity. Remote’s debut sees the filmmaker toting his camera to Coachella Valley in search of site-specific desert installations hiding in plain sight of L.A.
“Even though [L.A.] is bustling with a bunch of creatives and creative things, […] there's just so much more out there,” Badir says, explaining the idea behind Remote and its first episode, “Desert X.” “I go to a lot of places in search of art, especially out and around California,” he continues. “There's a lot of stuff that's out in the deserts and just an hour or two drive right outside the city.”
Though many of his projects support or resurrect visual culture in L.A. neighborhoods, Badir is a self-described “heavy traveler” who helps artists transform public spaces worldwide. In 2011, he founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.
“You wonder why someone would put something of this magnitude out there,” Badir says, likely thinking of Levitated Mass smack dab in the middle of L.A. But his statement could apply to any artist he visits in Remote’s episode three, including Richard Serra, whose undulating sculpture “Band” forces gallery goers to walk, rather awkwardly, around its snaking, 12-foot tall frame. In the episode, Badir stops by legendary sculptor Charles Dickson’s studio to chat about weather-resistant materials in the artist’s delightfully eclectic works. He also visits Hauser & Wirth’s L.A. location to see Thomas J. Price’s bronze sculptures in a conventional gallery setting—people usually encounter the London artist’s large-scale figures in public parks or plazas. “It's really interesting to see these large-scale sculptures in these white cube spaces,” says Badir, who first crossed paths with Price’s sculptures in London. “It almost seems like the pieces are trapped.”
Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Watch the premiere of “Perception of Public Art” here, or scroll through to see video stills. Make sure to mark your calendars for the next video drop on Sept. 27, 2023.
“What’s so artistic about a large piece of rock?” — Badir McCleary
All photos published with permission of the artist(s).
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