Though it lacks the solidity and implied significance of some other major cities, Los Angeles has a mythology as strong as that of the Greeks in celebrity culture. Many locals will recall the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire when asked where Biggie Smalls was shot, and more still can point out the Saks Fifth Avenue that caught Winona Ryder shoplifting on videotape. Celebrity culture supplies the collective memory of Los Angeles for those outside and within for one reason: a lot of people shoplift and get shot, but when it happens to a celebrity, it becomes that much more interesting.
Figural Monuments confirm collective memory. On the subject of a city’s collective memory, Aldo Rossi wrote, “One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory.” Buildings, like monuments, are used as landmarks as one navigates through a city.
And when a stately piece of architecture is coupled by a notable historical event (such as the Round Table meetings at the Algonquin Hotel in New York), it is easy to argue for a site’s significance. These sites become landmarks to those familiar with their history. Yet Los Angeles does not have many of these happenstances to speak of. We are yet to claim a Columbus Circle or a Garibaldi Square, either because the political events don’t happen here or we simply choose to look past them. Jan Rowen once observed that “to be able to choose what you want to be and how you want to live, without worrying about social censure, is obviously more important to Angelenos than the fact that they do not have a Piazza San Marco.”
Given these conditions, Figural Monuments gathered celebrity blunders and placed memorials exactly where they were rumored to take place. Some recall a murder or robbery, while others signify the videos of celebrities bumping their heads or tripping over sidewalks that once went viral. Their collective memory is not centered on political or academic achievements, but lies squarely on the minutia of any given celebrity's everyday life. As we pour over the details, we not only give them a higher status than non-celebrities, but we also validate the importance of their every move.
Many people are aware, for example, that Hugh Grant invited a prostitute to his car in 1995, but few know exactly where it took place. Automatic Teller Machine 00023d2 (Hugh Grant) [Figure 1] is located on the intersection of De Longpre and Courtney Avenue, the site of the allegation. Now that a memorial in visible at the site, visitors may visit to remember the famous incident at an otherwise insignificant intersection for pedestrians or automobile traffic.
Figural Monuments are Figural. Geometric abstraction was arguably popularized by Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C in 1982. Prior to this point, memorials were almost entirely figural, embodying those honored with the highest level of verisimilitude and allegorical content. There were accompanying plaques with the honorees’ names and brief biographies, yet their focus was sculptures with faces and time-period clothes that were instantly recognizable and often scaled up. This was done to both increase their visibility and illustrate their importance. The Korean Memorial designed by Frank Gaylord, adjacent to the Vietnam Memorial, demonstrates the relative immediacy of the human figure in monumentality.