Landscape Architect Walter Hood

 

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Cameron Rowland had a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Los Angeles. His research-based practice brings attention to generations of systemic racism and inequality upheld by government institutions and longstanding polices. For his MOCA show, he focused his scrutiny on the museum, which benefitted handsomely from the city’s history of redlining.

MOCA is located on South Grand Avenue in an area of Downtown Los Angeles known as Bunker Hill. Dating back to 1939, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a government-sponsored corporation that grew out of the New Deal, labeled the area blighted, low-income, and home to mostly “Mexicans and Orientals.” The HOLC Security Map Report stated: “Subversive racial elements predominate; dilapidation and squalor are everywhere in evidence. It is a slum area and one of the city’s melting pots.”

When the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) was established in 1948, it was granted eminent domain powers with a mandate to address blight. The agency’s first redevelopment project was in Bunker Hill and by 1959 the plan had moved forward removing thousands of residents through forced property sales and seizure. Ultimately, 7,310 residential units were demolished.

With a clean slate, CRA issued an RFP in 1980 for a new project called California Plaza. Proposals were required to include a modern art museum, in addition to an outdoor plaza and a parking structure. MOCA was borne from this process. In 1983, MOCA obtained a 99-year, rent-free lease from the CRA on the land where it currently resides. MOCA purchased the land from CRA for $100,000 in 2015. One month later, a tax assessment valued the land at $8.5 million.

A donor plaque at MOCA includes the following entry: “2015 Real Estate Acquisition, $8,4000,000, Community Redevelopment Agency Los Angeles.” To bring visibility to the land acquisition, Rowland turned the museum’s plaque into one of the works in his exhibition, displaying a label beside it detailing the sordid history of the transaction.

Rowland’s next solo show is at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, forthcoming in 2020. This week, the Queens, N.Y.-based artist received one of the most prestigious grants in the nation. Rowland was named a MacArthur Fellow, recognized for “using physical objects and contractual relations—such as items seized in civil forfeiture or furniture made by prison labor—to make visible the mechanisms through which systemic racism is perpetuated.”

 


Landscape Architect and 2019 MacArthur Fellow Walter Hood discusses his design strategy and the motivation for his practice. | Video by MacArthur Foundation

 

THE MACARTHUR FOUNDATION announced its 2019 MacArthur Fellows on Sept. 25. The 26 “geniuses” include Rowland, 30, and landscape architect Walter Hood, founder and principal of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, Calif. He is also a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, where he was formerly chair of the department.

A self-described landscape and public artist, Hood is being recognized for creating urban spaces that enrich the lives of residents, are ecologically sustainable, and empower marginalized communities. When he envisions a project, he considers the local history and culture. Hood designed Oakland’s Lafayette Square Park (1999), the de Young Museum gardens in Golden State Park (2005), and the walkways at The Broad in Los Angeles (2015).

(The Broad and de Young museums are among the institutions presenting the landmark exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” The show recently closed at The Broad and opens at the de Young in San Francisco in November.)

Hood, 61, says he always wanted to be an artist, but being the first in his family to go to college he decided to pursue architecture, which seemed more practical. In school, he discovered landscape architecture.

“I try to take the most mundane spaces and make people see something beautiful in them. These can be parks, these can be streets, everything is a dormant piece of sculpture in the urban environment,” he says in the video below.

“I try to take the most mundane spaces and make people see something beautiful in them. These can be parks, these can be streets, everything is a dormant piece of sculpture in the urban environment.” — Walter Hood

Hood’s recent projects include Nauck Town Square, a public space in an Arlington County, Va., neighborhood once occupied by a community of free blacks and whose residents include their descendants (2016-present). For the landscape design of the forthcoming International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, S.C. (2013-present), he was inspired by the “tradition of ‘hush harbors’—landscapes where enslaved Africans would gather often in secret, outside the view of slave owners, to freely assemble, share stories and keep traditions from their homeland alive. IAAM is scheduled to open in 2021.

Hood was also just selected to make major landscape improvements to the Oakland Museum of California, which is located in his adopted hometown.

MACARTHUR FELLOWSHIPS come with an award of $625,000. The no-strings-attached stipend is paid to recipients in quarterly installments over five years.

The 2019 fellows also include artists Mel Chin and Jeffrey Gibson; Chicago-based urban designer Emmanuel Pratt; Saidiya Hartman, a Columbia University literary scholar and cultural historian; and UCLA historian Kelly Lytle Hernández. She focuses on immigrant detention issues and is the interim Director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

“MacArthur Fellows demonstrate the power of individual creativity to reframe old problems, spur reflection, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone,” John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation said in a statement. “They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: Landscape Architect Walter Hood, 2019 MacArthur Fellow. | Photo courtesy John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

 

UPDATE (09/29/19): An image was replaced in response to a request from artist Cameron Rowland

 

FIND MORE about Cameron Rowland’s work here

FIND MORE about Walter Hood’s work on his website

 

BOOKSHELF
A pamphlet was published to accompany Cameron Rowland’s “D37” exhibition at MOCA Los Angeles. “Cameron Rowland: Book of Numbers” is forthcoming in November. Walter Hood’s practice has inspired a couple of books, “Walter Hood: Urban Diaries” and “Blues & Jazz Landscape Improvisations.”

 


CAMERON ROWLAND, “Norfolk Southern (Tennessee),” 2017 (steel relay rail, 7 1/2 x 192 1/2 x 29 3/4 inches / 18 x 489 x 73 cm). | Courtesy the artist

Relay rail is rail that has been removed from its original line and resold. Relay rail was first sold by railroad companies to mining companies for pit railways. Steel rail is made using coal and iron ore.

In the late 1860s, the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad; the Georgia and Alabama Railroad; the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad; and the Macon and Brunswick Railroad were constructed using convict lease labor. By 1895 all of these lines had been consolidated into Southern Railway, which built hubs in Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, allowing it to transport coal and iron ore throughout the Southeast. In 1982, Southern Railway merged with Norfolk and Western Railway to create Norfolk Southern. This Norfolk Southern relay rail was used in the Tennessee section of the system.

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