We sat down with Jose Luis Blondet, associate curator of special initiatives in the Education Department, to ask him about A is for Zebra, the latest LACMA-curated exhibition at the Charles White Elementary School Gallery, on view through March 30.
Where did you get the inspiration for A is for Zebra?
The site was very important in forming the idea for the show. The gallery is in an elementary school—an environment where students are learning to crack the code of reading and writing. Most students at this school are bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish. We wanted to create an experience where children, parents, the Charles White Elementary School community, and the broader community can see that art is a kind of language. Using the alphabet as an entry point, visitors to the exhibition will crack the code for learning to read works of art.
What does “A is for Zebra” mean?
A is the first letter of the alphabet and is typically associated with “A is for animal.” Z, being the last letter of the alphabet, is most commonly associated with “zebra.” So, in this case we are turning the idea upside down. “A is for Zebra” is playful. It is funny. Also, zebras are black and white like printed text—black ink on white paper.
How did the students at the school work with some of the artists in the show?
They became a part of the exhibition with their voices. Stephanie Taylor’s work includes a song that doesn’t make sense in any language. The kids learned, sang, and recorded the song with Stephanie. Artist Kirsten Mosher has these gumhead characters that are funny, cute, and gross. Gum lives in your mouth, just like language, but the gumhead characters live outside of the mouth and they talk! The students worked with Kirsten to mix their voices into her video work. It was really fun to work with the kids, and it made sense to include them because the exhibition is, after all, in their school.
You describe the exhibition as being about alphabets making sense and nonsense.
The exhibition invites visitors to engage with art and language in a playful way. The works of art have humor in them; the artists intended for them to be funny. There are prints by Francisco Goya of donkeys learning how to read and write, a video by John Baldessari teaching a plant to read, a book of photographs featuring a dancer posing as different letters of the alphabet. The labels and didactics are impossible to read without 3-D glasses. Videos and projections are installed in surprising places. The installation is full of nonsense.
What will people be most surprised by?
The gallery has a pet! There are more secrets, but I will not tell them to you. You’ll have to visit.
A is for Zebra is on view at Charles White Elementary School, 2401 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90057. The gallery is free and open to the public weekdays, 2:30–6 pm. Enter through the school entrance on Carondelet Street between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street. Gallery educators lead art making and other activities in response to the playful and nonsensical works on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For more information or to arrange a special visit, contact Sarah Jesse at email@example.com.
Karen Weeks Satzman, Director of Youth and Family Programs