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For Church of Architecture

Excerpted from an Essay Written by Pilar Viladis

As a critic of the city, Sheila Klein is both unsparing and benevolent. The artist's photographs and photomontages of urban architecture consistently balance her disappointment at the banality of most downtown skyscrapers with her unflaggingly romantic view of the city as a monumental, mythical place. Klein's essentially optimistic critical stance enables her to dredge the symbolic potential out of even the most featureless developer behemoth. Where others see only lemons, Klein sees lemonade.

Klein's early investigations of this theme began after a trip to Asia in the late 1970's. As an artist who is interested in the sculptural and architectural aspects of jewelry, she was impressed by the connection between the way that people there adorned themselves and the way that they decorated their buildings. Consequently, the bland urban boxes of Klein's then-hometown, Seattle, began to look "like skeletons waiting to be dressed."

City as a Tabletop (1983) was her way of "doing voodoo on these buildings." Towers became teapots or tall drink glasses, or they were draped in tablecloths. Klein also started decorating buildings with jewelry, a theme most recently expressed inBuilding Jewelry (1988). She astutely pointed out the parallels between the modular, segmented quality of the average skyscraper and that of the average rhinestone bracelet, but where the former's genesis is humorless and profit-driven, the latter's is sensual and pleasure-driven.

In Offering and Drink of the Gods (both 1988), Klein's transformations are much more clearly about myth and monument. In Drink of the Gods, pottery and glassware are not merely building adornments but containers of the elixir that makes the image of the city such an intoxicating one.

In Offering, a saucer-shaped space among the towers of downtown L.A. is filled with a UFO-like wok — a reference to the cities strategic Pacific Rim location. The gleaming, crystal-ball-like quality of the object, however, reflects Klein's view of the city as Oz — the wok as Wizard. On another level, the shiny bowl (with it's further connotations of nourishment and plenty) can be seen as supported on the "legs" of the tall buildings, reflecting Klein's interest in layering of cities, and the "webbing together" of various levels of communications, transportation, and other functional/symbolic urban systems. In working with the existing urban architectural framework, however impoverished, Klein offers a reason to believe in the future of the city.

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