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Homage To Cabrillo: DTLA’s Time Capsule


9th and Figueroa is a busy intersection right off the 110 freeway that cuts through downtown Los Angeles. While navigating by car, it’s easy to miss the parts of the intersection that aren’t camouflaged by masses of automobiles and people in motion, but on foot it’s a different story — especially at the corner on which a giant steel sculpture looms. This rather ugly, futuristic (and yet primitive) looking sculpture looks a little like a space capsule as built by some desert-dwelling species of early humans. It’s certainly too far out in its aesthetic to be one of those public sculptures commissioned by banks to “give the area a sense of culture” when their clients hurry in. So how did it get here, on the edge of Los Angeles’ financial district, and what does it mean?

Turns out, the sculpture was commissioned by the Community Redevelopment Agency in 1985 to mark the entrance to the South Park neighborhood. Several museum and university arts professionals who sat on the Agency’s board selected artist Eugene Sturman from among the project’s applicants. Sturman is a former professor at UCLA and CSU Long Beach who achieved moderate success with his sculptures, even having works shown at the Whitney, the MOMA, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art. His project proposal involved creating a time capsule that would document contemporary downtown Los Angeles. Stylistically, he aimed to create a structure that would evoke the ideas of exploration and movement into the future. He called the finished multi-component work Homage To Cabrillo: The Venetian Quadrant in reference to Cabrillo’s discovery of California and to the Venetian cannon of explorers.


The sculpture is a multi-component work, created in steel, bronze, and copper. A lean, fearsome-looking polygon-pod balances on one of its tips, supported awkwardly by a long arm that is molded on its sides like a Roman column. Not far away, a steel triple-wheel axle lies as if ready to transport the space-pod over to a giant bronze spring that waits on the other side of the pointed polygon. A low, rounded half-sphere in shimmering copper color crouches at the edge of the assemblage and serves as a launch button for the imaginary take-off.

What, might you ask, is nestled inside this odd public work as a memento of 1985? The officially listed contents include a¬†baseball glove signed by a popular Dodger player, a copy of a Department of Water & Power water bill, a map of downtown, a Trivia Pursuit computer game, bottles of California water and wine, winning sketches from a competition at FIDM, a copy of L.A. Street Cookbook, Mayor Tom Bradley’s blueprint for the future, L.A. 2000: A City for the Future, copies of Los Angeles newspapers and magazines, an answering machine, videos of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, a video of Madonna in concert, a Jane Fonda workout video, a video clip of the weather report on local TV, and the video documentary We Are the World.

There’s also a hidden sub-section of the capsule, inserted by the artist without the prior knowledge of the Community Redevelopment Agency. Sturman’s survey of 1985 Los Angeles includes¬†a newspaper article about AIDS, a pistol, a porno video, and videotapes of urban laborers.

Information about this public artwork was sourced from Michael Several’s essay on
Photos courtesy of Art Nerd Los Angeles.

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