LACMA's Solar Reserve Shows You The Future While You Selfie

Solar Reserve
Visitors walk by Irish artist John Gerrard's Solar Reserve at LACMA. (Signe Larsen/LAist)

By John Horn & Marialexa Kavanaugh

If you go to LACMA right now, you might wonder what's up with the giant TV-like structure perched outside. Look closer and you'll realize it's actually thousands of LED lights, joined together into a photorealistic rendering of a real solar plant outside Las Vegas.

The exhibit at LACMA
Visitors walk by Irish artist John Gerrard's Solar Reserve at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The installation is a digital simulation of a solar thermal power plant in Nevada and the surrounding desert. (Signe Larsen/LAist)

The exhibit, Solar Reserve, was created by Irish artist John Gerrard. Its objective: to highlight the ways environmental protection is at the mercy of giant corporations and to give the world a glimpse at what the future of power generation could — and should — look like.

"All of it is to put in the public domain questions about the sun, questions about oil, questions about whether we can continue to consume like this, and whether we can rely on solar facilities to allow that consumption to unfold, or whether we need to have another kind of conversation now about consumption," Gerrard told KPCC's The Frame.

John Gerrard in front of his newly opened LACMA installation, Solar Reserve. (Signe Larsen/LAist)

"We're looking at a portrait, we're looking at a portrait of a real place. And that portrait has been realized as a virtual world, but the real place itself is a kind of extraordinary facility for producing electricity," Gerrard said. "It's in Nevada, near Las Vegas, and it's produced by a company called Solar Reserve.

"What it is, in technical terms, is a solar, thermal tower. There's 10,000 enormous mirrors that throw sunlight to the top of this tower. ... Which is why it's glowing white. In that section, it boils salt, and the salt drains down the tower to those two silvery pots at the bottom, which means they're full of boiling salt. Which I always thought was sort of gloriously biblical in some way. That boiling salt, the great benefit is that it can produce electricity for about 48 hours — even though there's no sun."

The piece was donated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who's been a vocal environmental activist. Gerrard emphasized that the piece wasn't intended as a gift just for the museum.

"This is a work for the public," Gerrard said. "DiCaprio purchased it really for L.A. in his gift to LACMA. It was a personal gift from Leonardo DiCaprio. And his foundation has stepped in to allow this wall to happen."

Thanks Leo!

The structure's outdoor placement might raise questions, considering how it opened during some of the hottest days in L.A. memory. So, careful not to fling your sweat at the art. But for Gerrard, it's all about accessibility — so an indoor show was out of the question.

"Lots of members of the public are intimidated by museums, they feel that it's not for them. I love to put these works on the street," Gerrard said. "This is not on the street, but it's not far off. If you stand at that gate to the far side of Levitated Mass, it's an invite to come into this cultural space. To everybody.

"From my experience in New York, we had hundreds of people playing with this work, performing, having fun sitting and watching it. My relationship to Instagram, for instance, is that it's a site for public art. People make their own work using this wall. We will have a crowd here, and I'm really hoping we draw in a wide, public community."

Solar Reserve is up and open as a massive frameless LED wall @lacma and the public are doing what they do. Which is to make their own art with the simulation. Thanks so very much to LACMA for acquiring and presenting, to @leonardodicaprio for gifting, @leonardodicapriofdn for the heavy lifting to raise the money to present the work in partnership with @juliakjackson of @jacksonfamilywines who were primary sponsors. A special thanks to Lisa Schiff of @sfaadvisory who brought the work to Leo DiCaprio's attention among multiple other supports for the project historically. So many others to thank but for now .. Solar Reserve belongs to the people of LA and I could not be happier. Open till September 3rd so get down and enjoy it while it is installed. Picture courtesy of LACMA.

A post shared by John Gerrard (@johngerrard.inst) on

You don't need a ticket to go see John Gerrard's Solar Reserve — it's seated outside next to the Levitated Mass. Just remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses for checking it out.


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