Much of what is done in law firms is tedious trading tools: contracts, loan agreements, multi-page memoranda.
But this year, law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lent space in their offices overlooking the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to create art.
On the sixth floor, the unfinished works of 38-year-old Molly Segal, a middle-aged artist whose work focuses on themes such as decay and rebirth, are stacked in three or four rows against the wall.
“Never in my life did I expect to get a corner office,” Segal said.
Below this floor, 32-year-old Edgar Ramirez, an artist specializing in topics such as trade and labor, creates stencils on cardboard canvases using text from street signs of real estate that he finds along the road from the suburbs.
“Having space gives me the freedom to work at a slower pace,” said Ramirez, a recent graduate of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena.
Both artists are part of a new program of permanent artists for the firm, created by founding partner John B. Quinn, an art lover who has filled much of the firm’s seven floors with contemporary art. his own collection.
Quinn draws parallels between the work of artists and his own judicial executors.
“Artists are the antenna of humanity,” he said in an interview. “They tell us what’s going on, which we can’t figure out yet.”
For their sponsors, artist residency programs carry a certain value, celebrating these places as fertile incubators of ideas. They offer artists contact with new people and a new environment, stimulating creativity. And they often provide two things that are always welcome: space and money.
For four months of their residency, which is currently ongoing, the law firm pays Sigal and Ramirez $ 1,500 for artist supplies and $ 5,000 a month – a good stipend, even if it only matches the amount that a partner of the leading firm can bill for day. …
While museums and other institutions have run artist residency programs for decades, law firms have traditionally not sponsored, although Columbia Law School this year welcomed its first permanent artist, Bayete Ross Smith.
On the other side of the sponsoring spectrum is the New York City Department of Sanitation, where the artist has lived for over 40 years.
The current permanent artist, STO Len, 43, began work in September and is assigned a studio space at the department’s central repair shop in Queens.
Len uses art to counter the effects of industrialization such as pollution and recently worked as an artist at a Virginia wastewater treatment plant. He said he was still pondering what kind of work he could do, but said that he recently enjoyed driving a garbage truck down Soho at 5:30 am “to watch the exercise.”
“For me, this is a backstage pass to the inner city areas,” he said.
The department program was founded in the 1970s by Mierle Laderman Ukeles, an artist who has remained in an unpaid position until now. Ukeles wanted to elevate the often underestimated work of sanitary workers or mothers to the level of art. Perhaps for her most famous work, Touch Sanitation Performance, she visited some 8,500 sanitation workers in 11 months during the New York City financial crisis.
The Department of Cultural Affairs, building on Ukeles’ example, developed a more formal artist residency program in 2015 that sponsors three artists, including Lena, this year and pays them $ 40,000 to work for at least a year. Melanie Crean is an artist working in the City’s Design and Construction Department, and Cameron Neal is a resident in the Department of Documentation and Information Services.
Gonzalo Casals, New York City Culture Commissioner, said artists are helping to convey to the public what agencies are doing. “This is the training that artists have – it’s thinking, perspective, creativity,” he said. “This is a unique perspective, an approach to problem solving, but also the quality of art. It makes us human. “
The works created by two New York-based artists ended up in museum collections: they acquired works from the Amanda Pingbodhipakkiya series (pronounced PING-bodee-bak-ee-ah), who collaborated with the city’s Human Rights Commission. The Library of Congress in Washington and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and works from the Julia Weist series, which was part of the Department of Documentation and Information Services, have been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions.
In Los Angeles, Quinn said he was thinking about setting up the residency in part when the pandemic devastated the firm’s offices. Thus, while many of the firm’s nearly 400 lawyers and support staff in Los Angeles work remotely from home, he and curator Alexis Hyde, who were hired by the firm to lead the project, transferred two offices to Segal and Ramirez for a four-month period. residency.
(They have received 142 first residency applications that are due to expire next month. They will announce who will handle the next residency in January; they plan to continue the program until at least 2022.)
“Alexis and I had this idea, it would be great if we had artists working and the people in the firm could see them work and drop in at any time and be inspired by the creativity going on,” Quinn said.
Until the residency came along, Seagal would occasionally share space with 11 or 12 other artists, and her last studio in the Los Angeles arts district looked out into the trash. Ramirez worked in his parents’ garage in Torrance in the South Bay.
“This kind of residence makes sense,” he said. “It helps you grow. Other artists do not have such support either in terms of space or money. I have never had such support, and I am grateful to her every day. “
The artists’ work will be on display in January at a pop-up exhibition in the city center, the company said. Quinn promised to introduce them to his industry contacts and said he would buy at least one piece from each artist for his collection.
Quinn comes at least once a week when he’s in town to see the artists. Segal said one of the firm’s secretaries, Albert, comes over several times a week to see what she’s working on and asks how she’s doing.
Although interaction with colleagues in the office during the pandemic was limited, the environment nonetheless affects the work of the artists. Seagal said the view of cranes and skyscrapers stretching to the horizon means that the visual themes of her work now include more structures built, and her work has become more vertical.
When she applied for a residence permit, Segal worried that the judges might disagree with some of her interests. “A lot of my work featured orgies,” she said. She worried that the judges might say, “We love orgies, but this is the office. Do you think you can do non-group sex work? “
But lawyers do not place any restrictions on what artists create. Some of the newer works in her office / studio are bird silhouettes and a water park.
Ramirez, who didn’t spend much time in the city center because “parking was too expensive,” draws inspiration from the contrasts he sees every day on his way to the studio. He travels to low-income areas and has become interested in signs he knows that target poor people, inviting them to sell their homes or take out a loan – signs he considered predatory.
He ripped them off and took them with him, transferring the reality of the streets to an office tower, whose residents, he thinks, rarely see such signs.
Ramirez makes them look.
“I wonder if they don’t care?” he said. “I wondered how to approach this with someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, especially financially.”
He expects the conclusions he draws to inform the art he creates among them.