In praise of artists

So far, I have been bombarded with the location of the "Waltzing Mice"
installation and the origin of the quote (Raymond Chandler). But nobody
has said a word about the artist. Our old standby Google merely reveals
that "Waltzing Mice" was created by Alexis Smith, who also planned three other pieces of public art at the park.

Proquest, however, comes to the rescue with a Dec. 10, 1985, Times story by Jane Greenstein.

According to Greenstein, Smith created "Waltzing Mice" for the
MacArthur Park Public Arts Program and hoped to renew interest in the
neon signs surrounding the park. "Waltzing Mice," which is at the
southwest end of the lake, points toward the Westlake Theatre sign,
although landscaping makes it difficult to see the sign from all parts
of the park.

Smith also planned:


  • A granite marker to be embedded in grass that showed two boxers
    and the Chandler phrase: "Mine was the better punch but didn’t win the
    wrist watch." 
  • A plaque for a park bench with the outline of a general and the words: "He had a jaw like a park bench." 
  • A bronze suitcase that read: "She sat in front of her princess dresser trying to paint the suitcases out from under her eyes."

And what was Smith’s motive? All four artworks were intended to
"commemorate losers instead of winners, an emotional tone rather than
an event," Smith said.

"Waltzing Mice" was a description of a homeless person, Smith said.
"Better Punch" "is a boxing image that also relates to things you give
the old college try to–and you lose."

Smith added: "The suitcase quote has an old-lady-trying-to-look-young
kind of feel to it. Also, I think the suitcase is a metaphor for the
itinerant peoples of the world, whether they be immigrants or bums or
whatever. All those quotes have a double meaning, and, hopefully, the
symbols can be understood by people even if they don’t speak English.

"All these things are intended to be appropriate metaphors of the
unconventional situation of the park. If at some point the park should
suddenly become very cleaned up and pristine, since they also allude to
historic Los Angeles, they could also go back to being that. I hope
they have enough metaphoric flexibility to mean all things to all

Just to make this a little more fun, what are the sources of these
other Chandler quotes?  And to be honest, I didn’t know about the other
three artworks when I was at MacArthur Park so I don’t have photos of them. A Google search shows that
"Better Punch" is somewhere in the park, but there’s nothing about the
"Park Bench" plaque or the suitcase. Smith told Greenstein she hoped
people would try to steal it.  Looks like I made need to make another trip.

And by the way, after I was done poking around the park, I had a No. 44 at Langer’s and it was fantastic. That’s pastrami, sauerkraut and cheese on rye–but you knew that, right?

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in art and artists, books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to In praise of artists

  1. Joe D says:

    He had a jaw like a park bench is from my favorite Chandler novel The Little Sister.


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