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November 5, 2013 – August 3, 2014
One hundred years ago, on November 5, 1913, cattle ranchers and citrus orchard barons, city boosters and citizens gathered on the banks of the cascades feeding the San Fernando Reservoir to witness the first water from the Owens River surge into a thirsty city.
The crowds weren’t just cheering for water. A new apex of culture — the Museum of History, Science, and Art (the original name of NHM) — opened the following day.
Now, NHM is revisiting these two natural and cultural moments. On November 5, the aqueduct-themed special exhibition, Just Add Water: Artworks Inspired by the L.A. Aqueduct by Rob Reynolds opens. Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Reynolds has created 10 original, large-scale watercolors that interpret the epic significance of the Aqueduct, through the lenses of history, geography, and time. In each, Reynolds references key sites and historical moments aligned with the Aqueduct’s 233-mile route and 100-year history. This special exhibition, guest curated by art historian Dr. Charlotte Eyerman, invites visitors to rediscover Southern California’s parched past through the imaginative lens of Reynolds’ vision.
In addition to the watercolors (an intentional choice of medium given the subject matter), Reynolds has also created an installation of 13 banners listing thousands of names acknowledging the people who participated in and were impacted by the Aqueduct’s conception, construction, and implementation. “In addition to the founders that we all know—William Mulholland and Fred Eaton—I started to think about what would happen if we could pay tribute to everybody,” Reynolds said. “What if we included the teamsters, the ditch diggers, the barkeeps, the cooks, and the dynamite workers, displaying their names like the credits that roll at the end of a great movie” Reynolds and his team scoured the National Archives, voter registrations, census and medical records, and the attic of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “The algorithm we developed to map the nearly 7,000 names on the banners doesn’t rank hierarchically. It’s more or less chronological,” Reynolds said. “And it’s a list that has never been compiled before.”
Guest Curator Eyerman — who curated the NHM’s Pacific Standard Time show, Artistic Evolution — said Reynolds is an ideal fit for an exhibition that explores the history and significance of the Aqueduct. “Rob’s work has long investigated complex episodes in American history. He demonstrates a rigorous intellectual framework and astonishing technical skill together with a wry view of art, history, and popular culture.”
Rob Reynolds, Los Angeles Water Traveling Over the Owens Valley, 2013 (detail)
watercolor, gouache, and ink on rag paper
68" x 93 1/2"
Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer. All images: copyright Rob Reynolds, 2013