Dec. 4 2013 02:12 PM

Armando de la Torre's Winter Wonderland' installation pushes boundaries

Armando de la Torre’s “Winter Wonderland” drew a crowd in Carlsbad.
Photo courtesy of Oceanside Museum of Art

Hordes of shoppers fighting for $20 toasters weren't the only strange occurrences happening at malls on Black Friday. Artist Armando de la Torre kicked off the Oceanside Museum of Art's Exploring Engagement Artist-in-Residence program with his "Winter Wonderland" installation at Carlsbad's Westfield Plaza Camino Real (2525 El Camino Real).

"Winter Wonderland" is a mural and some other imagery and props set up inside a vacant storefront (A12) inside the mall. A makeshift stage inside the space hosts a lineup of performance-art pieces by guest artists. The two-year Exploring Engagement program, which will include a series of five of these interactive public-art interventions and installations, mostly in North County, is funded by a $150,000 James Irvine Foundation grant awarded to OMA.

Crowds gathered around the unexpected installation last Friday, creating a bit of a bottleneck in mall traffic. The sound from the performances spilled out into the mall, as well, worrying nearby shop owners who complained to mall security. The project was temporarily closed but will open again this weekend with a few rules, including sound checks before every performance, better traffic control and a more polished look.

Tara Smith, deputy director and chief curator at OMA, says mall management has been cooperative in its attempts to understand the contemporary-art project. Plus, she says, the program is supposed to be about pushing boundaries in the public realm while introducing people to contemporary, interactive, process-based art in unexpected places.

"It's really exciting because it is about risk-taking, and a lot of grants, they typically want something safe," Smith says. "This grant is encouraging us to step outside of what the museum has proven it can do."

De la Torre describes his piece as "a makeshift community-center-slash-art-installation" that will host gift-making workshops, DIY demonstrations and music and art performances through the rest of the month. The San Diego artist says the project is, in part, meant to challenge people's concepts of consumerism. The piece is designed to look like a movie set, and shoppers are invited into the space to take photos and interact with the artist. One upcoming event will ask parents to sit on Santa's lap while their kids snap the photos.

"Armando created a really magical environment where all these interesting interactive elements will take place," Smith says.

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