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Portrait of Pipilotti Rist
Portrait of Pipilotti Rist

Pipilotti Rist poses inside her upcoming solo show at MOCA, the first survey of the Swiss artist’s work on the West coast.
(Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times)

It is hard to be bigger than the architecture of the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. Once a warehouse for the LAPD’s automotive fleet, its dimensions are on the monumental side: 40,000 square feet of floor space with a ceiling height of 35 feet. And though Frank Gehry converted it into a museum in the early 1980s, inserting a sequence of moderately sized galleries into the cavernous space, the building nonetheless retains its industrial aspect. Surfaces are concrete and corrugated metal. And if you work at a less-than-ginormous scale, it can make your art seem as if it’s Victorian miniature.

Geffen Contemporary, meet Pipilotti Rist.

The Swiss artist has not only taken over the building for her first West Coast survey, “Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor,” which goes on view Sept. 12, but she has also inhaled it whole, transforming its austere spaces with a sensory web of color, sound, light and video installation. The warehouse is now a sumptuous garden; its walls, its windows and its floors, a place onto which Rist projects videos, many of which meld body and landscape in a deeply saturated palette, and which are often accompanied by goopy, amniotic soundtracks.

“With projection, you open up the walls,” says Rist, gesturing at the building around us. “You make the architecture fluid.”

Walking into the Geffen now is less like entering a building than being engulfed by a primal world.

“In every place and in every way, we find outpouring,” says MOCA curator Anna Katz, who organized the show in collaboration with curatorial assistant Karlyn Olvido. As Southern California contends with “Pandemic 2.0: The Delta Variant,” Katz anticipates that Rist’s exhibition is “going to be a bit of a tonic.”

It certainly feels that way. Rist’s worlds are a brilliant ocean into which you’ll want to plunge and be carried away by its currents.

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