In The Public Eye
Los Angeles art consultant Merry Norris takes her know-how to the streets—and the airport
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Art consultant-advocate Merry Norris has collaborated with some of the biggest firms based in Los Angeles, Gehry Partners and Morphosis to name just two. Go to any gallery opening, museum gala, or AIA event, and she's there with her cropped platinum hair, cherry-red lipstick, and Marc Jacobs dress. She and her projects have become even more visible since she switched focus from residential and corporate consulting to public art. "Originally, I hadn't thought there was interest in the city," she admits. But there was. More lucrative? "No, no," she says with a laugh. "I'm action-oriented, though. I can make more of a difference doing this."
Anyone who's flown through Los Angeles International Airport gets a proxy introduction to Merry Norris Contemporary Art. In her role as liaison for the Gateway LAX Enhancements Project, an improvement initiative funded partly by airport parking revenues, Norris got the whole thing approved by the city's cultural-affairs commission: master plan by Ted Tokio Tanaka Architects, massive LED-lit pylons by multimedia artist Paul Tzanetopoulos, signage by Selbert Perkins Design, and landscaping by IMA and LRM as well as new roadways. Smaller projects illustrate the range of mediums in which Norris is conversant. She commissioned April Greiman to paint a two-part oil mural on an Arquitectonica building above a Koreatown metro station. At Moore Rubell Yudell Architects & Planners's Western Asset Plaza in Pasadena, it's ceramic pieces by Ralph Bacerra and Jun Kuneko. For the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Institute by Morphosis, Norris turned to architectural photographer Grant Mudford.
Today, Norris reports never having been busier. Among projects on the boards is West Hollywood's Janson Goldstein–designed Andaz Hotel, where she commissioned Jacob Hashimoto to create laser-cut aluminum panels to hang outside the restaurant. "Both diners and people on Sunset Boulevard can enjoy the art," she explains. Meanwhile, along Santa Monica Boulevard, she's responsible for a temporary installation of four painted aluminum sculptures by Peter Shire.
A collector herself, Norris has strong community ties. As cochair of the major-gifts committee for the Museum of Contemporary Art, she helped raise $13.5 million for the initial endowment. She was a founding trustee of the Pasadena Museum of California Art, where she took charge of a mural by Kenny Scharf and is currently curating a show of architectural photographer Benny Chan's fine-art work. An honorary member of the AIA Los Angeles, she also serves on the SCI-Arc board of directors. Her terse job description? "I show up. I raise money. I'm involved in the world of architects. Lucky me."
For all her ties to designers and artists, Norris often works mostly closely with developers. Their projects, with art budgets ranging from $100,000 to $6 million, can take upward of seven years to complete. (Typical corporate projects, such as Gensler's Heller Ehrman in L.A. and DMJM's BMC Software in Houston, are two years or less.) She's now working with Related and Gehry Partners on arguably the city's largest undertaking to date. A mixed-use development aimed at jump-starting the civic and cultural life of downtown, the Grand Avenue Project is intended to comprise condominiums, a hotel, shops, and restaurants, all sprawling over more than 3.6 million square feet around the axis between the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The estimated cost is $3 billion, and Norris, as art consultant for phase one, has a budget of more than $6 million. She reports that she's assembled a short list of five international artists. As far as specific names are concerned, it's L.A. confidential.