Forest Lawn Verzuz Photography
|Unknown photographer, Book, Quill, and Ink Sign, Forest Lawn|
Forest Lawn has been a subject for modern literature, film, and photography, from Evelyn Waugh to Garry Winogrand. You won't find that in the current exhibition of the Forest Lawn Museum, Glendale, but you will encounter a parallel and no-less-unlikely tale. "Unveiling the Past: The Art & History of Forest Lawn" surveys the cemetery chain's architectural, corporate, and art history. Some of the most compelling objects here are documentary photographs of Forest Lawn signage. The makers are uncredited, but the best images work as found Walker Evanses. Forest Lawn has often served as an advertisement for itself. Its campus hilltop once had its own "Hollywood Sign," the words FOREST LAWN spelled out in 10-foot-high neon letters.
When a commissioned marble copy of Michelangelo's Moses arrived from Florence in 1926, it was trucked to Forest Lawn in moving billboards. The management was apparently not over-concerned that yokels might confuse it for Michelangelo's original. Stunts like this must have helped Forest Lawn (and Los Angeles) earn their place in the Grove Dictionary of Art. Look up "kitsch" and you're told that
"objects that adapt high art images from one medium to another are paradigmatically kitsch, for instance plastic or fibreglass sculptural renderings of Dürer’s Study of Praying Hands, Leonardo’s Last Supper (1495–7; Milan, S Maria della Grazie) executed in tapestry, or stained glass, such as that at the Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery in Los Angeles…"
Forest Lawn's mid-century billboards were hand-painted pop ephemera, replaced frequently for maximum impact. They grapple unintentionally with the paradoxes of love, death, art, money, faith—and Los Angeles.
|Unknown photographer, Wedding Billboard, 1969|
|Unknown photographer, Hall of Crucifixion Billboard, 1951. Jan Styka's 195-ft-long Crucfixion is smaller than two Civil War panoramas back East, hence the qualification "religious painting"|
|Unknown photographer, Billboard for the Crucifixion, 1954|
|Not in show: Garry Winogrand, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Mickey Mouse Hat, 1964|