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The Best Elevator Ride In San Diego

Evening Edition

Glass artists and brothers Jamex and Einar de la Torre (L-R) working in their studio.

Aired 9/13/13 on KPBS News.

The opening of the new central library is just a few weeks away. As the books are unpacked, artwork is being installed. That includes an eye-popping work in the library’s main elevator shaft by the de la Torre brothers. It will be, hands down, the best elevator ride in San Diego.

A few weeks ago, I went to see how the de la Torre brothers were doing as they installed their latest public art piece. I found them, along with a few assistants, crammed into the central library’s elevator shaft.

Jamex, the older de la Torre brother by three years, climbed down from a ladder. "The site that we got in the elevator shaft, is a pretty sweet site for an artist," he said.

His brother Einar wore a black T-shirt with the Virgin of Guadalupe on it, his long hair hanging out from under his hard hat. He agreed the elevator makes for a great art gallery. "We have a captive audience if you will, which is kind of nice for art in general," Einar said.

The artists are known for their glass sculptures and installations. The word "ornate" doesn’t come close to describing the explosion of color and layering in their work.

A wall piece from 2011 called "El Cakeito." It's a mixed media work with glass, digital prints, and resin castings with items inside.

For the library elevator, they’re installing two columns of diorama boxes (imagine really large aquariums with no water, but plenty of art). They’re stacked on top of one another, four to a column. As visitors take the glass elevator to the second floor, they’ll rise past the dioramas, each with different scenes inside.

The brothers were partly inspired by the dioramas in museums of Natural History — you know, the ones with taxidermy and painted backdrops depicting life on the Serengeti. They admire the craftmanship it takes to build those natural habitat dioramas. They also think it's an effective tool in focusing the viewer. "That idea of making a little world, a microcosm, is fascinating way to limit the viewers perspective and involve them in what you’re making," Einar explained.

The de la Torre brothers often use references from Mexican and American popular culture in their work. Video Still.

And there’s plenty to get involved with in the de la Torre brothers' dioramas. They’re jam-packed, bearing the artists usual devotion to the baroque. There are references to Mexican, Aztec and Chicano culture, along with a healthy dose of pop culture in all of them. Each box is like a funhouse world; surreal and trippy.

The de la Torre brothers started using lenticular prints in their art two years ago. Each of the diorama boxes is lined with lenticular prints for more depth. They also flank the elevator. Video Still.

Each of the eight boxes are lined with prints that create an illusion of depth, or 3D effect. They’re called lenticular prints and the artists started using them about two years ago. "It’s a visual trick that gives you this three-dimensional effect that is really quite effective. We always say that our work is layered like an onion and with this technology we can do that more and more in one piece of acrylic," Jamex de la Torre said.

A bust of a historical figure filled with bric-a-brac. The de la Torres' layer their work like "an onion." Video Still.

Many of the boxes have busts of famous composers and historical figures. "We're trying to imply this kind of classicism with the bust. There’s a very western aesthetic involved in this and higher learning implied there," Einar explained. "We wanted to allude to it, but also bust that open." Not sure if this pun was intended, but there it is.

A clear resin bust of Napoleon (I think it's him) is filled with beads, shells and other bric-a-brac. A signature aspect of the brothers’ art is a mix of high and low art, the rarefied with the mundane.

The de la Torres were born in Guadalajara, Mexico, but grew up in Southern California. They maintain studios on both sides of the border - here in San Diego and south in Ensenada.

They were raised Catholic. Einar de la Torre said they’ve learned from Catholicism’s use of statues to tell stories visually.

"Through the Middle Ages, it was an illiterate population that needed to be told all of these stories so they have all these figures (statues) do that in churches," he explained.

The stories in the elevator dioramas are inspired by the library setting, but they aren't traditional stories with beginnings and endings. "We struggle with this because it seems so easy to make a linear thing about history and knowledge but we want it to be more fun and more entertaining," Jamex said.

The artwork is called "Corpus Callosum," after the part of the brain that makes connections between the left and right hemispheres. The brothers like the idea of putting random images and statues together to see what connections the viewer might make.

"I think we’re really intrigued with the idea of how discoveries happen," Einar added. Discoveries happen all the time in a library, they point out. People go to find one book, but discover other interesting books while there.

"And that’s kind of a cool thing about a library," Einar said. "You might find other things that you weren’t necessarily seeking and open yourself up to worlds you didn’t know were there."

In the new central library, those opportunities for discovery won’t only be in the stacks of books. They’ll be in the elevator as well.

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | September 13, 2013 at 5:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I noticed you didn't mention how much this artwork cost. I understand some people say that a price should not be placed on art and no matter how much it cost, it is worth having it. It isn't that anyone will tear it out now that it is there, but people should know as part of this transparency fiction the City government continues to sell us. And someone will say the money was donated (was it?) or given as a grant (which would still be taxpayer money) but that's not the point. I believe every dollar spent on public projects should be disclosed to the public and not hidden in some bottom line number. The elevator may indeed be worth it. I am not saying the artists have not put a lot of time and effort into it, and artists absolutely deserve to be paid. And probably the labor and materials stimulated the economy for a short period...I am sure someone will say tourists will flock to the library just to ride up and down in the elevator (that seems a little inefficient but someone will make that argument). Still, the public should know what the cost is. Not part of the cost, but the whole cost of having what has to be San Diego's fanciest elevator in a building that personally I find hideous (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know some people worship at the feet of Quigley). Just a thought.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | September 14, 2013 at 10:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I love it.

I, as a tax paying citizen, would rather pay for his than about 50% of the other crap the city wastes I money on.

I'm sure it costs far less than legal fees the city uses to protect corrupt politicians or legal fees the city uses to defend against dirty cops who get caught violating protocol.

We need more of this.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | September 14, 2013 at 10:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Dialyn, I disagree with your opinion about the new main library.

I really like it, and I'm not a "Quigley worshipper", I know nothing about him other than his name.

I personally like the building when I walk by it, and I'm really exited about the inside being as fabulous as the exterior with unique local art like this.

but we are all entitled to our opinions.

I'm just curious though, what's an example of a local building in San Diego that you find architecturally stunning??

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | September 14, 2013 at 4:25 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

I don't think see how comparing the costs related to politicians to how much is spent on public projects is useful. Clearly you like the main library and it is just as clear that I do not. But why should the activities of politicians determine the knowledge of the cost of public projects. I am going to say the bottom line costs of the main library project were distorted and underestimated from the beginning (sadly I have reason to know that). Perhaps I have drawn the conclusion that if politicians lie about one thing, they lie about others (that might be my uninformed opinion). If you don't care how money is spent in this city, then you will enjoy your box seats in the new Charger stadium the convention center. I am sure they will have a lovely elevator there.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | September 16, 2013 at 3:19 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

@dialyn: Sorry about the delay responding.

The money for the public art in the library comes from the library project budget. It's funded through the City's percent-for-art policy: 2% for art in public construction projects undertaken by the City of San Diego.

The budget for "Corpus Callosum" is $160,000.

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Avatar for user 'AmberForest'

AmberForest | September 18, 2013 at 8:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

Art is subjective as is design.

I find both the design of the building and the elevator art unappealing at best.

That said, I will undoubtedly use the downtown branch but I'll take the stairs. It's exercise that I can benefit from and I won't have to look at this particular installation.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | September 18, 2013 at 12:49 p.m. ― 3 years, 6 months ago

$160,000 to have something UNIQUE in our city that ANY citizen can freely walk in and view.

A bargain in my opinion.

Cities today are all looking the same, and I find that very depressing.

Same chain stores, same bland architecture, same boring art, same chain restaurant signs everywhere, elevators that, from being inside, you would never know where you were.

Someone could be blindfolded anywhere in the world and be transported inside this elevator shaft and the art would instantly identify not only the country, city, and state they are in, but even the very building.

We just don't have this kind of originality in society very much anymore.

Can't wait to see this in person.

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