The Triforium Project wants to restore "polyphonoptic" sculpture in Downtown Los Angeles

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Joseph Young’s interactive Triforium celebrates its 40th birthday on Friday. (Courtesy The Triforium Project)

For four decades the Triforium, a six-story, 60-ton public artwork by Joseph Young, has stood in Fletcher-Bowron Square in the shadow of Los Angeles City Hall. The piece is a hallmark of technology, a “polyphonoptic” kinetic sculpture that when designed included 1,494 multicolored Murano glass cubes that were intended to glow in synchrony to music from a 79-note glass bell carillon.

But like so many future-minded ambitions, the realization fell short of the dream: the computer installed in 1975 to control the bells and lighting effects was glitchy from the start, the bulbs are now burnt out, and the whole structure is in disrepair.

The artwork, which cost close to $1,000,000 at the time, was supposed to draw visitors to the Stanton & Stockwell–designed Los Angeles Mall. It was the city’s attempt to compete with private developers and also make the civic center appealing after hours. They hoped an interactive artwork that played both classical and rock music while lights flashed would be a beacon to bring people Downtown Los Angeles. It didn’t work.

Critics were colorful in their barbs launched at chromatic design, calling it “Trifoolery” and “the Psychedelic Nickelodeon,” according to Young’s 2007 obituary in the Los Angeles Times. That remembrance included a quote from 1996 interview with the artist. “I get very upset when I see it,” he told the paper. “It’s like a baby who was never born.”

Enter the Triforium Project, an eight-person group ready to bring the public artwork back to its original glory. Founded by Tom Carroll of “Tom Explores Los Angeles,” and Claire Evans and Jona Bechtolt, members of the band YACHT, the group hopes to raise the fund to restore the artwork and upgrade the technology. They are starting with a 40th birthday party for the Triforium on Friday, December 11 from 4:00–8:00p.m. at the Los Angeles Mall.

Historian Daniel Paul will be on hand at the party to speak about the sculpture’s importance and legacy. Young’s sculpture was meant to be democratic and convey the three branches of government. “He was interested in chromatism, where people would hear music and see color—he wanted to convey the language of music through visual means,” noted Paul. “People from city hall could look out from the buildings and see what song is playing.” Unfortunately, in the day it was difficult to see the lights and judges started to complain about the music.

“It was sculpture that was ridiculously ahead of its time, and its time seems to be now,” said Paul.

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