Like everything in LA, it started out in a backyard garage and ended in embers on the mojave desert sands. Los Bar, a replica of Adolf Loos’s American Bar transplanted from Vienna and regurgitated in a Los Angeles car port, is the brainchild of four of this year’s crop of MAK fellows: Andreas Bauer, Christoph Meier, Robert Schwarz and Lukas Stopczynski.
Together with a toolkit of everyday materials, they reconstructed and resignified a seminal work of proto-Modernism: Marble coiffers in Loos’ creation are replicated here in layers of particle board, green leather built-in booths are now shaped from blue extruded foam; the menagerie of fin de siecle spirits, wines, and tonics replaced by Tito’s vodka, Bulleit rye, and an ever-present shaker of Peychaud's Bitters. The bar’s signature drink, TVG, named after France’s bullet train, packs a deadly punch and like everything else on offer is for donation only. “We’re not bartenders, we’re artists,“ Stopczynski stated, referring to the team’s “social sculpture.”
The project, lobotomized by the artists and a slew of collaborators and regulars affectionately referred to as “Los Bar Hooligans,” produced raucous expressions of art and performance as an homage to the prototypical European bar. With its indoor smoking, cramped quarters, and constant stream of cheap beer, the recreation is perhaps a more perfect iteration of the form. Meier adds, “the only thing that’s missing is the bullet hole,” an allusion to the still-visible bullet holes inflicted upon the original bar’s ceiling by infamous Austrian industrialist and murderer Udo Proksch. The tetrarchy of German and Austrian artists and architects, with their flash mob of a pop-up bar, held court every Friday for the summer.
The bar was forced to preemptively shut down in September after enduring a litany of neighbors’ complaints, threatened lawsuits, an ever-growing media presence, and chronic shortages of ice and PBR. As a final farewell, the crew trucked the bar’s components to the Mojave Desert, performed a wedding ceremony for a pair of die-hard patrons, and bombarded the structure in a hail of molotov cocktails. The Los Bar burned to the ground.
The Creators Project caught up with Christoph Meier, Robert Schwartz, and Lukas Stopczynski, all back on European soil to hear some of their thoughts on the project.
The Creators Project: The specter of Adolf Loos obviously haunts this project in several ways: you recreated one of his iconic works, he taught Los Angeles architect Rudolph Schindler (who fittingly designed the Mackey apartments where the MAK Fellows lived during your stay in LA and where the Los Bar was staged). How would you say that Loos’ biography and body of work informed the conception and scope of this piece? How did living in the Mackey Apartments influence the project?
Christopher Meier: Loos is an omnipresent figure in the life of an architecture and/or art-dedicated person from Vienna. He is also a perfect example for Viennese critique and skepticism. Schindler seems to have gotten rid of this heavy heritage and represents the light, open minded and laid back Californian way of life. To see the chance to make them clash was a thrill. So the project made sense in the eye of a Modernism fetishist but also to a person who came to the bar for an after-work drink.
Robert Schwartz: Without having lived in the Mackey Apartments, there would be nothing like Los Bar at all; Adolf Loos got his inspiration for the "American Bar" from his residency in the US from 1893 to 1896.
You have spoken of taking the Los Bar idea to other places and possibly rescaling it in different contexts. How do you plan on doing that, considering you are a team of four people with different nationalities and working methods? Can it be Los Bar if it’s not in LA?
Lukas Stopczynski: As I pointed out in the wedding speech, it's this great power of stupidity that allows us to do greater things than anybody would or could imagine. It was stupid humor that brought the four of us together in all this. On recreating the Bar—I see the ideas of copying, adaptation, insane transformation and performative space being conveyed into the next project. So when you ask if the Los Bar can exist outside the context of LA and the Mackey Apartment, I stupidly can answer yes! I believe in destroying the conceptional loose framework and continuing as a collective: everything seems possible.
How did it feel to burn down your own art?
Christopher Meier: To make a happy ending in the desert with all the people who called themselves “Los Bar Hooligans” made somehow clear that the whole project also used time as a material. It wasn't just a series of performances where we produced the stage; Los Bar had a dramaturgy like a movie, with a rising action, ups and downs, climax and a happy ending. I love doing social forms, art that is a proof of something invisible that’s bigger, a social moment, that carries on in the minds of the participants. Our job is too complicated to just sell paintings and work on our careers.
Lukas Stopczynski: Relief. You can [burn your own work] to counter being flushed down the toilet of marketing; it’s less political repression. [I’m more concerned with] the art market business and neoliberal commerce where everything you do has to obey a productive numeric value. All those things that made the Los Bar possible have no place because they are not efficient enough. It makes me realize how valuable our stupidity was, away from a naive dullness towards a conscious deliriousness.
Los Bar was on view at Mackey Apartments / MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles. Follow their Tumblr here. To learn more about Adolf Loos, read his seminal 1908 treatise, “Ornament and Crime” (Ornament und Verbrechen in the original German).