With Her Latest Prada Commission, Artist Martine Syms Explores Her Love and Hate for Los Angeles

The fashion house tapped Syms for the seventh iteration of its traveling, art-focused Prada Mode members club, which is stopping in L.A. during Frieze.

Artist Martine Syms at the restaurant Genghis Cohen, where she created an interactive installation for Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Prada.
Artist Martine Syms at the restaurant Genghis Cohen, where she created an interactive installation for Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Prada.

After popping up everywhere from Miami to Paris and Shanghai, Prada Mode has just arrived in Los Angeles.

An evolution of Carsten Höller’s Prada Double Club (London 2008/2009; Miami 2017), the Italian fashion house’s traveling members club features specially commissioned contemporary art. It kicked off in 2018 during Art Basel Miami Beach, with a site-specific intervention from Theaster Gates. Last December, it saw Damien Hirst recreate his Pharmacy restaurant installation at Moscow’s Levenson Mansion.

A Prada Mode Los Angeles billboard featuring Martine Syms. Courtesy of Prada.

A Prada Mode Los Angeles billboard featuring Martine Syms. Courtesy of Prada.

Now, for the seventh edition, on the occasion of Frieze Los Angeles, Prada has tapped local artist Martine Syms to transform Genghis Cohen, the Chinese restaurant and music venue on Fairfax Avenue, with HelLA World (until February 17, 2022). In a press interview, Syms described the work as “an interactive textual and visual play for three characters: one en route to the party, one at the party, and one not attending.”

Surveillance-like video projections and ticker tape–style monitors have been installed around the restaurant, the latter displaying both scripted conversation and random musings from Prada Mode L.A. guests, who are invited to contribute from their phones. “I want to hear all the gossip,” said the artist.

Outside Genghis Cohen during Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Prada.

Outside Genghis Cohen during Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Prada.

It is also something of an ode to her hometown. “I want to show my Los Angeles with this installation—not the Los Angeles everyone imagines,” said Syms. “There’s so many ways of being, living, interacting contained in this sprawl. It can’t be compressed into one idea. It’s unruly. I’m giving a real locals experience with HelLA World: gridlock, surveillance, serendipity, all of it. Also, hell!”

Syms is known for creating conceptual multimedia works that comment on inequities around gender and race with an uncanny sense of humor. They have been shown in solo exhibitions everywhere from New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.

This is not her first collaboration with Prada: With Daisy Zhou, the director of photography for her film The African Desperate, Syms shot the brand’s spring-summer 2021 Linea Rossa campaign. She has also collaborated with Kanye West while hosting the monthly NTS radio show “Double Penetration” and running Dominica Publishing, an imprint exploring Blackness in visual culture.

Dinner at Genghis Cohen during Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Prada.

Dinner at Genghis Cohen during Prada Mode Los Angeles. Photo: Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Prada.

For HelLA World, she has invited Hammer Museum curator Erin Christovale, artist and poet Diamond Stingily, filmmaker Garrett Bradley, and Sarah Lewis, a professor of art history as well as African and African-American studies at Harvard, for a program of talks.

There will also be late-night DJ sets from Kyle Hall as well as Femi and Acyde, plus live performances from the likes of violinist and vocalist Sudan Archives—and, of course, Genghis Cohen’s New York-style Sichuan food and “world-famous Foo Foo Drinks,” which Syms has long enjoyed during a weekly dinner with friends.


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