Frank Zappa's Famous Studio Opens its Doors for First-Ever Art Exhibition

ZAPPA art show opening - H 2016
Courtesy of AB Images/Alex Berliner

The exhibit, "Someplace Else Right Now," features works from local and international artists and continues through March 2.

Make no mistake: Frank Zappa’s legendary recording facility and residence, the Laurel Canyon enclave known as the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, hosted a really fun art party Tuesday night. It just so happens that two of the guests got teary just as the doors were about to open for the exhibit, titled after a Zappa original, “Someplace Else Right Now.”

It’s the first time the Zappas have opened the home to the public and those two guests on the verge of a full-blown cry also happen to be married — Zappa’s son Ahmet Zappa and his pregnant wife, Shana. Both got caught in emotional moments within minutes of one another while seated together on a sofa inside the main recording area in Zappa’s UMRK space, built in 1979.

“I grew up in this house,” Ahmet explains of the environment, the brainchild of his late father and constructed as a sacred place of artistic freedom, creativity and expression which has hosted the likes of legendary musicians and even the Dalai Lama’s monks. “The people who have come through are friends of the family, other musicians, contemporaries, scientists, artists, real free-thinkers. It’s a special place.”

Then come the emotions. “Both of my parents passed away in this house so there’s lots of memories here,”  says Ahmet. His mother, Gail, died in October of last year, while his father passed away in 1993. It’s her recent passing that causes Shana to catch her breath, too, thinking about the influence Gail has had on their lives, especially on a night like Tuesday when the presidential primaries are being hosted in New Hampshire. (Gail was a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton.)

“I voted for [Barack] Obama in the last election and Gail said to me, ‘Trust me, darling, in a few years, you are going to realize that he doesn’t have a vagina and that is what we need,” says Shana. “And here we are, eight years later, and I’m like, ‘Go, Hillary!’ We need a vagina. And I’m staring at one right now.”

She’s looking out the window of the recording facility into the space below, which is housing many of the works in the exhibition, including Yael Kanarek’s “Untitled (L’Origine),” a piece that resembles the opening of a vagina. It is constructed from 1,155 rubber pieces of the word “eye” in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish.

It’s one of the many pieces placed around UMRK for the exhibit, which runs Wednesday–March 2. It’s the brainchild of curators and art advisers Ashley Sands and Blaise Patrick in a collaboration with the Zappas. Rumor has it that the house may go on the market soon, but party guests were apt to talk more about the legendary pad’s place in rock history than who might end up living there one day.

Well, that and, of course, the artwork.

Says Sands: “I chose artists who similarly push the boundaries in their genres, and all the works in the show are loosely tied to the concept of place, because this was Frank’s only working space. I thought a lot about the concept of place, place as a departure point.”

Included is an installation and presentation of Larry Achiampong’s “Politicman” series that examines issues of race, politics and leadership; a site-specific work by artist Isabel Yellin; and Tamara Kvesitadze’s “Man and Woman,” inspired by the 1937 novel Ali and Nino by Azerbaijani author Kurban Said. Other artists include Kiluanji Kia Henda, Lisa Solberg, Keith Tyson and Daniel Wilson.

Solberg picked a unique space for her installation — Frank Zappa’s original, custom-made echo chamber, which is tucked away in a corner and accessible by a wooden ladder that takes guests down a floor to a large open space. “To put my artwork up here in his honor was so cool,” says the L.A. artist. “I created the paintings for this show, and when you are working and inspired by such a legend, it seeps out into the work. It gave my paintings a very Frank Zappa-like feeling, like a tribute to the king.”

Solberg’s work, painted on a raw linen using bleach to create movement and structure, worked well in the space that contained walls clearly covered in handprints, dirt and, likely, rock 'n' roll history.

A history that supports artists, thanks to Frank Zappa’s musical mission. And that’s exactly what Ahmet says is so cool about this rare exhibition in the family home. “There is a direct correlation to this place and the art that is up now,” he explains. “Standing up for what you believe in and having a passion and going for it. We appreciate that it’s all the same reference, and whether that is divine intervention or … .” Shana continues: “Or Gail and Frank doing a little magic from above.”

That could be true. But there's always been some magic happening all around the UMRK. “To me, I also just remember the laughs,” Ahmet smiles.

And there were plenty of those, too, on Tuesday night, because it was a party, after all.  

A view of Tamara Kvesitadze’s “Man and Woman,” a piece inspired by Azerbaijani author Kurban Said’s 1937 novel Ali and Nino, which is featured outdoors at the 'Someplace Else Right Now' group exhibition at Frank Zappa's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo: Alex J Berliner/ABImages)

Amy Smart poses in front of Tamara Kvesitadze’s “Sphere” at the 'Someplace Else Right Now' group exhibition at Frank Zappa's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo: Alex J Berliner/ABImages)
A view of the 'Someplace Else Right Now' group exhibition at Frank Zappa's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo: Alex J Berliner/ABImages)Artist Lisa Solberg poses with her work at the 'Someplace Else Right Now' group exhibition at Frank Zappa's Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo: Alex J Berliner/ABImages)