Nina Katchadourian’s curiously captivating ‘Whale’ is latest in Murals of La Jolla series


By Pat Sherman

The newest addition to the La Jolla Community Foundation’s “Murals of La Jolla” public art series, Nina Katchadourian’s “Whale,” was installed last week at 1250 Prospect St. (just south of Eddie V’s restaurant).

The work joins the foundation’s 12 other murals currently displayed on buildings throughout La Jolla.

“We are proud to be working with artists of national and international stature,” said Matthew Browar, chair of the Murals of La Jolla Art Advisory Committee and a member of the foundation’s board of directors. “Murals of La Jolla has been embraced by the community and has attracted an audience from beyond.”

Katchadourian worked with changing sight lines of the wall, giving careful consideration to scale and image placement to create “an image that would have a very still, low-key, but also strong, steady and mysterious presence.

“I wanted to use an image of a whale in a manner that would make it feel a bit like it was hiding, or hidden — one part lurking, one part furtive, one part shy,” she said.

The image is based on a high-resolution photograph by Bryant Austin. Katchadourian played with its scale, purposely not showing the edges of the animal’s body. “I think the whale in our imagination is a very, very big thing — figuratively and literally speaking,” she said. “Whales are kind of huge in our mind.”

The artist, who earned her master of fine art at UC San Diego, was back in La Jolla to view the completed installation on Feb. 9.

“I have of history here and it’s really nice to come back now in a professional capacity,” said Katchadourian, who traveled from La Jolla to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, Mexico this week, where Pacific gray whales come to breed and mate along their migratory path. She and collaborator Laurel Braitman, a historian of science, will collect audio and visual recordings of human interactions with whales to create an intuitive art project (funded by a grant from the Art Matters foundation).

“There’s been this kind of curious behavior in recent decades where whales in that lagoon have become very social toward people, and, of their own accord, approach people in boats,” Katchadourian said. “They will sometimes show the young calves to the people in the boats … and no one is quite sure why this behavior has developed.

“Many people speak about the incredible experience of making eye contact with a whale,” she said. “That’s also what I hope my mural does. … It’s a way for a person on the ground or in a car going by to make a kind of eye contact with this image and to sort of think about these animals.”

Katchadourian’s work typically employs a variety of media, including sculpture, photography, videography and sound — often springing from observations and interactions with common, everyday circumstances, resulting in works that have both humor and rigor.

A long-running theme in her work deals specifically with the relationship between human and non-human animals, explored in projects like the “Mended Spiderwebs” series (1998) and the multi-channel video installation “Zoo,” shown at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2008.

Katchadourian was born in 1968 in Stanford, Calif. For the last 17 years she has lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York. She is also on the faculty at New York University.

Murals of La Jolla was conceived in 2010 by the La Jolla Community Foundation as a means to enhance the civic character of the community by commissioning public art projects on private property throughout La Jolla. An art advisory committee — comprised of the heads of the major visual arts organizations in La Jolla — commissions artists to propose the intervention of an image on specific walls on privately owned buildings.

Most of the artworks have been printed on vinyl and installed on billboard-like structures. Each work is on view for a minimum of two years and has been funded by private donations to the La Jolla Community Foundation, an affiliate of The San Diego Foundation.

“The Murals of La Jolla has established the La Jolla Community Foundation as an important and impactful institution in our community,” said Phyllis Pfeiffer, chair of the La Jolla Community Foundation and vice-president and general manager of

La Jolla Light


“More than 100 individuals, families and businesses have made donations to support the murals and to become members of the foundation. We are working together to preserve and enhance La Jolla for future generations.”

For information on how to support the murals and other projects in La Jolla by becoming a member of the

La Jolla Community Foundation

, contact Executive Director Julie Bronstein at (858) 243-2759 or

For more about

Murals of La Jolla

, visit