January, 2009

Anima: Where The Wild Things Are

The relationship between people and animals, domesticated and wild, is endlessly fascinating. Some we admire from afar with awe, like the cuddly-looking but ferocious polar bear, while others play ball with us on the front yard or beg us incessantly for a bite of our burrito.  Living closely with an animal reveals just how intelligent, emotional, and unabashedly different they are.  Currently, Louis Stern Fine Arts is hosting an exhibition that through a number of critically acclaimed black and white photographs, captures the physical reality of animals with remarkable emotion.Anima:The Photography of Jean Francois Spricigo explores the relationship between animals and nature, but also provokes the viewer to contemplate our place amongst these wonderful creatures.

Belgian-born Spricigo, winner of the 2008 Laureate of the Prix de Photographie de l’Academie des Beaux-Arts, is one of the art world’s most eloquently outspoken animal advocates.  His admiration and respect for his subjects is evident in his photography.  Many popular animal photographers subject the animal to human confines a la Hallmark (kittens in picnic baskets), but Spricigo’s photographs capture more candid and intimate moments.  It’s easy to forget that he and his camera were present—his photographs evoke such an untouched solitude.

The first images that I experienced on entering the gallery were a combination of animals and natural objects, displayed in a double-triptych form.  This series of six images, some of abstract landscapes, others of animals in motion, immediately set the stage for the exhibition’s narrative. Two ducks swim along their way, utterly oblivious to the camera, while the sweet and vulnerable eyes of a dog stare right at the viewer, beckoning compassion and understanding.  In another photograph, a single dog almost lost in a blanket of night sky, offset by blurred city lights in the distance, serves as a harsh reminder of the divide that separates the manufactured human world from the visceral animal world.

The cats, dogs, birds, leopards, horses and cows represented in Spricigo’s work are captured as if caught off guard.  Spricigo’s photographs reveal a deep, soulful quality in his otherwise “common” subjects.  One piece captures the hearty laugh of a bah-ing billy goat with such depth that you feel as if you’re in on the joke.  Other heartwarming images include a fluffy, tiny, inquisitive square-shaped bird, and a playful, rambunctious dog, equipped with a stick and ready for the chase.  These images call to mind feelings of companionship, and at times lend a “family portrait”-like quality to the exhibition.

The interesting thing about Spricigo’s approach to his subject matter is that while his photography does call to mind the connection we have for animals, it also exposes them in moments of isolation and reflection.  Many of his photographs resemble impressionistic paintings in that they are mildly surrealist, blurred, and depict the animals in their natural, daily, and often private activities.  The third room of the exhibition houses the greatest number of these photographs, where Spricigo’s skill is just as impressive as his subject matter.  A lone horse at pasture is practically absorbed into the mist—something Spricigo depicts as hundreds of softly focused dots, while across the room, a sharply focused shot of a bird’s feet on a fence seamlessly coexists.  It is this diversity and range, not only in the photographs of Anima but also in the natural world, that make the psychological complexity of animals so enthralling.

-by Brittany Krasner

After a two month run at the Palais de l’Institute de France, Anima: The Photography of Jean Francois Spricigo has made quite a splash at its American debut in West Hollywood and is on view at Louis Stern Fine Arts through February 13. For more information, please call (310) 276-0147 or click here.

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Tango with a Twist

The Guillermina Quiroga Dance Company presents “Tango, Historias Breves” at UCLA’s Royce Hall following their recently sold out run in New York City.  Quiroga and her partner Claudio Villagra will be joined by three other couples and the group Los Cosos de al Lao.  Quiroga is well known throughout Argentina for her ability to unite her technical finesse with some of Argentina’s most moving poetry and music.  UCLA says,

Intertwined with some of Argentina’s best poetry, music, and sensuous dance, “Tango, Historias Breves” brings us closer to stories of life, love and passion and delves deeply into the fundamental role destiny plays.

For a night filled with emotion and beauty, don’t miss Guillermina Quiroga Dance Company’s fiery presentation.When: February 4-5, 8pmWhere: UCLA Royce HallTickets:  www.uclalive.org 

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Symphony of the Future

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion played host Monday evening to the American Youth Symphony; although if you closed your eyes, you might forget that the median age of the Symphony is only twenty.  The students come from a range of schools across Southern California including the Colburn School, Crossroads, and USC.  Conducted by film music composer Alan Silvestri, the concert comprised of excerpts from eight of his film scores including Back to the Future, Beowulf, Castaway, and Forrest Gump.  Silvestri spoke a number of times to introduce himself, the musicians, and tell interesting stories about the process of composing music for film.  His words carried an obvious tone of pride for the artists on stage and their achievements as he thanked the audience members for supporting the students’ dedication and talent.

As the Symphony seamlessly shifted from classical to jazz to classical, one noticed the sense of accomplishment enjoyed on stage that you don’t find with a professional group.  That is not to say that we should scrap the Philharmonic and invite the American Youth Symphony to take its place.  Instead, I found a drive in the Symphony members to push themselves to become the Philharmonic, which is a drive inherently lost on the Philharmonic itself.  Representing the next chapter in classical music for Los Angeles, these young people undoubtedly prove that the fine arts are not lost on the “music video” generation of this city.

The violin bows that move in perfect unison, the drummers’ bodies that keep the rhythm while the drums take a rest, and the harps that shift back and forth simultaneously all display that the Symphony’s focus is on the impeccably choreographed group as a whole.  When soloists were singled out, it was done with the least possible fanfare while other musicians prepared for the next piece.  As a result, they were as beautiful to watch as they were to hear.  In fact, the only telltale sign of their age was the tendency that some members had to slouch during Silvestri’s speeches: an endearing reminder of exactly who it is playing beautiful music with such extraordinary talent.

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Western Revival

As a complement to the Getty’s current show, “Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California” which runs through March 1, 2009, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents “How the West was Shot: Six Westerns, Six Decades.”

The progression of films show how the Western evolves from a set of historical ideologies into its own mythology, or as The Getty explains, “a state of mind.”

The illuminating series is comprised of The Iron Horse (Ford), The Big Trail (Walsh), Red River (Hawks), Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone), Bad Day at Black Rock (Sturges) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah).

If there is one “must see” on the list it is without a doubt, Once Upon a Time in the West.  Leone’s film is not so much a Western as it is a glorification of everything that the Western genre had come to stand for until its release in 1968.  Of course, try to catch all of them if you can!  The Getty presents the perfect overview to the Western genre with this collection of classics.

When: Fridays and Saturdays, January 23 &24 and 30 &31

Where: Harold M. Williams Auditorium at the Getty Center

Reservations: (310)440-7300 or www.getty.edu/visit

Admission: Free

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