Architecture

FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Two

tgc5Eric Gibson, in his WSJ review of a new wing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, writes “…museums are about collecting as well as building…” That is a prime issue in this series covering The Norton Simon Museum, The Getty Center, and LACMA. In the first part of this series I praised the Simon Museum for its intimacy and experience combined with its depth of art. In each of these articles, I come as a stranger to a new city…filled with bias and anticipation…and trying to record what I see as I see it…without anymore expertise than a horny sailor at a fifty-cent peep show.

PART TWO:  THE GETTY CENTER

For me The Getty Center is the quintessential Los Angeles museum: impossible (or at least exceedingly impractical) to get to without using a car. You must wind your way through the Sepulveda Pass and the Santa Monica Mountains that separate the Westside from the Valley. Finally you see it…The Getty Center sitting on a peak, accessed via—what else—Getty Center Drive. Attendants wave you into a gray concrete bunker which becomes a winding Dr. Strangelove-like descent into  the seven-levels of Dante’s parking garage. None of this, however, inhibited the throngs of people who joined me for a brisk elevator ride back up to the planet’s surface.

Bathed in Southern California sun, the tram station looks born in the New Wave French cinema of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. Inside a plastic spaceship-subway pod we bumped and curved our way through Salad Nicoise landscapes interspersed with aerial views of the 405 Freeway.

At last we reached Getty Center’s mountain-top main entrance where white stone and chromed steel and blue skies announced that this was Olympus and we should be prepared to walk with the Gods. Yes arriving at The Getty Center is a visual show all its own. The complex of multiple buildings seems even larger because there is nothing else next to it except the wild home of deer and coyote and mountain lions. Los Angeles exists as a far away dream sculpture seen from enormous windows and imposing observation decks.

In addition to the four main halls (named for points on the compass) there are multiple gardens and administrative and research buildings plus studios and an Exhibition Pavilion and a Lecture Hall and an Auditorium and to keep on naming all the features is needless.  I glance left and right…people seem to either rush or move slowly…umbrellas and tables always available for shade and rest…I look up at Giacometti’s enormous Standing Woman I…(my Giacometti is bigger than your Giacometti?)…and for a moment I feel no need to even enter a building. But I do because that is what you do with Museums; you enter to worship the ghosts of your civilization.

In the entire western world, museums must be divided between those that feel compelled to show The Renaissance and those that do not. Yes it was a great time in human history…blah blah blah…but why does so much Renaissance art make me think of cheesy political commercials? (Perhaps because that is what much of it is was?) But this time was different on my trip to The Getty Center—whether it was the specific examples or the setting or the day or the pretty young Asian school girls swirling around like excited butterflies, whatever—I fell under the spell of art that I usually walk quickly past. For now, let me chalk it up to the Getty’s selection. I settled back and enjoyed the details of labor and skill in the amazing varieties of Jesus and his gang and their stories of good and god vs. evil and desire. This was the hip-hop Hollywood of its day and now because it is old and fragile we store it in giant temples such as The Getty Center and we come and look and maybe we even see ourselves in this old stuff. Later we think about it silently while answering email or maybe make a passing remark about it the next day.

Of course, as it was at the Norton Simon, when you turn away from the religious hoopla and sneak into the shadows of humanism, when art and sex conquer Religion, then the Renaissance really comes to life. And in this where The Getty Center excels. The sensual lust that artists masked behind Greek and Roman mythology seduces the viewer and cannot be talked away. It is about being naked, being ripe with desire. It is about blood and the human smells of hate and love.

It is the Getty’s Northern Renaissance works, however—and three by Rembrandt—that left me breathless, specifically An Old Man in Military Costume, Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak, and Saint Bartholomew (this last is a direct link to Vincent van Gogh). And here, for me, is the fascinating conflict between the anti-religious Northern Renaissance and the Holy Roman Catholic Renaissance of southern Europe. All the sexy, exciting stuff is from the heavily religious south and all the beautiful but dry, pinched, tight-ass painting is from the north. And maybe that reflects the modern European political world today—in Germany we have Angela Merkel, a prim matronly woman, and in Italy we have Silvio Berlusconi, a vain lecherous old man. Yes the Renaissance is alive and well in the 21st Century.

If you like modern decorative art (small d and small a intentional) then you can browse La Brea Avenue’s pretentious second-hand stores full of 50’s junk. But if you want to see Decorative Art so insanely beautiful that it drove a nation to murder its King and Queen, the furniture and French Tapestries at Getty Center are awe inspiring.  No Swanson frozen TV dinner short cuts, no phony San Fernando Valley McMansions, no Facebook/IKEA disposable software/hardware…here you will gain a hint of just how grand that period called “long ago” could be. Warren Buffett and Justin Bieber and Mark Zuckerberg all live in Pimple Land in comparison. And until you see this, you don’t know what the word rich means.

For all that Getty Center has, there is also something that it does not have. By the time I reached the art of the 1800s the curators seemed to have run out of inspiration or inventory. Up to that point Getty Center was a thrill ride…and then the ride sort of just…slowed…down.  Yes they have impressionists and post-Impressionists and van Gogh’s Irises, but for this period of art history, the energy just wasn’t there for me.

All museums acquire what they can afford at the time they buy it. That is why West Coast museums just don’t have the…juice, the big stuff you see in East Coast and European museums. The West Coast came late to the party. That’s the reality. And that said, The Getty Center is a wonderful museum and a wonderful experience. If you love art, do not deny yourself a visit there. I went looking for one thing, and was surprised and enthralled by something else.

- By John Ireland

For more information on The Getty Center go to www.getty.edu.

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles – Part One

nsmentry1A museum’s history is often as complex and varied as the works of art in it. Each of the three museums in this series have their own websites that can give you their stories of creation and evolution, so there is no reason for me to repeat that process here. This series is from the point of view of a traveler entering the gates of a far away city. I arrive thirsty and hungry and ready for any and all temptations …I stand eager to be stimulated and seduced…and the gates open.

PART ONE:  THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM

Most supermarkets have bigger parking lots than the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It is the smallest building on the smallest campus of the three major museums in this series. Intensely compact, the Simon’s focus is a very high quality of art that never becomes the overgrown cultural smorgasbord that often leads to institutional mediocrity. From the moment you drive into the free, single-level open sky parking area, everything about the Simon fits and flows.

As you leave your car you are already in a garden-like setting and the paths lead to a welcoming arrangement of larger than life Rodin sculptures. Without yet having breached the front door, you have been engaged by the narrative of Western Civilization. You cannot look at these works without also seeing everything that came before and after, and without feeling the weight of your own sack of skin and muscle and bone.

I have intentionally avoided pictures of the inside of the Museum because photographs cannot do justice to the art nor the experience of making your own entrance. Step through the doors and you are inside the core of the Simon. It reminds me of a flower with the petals made up of the four wings and a large theatre. One level below is the South and Southeast Asian galleries. The core, the center of this flower is for special exhibitions. Today I have come to visit the four wings that hold the story of my own history. These centuries of human emotion are the mirror I will be gazing into.

The first wing is filled with the 14th to 16th Centuries. Early, High, Mannerist, Northern, Southern…a Renaissance is a Renaissance is a Renaissance…and it is not my favorite art but neither I nor the Simon can ignore it. The Museum’s collection does more than just give a prerequisite Renaissance experience. With a selectivity and quality it demonstrates the genius of the Renaissance artists without beating you over the head with the religious messages. Perhaps it is the size of the museum that keeps it all more intimate and accessible. If you came to overdose on the Jesus and Mary Show this is not the museum for that…for the Simon’s examples of secular humanism hold equal stage. Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Joerg Fugger is wonderfully alive…I wanted to step in front of Fugger and force him to look at me, to engage him with questions about his life.

One of the important elements in the entire Norton Simon Museum experience is the outstanding presentation of all the art. The height at which the art is hung and sculpture placed, the skill of of the lighting, and the flow of the groupings, for me it is the best of any museum in the city.  Never once did I find myself bobbing and weaving like a drunken prize fighter at war with glare and reflection on the art work.

The second wing throws us into the 17th and 18th Centuries…carried there by Guido Reni’s portrait of St. Cecilia. Reni overwhelms his religious subject with stunning technique that makes this artist the real center of the painting. Art for art is now an unstoppable wave and the Simon immerses the viewer in Baroque paintings from Italy and Spain and the North. Everywhere you turn life explodes. Jan (Johannes) Fyt’s Still Life with Red Curtain and Zurbaran’s Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and a Rose filled me with child-like awe at their skill. Thomas de Kayser’s Portrait of a Father and His Son; Marie Genevieve Bouliar’s Self Portrait; and Theresa, Countess Kinsky by Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigree-Lebrun all remind me that I am walking through a world of hearts that once beat as furiously as my own.

The last two wings contain the 19th and 20th Centuries and I cannot separate them because they are wife and mistress to our modern life. And here the Simon shines with outstanding art. Edgar Degas is everywhere…his paintings and sculptures swirl around you…taunt you. At first I was overwhelmed and then quickly I was glad. It felt as if this were his studio and his home.

I’ve often thought that the best Renoirs are always someplace else. Until today. But don’t look for the large grand canvases that have been reproduced on everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets. At the Simon you will find small intimate Renoirs that will make you forget the “famous dead artist” and replace him with the living and curious and passionate and vulnerable Renoir.

My feet are no longer on the ground at this point…I am picked up on a Barbizon cloud and it carries me forward through the dreams of Corot and Monet and Seurat and Gauguin and Caillebotte and Lautrec…and at last I am at the feet of my personal Buddha, Vincent van Gogh. Even the Metropolitan in New York did not satisfy my eyes for his work. But at the Norton Simon there is a wonderful sampling and it is just large enough so that you can say “I met van Gogh today, and we talked awhile and then went our separate ways.” And for those who can only dream in modern media, take the time and you will come to discover that Vincent van Gogh is 3D…without the glasses.

I think Gertrude Stein would like the Museum’s view of the 20th Century…even the pictures she didn’t like. What would Picasso say to Sam Francis? What would Matisse think of Warhol? Would Modigliani and Braque agree? Perhaps it is because of the size of the Norton Simon Museum that this is a perfect place for making the walk from the Renaissance up to and through the last one hundred years. By the end of the journey you haven’t just viewed a history of the people of Western Civilization, you have also gazed into the mirror that this art offers and you have seen a reflection of yourself. And when our prejudices become an acid inside us, that is when we can turn and look back at the footsteps we have been walking in…and we can unflinchingly question ourselves and our lives, as every artist present in the Norton Simon Museum has also done.

This is a museum that has confidence and competence in its bones.  This is an art lover’s museum…and a museum’s museum.

- By John Ireland

For more information go to www.nortonsimon.org

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Drawing Deanna Petherbridge

Image29Is it absurdly presumptuous to assert that almost all art—at least in the strictest, most conscious sense of the word (after all, breathing and eating and suckling milk from a breast could all be done artistically)—starts with drawing?  The earliest forms of recorded human communication are in the forms of drawings, whether they be in caves or Egyptian tombs, and often the earliest memories of a great artist are with ink and paper. What is drawing? What really distinguishes it from painting? Is the former just the skeleton of the latter, and if so, who decides when the bones give way to flesh?

Author, artist, critic, curator, professor, lecturer, and Brit, Deanna Petherbridge has spent the majority of her professional life—which includes numerous exhibitions all over the world, an enviable list of residencies at prestigious universities, and notable works of criticism in all sorts of major publications—thinking about drawing. Her latest book, The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (as published by the Yale University Press with support from LA’s own Metabolic Studio) not only gives an exhaustive account of Western art history through the lens of the drawing, but also examines the art-form as a vital tool toward problem-solving.

Petherbridge is speaking at LACE this Thursday, October 21 at 7 PM, sketching out (bad pun intended?) some of the main concepts that are detailed in her book. Having only read one of her essays before, I, for one, highly recommend hitting Hollywood Blvd. after work to see her. She has a way of coming off as academic and passionate at the same time; like the best of Freud’s works, both extensively thought-out and curious.

I believe this stems from Petherbridge’s dual role as artist and critic, a sometimes paradoxical cast that LACE has been exploring in their on-going Salon Series, in which artists of differing minds and mediums host events in order to connect more directly with their audience. Her essay “Meditations On a Dirty Word,” for instance, takes time to account for the “deskilled” talents of Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Basquiat or Tracey Emin, while still, in a sense, arguing for the importance of training in art. Basically—if I may perform a brash and inept summary—Petherbridge believes in the co-existence of skill-based education and ‘genius.’ Active audience and artist.

Nowhere is this duality of skill and individuality more relevant than in drawing. Because embedded within drawing is a kind of mimesis. Take those early cave depictions of animals and body parts, or the human-like hieroglyphs. Drawing, even in the word itself, involves some sort of borrowing (or stealing). Does this mean that the best borrowers are also the best drawers? And if so, where does originality fit in? More questions. More questions. Maybe Petherbridge can provide some relief.

- By Joshua Morrison

LACE is located at  6522 Hollywood Blvd. For more information on Deanna Petherbridge and the Salon Series, please visit www.welcometolace.org.

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Not Your Typical Desk Chair

CharlesI’ve never quite understood why the decorative arts are overlooked, but unfortunately they are the forgotten stepchild of all art collections. Throughout the entirety of my four years of art history classes, the decorative arts came up only once and took the form of a humungous book that we were forced to purchase against our will, filled to the brim with photos of tables, chairs, chests, ottomans, buffets, dining sets, and headboards. At the end of the semester I re-gifted this behemoth to my mom for Mother’s Day and now it gathers dust on her coffee table. I fear that’s more exposure to the decorative arts than most people ever get.

As I crossed the threshold from busy, loud, smoggy Los Angeles into my personal Mecca, sanctuary, and glorious escape—aka The Huntington, I asked my good sport of a boyfriend why he thought the decorative arts didn’t get the recognition he or I thought they deserved. We agreed that maybe they are placed on the artistic back-burner because they are born, first and foremost, out of necessity, but I have always held the decorative arts in the highest esteem. Maybe I do because I believe that art is not only hung on a wall but rather all around us, from the way we garnish our homes to the very things on which we rest our tired feet. Furniture, just as much as painting or sculpture, represents and defines the visual culture of the times, and provides a platform for individual expression and audacious risk-taking. This holds true more than ever in the Huntington’s current exhibition, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs, the first-ever display of Rohlfs’ exhilarating and unmistakably avant-garde late 19th / early 20th Century furniture.

Charles Rohlfs (1853-1936) is frequently classified with the other greats of the Arts & Crafts movement (think William Morris and the writings of John Ruskin), but while he was undoubtedly a leader in America’s first entrée into modernist design, his vision and execution resisted a generalized and conformed grouping. His lack of formal training enabled him to create unconventional and mind boggling shapes. Even though his work advocated truth to material and traditional craftsmanship inspired by the medieval, romantic and folk styles of decoration, his furniture reveals overwhelming individuality and character. His are the type of fixtures you’d swear were conceived over a late night of pipe tobacco, opium, and absinthe—and I mean in all the right ways.

The furniture of Rohlfs on display at the Huntington is impressively delicate and noticeably romantic. The most modernist piece, in my opinion, is his Desk Chair (c.1898-99). Subtleties like the parabola shaped seat, intricate cross bracing and complicated trapezoidal legs distinguish this chair as one of the exhibition’s highlights. It screams turn of the century, but just like all of his furniture, it takes the inspiration to a whole new level. The pieces looked awesomely futuristic and at times almost alien, even by today’s standard. In 1899, the experience must have been fantastical laced with a slight touch of terrifying. Similarly, his Hall Chair (c.1904) served as another focal point to this unprecedented exhibition, but took on a less contemporary aura and resonated something very to similar to Deco architecture.  I couldn’t help but compare the symmetrical, geometric, and cubist attributes of Hall Chair to the details of deco masterpieces such as the Chrysler Building (1928) or even the terracotta sunburst I’ve noticed in the Eastern Columbia Building (1930) right here at home. Clearly, Rohlfs was ahead of his time.

Upon seeing his work, one might think that Charles Rohlfs was a celebrated genius among his contemporaries, but beyond the surface lay a man whose career and ambitions were in a constant state of struggle. The exhibition does a beautiful job showcasing not only the product of an inventive mastermind but also poignantly tells the story of Rohlfs’ complicated and distressing legacy. He was in a perpetual state of debt, scrounging for enough buyers to support his growing profession, all the while thinking of bigger and better marketing strategies to keep his dream afloat. In 1907, amidst one of America’s most severe economic panics, he developed a plan to market his furniture to a larger audience by issuing cards with descriptions, illustrations, and prices of his work—all on display in the second half of the exhibition. Despite his efforts, he still relied heavily on commissioned interiors and therefore had to design with the client in mind first, his own motivations second.

Photos and pieces from his large scale commissions make up the final parts of the exhibit. The compromise between artist and patron is evident from the noticeable discrepancy between the furniture born out of inspiration and that born out of necessity.  The commissioned interiors show fixtures that are far weightier, solid and sturdy and that are clearly different from the delicate and elaborate details of his earlier work. Even though this look is more popularized, it remains distinctly Rohlfs.

Rohlfs remained productive and active throughout his life, far after the 19th Century’s House Beautiful movement first inspired Rohlfs to pour his ingenuity into the decorative arts. The final object on display is the last piece he ever created. “Lamp Made for Sterling Rohlfs” is a tribute to Charles’ son who tragically died in a 1928 plane crash. The piece, while intricate and expertly devised, speaks to Rohlfs’ unwavering dedication to his art and his family.

If ever there was a reason to brave the 110 freeway, The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is it. Exhibitions like this don’t come around often, especially those on the decorative arts. I assure you, this exhibition will change the way you think of furniture, and make you utterly abhor your boring desk chair at the office.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Artistic Furniture of Charles Rohlfs is on display at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens through September 6th. Visit www.huntington.org for more information.

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Instant LA Summer

Bizarro-PicassoI met artist, curator, and all-around art enthusiast Esteban Schimpf when he came out to the FineArtsLA: Panel of the Muses event we hosted back in June. He was there to support his friend, panelist, and co-board member of the Chinatown gallery, Actual Size LA, Lee Rachel Foley. Schimpf made himself known as the first—and most voluable—volunteer of the after-panel Q&A session. His passion for supporting art and artists was intense, genuine, and immediately recognizable (he railed against the idea that the physical limitations of Los Angeles—traffic, isolation, etc.—should in any way prevent an artist from doing their job). Following the discussion, he was quick to introduce himself, revealing a chummier, more casual side of his personality, yet still brimming with that same passion.

On Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM, Esteban opens his (to my knowledge) first personal exhibition in Los Angeles at the Carmichael Gallery in Culver City, and not surprisingly, his own work is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Schimpf, with the help of Stefan Simchowitz, has chosen to spotlight the work of fifteen other young, up-and-coming artists in an ambitious group show he has titled “Instant LA Summer.” Upon names only, I was admittedly unfamiliar with the artists on view, but after some instant LA research, the show looks to be extremely diverse in mediums and theme, but cohesive in pure enthusiasm. Essentially, it’s Esteban without Esteban. Here’s a quick, flip-through preview of what’s in store, but don’t hold me to it:

Los Super Elegantes: this musical duo, one male and one female, present three of their own videos, which are as much a part of their overall presentation as are their costumes, their on-stage theatrics, their public demeanor, sexual chemistry, and of course, their music—a Latino-influenced type of pop that owes a lot to show-tunes. Their videos, too, remind me of low-rent movie musical numbers (in one, a romantic, garbage-man Romeo belts out his love to a passing, balcony-perched Juliet).

Eric Yhanker: his piece, “Bizarro Picasso,” is a charcoal and graphite depiction of an old, wide-eyed bald man who looks kind of like the titular painter, but, in its tactility, more like something Jan Svankmajer would mold from clay. Photographic in its Chuck Close detail and sense of perception, the close-up portrait briskly departs from realism with its over-sized, features, namely the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears—the portals to our senses.

Josh Mannis: works in a variety of mediums, but his series of HD videos are the most striking. Like Yhanker, they concentrate on the frozen exaggeration of facial features, but in the style of a Japanese advertisement. Bright pastel colors, fleshy and freaky masks, limited body movement, and intense repetition characterize such works as “If You Don’t Know Anything, You Don’t Know This.”

Charles Irvin: a multi-instrumentalist as they say in the music world. He draws, paints, performs, makes videos, and simply exists. His works tends to be cartoonish, extremely colorful, and detailed, but in a soft way. It’s dream-like, psychedelic, and in-your-face. No subtleties here, save the man behind the man.

Kenneth Tam: another video-maker, but of the Dadaist ilk. His mundane, often single shot slices of life tend to take place in one setting, have a documentary feel to them, and are so direct and normal that they border the line on the absurd.

Maya Lujan: to look at pictures of her large-form, graphic patterns—architectural in nature—one would be quite surprised to hear that her installation in a 2008 UCLA exhibition was taken down due to the fact it included a simplified mandala that bore striking similarity to a swastika. In actuality, the piece was more akin to a kind of apocalyptic spacecraft, and it’s this exact questioning of shapes and patterns that shows up in most of her work.

Sarah Sieradzki: speaking of the architectural, her work presents mashups of varying shapes, materials, and textures—wooden frames, cement blocks, photographs—that look like models for massive monuments of future post-modernism (whatever that is). She seems to take joy in chaotic geometry, as well as the re-contextualizion of basic structures.

Pascual Sisto: also a multi-platform artist, he appears to specialize in playing with and subverting the viewer’s expectation. Much of his work starts off as a seemingly one-note image/idea—cursive neon lettering, a single-shot video of a motionless fruit tree—but will then either climax unexpectedly in a sudden spasm of movement (as with the fruit tree video) or double-back on its initial meaning (as with the phrase in neon: “Let us be Cruel”).

Daniel Desure: in his prints and photographs, there’s a cold, stillness that tends to break down time into single moments, whether its a car crash refracted into centrifugal prisms, or a can of paint in the midst of spilling. Desure seems to distill catastrophic moments into the way we often remember catastrophic moments: as single images.

Emily Mast: time is of the essence to this choreographic artist as well. She sets up complex, theatrical installations utilizing actors, props, lights, and costumes, which collide into a kind of Beckett-ian sense of nihilism. But within these dramatic interpretations is a clear sense of narrative, which is inherently married to time, and thereby, meaning.

Emily Steinfeld: a sort of found object artist who seems to enjoy the accidental/purposeful layering of solid things—how one thing can mold into another as if a chemical compound. Her series of structures entitled “Covert Cells” utilizes sheeting to cover objects like wine bottles and telephones so that they may be confused for a single entity.

Simon Haas: mainly primitive, muted browns and melancholy. As the title of his piece “A Brief Moment After a Bath” suggests, he finds subtle beauty in the skipped-over moments of life. The lead surface and the wide, gestural brush strokes of this oil painting have a wavy, watery feel to them. Like waking up from a dream and dealing with its immediate aftermath.

Mark Hagen: intricate, graphic designs made for specific technological uses. He designed a 360 wrap, for instance, to be hypothetically used on the antiquated bowling shoe so as to maximize arch support for the bowler. As a child, he helped his father part out and restore Post-War Studebakers, and he seems to have been elaborating on this work ever since.

Sean Kennedy: also works in design, but in a much more tactile sense. He builds layers of both abstract designs and found objects to create geometric patterns that are simple at first glance, yet wildly complex upon inspection.

Orlando Tirado: exotic, striking photographs and/or collages of imagery. The title of his piece, “ShamanColash or Land, Sea, and Air (Self Portrait)” speaks to the bizarre juxtapositions framed in the would-be tired genre of self-portraitry. To borrow a reaction once used to describe the first artist on this list (Los Super Elegantes), Tirado “[makes] the audience nervous. Nobody does that anymore.”

-By Joshua Morrison

Stefan Simchowitz presents “Instant LA Summer,” an exhibition by Esteban Schimpf, runs until September 10, 2010 at the Carmichael Gallery. The opening is  on Thursday, August 19th, at 7:00 PM. For more information, please visit www.carmichaelgallery.com, or call 323.939.0600.

 

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Panoramic Views: A Moving Story

union_theatre_facade1I’m about to move neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I realize this information is of interest to very few people, and even then, of very little interest. But for the past two years, I’ve lived in the USC area, about two blocks away from the historic Union Theatre—also known at the Velaslavasay Panorama—and I’ve never once stepped inside. I’ve tried. When I first moved in and took my inaugral expedition around the hood, I couldn’t help but gravitate toward the building. It’s vastly out-of-place, an artifact from another era dropped in-between a bodega and some low-rent housing (and in fact, it is from another era: it was built sometime in the 1910’s and operated for many years as a venue of multiple uses, including a playhouse, a silent-film theatre, and a meeting hall for the Tile Layers Union Local #18). When I tried to enter beneath the grand, old-fashioned marquee, however, it was closed. Ever since, it’s just been that mysterious buidling (sometimes aglow) that I drive by nearly every day, and have yet to go in—either because it’s closed or I have no reason. And now I’m about to move.

Fortunately, I have one last chance. This weekend, starting on Friday, but running on Saturdays as well, for five weeks only, the Velaslavasay Panorama opens its doors at 8:00 PM to present the unique and aptly located live performance of The Grand Moving Mirror of California. What is it? Good question. It’s a series of moving painted scenes, which encircle the theatre like a long scroll being rolled out around the audience, and depict the journeys of early American settlers attempting to reach California during the Gold Rush of 1849. Using live narration taken from an actual 19th century script, along with musical accompaniment and radio-play sound-effects, the show celebrates and revives a 130-year-old mode of entertainment that simply shouldn’t be missed.

Not bad for my last weekend in the neighborhood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more information about the Union Theatre, the Panorama, or panoramas in general, please visit www.panoramaonview.org, or call 213-746-2166.

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The Gardens of LACMA

201006_0325-460x306At around 4:00 PM on Sunday, June 27th, Guy Hatzvi of Farmlab, in association with Metabolic Studio, was rushing down to Marina Del Rey to find a replacement pump for the installation project entitled “Bldg. 209: Garden Folly (Indexical of Strawberry Flag)” that was to officially open to the public at the LACMA Campus in the next hour. Fortunately, he knew exactly what he was looking for: it’s a type of aeroponic generator that allows for a nutrient-rich water solution to be drip-fed through a series of I.V. tubes connecting a system of sick strawberry plants. The project was conceived by Lauren Bon, the founder of both Farmlab and Metabolic Studio, and her team of dedicated employees had been setting up the installation all week. But at the last minute, of course, the original pump broke down, and it was up to Guy to get a new one up and running by 5:00 PM.

This one task—obviously essential to the success of Bon’s operation on its opening night—was actually just a small tributary within the vastly ambitious constellation of works now going on at LACMA under the title of EATLACMA. In a sentence, this one-year-long, multi-faceted commitment from the Museum sets out to delve into the social, artistic, cultural, environmental, and humanitarian meanings behind natural food growth. In fact, this undertaking is so large, it’s hard to do it justice in a simple blog post, so I’ll just focus on the garden installations for now:

Along with “Bldg. 209: Garden Folly (Indexical of Strawberry Flag)”—which itself is indexical of a much larger work entitled “Strawberry Flag,” located three miles west of LACMA at the Veterans Administration of West Los Angeles (a bus will soon be available to take visitors in between the two sites)—there are also five other installation gardens on or around the LACMA campus.

One is called “Promiscuous Production: Breeding is Bittersweet” by the National Bitter Melon Council (yes, it exists). This tunnel-shaped, bamboo structure doubles as an experimental breeding ground for the hybrid, never-before-seen, BitterSweet melon. Through the age-old process of cross-pollination, visiting participants can actually partake in the experiment themselves by attending a series of day-long events intended to promote community, generate discussion, and—don’t forget—make melons.

A little bit further east is “Food Pyramid”—conceived by Didier Hess—which is a solar-powered, aquaponic garden that simultaneously questions the traditional food pyramid most Americans grew up on; presents an eco-friendly, soil-free alternative to gardening; and cultivates all the necessary ingredients for a delicious fish taco—including the Tilapia.  It’s also aesthetically pleasing, peaceful to be around, and fun to contemplate with friends.

Just off the southeast border of the LACMA complex, on the corner of Wilshire and Curson, sits your typical traffic circle, the median point between pedestrian walk signs, the border between east-bound and west-bound traffic. But now there is also a garden of radishes, as planned and planted by Islands of LA in a project they call “The Roots of Compromise.” The traffic island itself is controlled by a variety of bureaucracies, and together, they agreed upon the root vegetable of the radish as the appropriate plant for their shared circle of land. The resulting food is representative of this small, but successful compromise.

Way over on the west end of LACMA, a crooked, polygonal potato garden lays flat and almost unnoticeable between the Ahmanson and the Art of the Americas buildings. But, according to the little placard placed in the soil, amidst at least 12 types of potato plants, “The varieties [of potato] exist as a result of coincidences, accidents, planning, violence, and careful custody over thousands of years. Through tracing their different backgrounds, a history of human desire appears.” The placard also directs viewers to a website, allowing them to cellularly interact with the incredible stories behind each strain of potato. The website is www.potatoperspective.org, the project is titled “The Way Potatoes Go 8000-BCE-Present: A Potato Perspective on an American Matter,” and was developed by sa Sonjasdotter in collaboration with the communities of the Potato Park (yes, it too exists).

Finally, on the north end of the LACMA campus, just below 6th street, there stands a small, Roman theater of sorts, not unlike a miniature version of the restored Theater of Caesaria. Beginning November 7th, this is the site of what shall be known as the “Public Fruit Theater,” a magical little installation concocted by the people of Fallen Fruit. In this theater, there will be only one performer (depending on how you look at it, that is), and that performer is a tree. Visitors are invited to come watch the growth process of this concrete-locked tree as if they were witnessing the slow arc of a character’s development on stage. In this way, the episodic relationship between the tree, the viewer, and also the other audience members creates a story, much like the ones we look for in theatre.

But back to Guy, and his aeroponic generator. Come 4:30 PM, he’s able to make it back to LACMA, and set up the device just in time for the first waves of curious onlookers. I observe the fragile configuration of hanging strawberry plants he helped set up, each interconnected by small life-lines of dripping nutrients, each literally holding on by a thread of survival, completely dependent upon one pump. I know it’s supposed to be representative of the plight of the Veterans in Los Angeles, but it’s also symbolic of the six gardens themselves, and beyond that, EATLACMA as a whole, and beyond that, the city of Los Angeles. I could go on and on, but you should probably just visit for yourself, and that way, become part of the garden.

For more information on EATLACMA, please visit http://eatlacma.org/about/, or call (323) 857-6000.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Personalities, The Social Scene, West LA No Comments »

Open Your Eyes & Enjoy the Ride…To Watts, with “Meet Me @ Metro”

IMG_2841_1I am one of the few lucky Angelenos to live near a metro stop, so I was able to catch the Red Line straight down to Union Station to attend the Watts Village Theater Company’s site-specific performance piece: “Meet Me @ Metro” last Sunday. In the first car I took while going to the performance a crazed woman with a suitcase was dancing and babbling unintelligibly for three fascinated children and their terrified mother. I changed cars and found myself surrounded by a group of long-haired jubilant tourists, cracking jokes at the top of their lungs about Los Angeles to anyone who would listen. Through both of these experiences I avoided all eye contact, set my face in an uninviting frown, and shrank into my chair: tricks I’d learned from four years riding the NYC subway.

At Union Station I joined the throng of expectant “Meet me @ Metro” audience members at the west entrance. We were quickly wrangled into a circle by a company of horn-honking cops circling us on tiny red tricycles and handing out yellow sticky-note tickets. With so many characters riding the subway on any normal day, it took me a minute to realize that the faux cops were part of the show and not just a bunch of lunatics. I perked up out of my guarded public transit shell as soon as I knew the show had begun.

At the center of the circle, the Watts Village Theater artistic director, Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez, explained that the mission of this show was to redefine the Watts community as a welcoming place and to literally bring people there by using theatre. And that is what they did.

Over the next two and a half hours, twenty or so performers lead fifty audience members through the bowels of the metro, on and off of trains, out into neighborhoods, and finally to a field at the feet of the Watts Towers. We were like a mob of Hansel and Gretels following bread crumbs of narrative, history, poetry, and dance, scattered along our route through an unknown wilderness. If theatre is supposed to take you to places you’ve never been, then this show did. Physically.

More than the performances themselves, we were motivated on by the encouraging smiles and sheer effort the performers put into this undertaking. “The most amazing thing about this show is that we’re doing it,” said Mr. Aviles-Rodriguez when we began, and he was right.

The actual performances at each location were confusing, hard to hear, and underwhelming in quality. The 7th and Metro Center stop just seemed to be an excuse for the MooDoo Puppet Theater to have a man on stilts hand out postcards for their show. In Pershing Square I was struck by the irony that the audience was huddled around a performer ranting like a homeless person about loving ShangriL.A., while we turned our backs to several actual homeless people on the edge of the circle who were asking what was going on.

But whether the performances were ‘Broadway quality’ or not was beside the point. Back at Union Station I had let my guard down and allowed myself to see more than just where I was headed. As we traveled from station to station, I saw more art in the world around me than I had ever noticed before. Los Angeles, and the Metro specifically, is full of murals, statues, and installation art that I had always walked by with indifference. Now each piece was a part of a show, and it was if a spotlight was shining on everything from Joyce Kozloff ‘s film mural at the 7th & Metro stop to the music of the Watts ice cream truck playing behind the performers song. And maybe I wouldn’t have seen the inhabitants of Pershing square or their plight to participate in the show if I hadn’t been brought there with more open eyes.

There is so much beauty, humor, art and humanity around us every day here in the second largest city in the United States, and it took a troupe of intrepid performers taking their spectacle out of the theater and onto the street to help me see it. I thought back to my experiences on the metro before the show began and wondered how I would have experienced them differently if I had approached them with curiosity rather than fear.

The Watts Village Theater Company and their collaborators hope to make “Meet me @ Metro” an annual performance festival. If they are lucky enough to make this happen, I encourage you to take the trip. Until then, as you make your daily commute around town, imagine a spotlight once in a while showing you art where you least expected it. I promise you it will make for a much more enjoyable ride.

- By Stephanie Carrie

For more information about The Watts Village Theater Company, please visit www.wattsvillagetheatercompany.com.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Conceptual, Downtown, Festival, Neighborhoods, Old School, Performance, The Social Scene, Theatre No Comments »

What’s What in the Art World at Large (And What To Do in LA)

yves_saint_laurentWe may be geographically far from, well, everywhere in the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep up with all the arts endeavors across every which pond.  So here’s a bit of news (for the very serious and elite readers) and a bonus round of what’s going on in LA that really deserves your attention (for those who care about little outside LA county).

First, a stop in Paris at the Petit Palais.  The Parisian museum brings to the fore the artistic achievements of none other than Yves Saint Laurent.  Curated by Florence Muller and Farid Chenoune, the exhibit, called Yves Saint Laurent Retrospective features gowns, menswear, some of the designer’s treasured personal items used in creative pursuits, and it highlight themes used throughout the many collections in Saint Laurent’s illustrious career.  One ticket to France, please! {Global Post}

Onto Italy.  In Milan, our very own Placido Domingo’s Operalia competition has commenced.  Founded in 1993, Domingo’s opera competition is meant to find the cream of the crop amongst new talent in opera.  The singers represent not only a range of vocal categories (from coloratura soprano to the lowest bass), but also an array of countries around the world.  The competition ends May 2 (this Saturday), so you’ll have a new vocalist’s career to follow starting Sunday, May 3rd.  We have a feeling it will be meteoric.  {Culture Monster}

Not to shower the French with too much attention, though they don’t mind, Sotheby’s has made quite the announcement prior to the upcoming auction season.  The storied (and once thought lost) private collection of legendary Parisian art dealer Amrboise Vollard is set to meet the auction block.  His career was spent promoting such up-and-comers as Picasso, Cezanne, and Renoir and Vollard’s collection includes not only paintings, but such enticing items as prints, drawings, and artist books.  The sale will be held in London on June 22, so brush up on your British colloquialisms.  {ArtInfo}

Back at home, there is much to celebrate.  Dig into your pockets just a bit to buy yourself a ticket to the Architecture and Design Museum’s official Grand Opening!  For $75, you’ll mingle with a veritable who’s who of the architecture and design world in LA at the reception tomorrow night (April 27), (hint: you can also find them anywhere from Father’s Office to Tar Pit on weeknights), check out the first exhibit, and bid on things at the silent auction.  {A+D Museum}  Also, if you haven’t uploaded his schedule into your iCal already, Gustavo Dudamel has returned to the LA Phil – he’s conducting pretty regularly from now through May 8 on a number of concerts all worthy of splurging for tickets.  {LA Phil} This is your last chance to see LACMA’s exhibit Renoir in the 20th Century.  The exhibit closes May 9. {LACMA} Last, but certainly not least, turns out that parodies of Wagner and his Ring Cycle abound.  LA Times’ Culture Monster shows us the best of the best. {Culture Monster}

Posted in Architecture, Art, Bring Your Flask, Classical Music, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Fashion, Festival, Food & Drink, Galleries, Miracle Mile, Museums, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Painting, Personalities, Photography, The Social Scene No Comments »

Oscar’s Evil Twin Found Atop Runyon Canyon

A while ago, we posted an article asking what you, dear readers, thought about the distinction between art and vandalism.  Skating the line, with a very charged political message, is British street artist D*Face who has installed two enormous and menacing Oscar statues atop two iconic LA locations: Runyon Canyon and Mel’s Drive-In in Hollywood.  Both statues have skeleton-like figures with bits of flesh missing from their arms and legs exposing Oscar’s blood and bones.  The one that sat at Runyon had a placard that read “Beauty Is One Snip Away,” while the other at Mel’s Drive-In said “Beauty Is Skin Deep.” They’ve both been removed since they were spotted yesterday morning, but the whole incident begs a whole host of questions, not least of which is: really? Mel’s Drive-In? We get Runyon Canyon, but that’s a strange choice.

More importantly, what do you think of all this? The two most basic sides must be: applause to D*Face for exposing a vanity-obsessed culture at a time when it’s at its most self-congratulatory vs. how petulant of this artist to criticize a sector of popular culture that he need not participate in if he finds it so disheartening.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Bring Your Flask, High Brow, Hollywood, Installation, Low Brow, Personalities, The Social Scene No Comments »