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deFineArtsLA Exclusive: Now is the NOW!

Picture-1Late July and we’re knee-deep in festival season. You’ve likely hit a few events from the Slamdance, the LA Film Fest, the Fringe Fest, Outfest, Comic-Con, the Middle Eastern Comedy Fest, Lilith Fair…the list goes on and on. The urge to see it all keeps us coming back, but I know, festival fatigue is strong. Hang in there, though—we’re at the home stretch. The REDCAT’s NOW Festival, which kicked off this weekend, should bring festival season to a spectacular end.

The New Original Works Festival features new dance, theater, music, and multimedia performance works by artists who are known for their often radical and unconventional approaches. While Week One (with work from Maureen Huskey and Killsonic) may have past us by, there’s still time to catch Weeks Two and Three, beginning this Thursday, July 29th.

Three artists make up Week Two of NOW: Christine Marie & Ensemble, in the expressionist theater piece “Ground to Cloud,” uses projections, electric light and shadowplay to unfold a multidimensional mythology of nature and human intervention. Systems of Us, from choreographer Rae Shao-Lan Blum & composer Tashi Wada, explores the disruption and transformation of relationships in a dance collaboration that may call to mind those early experiments of Cage and Cunningham. Finally, master of Breaking and hip-hop dance innovater Raphael Xavier’s “Black Canvas” explores the body of the Breaker in relation to the stage and life.

Week Three, beginning August 5th, features theater, dance, and animation. Alexandro Segade’s “Replicant vs. Separatist” depicts Segade himself calling the shots on a live sci-fi film shoot in which two male couples navigate the murky waters of state-mandated marriage. Hana van der Kolk’s “Once More, Again, One (Solo)” uses familiar pop music as the background for her solo dance adaptation of a work originally conceived for four dancers. To close, animator Miwa Matreyek (of Cloud Eye Control) uses animation with live projection to explore fantastical worlds in “Myth and Infrastructure.”

- By Helen Kearns

Each “week” of NOW is really only a Thurs/Fri/Sat, so budget your time accordingly. If you only attend one more festival this summer, consider the power of NOW. For more information, please visit www.redcat.org, or call 213-237-2800.

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Posted in Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Dance, deFineArtsLA, Downtown, Festival, Mixed media, Music, Neighborhoods, Performance, Personalities, The Social Scene, Theatre, Video Art No Comments »

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.

Posted in Architecture, Art, Downtown, Installation, Mixed media, Music, Musical Theatre, Neighborhoods, Old School, Painting, Performance No Comments »

Low Double Standards

IMG_0346-e1279000387395In the underrated classic Los Angeles film L.A. Story, Steve Martin fails to get a reservation at L’Idiot, a fictional hot L.A. restaurant with a line out the door, ticker tape reading the income level and importance of each dinner guest, and paparazzi at entry and exit. As Martin and his dinner guest leave, paparazzi back away, screaming, “Never mind! They’re nobodies!”

At the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, the opening of “Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” felt more like a cinematic tribute to Los Angeles stereotypes than a serious exhibition. Before passing away at the age of 74 due to complications from prostate cancer, Dennis Hopper had an uneven career in art, mostly dedicated to imitating his slightly older artist friends. But at the opening, it didn’t seem to matter.

The opening was much more exciting than the show itself. Curated by Julian Schnabel, the exhibition drew an eclectic crowd from all corners of the city, everyone obsessed with the scene moreso than with Hopper’s art. Wearing gowns of peacock feathers and skintight high-waisted bandage shorts, guests took pictures of people outside, pictures of themselves, and pictures inside the gallery. Waiting by the bar, a woman wearing six-inch red high heels whispered to me, “Just to let you know, Diane Keaton and Liv Tyler and the lady who used to be married to Charlie Sheen are inside. Diane Keaton! I almost peed my pants!”

Inside, Diane Keaton was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps she was obscured by the giant fiberglass sculpture of a Mexican waiter looming in the entrance, which might have been a cultural symbol of fear, or stereotypes, or something. Either way, it rang hollow. Hopper began his artistic career with painting in the 1950’s. Some early abstract pieces on small canvases show promise, or at least, the promise of promise, which fades later on. Equally unsuccessful works use found objects and graffiti, including an early drawing of a woman with a mustache scribbled above her upper lip. As commentary on femininity and pop culture, it falls flat and graceless.

Hopper was most renowned as a photographer though, and the black-and-white photographs from the 1960’s are the best part of the exhibition. In one of the loveliest pictures, a young, golden Jane Fonda wears a bikini and aims a bow and arrow into the distance, full of promise. Other subjects include Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ike and Tina Turner cheerfully posing with a giant inflatable Coke bottle.

After the year 2000, however, Hopper reproduced some of these earlier photographs to billboard size, with garish results. “I kind of hate this,” said one woman, standing next to a giant black and white reproduction of Andy Warhol, who is holding a droopy iris flower and oozing self-importance. The piece seems preoccupied with itself, more like a painting in a Hollywood comedy about the L.A. art scene rather than actual art.

And after looking at the umpteenth photo of Warhol, the title of the show begins to make sense. One wonders, did Hopper’s creativity lead to his fame, or was his fame a result of his access to renowned artists and celebrities? Are the two qualities really inseparable from one another? Was Dennis Hopper’s artistic fame a double standard? After all, Hopper starred in everything from Easy Rider and Blue Velvet to “classics” like Speed and Super Mario Bros., and dabbled in all types of art, equally embraced for his creative eccentricity as he was exiled for his drug use. But Hopper’s cinematic career was more interesting than his artistic one, and as a big survey exhibition, the show sells Los Angeles short. The art scene in the city is much more complicated and intriguing than this exhibition gives it credit for, and MOCA must have access to many more talented artists.

But as the night wore on, no one at the opening seemed to care. The guests stood at tables outside, drinking from clear plastic cups, and everyone watched one woman yelling and dancing to DJ tunes by herself. A plump MOCA photographer leaned against the wall, waiting to capture the L.A. moment.

- By Cassandra McGrath

“Dennis Hopper: Double Standard” is on view at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA until September 26. For more information, please visit www.moca.org, or call 213-626-6222.

Posted in Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Fashion, Mixed media, Museums, Neighborhoods, Painting, Personalities, Photography, The Social Scene No Comments »

Is Johannesburg the New Hollywood?

GangstersParadise4-1023x767On June 11th, 2010, there will be two big premieres coming out of South Africa. One is the much anticipated 19th FIFA World Cup, the first time the continent of Africa will play  host to the world’s most popular sports tournament. The other is the U.S. premiere of the film Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema.

Clearly, the World Cup is a tad more significant than a movie opening, but both are representative of a larger global shift: the emergence of South Africa as an international cultural force—especially when it comes to cinema. From the success of a great film like District 9, to the obligatory Hollywood initiation of a Clint Eastwood-helmed drama (Invictus), it’s clear that the South Africa is tossing its hat in with the Western-dominated entertainment industry.

Is it any wonder, then, that their films are reflective of this cultural transcendence? District 9, for example, is not a provincial movie; it’s in direct conversation with the great alien invasions of Hollywood, from Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds to Independence Day. It pays its homage to tradition, while using the alien genre for its own purposes at the same time. And this is not simply a Tarantino-esque play of mash-ups; it’s a way to communicate.

Ralph Ziman’s Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema, which I got a chance to see this Friday at the USC Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre, is no different (except maybe in budget and heaviness of hand, which I’ll get to later). Based loosely on a true story, it’s about the rise of slumlord Lucky Kunene, who starts off stealing cars in the small South African village of Soweto, but eventually moves to Johannesburg, where he enacts a brilliant plan to take over a series of high-rise buildings in the ghetto of the city, providing a deadly though lucrative buffer between the properties’ white landlords and black tenants. Along the way, he develops a relationship with a white woman from the suburbs, picks a fight with a drug kingpin, and becomes a kind-of slumlord Robin Hood.

The film’s South-meets-West dialectic is evident even in the title. When it was released in South Africa two years ago, it was just called Jerusalema, a reference to a well-known regional hymnal. The producers of the movie, however, felt the title needed an extra kick to be able to sell in America. So they added the preamble of “Gangster’s Paradise,” an obvious allusion to the 1995 Coolio song (though in actuality, may refer to the change in the Johannesburg motor license plate prefix post-Apartheid to “GP,” which stands for Gaunteng Province). Director Ralph Ziman, in a Q&A session after the screening, said he was okay with the change in title if it meant more people would see the film. And to my eye, this same cultural compromise was central to his entire cinematic creation.

Narrative-wise, for instance, the movie was yet another re-telling of the all-to-familiar gangster story—the rise and fall of a sympathetic crime boss. But the details of this particular tale are entirely fresh. The character of Kunene is someone you want to get to know better and better (especially in the hands of the actors Jafta Mamabolo and Rapulana Seiphemo, who respectively play the young and old versions of him), and the politics of how he takes over the high-rises are fascinating. Visually, too, it was photogrpahed in the overused documentary style made popular with films like City of God, and even District 9. Yet the gritty realism of the setting (they shot in one of the world’s most dangerous slums) was undeniable. And musically, the composer (who was present at the screening) certainly borrowed from the rhythm-heavy soundtracks of modern-day thrillers, while still seamlessly inserting never-before-heard, African chants and beats into the background of the mix.

According to actor Jafta Mamabolo—also present at the screening and Q&A— these cultural interweavings in Jerusalema have helped it to become a genuine, South African cult hit. Whether or not this proves to be true for American audiences, however, is another issue. Because while such narrative and aethetic borrowings may help to bridge gap between worlds, there is such a thing as overdoing it. Cheesy voice-over dialogue like “In the beginning…,” unnecessary chase scenes, predictable book-ends, and romantic sub-plots within the movie often cross the border into cliché. And I found myself, after the highly informative Q&A, wishing Ziman had let go of some of these Hollywood trappings, and stuck more closely to the real events that inspired him in the first place.

Regardless, the film is most definitely worth seeing, if for no other reason than to witness yet another step in the maturation process of a fast-growing industry. If you see it on opening night though, just make sure to not to miss the first game of the World Cup: South Africa vs. Mexico. My bet’s on the underdog.

Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema opens in select theaters on June 11th. For more information, please visit www.gangstersparadisejerusalema.com.

Posted in Art, Downtown, Film, Music, Neighborhoods, Personalities, World Music No Comments »

deFineArtsLA Exclusive: So You Think You Can Dance With Elephants?

When I heard about choreographer Lionel Popkin’s There’s an Elephant in This Dance happening at the REDCAT this past weekend, complete with interpretive dance and elephant costumes, my imagination went wild. Dancing elephants! Sign me up! Being the enthusiastic fan of the extravagantly bizarre that I am, I was of course expecting something outrageous—chorus lines of elephants adorned in gold and green, roller-skating through arbitrarily-floating sheer fabrics of rose and yellow, a bazaar-like carnival of gleaming lights and clamorous music and pinwheels and ice sculptures and bubbles, lots of bubbles!—but of course, as I should’ve learned by now, anything that I attend at the REDCAT is nothing like what I expect. Usually, it’s better.

The dance opened with a woman, Peggy Piacenza, on a dark, empty stage, matter-of-factly putting on the pieces of a chintzy, worn-out elephant suit. She jiggled the headpiece into place, and bing! Elephant! The now-elephant contemplated her newfound existence for a moment before beginning a series of delightful, childlike dances, at moments hesitant and at others exuberant, until collapsing exhausted on the floor.

I was quickly learning that the elephants in my own mind rest in a much different place than the ones in Popkin’s. Popkin, raised in a split Hindu/Jewish home, grew up surrounded by images of Ganesh, the Hindu deity esteemed as the Remover of Obstacles and Lord of Beginnings. Popkin used his own connection to the iconography of Ganesh to explore the themes of cultural identity and self-actualization in There’s an Elephant.

Following the opening, the dance centered on the character played by Lionel Popkin himself. The wistful, plucky music of composer Robert Een’s live score accompanied by a black-and-white video of the furry dancing elephant by Cari Ann Shim Sham and Kyle Ruddick served as a backdrop for Popkin’s more serious self-exploration. Hands in pockets, Popkin planted himself center-stage and looked around inquisitively. Slowly, he began to sway, his spine swiveling at his hips just like the trunk of a curious pachyderm, whipping and contorting with increasing ferocity. Popkin was soon joined by the dance’s other players, including long-time collaborator Carolyn Hall and modern dance veteran Ishmael Houston-Jones.

Hall and Popkin took the lead in a terrific duet, wherein Hall commanded Popkin about the stage with her index finger, leading him by the mouth like a mule to a carrot. The innocent buoyancy of the dance dissolved quickly as the power struggle between the two dancers grew. Caught between resistance and longing, both dancers struggled to assert their individuality while simultaneously remaining clearly co-dependent. A beautiful play of domination, desire, and will emerged as Popkin’s character scuffled with the ever-more-clingy Hall. Finally, in a brilliant reversal of roles, it was no longer Hall’s character who led Popkin’s on her finger, but he who carried her, limp with exhaustion, into darkness.

What was so great about this dance was its capacity to mimic human capriciousness—at one moment somber and pensive, the dancers entwined in this petulant power-struggle, and at another playful and blithe. Being prone to emotional volatility myself (only sometimes, y’all) I found myself laughing out loud and then immediately sinking back with the dancers into their pining.

In the concluding act, Popkin’s character reached the final stage in his quest for self-actualization. Alone again, he encountered the elephant suit, which had maintained an eerie side-stage presence for much of the dance (aside from a charming interlude in which Piacenza romped excitedly around stage while attempting to put the thing on). Watching Popkin explore the dimensions of the suit, dressing and disrobing, at times rolling on the floor trailing the head by its trunk, gave strange feelings of awe and unease. With the last moments of the dance Popkin seemed to find peace, but only after many fits full of grace and existential yearning (I said it! Existential yearning!).

I was left not only wanting to sign up for an agro-yoga class, but feeling almost like I’d already taken one myself. That feeling you get after a not-to-strenuous bike ride on a sunny day. So what if I saw “dance” and “elephant” and I didn’t read any further—I’m glad I didn’t. There’s an Elephant in This Dance was the most pleasant surprise a trunk-lovin’ girl could’ve asked for.

For more information on REDCAT and their upcoming events, please call 213-237-2800, or visit www.redcat.org.

Posted in deFineArtsLA, Downtown, Mixed media, Music, Neighborhoods, Performance, Personalities, Theatre, Video Art, World Music 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 »

Hitchcock’s Storied Sense of Humor Takes to the Ahmanson Theatre

The-39-Steps-Photo-8-1024x819We start off with an English gentleman.  He’s on stage, with his requisite pipe, telling us of the dull and boring days in a rented flat in central London that drove him to seek entertainment in a place as unlikely as the theatre.  He treks off to see red curtains pulled back revealing a perfectly comic duo in only their first role of the evening: as host and the night’s main act, Mr. Memory.  This is the beginning of “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”, on now at the Ahmanson Theatre.

This show is not for the theatre purist easily offended by a lack of the ever-elusive “fourth wall.”  This is, instead, one of the funniest, most inventive, self-reflective plays I’ve seen in a long while.  With a cast of only four, the players cover many a persona often by simply changing their hat while still on stage.  The special effects were nowhere to be seen, either, with characters holding out and shaking their own coats to simulate the wind.  Various accents abounded as each actor moved between his or her alternate personalities – Clair Brownwell’s initial character, Annabella Schmidt, had a very German accent (pronouncing “involved” in all sorts of incomprehensible ways) before she switched to become the blonde Scottish woman, Pamela, out to get our leading man, Ted Deasy.

Deasy played only one man – the clever, but wanted Richard Hannay – and was a delight from the moment he stepped on stage.  He mastered a dry, elongated British accent and paired it with a quick-paced rapport, making the play seem almost like His Girl Friday, as directed by Mr. Hitchcock.  With references to Hitchcock’s films throughout, from a scene with Deasy running away from planes in silhouette a la North by Northwest to a sneaky puppet that made Mr. Hitchcock’s iconic cameo for him, “The 39 Steps” is a comical tour de force.

What made the show spectacular was the work of Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson, cast as Man #1 and Man #2, respectively.  They went from train ticket takers to cops on the hunt for a murderer to inn-keepers to German spies (and their wives) to on-stage “special effects” coordinators taunting Deasy and Brownell to the end.  The Men (numbers 1 and 2) interacted with each other seamlessly, moving in perfect sync when necessary and telling one another when they’d forgotten to change their hat again and they were acting as the wrong character.

Perhaps the scene that prepared the audience best for what we were about to experience came toward the start when Annabella Schmidt, who had talked her way into staying at Mr. Hannay’s flat for the night, explained her predicament.  She told Hannay that she was being followed by detectives and that they would be there now beneath a street lamp near his apartment.  As Hannay went to pull back the blind to see for himself, Man #1 and Man #2 rushed on stage holding a prop street lamp.  They set it up and stood beneath it, their trench coat collars pulled up and black hats pulled down.  Quick-witted with a hefty side of film noir, vintage international intrigue, and absolutely no magical seamlessness between scenes.  “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” tells you what its going to do as it does it, but in the funniest way possible – just make sure you brush up on your Hitchcock.

“Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” runs now through May 16 at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown at the Music Center.  Please click here or call (213) 972-4400 for more information.

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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 »

Electric Lady Blues Days

Face it: people forget. We forget about music, and how good it is. In our perpetual i-tunes search of the latest and newest, we forget  to stop every once in a while and  pay tribute to the greats. Which brings us to this city’s true music Mecca, the GRAMMY Museum, which holds access to the oldest,most rare—not to mention loudest—archives of American music, everything from Copland to Kanye, as well as hi-tech installations that make browsing decades of music history a breeze. Whether you’re one of those with a well to-do collection of rare vinyl, or among those drowning in the witty repartee of record store clerks, you should probably stop by for a brush up with the basics.

Amidst these music genres that the United States—and by extension, the museum itself—has collected, 60s rock resonates stronger today than almost any. The ghosts of three tragic, ‘Summer of Love’ icons, in particular, collectively haunt the mansions of pop-music more than most “original” artists would care to quantify. The exhibition Strange Kozmic Experience: The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix invites long-time lovers of flower power and budding rock ‘n’ rollers alike to climb the ladder up into the attic of rock royalty, and explore the explosion. Gathering items as extravagant as Janis Joplin’s custom-painted 1965 Porsche Cabriolet to the outfits Hendrix, Joplin, and The Doors wore on stage, to Jim Morrison’s personal journals, the Grammy Museum sends you down the rabbit-hole of psychedelic rock, and lets you find your own way out…if that’s even possible.

By Danyel Madrid

Strange Kozmic Experience: The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix opens April 5th at the GRAMMY Museum.  Please click here for more info.

Posted in Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Museums, Music, Neighborhoods, Old School, Performance, Personalities No Comments »

Narrating the Adventures of the Mind Among Masterpieces

Recently several people, whose opinion I greatly respect, have introduced me as an art critic. I was gobsmacked by the label the first time, and truthfully, no less the second and third. I am an arts enthusiast for sure. In fact it consumes almost every moment of my life: by day I’m a museum publicist, by night an art socialite perusing the latest openings and fundraisers around town, on the weekend an art history instructor, and—in my spare time—I share my thoughts and experiences via Facebook, Twitter, and this site. But a critic? Definitely not.

On Thursday night, MOCA hosted a panel on the future of art criticism with Sasha Anawalt, director of the University of Southern California Annenberg Arts Journalism Program; critics Andrew Berardini and Sharon Mizota; and MOCA Associate Curator Bennett Simpson. While the discussion did explore the effect of the Internet on traditional media, as the event was billed, I was particularly intrigued by the panelists’ views on the differences between criticism and journalism, in respect to the arts. Berardini and Simpson were both remiss to call themselves ‘art journalists,’ preferring the title ‘arts writer,’ while Mizota said she was a part-time journalist. Anawalt was surprised they all distanced themselves from the term and said that by her definition anyone writing about anything “commits an act of journalism,” regardless of tweeting, blogging, or publishing in a newspaper. Simpson asserted that the most visible writing about art in the art world doesn’t happen in newspapers, but in exhibition catalogues, art magazines, and, increasingly, blogs. Mizota argued on behalf of newspapers’ ability to occupy a more general space and be accessible to a broader range of people. She feels there has been too large a separation between the language of the art world and the general public, and tries to bridge that gap in her feature writing and her reviews.

As I was listening to these writers debate, I was recalling the words of the famed critic Clement Greenberg: “Art criticism, I would say, is about the most ungrateful form of ‘elevated’ writing I know of. It may also be one of the most challenging.” I thought, perhaps the reason I am hesitant to call myself an art critic is because I have such respect for the profession – though I don’t necessarily believe it’s always done well. Another reason might be that I’ve always thought of art criticism much in the vein of John Ruskin, who espoused that “The true work of a critic is not to make his hearer believe him, but agree with him.” Yet I, personally, write from a place of passion, not a place of persuasion (and if I was to accord strictly to Ruskin’s 19th century definition, my gender might disqualify me entirely).

That is not to say there aren’t many terrific critics who write without a persuasive agenda. During the panel, Berardini himself said: “I am not trying to convince anyone of my opinion, I’m just trying to start a conversation.” I know my writings on art—at least museum and gallery exhibitions—tend to feel more like friendly reportage than criticism, which one friend described as an “impeccable use of the gonzo technique.” Whatever label it is given, reportage or criticism, I hope that my writings most closely embody the philosophy of Robert Hughes who said, “I have always tended to take art contextually. If I have any merits as a critic, they have to do with my ability as a storyteller, and above all I wanted to tell a story.”

Note on Title: A slight paraphrase of the brilliant quote by Anataloe France, “A good critic is one who narrates the adventures of his mind among masterpieces.”

By Rebecca Taylor

The Museum of Modern Art (MOCA) is located at 250 S. Grand Avenue. For more information on events and exhibitions, please call (213) 626-6222, or visit www.moca.org.

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