Painting

FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Three

LACMAWe began these spontaneous looks at three of Los Angeles’ cultural icons with The Norton Simon Museum, followed by The Getty Center. Now we come to the third side of the triangle and I am still trying to define LACMA.  Perhaps that is because I am most familiar with it; spend the most time at it. Of the three museums it is the most diverse in content, the most bureaucratic in design and administration, and also perhaps the most ambitious in its reach. You can go to LACMA’s website and discover the history of its birth on your own. Today we again arrive as a stranger with no bigger an agenda than to see what we can see.

PART THREE:  LACMA

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Though the newer buildings get the big “oohhhh” when you first arrive at LACMA, it is the old buildings that I find have held up quite well. The Times Courtyard is a wonderful place to gather with a friend and plan your time and what you want to see. If you don’t have an official agenda, you will be surrounded by choices.

The Japanese Pavilion with its Guggenheim-like spiral, the Hammer Building with the most comprehensive collection of Korean art outside of Korea and Japan, the Arts of the Americas Building which has special exhibits on the 2nd floor while the 3rd and 4th levels will take you through both pre and post European influenced art. There, ancient feathered serpents shake hands with Diego Rivera, David Hockney and Millard Sheets give you differing birds eye views of Los Angeles, American landscapes prove equal to the best of the Barbizon, and social realism reminds us that our relatively short history is filled with powerful human stories—Reginald Marsh’s Third Ave. El, Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro, Paul Cadmus’s Coney Islandall are grand fine art, and of these last, sometimes I wish LACMA would give them the greater promotion that they deserve.

The two new stars of the LACMA campus are the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and the even newer Resnick Pavilion. Both are mega-buck ultra contemporary architectural superstars. BCAM, as the Broad is called, is for those who love or who are at least curious about the cutting edges in Contemporary Art. For those who “get it” no more need be said—they will embrace the silk purse while others will hold their nose at the stench from the sow’s ear—and some will see nothing and insist the emperor is naked.  Rapture or anger, you won’t be bored.

The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is the newest member of the LACMA family and already has had a major success with Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.  Renzo Piano’s designs for the BCAM and Resnick structures is all 21st Century optimism, colors and shapes and promises for the eyes. And they reflect LACMA’s focus on the future demographics of Los Angeles.

However it is the Ahmanson building that is still the “museum” building at LACMA…the grand lady where you can find a genuine Egyptian mummy and “Jack the Dripper” just one floor apart, and while running from one to the other, have some Tea with Henri Matisse and gawk at Giacometti and puzzle over Modigliani and don’t miss those weird unhappy German expressionists and why did Picasso make all those women look like horses as he went from Neo Classic to Cubism and then to a fusion of both and how can you not see the big black thing in the lobby. The Ahmanson building has it all, plus Hindus and Buddha and a nod to Islam.

The gallery for the Impressionists/Post-impressionists/Paris School is weak. No way around it. And the reason is simple. The Getty and the Simon are the raucous offspring of wealthy individuals. LACMA is the hesitant creation of a city born of orange groves and dreams, trying to puff up its chest and imitate its East Coast peers. The great examples of European Modern Art were mostly bought and sold before LACMA even existed. However given how late it got into the game, LACMA has rolled the stone up the hill and done worthy job for the tax payers and the museum goers.

I want to end this piece with a treasure hunt for some modest works of art that continue to draw me back again and again. I’ll give you clues but you will have to search for them and find them. In the Art of the Americas building is a trio of works hanging side by side, paintings by two students and their teacher: Miki Hayakawa, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield. I leave it to you to learn the stories behind them. In the Ahmanson on the 3rd floor are two great little paintings, one hung so high up you might need a step stool to find it. They are Painting and Music by Martin Drolling and Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino by Martinus Rorbye. This last one is very small; actually it was a sketch in oil for a later work. However if you can get close enough to see the amazing detail in even this sketch, you will see that this very small painting is every equal to a much larger nearby masterpiece, View at La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, Near Orleans by Constant Troyon. Lastly, look for a beautiful and almost life-sized bronze, Seated Hercules by Guillaume Boichot, stare into the face and wonder…in wonder.

LACMA is very big and there is a lot to see, worth seeing, worth sharing with people you care about. It has free jazz concerts on Friday nights, and movie programs, and it has places where you can sit and be alone with a piece of art and take your time getting to know it. And if you do that with just one work of art, then LACMA is a success. You can learn more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at their website, www.lacma.org.

- By John Ireland

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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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A Form of Currency: UCLA Graduate Open Studios

dscn1970-e1276139717586It’s all too easy—especially in a city permeated by the entertainment industry and material gain in general—to forget that there are still many artists out there committing their lives to their craft without the slightest hope of a monetary reward, and that there are a vast amount of studios in operation that have absolutely nothing to do with film or television. In fact, at the UCLA Graduate Open Studios in Culver City this past Saturday, I found that there were at least 30 dedicated artists at work who were not only putting their pieces up without price tags, they were most likely taking out student loans to do it.

This is not to say these young practitioners were exercising pure artistic selflessness; the hope, I gathered, as I traversed through the maze of sectioned-off galleries amidst packs of the hippest and most attractive art crowd I’ve seen in some time, was that people would notice the stand-out work, that they would pay attention (as opposed to money).

And attention can be a form of currency in itself. My colleague Helen, who I attended the event with discovered this fact in the most literal sense. We were vocally admiring the work of Max Rain (a stand-out artist, for sure)—in particular, a photograph of his that shows a piled arrangement of 20 or more dead and deformed rodents he collected as an employee of an animal shelter, the result of which amounts to a kind of macabre yet beautiful collage—when Max himself approached in the most amiable, non-egotistical manner possible in that situation. Helen told Max that if she had money, she would put the piece above her bed, to which he replied, “Really? If you promise to put it above your bed, I’ll give you a print for free.” He wasn’t lying. The mere idea of someone posting his work in their bedroom was, to him, compensation in itself.

I did, however, get a hint from another one of the artists, Sarah Dougherty—an incredibly talented painter who pieces together large LA-set landscapes with found objects, tapestry, and other pop-up book-esque features—as to who the real target audience might be. “We had our professor critiques this week,” she sighed in exasperation to me, going on to explain how most of the reviews were positive, but one in particular had her completely devastated.

Being in the “real world,” or at least the world outside of collegiate critique, it may seem difficult to relate to Sarah’s (or even Max’s) point of view. Who cares what a professor thinks? They’re not making any money either. But when you think about it, our art world—at least the part of it I’m interested in—is not so different from that Culver City rat maze I danced around on Saturday night, snatching up complimentary cheese and wine where I could find it. All artists, for the most part, are not looking to feed their wallets or even their ego. That’s not why they spend hours upon hours, day after day, inside tiny white rooms, experimenting with pigments or tweaking the electrical feeds on video installations. Why do they do it then? The truth is I don’t know. I’m tempted to say sex, but it probably has more to do with communication, putting something out there that’s you, says you—and how can something not be you when you spend that much time and energy on it?—then having someone else come up, take a look, and say, you know, I’d like to post you above my bed. Maybe it does have to do with sex.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Steampunk Football

image4At LACMA on Saturday night, a girl in a white Victorian dress sat on a bench with her hands folded, looking pissed off. A photographer from the clothing company Clockwork Couture stood a few feet away.
“Want to sit in her lap?” the photographer asked me.
“I think I’m okay,” I said. The girl looked so familiar, I had to ask. “Have you ever watched True Blood?” I asked.
She stared at me. “I know what you’re going to say,” she snapped. “Lorena, right? I hear it all the time.” She looked coldly into the camera as it flashed.
I guess I don’t blame her for being pissed off. I would be too, if I had to pose with bystanders at the fourteenth annual LACMA Muse ‘Til Midnight event, where the clothing was Victorian, the food supplied was chips and salsa, and there was an open bar. The tickets were $40 for non-members, $25 for Muse members, and it was hard to see what all the fuss was about.
The event sounded great, in theory: a neo-Victorian dress-up night at the museum, coinciding with the Thomas Eakins and Catherine Opie show, Manly Pursuits. Eakins painted wrestlers and rowers in intimate situations in the late 1800-early 1900’s, while Opie currently photographs teenage football players and surfers. Connecting the two artists requires a stretch of imagination, but the show is a valuable statement about the forced efforts and vulnerability of masculinity.
However, the Muse ‘Til Midnight event didn’t have much to do with the show, or with anything at the museum. The event was described by a Yelp user like this: “A full line-up of entertainment with open bar in an unique environment for $25-$40? On a Saturday night? In Los Angeles? Even including parking? Do I need to keep asking rhetorical questions?” Unfortunately, the event became a Los Angeles situation in which too many good ideas were not executed properly, with too many people in attendance to leave such margin for error.
After waiting in a long line, guests were ushered into the museum’s main plaza where Dusty and the River Band played and video projections flashed on the walls. Two performers on stilts made their way through the crowd, surrounded by a thick circle of photographers, documenting the “insanity” for various nightlife blogs. Two stilt-walkers, a couple of dancers and some people in costumes didn’t seem like enough to justify paying $40, but let’s not forget about that open bar, which included “100% Agave Tequila, Blackheart Spiced Rum, Hpnotiq Liqueur, Pernod Absinthe, and FIJI Water.” It seems that people will spend any amount of money to get sloshed while wearing a corset.
Maybe next time, LACMA should make dressing up for the event mandatory, as the people who were wearing full neo-Victorian garb looked to be having the best time. Many people wore costumes from Clockwork Couture, a “steampunk” line that mixes Victorian clothing with modern touches, while others had improvised their own costumes. A thin blonde woman and her chunkier date wore matching top hats and lace-up boots, trailing long feathers behind them. Another woman wore a corset and a matching flowered neck brace, and many men (and women) sported fantastic moustaches.
At ten o’clock, everyone was ushered into a much longer line leading to the roof of the Penthouse suite, only accessible by an elevator. (Too bad for the claustrophobes.) The roof offered a nice city view of the Variety building, along with some mysterious devices, including a giant telescope and various contraptions used to “measure electrical phenomena.” A stage was set up for a burlesque show, and a dancer in chalky makeup tiptoed around the crowd en pointe as flashbulbs popped all around her.
Nearby, a man wearing suspenders rested his foot on a stack of pillows. “I sprained my foot, but this is awesome,” he declared, looking at the dancer. “Look at this. Look at her. Can you believe it?” I could believe it, though next time I would prefer to look at photos of the event rather than attend. Despite the congestion, chips and salsa, long lines and limited number of performers, it seemed like many people had a wonderful time. Never underestimate the power of a little absinthe.

- By Cassandra McGrath

For mose information about LACMA, and any upcoming Muse events, please visit www.lacma.org/membership/Muse.aspx, or call 323-857-6000.

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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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Painting With John

2010-07-08-InventionofAnimalsI first caught wind of John Lurie as the stubborn, stone-faced proto-hipster in Jim Jarmusch’s essential, second feature, Stranger Than Paradise. In this film, the life of his character, Willie, is rudely interrupted by a surprise visit from his Hungarian cousin, Eva. The magic of this oddly entrancing movie lies in Willie’s subtle—if unwilling—acceptance of his own blood.

Following many more memorable film roles, a successful music career (in addition to writing and performing for his band, The Lounge Lizards, he composed the theme for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, along with the scores to a bunch of excellent movies), and a cult TV-show—Lurie has had to deal with a much more serious life interruption. He has been  suffering the debilitating symptoms of what he believes to be advanced neurological Lyme disease. And starting about four years ago, it got to the point where he couldn’t even play music anymore.

Stuck in his room, bored and in tremendous pain, Lurie began to paint, at first to simply concentrate on something besides his symptoms. Eventually, though, he began to use paint to express his inner-self—something only music could fulfill for him before. And while the results of his efforts in no way relieved him of his physical ailments, they did attract a lot of attention, and help launch yet another artistic career.

On view until August 7th at Gallery Brown in west Los Angeles, John Lurie: The Invention of Animals shows off his latest works. With such reliably clever and stinging titles as “The Skeleton in My Closet Has Moved Back to the Garden” and “The Spirits Are Trying To Tell Me Something But It’s Really Fucking Vague,” Lurie’s paintings seem to be directly related to his condition, failed attempts at escape maybe. According to him, “I am sure having the outlet helps me in some way. I know that when I got really sick and had to stop playing music that it was an unbearable loss. I never thought that painting could come out of my soul in the same way. But I think that it does at this point.”

To me, I know I have a hard time looking at Lurie’s visual work without sensing that same stone-faced Willie somewhere in there, slowly coming to terms with the disturbing though beautiful facts of his blood.

- By Joshua Morrison

For more from John Lurie, also check out this great interview on the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tanja-m-laden/speaking-with-john_b_640096.html

John Lurie: The Invention of Animals is on view until August 7th at Gallery Brown, located at 140 S. Orlando Ave. For more information, please visit www.gallerybrown.com, or call 323-651-1956.

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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 »

Art Unites, But Not United

Gallery800_openingFor those not lucky enough to have someone who works in art department as a personal acquaintance, let me let you in on a little secret: they are some of the most talented and diversely knowledgeable people you will ever meet. They are the ones responsible for the physical “look” of any film or television show you see. Give an average person a ream of paper and they can load a printer for you; give someone in the art department a ream of paper and they are likely to produce a mind blowing installation of a thousand origami cranes.

And that was the main reason I was so excited to check out the “Art Unites” exhibition at Gallery 800 in the NoHo Arts District. Gallery 800 showcases the work of members of the Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800. With nearly 2,000 members who work in film, television and theatre as Production Designers, Art Directors, and Assistant Art Directors; Scenic, Title and Graphic Artists; Illustrators and Matte Artists; and Set Designers and Model Makers, Local 800 is most certainly chock-full of creativity and talent, so I was expecting an inspiring afternoon.

I couldn’t imagine what the work of these artists would be like when left to their own devices without the constraints of a crazy production schedule, some pretentious director’s vision, or a caffeine addled brain (okay, so maybe the caffeine stays). I obviously made the rookie mistake of expecting too much, however, because even though it pains me to say it, I was disappointed with what Local 800 had to offer. I expected the work to be prolific, and while it was technically skilled, very little of it was moving or innovative. The number of traditionally themed oil and acrylic portraits, landscapes and florals felt stale and ordinary. Where the heck were my paper cranes?

Also, while I think the idea behind Gallery 800 is an admirable one, having 30 artists featured together without a focus or theme left the show a bit disjointed. Putting an art exhibit together provides the curator an opportunity to make a commentary, but this seemed more like an overtly random collection—much like a student show. I found myself standing in the middle of the gallery trying to suss out a common thread and just when I thought I had finally found one – because what self respecting Art History major can’t over analyze an exhibit to find the deeper meaning – nothing.

Issues of personal taste and lack of cohesion aside, I do believe in what Gallery 800 is trying to accomplish by giving the unsung heroes of  many of our favorite films and programs their own platform. While I didn’t enjoy the show as a whole, I don’t doubt that there is an abundance of talent in Local 800 as there were definitely some bright spots. So while I wouldn’t make a special trip to the 818, if you find yourself in the valley this summer (because it isn’t hot enough where you live), stop by Gallery 800. Just don’t expect to find any paper cranes.

Gallery 800 is located at 5108 Lankersheim Blvd. in North Hollywood. For more information, please call (818) 763-8052, or visit www.artdirectors.org/?art=gallery_800.

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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 »