The Social Scene

Artistic Capital of North America???

la-arts-monthIs Los Angeles really the “arts capital of North America?” How about “the world?” According to Steve Rountree (President of The Music Center), Antonio R. Villaraigosa (Mayor of Los Angeles), Olga Garay (Executive Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs for the city of Los Angeles), and many others in attendance at Wednesday’s kick-off for the 3rd Annual LA Arts Month—which took place outside, between the Music Center and the Ahmanson Theatre—it is. Which brings to mind another question: if you repeat something enough times, and you really believe it in your heart of hearts, does it start to become true?

Los Angeles Arts Month—or January, as most people know it—was put together three years ago in an effort to promote tourism and encourage artistic community engagement. And from what I gather—although it was difficult to ascertain during the afternoon’s strange launch party, which included a Glee-like performance from the Hollywood High School Choir and a body-bending tidbit from this coming summer’s Cirque du Soleil show at the Kodak—it’s essentially a couple ticket give-aways, free museum entries, and of course, lots of media coverage.

Of course, any Angeleno—no matter how prideful—who’s ever been to New York will tell you Los Angeles is not the artistic capital of North America. And anyone who’s ever been to most any major city in Western Europe will scoff at the notion that Los Angeles is the artistic capital of the world. Don’t get me wrong: I spend a lot of time supporting and enjoying LA’s enormous, eclectic, and vibrant arts scene, but I would never claim it to be any more than it is—which, at least on the government-supported side of things, is struggling.

25 full-time positions, between last year and this year, were eliminated in the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA); grants and donations to the DCA decreased significantly from 2009 to 2010; the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), responsible for a quarter of the Department’s entire budget, was decreased by approximately $1.6 million; and the expenses for the coming year are projected to be about $0.7 million more than last year.

And these numbers are not just numbers. They actually do affect our city in a major way. The DCA, through grants, is responsible for producing over 400 free or low-cost exhibitions, classes, performances, film screenings, and festivals each year. So all those times you go out to a cool, free event at LACE or LA Theatre Works or the Echo Park Film Center or even make the trip downtown to MOCA or the LA Philharmonic, you can thank the DCA. Not only that, but they provide grants to over 25 individual artists each year, they uphold historic sites like the Watts Towers, and they make sure those many murals all over town stay in tact.

So, if the DCA is in trouble, why all the bravado? Well, on one hand, there is a significant amount of money coming in through grant awards. These include the Arts and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. stimulus), Pacific Standard Time (an award to fund a massive collaboration of over 50 exhibitions throughout the city designed to show off Los Angeles’s contribution to modern art), and the Mayors’ Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative (a plan to install affordable artist housing in Downtown LA). On the other hand, it may have more to do with what I mentioned before—that the illusion of a thriving artistic capital (much like the illusion of easy weightlessness created by the Cirque du Soleil dancer as she balanced her entire body on top of her chin) is less challenging than the reality of a city that’s come a long way, but must still use every practiced muscle in its body to pull off the act.

- By Joshua Morrison

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Posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Exhibitions, Festival, Music, Neighborhoods, Performance, The Social Scene, Theatre, World Music No Comments »

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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Posted in Architecture, Art, Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Culver City, Exhibitions, Food & Drink, Galleries, Installation, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Painting, Performance, Personalities, Photography, The Social Scene, Video Art No Comments »

Jewphony!

LAJS10-Ford-ORCHef48c13GuyMadmoni-1024x682The Ford Amphitheatre, located not a stone’s throw away from the Hollywood Bowl off the 101, is a good venue to stage a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or possibly Into the Woods. The sandstone sloped arena, where the audience sits, collides onto a central platform—to be had by the performers—which is backed by a lush, green, jungle-like mountain-side. It’s a little like one of those alternate dimensions you see characters in science fiction movies walk into, and it provides a sense of imminent danger. It’s perfect for Shakespeare, for fairy tales, and as was evidenced in the case of this past Sunday night, for Jews.

As a card-carrying member of Jewish tribe, who has attended my fair share of family Passover dinners, I know all too well the importance of a real or perceived threat (historical oppression, a gentile daughter-in-law, an infamously inedible recipe, etc.) in accommodating the success of a large-form, Jewish get-together. It creates unity. And the effect was no different on Sunday evening at the Ford Amphitheatre when the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony performed their latest melange of classical numbers, entitled “Cinema Judaica,” for a sold out audience of almost all geriatric Jews.

A woman two rows in back of me: “It wouldn’t be a Seder without Bubby’s kogl.”

Another woman holding two fingers together: “Our daughters and Sherri are like this!”

About the conductor: “She let her hair grow longer.”

And indeed the conductor, Dr. Noreen Green—also the founder and Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony—did have long locks of blonde hair that bounced neatly atop her shoulders as she walked casually out to the central, elevated plank, and initiated a  rousing rendition of Alfred Newman’s20th Century Fox” theme, arguably the best known musical score in cinema. It was after the piece finished, however, that Dr. Green started in with her second role of the night (equally integral), which was quiz master and all-around emcee.

“What movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956?” she asked aloud to the crowd, following a brief introduction of the program on bill.

The Ten Commandments,” screamed back some sporadic (though passionate) voices from the audience. But they were wrong. Cecille B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments did not win Best Picture that year; it was just nominated. But it was first up on the night’s listing of Jewish-composed/themed film scores—the composer of this piece being the great Elmer Bernstein.

He was supposedly hired by DeMille after another composer dropped out, and is still credited with changing the face of music for cinema. Hearing his epic “Ten Commandments Suite” played live by truly professional musicians—depsite the summer-camp vibe—I could make out the roots of Laurie Johnson’s Dr. Stangelove score, or even early John Williams.

Bernstein’s composition for The Chosen was next was on the agenda (after, of course, a second round of the ever-more-crowd-pleasing Quiz Show with Dr. Green.) This film demanded both jazz and traditional klezmer, in addition to Bernstein’s classical model. What emerged on stage was a swirling mixture of all three genres. Like a practiced jam band, the bass-players plucked swinging jazz riffs, while the clarinet and synthesized harpsichord snapped along with the klezmer, allowing for improvised sax solos and piano doodles. Never before had I considered the obvious connection between jazz and klezmer; they both rely on similar tools, such as off-key sharps and flats, to attain a colorful, upbeat music of the oppressed.

“There’s so much stuff up here,” kvetched Dr. Green once her second finely-conducted number was finished. The audience laughed, and watched her fiddle with cue-cards, batons, and god knows what else before launching into the most complex piece of the whole night: Jerry Goldsmith’s suite from the six-and-a-half-hour miniseries QB VII. Quick, unexpected changes in tempo, along with diverse instrumentation—congas, xylophones, electric guitars, and the entire Ford Festival Choir—combined for what I can only describe as Sciezmer, a perfect combination between between sci-fi and klezmer. Where the string section appeared semi-bored during the last Bernstein bout, their eyes were locked onto their music stands for this piece. Finishing off the suite with Goldsmith’s purposefully fragmented version of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the music was mesmerizing to say the least.

But just in case it wasn’t exactly a “greatest hit,” the orchestra went on to perform the instantly recognizable theme from Schindler’s List, as composed by John Williams, with Mark Kashper, Associate Principal Second Violinist for the L.A. Philharmonic, playing the solo. This piece was so moving, the couple sitting next to me (who must have been in their 70’s) started holding hands. And they kept them held together all through Charles Fox’sVictory at Entebbe Suite,” a powerful, pop-y, Phillip Glass-inspired melody, as well as Israeli pianist Andy Feldbau’s own solo arrangement of Alan Menken’sA Whole New World” from Aladdin. All this before intermission. No one ever said the Jews didn’t know how to squeeze in a good show.

However, Dr. Green and the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s directors must have been counting on the majority of the audience falling asleep during the second half, because it simply was not up to par.

First was Danny Pelfrey’s suite from Joseph: King of Dreams, which was rousing if only because it seemed like one long crescendo of music. After that came the song “Trinkt L’Chayim” from Elmer Bernstein and Sylvia Neufeld’s score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. This piece was sung by Ariella Vaccarino, who’s gift lies in her voice, not in her fashion sense (she was wearing a sparkly, red strapless dress that was a bit too Broadway for the event).

And what kind of Jewish symphony would it be without the conductor’s own daughter performing a solo? That’s right: Hannah Drew, the gorgeous (and might I add, finely dressed), 13-year-old seed of Maestra Green sung the title song from Disney’s The Prince of Egypt, as composed by the legendary Stephen Schwartz. I hesitate to critique her performance, because, after all, she’s only 13. But then again, why is her mother hoisting her up on stage at such a fragile age? All I’m going to say is that while Hannah was, for the most part, brave and astonishing, she was clearly a product of intense coaching. In other words, she’s in training, as she should be at 13.

Luckily, the most inspired and fun composition of the night, written by Yuval Ron for the Oscar-winning short film West Bank Story, came next. Ron, himself, played the oud live with the orchestra, and his passion for the Arabian/klezmer/Israeli/show-tune music was palpable. Along with his colleague Jamie Papish on drum, he was on fire.

Lastly and appropriately, the show ended with a reprise of Jerry Goldsmith, this time from his score for the film Masada. It cleanly showed off the overall unity of the orchestra, the immense responsibility it takes from each and every musician to come together as a cohesive and beautiful whole. I looked around the audience, and not a seat was empty. Everyone, even the oldest and the youngest, were still present and awake. I realized that a symphonic piece of music like Goldsmith’s is not a bad metaphor for Masada, or even Jewishness in general. Because group unity (borne from individuality) is what’s it’s all about.

- By Joshua Morrison

Photography by Guy Madmoni.

For more information about Ford Amphitheatre events, please visit www.fordamphitheater.org, or call 323-461-3673.

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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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Rohmer’s Moral Flirtations

DRKnight66: Inception comes out today!

RollinWitNolan40: Oh man, it’s gonna be so sweet.

DRKnight66: It’s gonna be like The Dark Knight meets Memento meets awesome!

RollinWitNolan40: Are you taking your girlfriend?

DRKnight66: What girlfriend?

RollinWitNolan40: Oh yeah I forgot. Jenni dumped you after you bought that fully-outfitted Batman morotcycle.

DRKnight66: Still don’t regret the purchase.

RollinWitNolan40: Yeah, screw girls. Emily doesn’t even wanna see Inception. I mean, come on…

Sure, Inception does look cool. But let’s face it: if you’re looking to really impress a girl (or guy), get to know them on an intimate level, there’s better date movies out there than some half-cocked, Joseph Campbell-ian, Matrix mash-up with a stoner philosophy major’s view of the world. In fact, if you’re trying to instill that subtle sense of intellectual, yet sexy flirtation into a budding relationship, that essential, fuckable French-ness, you can’t do much better than Eric Rohmer.

The one-time critic and writer for the French New Wave became best known for his series of films known at the “Six Moral Tales.” But these movies are, at their core, anything but moral. They instead dissect the sub-textual and sub-sexual complexities inherent in male-female relationships—often allowing two actors to discuss mathematical theories at great length—until the primal, erotic tension bubbles to the immediate surface. Rohmer is more than partly influential in the emergence of the “mumblecore” movement, but where many of those movies tend to float in a likable though detached uncertainty, his films are like finely cut incisions into the layers of romantic attraction.

Two of Rohmer’s most famous “Moral Tales,” My Night At Maud’s and Claire’s Knee, as well as a short-film of the series, “The Bakery Girl of Monceau,” are playing for a one-time-only triple-feature at the Aero Theatre this Friday, July 16th at 7:30 PM. My Night at Maud’s, absolutely one of the sexiest movies I’ve ever seen, tells the story of Jean-Louis and his enveloping fascination with a divorcee named Maud, a seductive though prudish woman he spent a night with in deep conversation. Claire’s Knee also explores quiet male obsession, but goes the Lolita route, and follows newly-engaged Jean-Claude as he fixates upon the sight of a young girl’s bare knee. Both films restrain themselves from any graphic sexuality, but opt instead for the Kundera-version of flirtation: “…a behavior leading another to believe that sexual intimacy is possible, while preventing that possibility from becoming a certainty. In other words, flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that if you want to see a movie to g-chat about with your nerdy friend, then see Inception. But if you want to get laid, see some Eric Rohmer, and catch up with the Christopher Nolan piss-contest next weekend.

- By Joshua Morrison

Note: If you do score off of the first two “Moral Tales,” make sure to see the rest at the next night’s triple-feature, Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse and Chloe in the Afternoon, along with the short, “Suzzane’s Career.” All at the Aero Theatre, Saturday, July 7th starting at 7:30 PM. For more information, please visit www.americancinematheque.com.

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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 »

deFineArtsLA Exclusive: Dave Hill’s Genuine Hipness

What is a hipster sense of humor? Surely it has something to do with irony—the hipster’s original sin—or at least the thin version of irony that exists in wearing a D.A.R.E. t-shirt, while smoking a cigarette outside of the Silver Lake Lounge. But even irony has lost its all-consuming flavor amongst UCB and Largo crowds. Hipster humor also has something feminine about it, non-confrontational in its satire; it’s about a style and a matter of intention more than it is the content of a joke. Absurdity is actually its most potent ingredient, a commitment to the weird, a detached joy in the randomness of things.

In a name, it’s interviewer/performer/writer/comedian Dave Hill, who will be performing his one-man show, “Dave Hill: Big In Japan,” tonight, at 9:00 PM at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Hill looks like the character of Dim from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and the pitch of his voice ranges from acid-trip-high to wallowing-drunk-low in a matter of seconds. He has become known for his fast-cut, Borat-style interviews—which have been featured on This American Life—in which he is always the main subject (Hill probably wouldn’t exist were it not for Sacha Baron Cohen, but the two differ vastly their approach). Many of his interviews are filmed on camera, and one gets the feeling he is constantly winking at the audience, but not in a mean way (a lot like Jim does when he looks toward the camera on The Office). He has an incredibly quick wit, but he doesn’t use it for harm. Carrying a misguided sense of uber-confidence, Hill seemingly wants to be friends with everybody he talks to, and thus, his undeniable charm.

He’ll walk into the red carpets of New York’s fashion week, holding a huge boom-mic with a windscreen on it, and proceed to ask an attendee what she thinks of the Kofi Annan collection. Though even this is harsh for him. More likely, he’ll take a private movement/acting class in New York City, and twirl around in tights with the male instructor, laughing with him rather than at him, creating a sense of camaraderie through shared acknowledgment of the absurd.

This is, in fact, Hill’s greatest strength: his ability to include the subject, and by extension, the audience in the creation of the joke. He is genuine, which is why it works. And why he may be one of the best examples of hipster humor out there.

For tickets more information about The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, please visit www.ucbtheatre.com, or call (323) 908-8702.

Posted in Bring Your Flask, Conceptual, deFineArtsLA, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Performance, Personalities, Silverlake/Los Feliz, The Social Scene, Theatre, Video Art No Comments »

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 »

photoAfter unknowingly attempting to attend a film during the release of the new TwilightSaga movie, Eclipse at the Arclight in Hollywood last night I was shocked to find the parking garage closed with a sign saying “full”. Aggravated in disbelief, I turned around to head home, and noticed a metered spot had just become available outside the theatre. I swerved into the space, scooped my sweater out the back seat and went to read the meter only to find that it is now $3.00 an hour to park in Hollywood (or 5 minutes a quarter). I took off to try to make the film only to discover the prices at the Arclight had gone up again.

In a town where change is omnipresent and the increase of day-to-day expenses make us feel we are in New York, there are less and less opportunities to experience the arts on a budget (did I mention the yellow plastic sunglasses in a 3-D film that will cost you your Popcorn and Diet Coke?) However, there is a beacon of hope nestled in the heart of Century City beneath the towering buildings that won’t cost you a penny and is sure to blow your socks off without wearing any yellow sunglasses.

The Annenberg Space for Photography, which has been open for a little over a year now, is as much an experience wandering through the curvy, camera-shaped building as it is seeing the photographs inside. Much more than just a traditional display area for prints, the digital projection gallery has two 7’x14’ seamless glass screens with real-projection imaging systems that exceed the level of image quality offered by Blu-Ray players. Watching photographs appear and fade with this caliber of stunning clarity and saturation paired with surround sound music will make your eyes and ears meld into one – taking the photographic image to the next level.

For the second year runningArclight the Annenberg Space for Photography is proud to host ‘Pictures of the Year’, a collection of the most outstanding documentary photography from 2009, recognized by Pictures of the Year International (POYi). With over 45,000 entries submitted from all over the world, the show is a pure visual story that explores humanity far beyond the greatest headline stories of 2009. Held for 65 years in Missouri, Los Angeles is fortunate to have the 67th annual exhibit return after it’s west coast debut last year.

With so many photographic stories being covered, the show is broken into four Categories: The United States War and Economy, The Human Experience, Ecologies and Economies, and The Globe. What makes the Annenberg Space for Photography unique is the digital features that play in the projection gallery. No longer is photography just a printed subject in a frame, but a visual story being told in a cinematic way, giving the viewer a greater insight to what is occurring inside the frame.                                                                                    67-CAA-01-SincS-A-01                    Be sure not to miss Stephanie Sinclair’sPolygamy in America” about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) community in Eldorado, Texas. Also, Kitra Cahana’s portraits of teenage runaways who gather once a year in a different American national park are sure to drop your jaw.

Every now and then we come across photographs online or in magazines and newspapers that we cannot escape – they stick with us and often become permanent representations of a time or place. The images from ‘Pictures of the Year” may only exist for one moment but can last a lifetime. And that’s totally worth a free admission.

- By Gray Malin

The exhibit runs through October 10th and more information can be found on the Annenberg website, http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/. Hours are Wednesday – Sunday 11:00-6:00pm.

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Posted in Art, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Installation, Mixed media, Neighborhoods, Photography, Save + Misbehave, Technology, The Social Scene, West LA No Comments »