EDIFICE COMPLEX MARS L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

We do appreciate the generosity of L. A.’s David Geffen, who as a well positioned player in the entertainment industry and a Malibu denizen amassed zillions, and has in turn been very generous endowing a host of cultural endeavors.
 
This has included a major addition to the Museum of Contemporary Arts downtown, and a landmark theatre. in Westwood, named naturally the Geffen. No doubt his buying and selling real estate in Malibu added a few drops to his overflowing bucket
 
But I must take strong exception to his latest burst of benevolence, $150 million to the rebuilding of the L..A, County Museum of Art. as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere.
 
If consummated, it will be the largest gift on record toward the construction of an American museum. And I sadly add perhaps one of the most misdirected.
 
The proposed design and construction of LACMA is, I feel, in a word, a bomb. I fear if pursued the project will not only be a colossal waste of money, including substantial public funds, but would subvert the city’s cultural spirit.
 
No doubt with a price tag approaching a billion dollars, it undoubtedly will drain funds from a multitude of art projects across Southern California,
 
In addition, the Geffen gift alternatively could, among other things, easily endow the museum – the city’s largest and most important — to eliminate its entrance fees, and magically open its doors to all, as the Hammer and Broad museums already do.
 
Meanwhile, spurred now by the gullible Geffen gift, the fund raising for the immodest brick-and mortar project stumbles forward. So does the design, which features a blob of a building bridging Wilshire Boulevard to replace the present fractured but functioning LACMA.
 
Admittedly, the museum could use some serious interior redesign, rehabilitation, and relandscaping to improve access and circulation.
 
True, a subtle restoration would be a real challenge to a design team, though not as easy and potentially not as dramatic as working with a cleared site. And certainly not if you are an over-reaching museum director, as Michael Govan apparently is, suffering as he does from an edifice complex.
 
Then there is his servile Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor, of limited museum experience and, as most architects, unlimited ambition. LACMA obviously is the commission of a life time, which has to be very enticing for an architect who seldom has worked beyond his conservative and confining country.
 
If this project is unfortunately pursued as it now seem it will be, when finished, Govan probably will move on, probably to New York, where he is said to yearn to become the director of the august Met. As for Zumthor, he most likely will go back to his Swiss hamlet
 
And L.A. will be stuck with a bomb of a costly building.
 

GETTY CELEBRATES LATIN AMERICAN ART

The engrossing perspectives of Latin American and Latino Art continue to be unveiled in the ambitious cultural endeavor Pacific Standard Time, LA/LA., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and websites everywhere
 
Underwritten in large part by the Getty Foundation, the exhibits in some 70 cultural institutions are singular curatorial events exploring the traditions of Latin American art and their contributions to art in all the Americas.
 
So much for walls between nations, repressive immigration policies, and the xenophobic views of our embarrassing President Trump, and his gutless and greedy supporters.
 
The sorry situation in the nation’s capitol, I feel, makes it all that important the we celebrate our diversity, particularly in the rich traditions of art. And that is what LA/LA does.
 
Most recently this happily meant touring yet another LA/LA extravaganza, this one to the Pacific Standard Time’s mother ship, the Getty’s Brentwood hilltop museum, Featured there at present are four distinct and strikingly different exhibits.
 
All are noteworthy, but most arresting to me was the exhibit entitled Golden Kingdoms; Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas.
 
With exquisite art works dating back 3,000 years, revealed are a succession of civilizations that obviously valued creativity and enjoyed flaunting it.
 
Of particular interest to me was that metals were used to craft objects of ritual and ornament, not as in most other civilizations, for weaponry, tools or coinage.
 
So we have for example ancient jewel encrusted hoop earrings that would be quite stylish today, and body ornaments that would distinguish a Venice Beach hipster.
 
Displayed in addition to objects in gold and silver are art works made from shell, textiles, and most notably jade. Indeed, jade appears to have been valued more than gold, though the early Europeans did not differentiate.
 
They just plundered everything they could get their greedy hands on while conquering the heathen Golden Kingdoms in the name of Christianity. Millions died, and with them the crafts that had distinguished their civilizations.
 
As for the other LA/LA exhibits at the Getty, they also were fascinating as they were different, but these broadcasts being brief I will have to review the in the weeks and months ahead.
 
However, with the exhibits running into next year, I just might have enough time to see and comment on them all. You should try.
 
 

HOUSING COULD MAKE MALIBU’S CIVIC CENTER CIVIL

It was no surprise reading a L.A. Times business story recently that major commercial real estate developers are increasingly considering adding housing to their mix of mall brews.

That malls and mini malls, and shopping centers are struggling is not news for developers, real estate investors, and city planners-in-the know, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU andf select websites everywhere.

More and more shoppers are frankly shunning the malls in favor of on-line shopping, where in the comfort of their homes they can view a wealth of products, weigh bargains, and, if are alert to specials, enjoy free home delivery, and easy returns.

As a result, some 25 per cent of America’s malls are expected to close in the next five years., while others struggle to become more appealing. This includes recycling malls in the mode of walkable villages, featuring speciality shops, boutiques, and a range of intimate eateries and entertainment

Now the latest ingredient is housing; and not coincidentally needed more than ever, as California suffers under an acute housing shortage, in particular affordable housing.

Challenging certainly will be the recycling of previously commercial developments, especially the malls anchored by major department stores. It may in some cases prompt bulldozing; after all it is the land and location that is valuable.

Challenging also will be the obvious need for some major rezoning, which depending on the proposed housing, nearby neighborhoods may not like.

This brings me back to my conflicted Malibu, whose efforts at planning at best have been behind the times, and in some cases unfortunately behind the counter.

Malibu I feel is ripe for this recycling in its so-called civic center, which actually is less a center than a scattered collection of suburban mini malls. And no doubt the pending approved shopping centers there catering to tourists will only make it worse, and I suspect the developers also may be having second thoughts, given the shifting shopping trends.

And so once again, as I have strongly suggested in the past, the city consider proposing work force and senior housing in the civic center, specifically for our teachers and first responders. Lets even include a few units for city employees.

In a phrase, housing would make the civic center civil. Indeed, if designed well, it could create the livable, viable sea coast village for which the city has always yearned.

Besides, it actually could reduce traffic on the PCH. Residential uses generate half of what commercial does, especially if they work locally.

It also would more than satisfy Malibu’s affordable housing element required by the State. Certainly it would please the Coastal Commission, and make it look more kindly on the city.

But most of all it is the right thing to do. We owe it to those who serve us.

 

LATIN AMERICAN ART EXHIBITS CONTINUE

The gift of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time labeled LA/LA continues, most recently for me at the Hammer Museum for an understated but powerful exhibit entitled “Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960 -1985.

Both dense and fragmented, sweeping but also absorbingly specific, strong but also subtle, the artworks that include photography and video installations, is compelling, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.

The exhibit is, I feel,a must –see for thinking and feeling women, and consciousness raising for men. If you can, try also to catch a related gallery talk or film.

And a welcome reminder: the Hammer is free, as I think all museums should be. And let me add must be, to counter the dumbing down of America coming out of Washington these depressing days.

For those too young to remember, or for women who don’t care to remember, the 1960 through the 80s was a challenging time for women almost everywhere, asserting their identity as the veil of the feminine mystique was being lifted,.

Or so I remember it in the public world of art world in the United States..

In Latin America it was a much, much tougher battle, for women, who suffered there under stifling harsh political and social conditions. This included a tradition of virulent machismo, repressive political regimes, and an unsympathetic, impervious predominate religion.

But as evidenced by the Hammer exhibit, these courageous women artists, most unknown, produced an impressive body of work. In particular, most absorbing to me were the films and video, that lend a sense of the raw presence.

On a completely different note for a different arts venue, I also want to plug the upcoming Dorrance Dance concert at the always engaging Wallis Cultural Center in Beverly Hills.

The Dorrance company is different indeed, extending the always entertaining but most times limited tap dance tradition   into the present, more experimental street and club forms.

Because they are only at the Wallis for a few days, next Thursday through Saturday, the 12, 13th and 14th, a review at my scheduled times would not allow those interested time to make plans and get tickets.

And therefore I offer this advance plug, Hoping the performances are as exciting as they have been promoted.

 

A LAMENT FOR MY NEW YORK; READ AND WEEP

Sam Hall Kaplan commiserates with Jeremiah Moss, author of “Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul.”
lareviewofbooks.org
ttps://lareviewofbooks.org/article/tough-love-urbanism-on-jeremiah-mosss-vanishing-new-york-how-a-great-city-lost-its-soul/

BACK AND WALLOWING IN MALIBU

This week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, some musings after returning from family and friends on the always engaging east coast

There, among others things, I saw my youngest, a proud Malibu High alum, as is his brother, enter into a welcoming post graduate Harvard. Go sharks!

Then it was on to New York, to attend the dedication of a new international think tank, a partnership of my alma mater Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute, heralded as the birthplace of what’s next.

This made me feel like the problem solver I once posed as, challenged by a promising intellectual future, albeit now set against the grain of a dysfunctional America floundering under a deranged president. Sad and scary.

Then it was back to mellow Malibu, with the persevering wife, the comforting views and sounds of the ocean, my faithful furry and feathered pets, a demanding landscape, and a certain solitude not found elsewhere.

So, at least this week there will be no philosophizing about, or defining, what constitutes “neighborhood character, “ as some followers had requested, no crafting a magical formula our planning challenged Malibu can apply in reviewing the parade projects coming through its front, and back doors.

After several decades of serving on various committees and commissions, writing letters and articles, in effect volunteering what beyond my Malibu would have been some remunerative consultant assignments, I have to observe that our self aggrandizing city leaders don’t really like listening to anyone with whom they or their friends and advisors might disagree.

There have been exceptions, of course, and they should be congratulated for their efforts. Yes, Malibu is a city of misanthropes, and quite frankly being one myself I tend to embrace the collective eccentricities.

It makes thinking about eventually moving away difficult, if not impossible, despite at times being tempted. But it would be daunting to pay the anticipated capital gains, as well cleaning out the study and the garage, and giving away thousands of books accumulated in a lifetime of reviewing, And what about my exotic plants? Who will nurture them?

More difficult would be leaving friends, relocating pets and saying goodbye to our singular refuge on Point Dume, which my wife had lovingly refurbished, raised several children hosted countless Thanksgivings, and where I have lived longer than anywhere else in my life. And where would we move to?

How does one weigh these considerations in defining neighborhood character? Think about it, perhaps best when walking to the Point Nature Preserve and the beach beyond.

As for Malibu, the Planning Commission already has boldly approved the concept as integral to the city’s vision statement. Next up is a review by the conflicted City Council, which, as its wont, may decline and just request our costly city attorney and ever-avaricious consultants to consider it.

 

 

 

CELEBRATING LATIN AMERICAN ART

There is much, much to observe at the moment across Southern California’s cultural scene with the launching of what has to be the most ambitious coordinated exhibition ever of Latin American and Latino art, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

It’s ambitious, challenging, actually an overwhelming introduction for the curious and the casual, and for those more versed. But most of all, it is an appreciation of the rich cultural traditions and contributions of Latin American.

Under the banner of Pacific Standard Time, the effort is branded LA slash LA, and is funded to the tune of $16 million dollars by the Getty, involving more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Think of the Getty and friends as a gentle , rain and the exhibits as wildflowers.

Explored are the diverse topics of design and architecture, art and activism, photography and film, touching upon identity, gender, borders and migration, spanning pre Hispanic and colonial eras, modernism and abstraction, and the very much now.

The monumental curatorial scope of Pacific Standard Time and its respectful recognition of Latin American art actually was begun a half dozen years ago, and before the ugly, hysterical anti immigration rants and reactionary acts of our deranged president.

He talks of walls, while cultural efforts such as Pacific Standard Time celebrate how our hemispheres are linked by geography, climate and economics. Indeed, participating in the exhibits are some 1,100 artists from 45 countries in Latin America, as well as a smattering from elsewhere. It truly celebrates our nation’s rich diversity.

So where to begin? To avoid exhaustion, you, of course, can only take in so much at a time, and at specific places

I began at the County Museum, way back in June, with the exhibit “Home, So different, So Appealing, Art from the Americas Since 1957. “ And right as you enter, hitting you in the face, is an assemblage of personal effects. Talk about the fragments of cultures; they mesmerize.

Also at LACMA now is the exhibit Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985. Explored are the reciprocal influences of both lands through four main themes: Spanish Colonial inspiration, pre-Hispanic revivals, folk art and craft traditions, and Modernism.

And there is more at the County, including a retrospective of the art of Carlos Almaraz, one of the more influential activist Chicano artist of the 1970s and 80s, who died too young at 48 .

If you have the time, across the street from LACMA, at the Craft and Folk Art Museum is the quite timely subject of the U.S. and Mexican border, its imagination and possibility. And to think that this exhibit was put together before the current controversy.

These are just starters, and I will be exploring many others in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, venture out of Malibu and try to catch a few

 

THE IMPERATIVE OF NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER

Back from the East Coast and back on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites with something to think about BEFORE the Malibu City Council once again takes up the issue of neighborhood character:

Yes, ill defined as it might be, confusing to some, simply words to others, “neighborhood character “ I feel is essential to the magic of Malibu. It is what lends value to Malibu, that makes living here so special, not the gratuitous sizes of over designed and over priced houses .

As I have commented previously, neighborhood character for me can defined by applying a Supreme Court decision in 1964 in which Justice Potter Stewart is quoted that he could not describe pornography, “but I know it when I see it.” I feel the same way about neighborhood character. There are standards that can be applied.

If you need specific examples, there are already too many in Malibu. Just look past the Pt. Dume shopping center down Dume Drive, on the right, at the still unfinished, humongous, butt ugly house.

There are others that I would describe as McMansions, a term not coincidentally I am cited by Wikipedia as one of the authors in the descriptive phrase.

The hope is that the council, both the so-called reform slate majority and the lame duck minority, recognizes that the issue “neighborhood character” goes to the heart of what Malibu aspires to be, and what I like to believe all the council members feel in their hearts why they live here, and ran for public office.

Indeed, according to the city code, their prime responsibility, against how all issues must be weighed, is preserving Malibu. Or I would add frankly what is left of it, after succeeding past councils and staff let it be compromised by greedy real estate interests and their facilitators, project by project, zoning change by zoning change, or simply by ignorance and neglect.

Certainly that it is why the so-called reform slate was elected last year: To stop the slipshod approvals wrangled by an avaricious few who view Malibu as a monopoly game, their comments taking exception to neighborhood character despicably self-serving. Shame on them.

The city’s Vision and Mission statements say it all., and deserves to be repeated here:

“Malibu is a unique land and marine environment and residential community whose citizens have historically evidenced a commitment to sacrifice urban and suburban conveniences in order to protect that environment and lifestyle, and to preserve unaltered natural resources and rural characteristics. The people of Malibu are a responsible custodian of the area’s natural resources for present and future generations.”

And according to the Mission Statement, “Malibu is committed to ensure the physical and biological integrity of its environment through the development of land use programs and decisions, to protect the public and private health, safety and general welfare. Malibu will plan to preserve its natural and cultural resources, …as well as other resources that contribute to Malibu’s special natural and rural setting. “

Further, “ Malibu will maintain its rural character by establishing programs and policies that avoid suburbanization and commercialization of its natural and cultural resources.” And that might mean sacrifices.

Perhaps in addition to the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of all Malibu City Council meetings there should be a pledge to the Vision Statement.

 

 

 

NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER DEBATED BY A CONFUSED MALIBU CITY COUNCIL

If there is a philosophical fissure in Malibu transcending politics, religion, professionals and sexual proclivities, it is property rights: what landowners can and cannot do, as guided by the city’s planning rules and regs, and so I observe on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere

Even since Malibu became a city some 26 years ago, its planning process has been questioned, challenged and compromised, its City Hall staff scorned, council members cursed, and developers and realtors reviled.

This constant conundrum certainly was a factor in the election last year of the so-called reform slate, which pledged its unwavering support of the city’s mission statement as a persevering rural seacoast community. So much for history.

Meanwhile, Malibu’s confused politics and convoluted planning process continues to generate heat. It certainly was hot in the last City Council meeting, where heading the agenda was the question of what constituted “neighborhood character,” and, if at all, it should be included as criterion in considering proposed residential developments.

It was placed before the Council at the request of the City Planning Commission, which could not come to a decision involving a proposed project on Portshead Road. Its plans meets all city codes, but at 9,000 square feet the proposal is three times the size of nearby houses, and thus raises the issue of  “neighborhood character.”

The meeting unfortunately was a fractured, flatulent affair, as so many in the past have been when councils have had to deal with questions requiring some planning knowledge or administrative savvy. That is rather than as usual just congratulating themselves or select sycophants, or being hustled by government grifters, or pretending to be a statesman or stateswoman.

Nothing really was resolved, despite the city planning staff having prepared a detailed report that reasonably explained both neighborhood standards and neighborhood character; standards being quantifiable, and character subjective.

As usual, the staff skirted a recommendation, though it probably would not have made a difference given the capricious character of the council. It is embarrassing.

The council kept confusing “standards,” and “character,” and asked questions as if they hadn’t read or understood the report. In a split vote, the council directed the woeful city planning staff to come back with a more detailed report in a few months. Don’t hold your breath, especially if you are one of the 86 owners who have a project in the planning pipeline.

Meanwhile, not holding their breath, a parade of resolute local real estate professionals –agents, architects, acolytes – went before the council to lambaste the use of neighborhood character. They claimed in volleys of hyperbole that it would depress property values by not allowing owners to get top dollars by hyping being allowed to build out to the max.

In particular they egregiously claimed this would hurt seniors wanting to sell, and destroy Malibu, as we know it. It was a shameful cheap scare tactic, auguring back to the nefarious days of block busting.

Apparently, the real estate guiding axiom of “location, location, location, has been superseded by “size, size, size,” and the bigger the better, for obviously it means bigger commissions, and more jobs for all. The argument was debunked by a wry councilman Rick Mullen.

I would add that contrary to the specious comments of the realtors that subjective as it is, neighborhood character is actually vital to maintaining the city’s property values; that people love Malibu and buy there for its unique seacoast setting and rural ambience, not for the size of its scattered, already excessive, Mac Mansions.

LA MOUNTAINTOP HOME FOR BERGGRUEN INSTITUTE

It looks like Los Angeles, is going to get another architectural icon, in the hills west of the 405 freeway bordering Brentwood, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and on select websites everywhere.

Proposed on an immodest 447 acres, adjoining the already prominent parade there of the Getty and Skirball museums and cultural centers, will be a relatively modest, but distinctively sited campus for the heretofore-indistinct Berggruen Institute.

It is being designed by the internationally renowned firm of Herzog & de Meuron, with an assist by the workaday Gensler Associates, and landscapers Michael Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, in what’s described as an archaic style of concrete and untreated wood. Most of the site will be left undeveloped,

Whatever, expect it to be pricey. Though relatively new-on-the scene, the Institute emerging out of the upper echelons of the multi national finance fraternity is well endowed, headed by a majority of suits from the board rooms of banks and out of the back doors of governments.

Details were sketchy, other that it will be a linear campus, consisting of administrative offices, meeting rooms and a lecture hall, complemented by a cluster of residences for visiting scholars. and a home for the Berggruen family

From the perspective of a user advocate, given its size and setting, I expect the campus, as a mountain top village of sorts will be a most pleasant and desirable environment.

But there are questions, including how public will the Institute be; how many visitors can it expect and how will they be accommodated? Also, how many people will be working there, and where they could afford to live? And what will be the impact on the adjoining Mountaingate and Brentwood neighbors, if any, and on the already crowded 405 Freeway?

And for me as an arts and entertainment critic, there are other thoughts. Yes, it will be art, if you consider as I do that architecture is a social art creating places and places for human endeavor. It also will be interesting how the institute complements the neighboring very public Getty and Skirball.

As for judging its entertainment value, that is more of a stretch, if you as I think of entertainment as a performance or production, generating enjoyment, interest and diversion.

I have my doubts about the Institute, dedicated, as it says it is, to the design and implementation of new ideas of good governance. That’s praiseworthy words.

But will it actually improve anyone’s life other that those associated with the Institute? Probably not, if it functions as so many non profit institutes do these days, as tax dodges, providing jobs for family and friends, gatherings of GQ grifters, networking for the not particularly needy, and select self anointed cerebral celebrities.

But certainly not all. A daughter happens to work as a staff attorney for institute dedicated to aiding the vulnerable, and marginalized, harmed by crime and violence; the institute’s resources going to real services and not for architecture or hosting indolent academics and pandering former politicians.

As for new ideas of good government, I’ll save that for another commentary.