DARK CLOUD HOVERS OVER L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

While the exhibits continue to engage, a dark cloud still hovers over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as I comment on my weekly City Observed on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art – LACMA for short – continues to be one of the city’s more iconic cultural institutions, for me always enlightening if not educational, a place where I return to regularly to find something of interest.

Most recently it was the very different and diverting Rain Room, a site specific installation melding science and technology to create an art work , that is if you can call a large darkened room where water falls constantly, except not on you, thanks to sensors. you walk over.

It’s a captivating and communal experience, the stuff of selfies and sharing with others a wonderous 15 minutes which is what each group of about two dozen are allowed to stand between the rain drops in a steady downfall. Everyone exits smiling, if a little damp..

No wonder the installation created by the artist collective Random International has sold out when first exhibited in the group’s base in London, then in New York Museum of Modern Art, and now in Los Angeles for an extended tour through the Summer.

It is such exhibits that lend attending a museum as LACMA a memorable moment. And this in turn is what lends institutions a sense of place and history, and need to be cherished and protected.

To enhance their stature, and better serve a wide a population as possible., I also think they should not charge admission, to their regular and special exhibits.

That is why I applaud such museums as the Hammer in Westwood, the Broad downtown and the Getty above Brentwood being free , and why I have urged LACMA to also be, especially since it is partially supported by county funds.

This is also why I am opposed to the audacious plans of director Michael Govan to replace the LA County Museum, yes, demolishing the existing core buildings, replacing them  with a biomorphic blub sprawling over Wilshire Boulevard. Aside from the questionable design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, is the price tag—now $600 million, but sure to rise to a billion when all costs are calculated –and there construction of at least five years.

To be sure, there are problems with the existing museum: it is a fractured clutter of galleries. It needs better maintenance, better connections and graphics. And patched together as it is, it is not pretty. But it can and does work viewing for the art. And that ultimately is what a museum is about.

I raise these arguments again because it seems Govan is becoming even more persistent in satisfying his edifice complex, and continues to spare no expense promoting his vision.   At present the black model is on display in Italy, at the Venice Architecture Biennale , which this year I thought was to focus on “social housing.”

Commenting on this might be discursive, but for me it is urgent, for I consider the Zumthor and Govan conceit a dark cloud over LACMA. I am very much concerned over its threatened future, and you should be, too.

 

 

One Hand Clapping for L.A. Landmark City to Sea Expo Line

The celebration continues for the opening of the long awaited Expo line connecting downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, with the powers-that-be, their acolytes and the mimicking media hailing it as a landmark in Southern California’s maturation

Ever since I could duck under the turnstiles in my native New York, and later wave my pass in L.A.s burgeoning system, I have been a public transit advocate. I even was briefly a planning consultant to the MTA, trying to raise its user awareness.

In my weekly city observed commentary for 97.5 KBU. radiomalibu.net , cityobserved.com and select other websites. I applaud the opening, but frankly with one hand. It works, for a finite few at leisure or for whom it is convenient.

This includes tourists, dogged pedestrians, grounded students, and think tank minions who constitute a vocal constituency and together make a faithful lobby for flush transit funding.

Many were at the launch ceremonies along with the politicians and bureaucrats who for a day abandoned their official cars for a rare transit ride.

And of course also present were the construction industry chieftans and lobbyists who have benefitted well from the billions of dollars spent on the Expo Line.

However, the system doesn’t work particularly well for those who live along the coast and also those who work there, and have to commute. Affected are the enclaves of the Pacific Palisades, Topanga and my Malibu.

Indeed , if you can’t walk from home to a station, and have to be on time anywhere, you will have a problem, especially in Santa Monica., and especially at the terminus at 4th St. Bus connections suck and trying to park all day near is worse.

There is no parking there, not even a kiss and ride curb cut. At the 17th St, SMC station are only 67 spaces, with many already going to monthly permit holders.

The dearth of spaces is a result, I feel, of a maladroit MTA and the sanctimonious city of Santa Monica, not wanting to aggravate local traffic anymore than it is, and also not wanting to spend the money acquiring sites for all day public parking.

It is a win-win for the city and agency, lose, lose for the commuting public.

In one of the more gratuitous print commentaries, the usually reasoned critic Christopher Hawthorne of the L.A. Times takes a 64 year old Pacific Palisades resident to task for asking how to get to the station.  He argued like a  bureaucrat rather than a user advocate.

Hawthorne contends by his count there are up to 10,000 spaces within a healthy 20 minute walk. This is not so healthy if you are handicapped as I am. They are also pricey.

But first one has to get these conjured up spaces, which means for most driving on the dreaded PCH.

That is another 30 minutes in the usual iffy morning traffic from, say, Point Dume. And then to find a parking space, hoffing it to the station, catching a train for a stop and go 48 minute ride downtown.

There you can exit at the 7th Street Metro Station if you work nearby, or if elsewhere transfer to the Red or Purple Line trains, which is another 15 minutes to wherever. On a good day making connections could total a 2 hour commute for people working downtown.

Worse is for those living in or about central L.A. and working in, for instance, Malibu, be it as a teacher, clerk, laborer, or house cleaner. The region’s grunts.

And now the bus schedule is said to being tampered with to encourage use on the Expo Line. Work force commuters beware. They remain almost an after thought, as they have all during the design and development of the rail system.

To be sure, the launching of downtown L.A. to the sea is historic. It just has to be fine tuned. And it can be, by the MTA initiating speedy shuttle buses on the PCH, to serve the coastal communities, and beach parking lots , for commuter use. In addition, the train also can be speeded up instituting signal priority.

And the sooner the better, MTA has to keep in mind Measure R2 calling for yet another transit sales tax is coming up, and there are a lot of voters among the commuters.

 

 

REVELING ALONG THE ROMANTIC RHINE

I recently wandered far from my usual roost in Malibu viewing city-and-land-scapes projects and pronouncements in southern California to savor the storied settlements and scenes of the romantic Rhine. Yes, it was a welcomed vacation.

It was also for me a trip back in time, having roamed the back roads there decades ago as a journalist and briefly as a test driver for Audi Motors, thanks to my former affiliation with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena; design being my passion, then and now.

Happily this time there was no need to tightly grip a steering wheel to bounce around the European countryside as if in a pinball machine, blinking intermittently at the control panels and passing scenery, sightseeing at a glance.

The exacting, encumbering car was contentedly forsaken for a river longship, where I had to open the suitcase happily just once for a week’s cruise, and be able to enjoy all at leisure.

There would no driving for me, thanks to Viking River Cruises, as its sleekly designed craft plied down the serene river from Basel, Switzerland, beneath a parade of legendary castles and cities, to Amsterdam.

The castles, of course, were a highlight, each with a rich history, fabled or not, and together for a significant stretch of the river a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Each day the Longship docked at a succession of distinctive towns and cities, my wife and I among the friendly, mostly well traveled 190 or so passengers to be greeted by resident guides for engaging free tours of historic neighborhoods.

This included the more modest Alsatian medieval village of Colmar, with its web of 9th century streets; 13th century Gothic churches and17th century half-timbered houses. Couldn’t help but buy hand made candies there.

And I could not resist the pastry or the architecture in Strasbourg, a city distinguished by a magnificent Gothic cathedral dating back to 1176, as much as having been under repeatedly recurrent French and German rule.

To an architectural and planning critic, it was heartening to see how pride has taken root in the continuing local preservation efforts, with its obvious communal and commercial benefits.

Other stops of note was Heidelberg and its majestic castle overlooking the historic university town, and in particular, the bustling, beer consuming city of Cologne, with its landmark towering Gothic cathedral.

I, of course, went rogue, and visited Museum Ludwig there, with its impressive collection of modern art, including raw German expressionism and a wealth of Picasso’s.

There were side trips to the commanding Marksburg Castle, the only castle in the Rhine Valley never having been besieged, undoubtedly because of its strategic siting and daunting steps. They were a challenge.

More accessible was the rococo Augustusburg Palace, lovingly designed and lavishly built by a German archbishop, and now also a UNESCO site.

Then it was on to the Netherlands, for a tour of some select windmills. But on the way was an impressive riverfront view of the broad shouldered city of Rotterdam. Prominent was the graceful Erasmusbrug Bridge, known in engineering circles as “the swan.”

It was a modern touch to a historic rich river, before cruising on to Amsterdam, which deserves its own commentary, and then on to Scandinavia, and eventually back to my waterfront Point Dume.

 

A SUMMERTIME SUGGESTION

The weather being fickle in the benign climate of Southern California it is not always easy to tell the seasons without a calendar in hand.

Depending on how, from where, and what time of day the winds are blowing in Malibu, whether from off shore or through the mountain passes, sometimes it feels like a mild winter in the summer, or a mild summer in winter.

Then there is the arts and entertainment. It also can offer a guide to the seasons, and so I suggest in my weekly commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net

Certainly you know Summer is approaching when the L.A. Phil announces its seasonal program for the Hollywood Bowl and starts an aggressive advertising. It is going to have to be to overcome the pain and impatience driving to and particularly from the bowl. Indeed, exiting from the parking lot can turn the pleasant ambience of an evening of comforting music into a cacophonic nightmare.

Let me suggest a more engaging and certainly more convenient venue: an evening at the Theatricum Bontanicum in nearby Topanga Canyon. Its announcement of its summer program also has become a harbinger of the season. Going on sale this week is an ambitious schedule of five productions.

In keeping with the theatre’s commitment to current political and social issues, they include retellings of Shakespeare’s “Romero and Juliet,” set in present day divided Palestine, his “Titus and Adronicus,” as a cautionary tale of our times; Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Tom” as a contemporary character study; and Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid,” as a commentary on healthcare.

Like the Hollywood Bowl, the Theatricum has become a Southern California institution. Founded in 1973 by the actor activist Will Greer, theTheatricum is not only a theater, but an engaging cultural center, offering year-round classes to actors, hosting live music concerts, and welcoming student excursions from across the county.

Incidentally the name, Theatricum Botanicum is taken from the title of a classic botany textbook, literally meaning, “a garden theatre.” Inspiring Greer no doubt was the theater’s rural setting, and that he and his wife, actress Herta Ware, originally had to supplement their income raising vegetables, fruit, and herbs for sale.

The farm is gone, but the theatre continues. It makes for both a pleasant and provocative summer’s evening.