CELEBRATING THE RENAISSANCE AT THE GETTY

Thanksgiving is over, and a good time to push away from the table, get out of the house and go somewhere different, very different if you can.

I personally would like to go back to Italy, way, way back , to the Renaissance, though not as a lowly plebeian, as I comment in my weekly arts and entertainment observed on public radio KBU 99.1 and select websites everywhere.

No, I would want to be an artist. I’d leave being a cultural critic to others; it had its social and economic limitations, then, as it does now.

Prompting this time travel fantasy are several exhibits at the always engaging Getty, which being in nearby Brentwood I’ve come to regard as the local cultural center. And it’s free.

So if you are a skeptic and don’t believe in being whisked back in time and place, you, like me, also can go the Getty, and at least be beguiled by the exhibits radiating the Renaissance .

Most evocative are the landscapes of the Venice based Giovanni Bellini. Considered a leading exponent of the popular religious themes that dominated painting in the 15th century, Bellini filled his canvases with characters and scenes from familiar sacred stories..

And while his landscapes are highly metaphorical, they also accurately reflect the region’s topography and natural light. Indeed, if studied closely in they exude a reality that makes you see what it might have been like to be in Italy 500 years ago.

A companion exhibit focuses in on views of sacred landscapes depicted in Renaissance manuscripts, with the Getty noting that many people then looked to greenery for contemplating the perceived divine order of creation. The Getty notes:

“Manuscript illuminators were among those who carefully studied the raw elements of nature—such as rocks, trees, flowers, waterways, mountains, and even atmosphere—and incorporated these into luxurious objects of personal or communal devotion. “

Adding to this celebration of the Renaissance is a rare showing of three Caravaggio masterpieces, on loan from the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

Considered one of the true masters of Italian painting, Caravaggio is known for his bold, realistic style in which sacred subjects were shown as very real people, their emotions and physicality made dramatic by selective lighting, and dark shadowing. His works are mesmerizing.

Indeed, the three paining alone are worth a visit to the Getty. Be prepared for possible time travel.

 

UCLA HOSTS DANCE PERFORMANCE

 
If the arts and entertainment do anything for me, it engages, excites and expands the mind, be it the theater, film,, painting, sculpting, music or dance, as I comment this week on radio malibu, 99.1 KBU and select websites.
 
Note new and stronger signal, out to all of Malibu!
 
Dance in particular I’ve always found challenging, combining as it does music and movement, a feast for the ears, and eyes, and being an aging mesomorph, I am always amazed seeing what the body can do.
 
Prompting this thought was the premiere performance last weekend at the UCLA ‘s Royce Hall of “calling glenn,” a work by the ever-experimental dance company AteNine, and and supported by the ever-encouraging UCLA Center for the Art of Performance.
 
It was choreographed and directed by Israeli-trained and now L.A. based Danielle Agami, who not incidentally was one of the ten dancers who athletically and with grace cavorted on stage to the original music of Glenn Kotche.
 
While each talented dancers made distinct solo statements, none really stood out, not even when isolated by staging or costume, for the 70 minute piece was very much a collaboration, either as duos, a foursome, or a troop scrambling in concert.
 
What props there were you could have guessed: simple chairs the dancers on occasion sat in and dueled with. And microphone stands they grasped and fought over.
 
At times the choreography looked chaotic, but obviously wasn’t. The technique displayed was awesome, the unpredictable changes in rhythm challenging, and the multiple and simultaneous actions I felt celebrated a welcomed expressive freedom: what contemporary dance is all about.
 
And it was riveting.
Somehow the dancers kept pace to the percussionist punctuated music, or perhaps it was the music performed by an energetic Kotche that somehow kept pace with the dancers.
 
And then in the midst of a segment, there was silence, which had the effect of lending a sharp focus on the non-stop performers. Very legendary composer John Cage and dance choreographer Merce Cunningham inspired
 
At the abrupt end of the performance, the dancers appeared spent, and so was the audience. But not so much as not to give the dance company and Agami a standing , rousing ovation.
 
You left Royce elated, and looking forward to the next delight from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.
 
 

CONCERT ANTIDOTE FOR WORLD SERIES

This week, something different for my arts and entertainment commentary on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere. It is needed if only to edge out of mind the homer happy, wacky World Series that ended with a dud.

It’s needed too, if you want to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world of music, and get out of your caves and experience it.

That is what is promised this Saturday, at 8 PM, at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall, where appearing will be the Grammy award winning pop rock band, “OK Go.”

The band is perhaps best know for its eye-catching, mind blowing videos. But instead of seeing the iconic videos on the small screen, expect to see them, in performance, in an immersive cinematic environment, being scored, live.

Don’t expect this to be the usual rock show, lots of amped up sound and flashing lights, but a blast from the bands past, and into the future. If this sounds a bit confusing, stay after the performance, when the band will take questions from the audience. And you can catch your breath.

I also look forward to it being antidote for me to the World Series, which frankly left me exhausted, and deserve some mention here.

After all, this commentary is entitled “arts and entertainment observed,” and indeed I have to confess that the unpredictability and drama of the series was for the most part entertaining.

Certainly for me as a critic it had elements of an ancient production, what with fallen heroes as in a Greek tragedy, and the screaming crowds mimicking Roman spectacles.

This despite the crass commercialism and the mind numbing television spots, though happily were long enough to allow breaks from the couch.

Of course I didn’t attend any of the games, what with the obscene ticket prices. If I wouldn’t pay $100 to see “Hamilton.” I certainly wouldn’t pay S1,000 for a questionable seat, and having to fight traffic to get there, and also pay for parking.

Long, long ago I came to realize that the Dodgers despite the smiling face of Magic Johnson had become just another greedy sports enterprise; I think it was about the time it was bought by Rupert Murdoch and then sold to a Boston parking lot owner.

Suffice it to say the Dodgers are not the team I loved with an uncommon passion, the team of Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, when I was growing up in Brooklyn.

There I’d actually take the legendary trolley to the games at Ebbetts Field to see games, having been blessed with tickets scored for hawking copies of the newspaper Brooklyn Eagle .

But those were days past. The present is now, and the future is a concert at UCLA. Life does move on.

 

 

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT HALPRIN REMEMBERED AND EXHIBITED

This week, it is not city observed, but landscape architecture observed, at the A+ D museum, that’s A for architecture and D for design, at 900 East Fourth St., way downtown L.A.

On exhibit there is an appealing overview of the life and work of the pioneering landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who I consider one of the most influential designers of his time, right up there with Frederick Law Olmsted.

My opinion is of a critic who for a while taught design history at USC and landscape architecture at UCLA, and not because Halprin was born in Brooklyn, as I was, and attended Cornell University, and eventually settled on the West Coast, as I did.

But I must admit to being akin to Halprin –he died in 2009 at the age of 93 –and very much into his humanistic approach to urban design, which he articulated in his book, entitled “Cities,” written a half century ago, and still relevant.

While “we do not have a clear picture of the ideal form of a city,,” he wrote, we do have a clear image of the purpose of an ideal city: “

Simply put, he added, it is to provide a healthy, creative environment for people to live in. And this in turn he explains means respecting its topography, people, and cultural heritage, in sum what he labels the character of a place.

Yes, that hard-to-define “neighborhood character” that many communities are now debating, from Malibu to Manhattan.

The book should be required reading for all those involved in the debate, and also those entrusted with shaping our environment. That includes rank-and-file planners, practicing architects, city managers, to our neophyte politicians, being whispered to by project lobbyists and lawyers.

The exhibit also is recommended, consisting of mostly 56 newly commissioned photographs of a selection of his projects. These include the iconic fountains in Portland, Oregon, the plazas in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, the open space in Sea Ranch on the California coast, and the F.D.R memorial in Washington, D.C.

In L.A. there is the Maguire Garden, a welcoming landscape marking the western approach to the Central Library, not incidentally covering a parking garage. To the north of the library, connecting 5th and Hope, is a distinctive landscaped stairway, graced with cascading water.While the photos, and other glimpses of Halprin’s life organized by the Cultural Landscape Foundation, are engaging, there is nothing like experiencing some actual projects.

So in conjunction with the exhibit, the Los Angeles Conservancy is offering walking tours of Halprin’s downtown project on upcoming Sundays, November 5, 19th and December 17th. www.laconservacnby.org/upcoming-events. You might want to check it out.

 

HEAT WAVE ABATES, LA/CA EXHIBITS DO NOT

The heat wave in Malibu has abated, we hope, and It is time once again for Pacific Standard Time’s LA/LA. an unprecedented and welcomed exploration of Latin American and Latino art, sponsored in large part by the Getty.

Indeed, it seems it is always time for LA/LA since it was launched several months ago at the LA County Museum and is continuing there, and, of course, at the Getty, and seemingly everywhere across Southern California., as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

With some 100 concurrent exhibitions, programs and events scheduled over four months at no less than 70 cultural institutions, selecting what to see and then finding time to visit the venues can be a real challenge for those with real lives,.

For me recently it was finding an hour plus downtown to duck into Union Station, to see a here-to-fore hidden, mesmerizing mural, a 43 panel chronological history of Los Angeles, from the founding of the city in 1781 to 1981.

That is when the mural painted by Barbara Carraco was to be displayed as part of L.A.’s bicentennial on, of all things, a McDonald’s exterior downtown, but was censored. It seems 14 of the images were considered offensive, depicting past discriminatory events involving the city’s black, Mexican and Japanese minorities. Nothing like displaying the truth to worry the powers-that-be.

So into storage it went, appearing briefly at Union Station in 1990. And now it is at Union Station again, properly hailed and labeled an “un-censoring” as part of an exhibition co-curated for LA/LA by the LA Cultural and Arts Plaza and the California Historical Society.

I would have liked to seen more of the display on rebel art, but since I was downtown I also wanted to see the Pacific Standard Time’s exhibit at the Central Library, “Oaxaca in L.A”, the city being the home to the largest population of indigenous Oaxacans outside Mexico.

I unfortunately missed the program, as I frankly have some others. There are just too many.

I’m sure it is also daunting for the Getty overseers, museum curators and ardent academics to make time, even though salaried, or just even having their travel expenses covered.

But what of the committed, causal or just curious aesthete, the public, for whom these offering are ostensibly directed? And also what about many of my old media acquaintances, who keep showing up while their publications sadly continue to wilt and no longer pay?

Then of course, there is the constant attraction of what is being presented. It’s like taking an art appreciation course, and loving it.

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.
 
 

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.

 

SUMMERTIME, GETTYTIME

Still summer, crowds still here, at the beach, and on PCH, and given the inexorable population growth of Southern California, I expect summer to extend to Thanksgiving, and so I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and websites everywhere

In effect, Fall has fallen from the calendar, so if you want to keep your flame of culture glowing, I fear you must face the traffic, strap yourself in your car, turn on the air conditioning and turn up KBU, and with patience and fortitude, try embracing some motorized meditation.

But if it’s museums you are interested in, as I am, the commute can be eased by avoiding weekends, going early, staying late, and focus on the more accessible venues.

Heading my list is the Getty, where I find myself returning to more and more these summer days. Not only does the Center above Brentwood have an engaging array of changing exhibitions, and an ever-engrossing permanent collection, it is gratefully free, as I believe all museums should be.

But what further makes the Getty Center so attractive in the now extended, simmering summers, is its mountaintop site, with its constant, cooling breezes, and its captivating views.

And to think when the Getty was being planned just a short 30 years ago, I argued then as the LATimes architecture critic for a more urban site, such as Westwood, or Downtown. What was I thinking?

Yes, it would have been easier to get to then by bus and eventually in the future by rail, and especially for the growing hordes of tourists.

But it would not have had the views, and the incentive to stay late on select days and see the spectacular sunsets and have a pleasant, reasonable dinner. It is for these reasons I frankly love the Getty, for myself, for my family and for showing off to friends and visitors.

And then there is the Getty Villa, with its specialized collection, even closer to Malibu, off the PCH. That is for another day,

But meanwhile, it is back to the Getty Center, where for me the feature exhibition at present is a celebration of David Hockney’s 80th birthday.

Make that two exhibitions, one a display of his self-portraits, he had drawn, painted and photographed since his youth. The other, his experiments with photography, specifically Polaroid composites and photo collages.

Fascinating, and they’re on display until the end of the new, summer, past Thanksgiving, through to November 26.

 

CHAGALL’S DELIGHTFUL STAGE DESIGNS AT LACMA

 
Nothing like being away for a few weeks and falling behind on my thirst for culture. So as soon as the bags were unpacked, it was off to the L.A. County Museum of Art, and a much anticipated exhibit of Marc Chagall’s stage designs.
 
As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and websites everywhere, it was a most welcomed homecoming. The creatively staged exhibit was enthralling, coming alive with Chagall’s fanciful, brilliantly colored costumes, draped on mannequins, posed erect on stages.
 
Forty one costumes are on marvelous display, along with about 100 sketches from four of Chagall’s more notable stage designs, for the ballets “Aleko,” “The Firebird” and “Daphnis and Chloé,” and the opera, “The Magic Flute.”
 
Each are given its own space, with appropriate musical accompaniment and soft lighting. Design credit goes to Yuval Sharon and Jason Thompson. Stephanie Barron was the curator, once again showing her brilliance as the head of LACMA’s modern art department.
 
Lending the exhibit some perspective is a room displaying a splendid selection of Chagall’s more familiar masterpieces, and another room with a wall of candid photographs of the artist at work on the production. Also diverting was footage from a rare 1942 film of the original performance of Aleko.
 
The exhibit displayed well Chagall’s professed love of music and the theatre, lending evidence to how his once youthful desire to be a singer, dancer, violinist and poet, found expression in his paintings.
 
It also was for me moving, for I have always been deeply enamored with Chagall, growing up as he did in the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Vitebsk, in the pale of Russia, where my family roots are. Viewing his reveries of shtetl life fills my soul.
 
This has prompted me over the years to search out his paintings. Happily, they are celebrated widely, as are his distinctive stained glass windows wherever located. Just this year on a stopover in Zurich I was able to view his windows in the Fraumunster church there. They are stunning.
 
But stage designs being a lesser known example of his art, I particularly looked forward to the LACMA exhibit, and you should too. The exhibit opens this Sunday, and runs through January 7th, which will give me time to see it again.