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.
 

A BERKSHIRE RAMBLE

It’s back on air on public radio KBU 97.5 and in print after several weeks on the east coast that included returning to my cultural roots in western Massachusetts.

There, I am happily to report the Berkshire Mountain is still joyfully flourishing, as a wellspring of dance, music and the visual and performing arts, in an accessible historic cluster.

For us that meant locating in the pleasant village of Lenox, and making daily forays to the surrounding attractions.

First and foremost was nearby Tanglewood. The Koussevitsky Music Shed was inviting as ever, though to be sure I no longer sat on the lawn for concerts, but in a chair under cover and closer. And the summer resident Boston Symphony Orchestra was as crisp and refreshing as expected, in a program of Mozart’s youthful violin concerto number 3.

The soloist was Daniel Lozakovich, a 15-year-old European phenom, making his American debut. He performed faultlessly, and was cheered enthusiastically, especially by his mother, who sat near us.

He joined her after intermission for the program’s second feature, Mahler’s fourth symphony, and arguably his most genial. This performance also had a family touch, the orchestra being conducted by Andris Nelsons, and the last movement’s vocal centerpiece, delivered by his wife, Kristime Opolais.

In the evening, it was the Ozawa Hall, and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and the American Songbook, batted out enthusiastically by Tanglewood’s vocal troupe accompanied by members of the Boston Pops. I just loved Stephanie Blythe, who echoed Ella Fitzgerald.

The next day Tanglewood’s own orchestra performed, with the addition of world renown trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, in a program that included some several modern scores. Ever engaging was Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1, less so Mark-Anthony’s Turnage’s From the Wreckage.

To be sure, the humid weather and thunderstorms were not as climate perfect as Southern California’s, but the festivals and museums forays were sublime, notably also Jacob’s Pillow for dance and a forever expanding and engaging Massachusetts Museum of Art in North Adams.

My Berkshire ramble prompted the thought of Los Angeles, and how the region’s emerging and engaging cultural gazpacho might be better organized and orchestrated to serve Southern California’s expanding and diverse population, fractured and institutionalized as it is.

Ah, if some of those selected self aggrandizing arts efforts were only less insular and more attuned to audiences and artists, how refreshing and energizing our cultural scene could be; if only our vain patrons and pandering politicians were less ego involved, indeed, if only pigs could fly.

 

 

AN L.A. MUSEUM SUMMER SAMPLER

 

Summer and planned trips near, and still so many cultural events to be seen and recommended in Southern California. So with the clock ticking here is a short list, I reviewed on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.:

At the Hammer, opened this week is an exhibition of the works of Marisa Merz, an Italian painter, sculptor and installation artist. And if that sounds busy, her creations certainly are, the result of working with traditional and non-traditional materials, and processes, in a variety of scales and setting.

This includes her early sculptures and her later multi media installations, covering five decades of her challenging conventional art, while expressing her own life experiences.

You might ask just what is this art all about. Suggesting an answer is the adjacent Hammer exhibit of recent acquisitions, which is described as –quote- “histories of recent artistic practices that are disparate, divergent, and reflective of the broad range of identities, disciplines, and forms that give shape to an idea of contemporary life,” and I add, to contemporary art.

At the Getty, among its many offerings, most provocative for me, someone who appreciates art and design but as a writer deals in words, is the exhibit: Concrete Poetry: Words and Sounds in Graphic Space.’’

Explored is a 50s movement that according to the Getty, sought to break down the barriers between the visual arts and the written word, that a poem was not just words on a page, but a spatial construct whose design was central to its content.

And, yes, this includes melding a poem to decorate a concrete cube; hence the title “Concrete Poetry

Also at the Getty, is another different exhibit: Eyewitness Views, a collection of over fifty works of art capturing actual events as they happened in 18th Century Europe.

On view are scenes that range from a spectacular Venetian carnival, to the dramatic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Top of the news, page one items, albeit in oils and on canvas, drawn under deadline by artists of the day. Historians and news hawks should love it.

And if you can’t make it to Italy this summer, there is an exhibit entitled the lure of Italy that in the spirit of a dated travelogue captures in painting the essence of Italy’s attractions.

At LACMA, the featured exhibit this summer is a focus on Latin and Latin American artists,. Explored are affinities within artworks relative to immigration and political repression, dislocation and diaspora, and personal memory and utopian ideals. Its entitled “Home—So Different, So Appealing, “ And also is so topical.

Meanwhile, this commentary goes on vacation, to coincide with a hiatus in the daily KBU news report. But that should not stop anyone from enjoying the regions cultural attractions

 

 

A LOOK BACK AT THE 60s ART SCENE IN LA

My catching fleeting exhibits at the Los Angeles County Museum continues, with an absorbing look at the legendary Dwan Gallery, that celebrated the avante garde first in L.A. and then in New York during the art consciousness raising years of the 1960s.

Founded by Virginia Dwan, fresh out of UCLA and blessed with a love of art and an inheritance, she opened a storefront in Westwood. Not only was it a few miles away from the then established gallery row, on La Cienega Boulevard, but more significantly it was artistically very much off the beaten track.

As I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites, the exhibits at the Dwan featured pop, minimalist and conceptual art that challenged the staid critics of the day and the conventional collectors.

Among the young and bushy tailed artists displayed were many who in time would become quite celebrated. These included Edward Kienholz, Franz Kline and Robert Rauschenberg. Think of seeing for the first time Andy Warhol’s brillo soapboxes and Claes Oldenburg’s playful sculptures.

Their creations might not have sold well then as they would in later years. But they certainly stirred the art scene and beyond in those days, such as when Dwan rolled out Kienholz’s grungy assemblage know as Back Seat Dodge 38. Talk about a timepiece.

Featured in the LACMA exhibit today, it is just topical fun, as it was meant to be when first seen, a found and fabricated tableau of backseat sex. But in 1964 it sparked public and legal allegations of obscenity, drawing the attention of the LAPD, which took on the mantle of critic.

The exhibit persevered, but only after much debate and publicity, and with agreement it could be displayed, though with the back car door closed, to be only opened upon an adult’s request of a museum guard, and then not in front of anyone under age.

For that alone the exhibit is worth seeing. But this is also on display a wealth of paintings, sculpture, films and drawing by challenging artists of a half-century ago. For me, it was a diverting trip back in time.

Of local interest, Dwan had a beach house in Malibu, where then struggling select artists, young men to be sure, could stay at least until their works sold, which could be a very long time.

As the lyrics of a popular song echoed, “they were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end.”

 

 

 

THE BAUHAUS COMES TO L.A. COUNTY MUSEUM

 

Finally made it to LACMA, having twice before been discouraged by weekday traffic. But last Sunday the freeway was relatively open and parking on the street available, and so I persevered.

And I am very glad I did, for there are several exhibits that have been at the top of my must-see list for months now, and one of them approaching a closing date.

The retrospective on the pioneering Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, ends June 18th, and if you are at all interested in the evolution of art in the twentieth century, it is a must exhibit, educational and engaging, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites. .

Do art and technology work together to elevate humanity, asks the museum, and then suggests you find out at its Art of the Americas building. The answer, of course, is a resounding yes, as demonstrated Moholy exhibit, the first comprehensive retrospective of his art in nearly 50 years, with more than 250 works in all media from collections from the world over.

After the trauma of World War One, Moholy found solace in the famed Bauhaus school in Germany, embracing modernism with unabashed passion, pursuing it as a resolute, utopian everywhere, and in every endeavor.

This included painting, sculpting, photography, filmmaking, and when pressed to earn money for his family, graphic design, stage design and as an advertising art director.

He eventually ended up in the United States, where he founded the Chicago Institute of Design, teaching, writing and forever, enthusiastically experimenting.

Included in particular is a large-scale installation, entitled the Room of the Present, a contemporary construction of an exhibition space originally conceived by Moholy-Nagy nearly century ago.

Though never realized during his lifetime, the room at long last has been fashioned at LACMA to illustrate Moholy’s belief in the power of images and the various means by which to disseminate them. And as the museum comments, it is a highly relevant paradigm in today’s constantly shifting and evolving technological world.

It is an absorbing exhibit, taking you back to Moholy’s Bauhaus days, and conveying some of the excitement and joy students must have felt back then witnessing the emerging, challenging world of modernism, and then the sadness when the school was closed in the rise of Fascism.

 

WALLIS CENTER ACCESSIBLE, ENTERTAINING

Once again I’m braving the traffic on the dreaded PCH, and weaving my way through a congested Santa Monica, and Westwood, to Beverly Hills, and to what is becoming one of my choice cultural venues.: the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Upcoming on the center’s schedule is a dance program by the celebrated British choreographer, Mathew Bourne,, entitled Early Adventures, running Wednesday May 17th through Sunday the 21st.

Having heard much about Bourne but never having seen him, I am looking forward to a singular program that features his early works, said to be witty and spectacular. It will be Bourne’s only U.S. appearance this spring, happily in \an inviting venue .

The former Beverly Hills Post Office has been imaginatively recycled into two distinct theatres: the Bram Goldsmith, containing 500 seats but with a rake that leaves no seat more than 50 feet from the stage. Sight lines are great, complemented by pitch perfect acoustics, making it particularly suitable for dance.

More intimate is the Lovelace Studio Theatre, with flexible space and traditional theatre seating and also cabaret style seating.

The parking at the Wallis is also accessible and reasonable , and being closer to Malibu, you do noy have to take the terrible 10.

As for the Wallis’ laudable commitment to dance, the Bourne troupe follows a classic program, last weekend that celebrated the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Featured was three familiar favorites under the direction of the master himself, now a venerable 86. It was a trip back in time for his many fans.

The program opened with the 1987 work entitled “Syzgy,” which is an astronomical term for celestial bodies at opposite points in an orbit. As one can imagine, the choreography was energetic and athletic, the dancers pliable and playful, lots of squiggly arms and legs, singularly and in chorus, exhausting and entertaining. Loved it.

It was followed by the more somber 1998 piece,“The Word,” a dark score and grim. It sent shiver through me.

In contrast, the last piece was more joyful, entitled “Esplande, created in 1975. ” a celebration of everyday movement in a public space teeming with dancers, echoing with the music of J.S. Bach . You left the theatre uplifted and smiling.