SOME GLITTERING DIVERSIONS AT THE GETTY

Needed some diversion from my concerns for Malibu’s public schools and my contempt for the Santa Monica school board bullies, and so it was off to the Getty, to do my weekly arts commentary, on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.
 
Crowning Brentwood above the 405, when the weather is benign the Getty cultural center is I feel an abiding sanctuary, graced with accessible art and reasonable fare.
 
Also personally attractive is that being so close to my Malibu,, makes me think of the Getty as my local museum.
 
And if there ever was a pair of glittering small gems epitomizing the Getty it is the current exhibits, Michelangelo to Degas, and Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India.
 
Michelangelo to Degas is hailed by the Getty as one of its most spectacular acquisitions of a private collection in its history, consisting of 16 drawings of a cadre of celebrated draftsman. Ii is a roster that includes Michelangelo, Tiepolo, Reubens, Degas, and my favorite Goya.
 
Of interest is that a pen and brown ink, opaque watercolor drawing of a figure in mourning credited to Michelangelo was discovered some 20 years ago, pasted into an album in the small library of an English castle. Then the Getty did what it does so well, and pursued it, and the obvious others.
 
All the art works fascinate, certainly when you consider how they were drawn in such exquisite detail, and with the limited raw materials and sketching tools available at the time. In viewing them closely, I suggest if possible do it with a hand held magnifying glass provided by Getty.
 
Included also in the exhibit, running to April 22, is a superb painting by Antoine Watteau,.
 
What makes the exhibit of Rembrandts particularly interesting is that his drawings of the Mughal court are very much in the popular Indian style, definitely not what Rembrandt was known for. They could be considered copies.
 
Also included for some perspective are his studies of 15th and 16th century Italian drawings, which unlike the Mughal paintings apparently influenced his art.
 
But the Indian sources remain unique in the master’s magnificent body of work. The exhibit runs until June 24th, and given that it will soon be Spring, consider that after viewing may I suggest contemplating it while having a coffee sitting on one of the cultural center’s inviting terraces.
 
To me that is a perfect day.

PIGHEADED SCHOOL BOARD SEEKS BILLIONS IN RANSOM

This week on the city observed, on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it is the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School Board observed, and what I see is ugly.

I see a board dominated by a duplicitous majority including a compromised member representing a sanctimonious city of Santa Monica treating Malibu like an enslaved colony.

Need we be reminded about the unprecedented distance and differences between the two cities, separated by a 20 mile stretch of a tortuous highway, one a rural seacoast village, the other a swelling suburban city, and that stated again and again is the democratic imperative and moral certitude of the separation.

It also has been repeatedly revealed that in the allocation of funds for instruction and facilities, Malibu schools have been flagrantly shortchanged; that for decades Malibu has been treated like an abused cash cow for a prospering Santa Monica hiding behind a veil of self aggrandizing liberalism.

The latest not unexpected abuse of good faith by the board’s bullies is at long last to approve separating Malibu’s pubic school from the Santa Monica dominated district, which would allow Malibu to create a stand alone school district.

Yes! But then the board tacked on to its approval an unreasonable list of conditions, topped by the utterly ridiculous demand for Malibu to pay alimony for 50 years to the amount that has been calculated to top 10 billion dollars.

That is not a mistake. That is a B, as in blasphemous, black hearted, and downright bad. School funding, property taxes, local government, indeed everything can change over the course of years, If anything, it is an example of the board’s pigheadedness.

And while the schools in Santa Monica and their self serving Santa Monica based bureaucracy continue to suck cash subsidies out of Malibu, the board wants to hold more talks to dot the “Is”s and cross the “Ts” of the divorce agreement.

The estimate is that the agreement just may take up to 7 years to resolve, and also require an act of the state legislature.

The school board also has added a condition demanding Malibu drop its appeal to the county to alternatively seek the divorce, contending that the protracted negotiations in effect have failed.

In my opinion, they most certainly have.

It is time for Malibu’s to stop trying to be reasonable, and say good bye and good luck to the recalcitrant board, and start lobbying the county to break the oppressive chains to Santa Monica. It already has filed papers. Let’s get that effort rolling.

As one of the richest cities in California, Santa Monica should work out its own school financing, without holding Malibu ransom and punishing its students.

This I feel has become not only an educational matter, but also a civil rights issue.

 

 

CITY OF VENTURA OBSERVED

This week on public radio 99.1 KBU and websites everywhere, the city observed is Ventura, just to the north of my Malibu, an attractive, still affordable seacoast city, with an authentic straggling main street.

To my transient sensibilities, the city is worth a detour, as it was to me decades ago when commuting most weekends and holidays with the kids to our rustic cabin high in Ventura County, in the Los Padres National Forest, above Ojai, deep in mystic Matilija Canyon. We on occasion ate and shopped in Ventura.

The occasion now for the revisit is the publication of “Talk City,” subtitled “a Chronicle Of Political Life in an All-American Town,’ written by William Fulton, (Solimar), who for eight years served on the Ventura City Council, much of the time as deputy mayor, and mayor.

Of interest to me is that Bill , a friend, is a city planner who apparently brought some design and development sensibilities to the elected positions. He is also a writer of several well received planning texts, and the thoughtful editor and publisher of the informative California Planning & Development Report.This held the promise of something beyond the usual bureaucratic babble and derivative academic dissertations that serve little real planning purpose other to than to pad resumes and pay grade reviews, to collect dust on groaning institute shelves

And as Fulton wrote in a note to me, “bear in mind that some of it is old war stories from Ventura. But a lot of it is what it’s like to be a part-time, overstressed, underpaid elected official in California. That, I think, has some legs beyond Ventura.”

Yes, it does, and perhaps some lessons, too, in particular for my stumbling Malibu, though smaller and more affluent, with some erudite residents, just does not seem to have its governmental act together since becoming a city 26 years ago.To be literal, Fulton does not mention Malibu.

However, in discussing why many small cities in California stumble and stagger presumably including Malibu, he cites the presence of “individuals involved who have taken a high handed approach with taxpayer funds,” and the state’s Byzantine system of local government.

Fulton contends that the progressive strong manager and part time politician approach –originally promoted to thwart corruption – has not worked well. He states this is sadly true when both the managers and politicians are self serving, and when the system “provides the opportunity for public servants to shield their activities from public view. “ That includes their total compensation, trips and gifts.

He adds that the system “also discourages constituents from being watchdogs in that both the governmental and financial system is cumbersome and bafflingly complicated,” and the state’s open meeting law is not much help. So much for transparency.

Among Fulton’s many insights from his years of service is that democracy only works if people pay attention, and sadly oftentimes people aren’t paying attention.

Thank you for the advice Bill, and your service.

 

 

 

MALIBU’S DOG DILEMMA, CONTINUED

Yes, I know there is real news out there that deserves, indeed demands, my attention and commentary, but I’m also a dedicated dog person, and cat and reluctant parrot person, too, so allow me some latitude.

So this week for City Observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the serial drama of the fate of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park continues, as the Malibu burgeoning bureaucracy does what it does best: postpone any actual improvement as it moves the item slowly between the in and out baskets on their desks.

If you recall, in the last episode of the continuing drama, or is it a farce, of the Malibu City Hall foibles starring my willful Welsh speaking aging Corgi, Bobby the Bad, our canine hero was complaining about the raw surface conditions of the dog park.

They were abusing his paws, and those of dozens other dogs who visit the park, though not having the vocal chords of Bobby, they were not as shrill in their canine cursing of a recalcitrant City Hall that the pets and their owners remember had promised the resurfacing.

But the bids came in well above the $80,000 that had been budgeted, indeed from $132,000 to over $300,000, to replace the current decomposed granite (DG) surface.  The reason for the high bids was said to be the limited vehicle access to the park , one of a number of design flaws in the original design, along with using the cheapest DG.

Cited for this rejection also was that not enough people had complained about the condition, as if there is some magic number before the city acts, or do there have to be complaints when a condition is so evident.

It’s a problem when you have a neophyte city government that plays it cards close to its chest, and is quick to tell you why something can’t be done, rather than how it can.

So for the future there will be no resurfacing of the raw dog park surface, and the pets will just have to try to stoically ignore the pain as they do now while playfully romping.

However, to be sure the city did compose a cautious e mail in which it recognizes that there is a constituency that uses the park.

Perhaps if the city desk jockeys actually visited the parks to review the issue with real people and their pets, they would not have to create an annoying SurveyMonkey poll, as it is wont to do when postponing confrontation with actual taxpayers.

You know them, the minority of the modest 13,000 residents who actually live in Malibu, instead of just partying here on weekends, or rent their house out legally or not, as an air n b, hoping that it will keep appreciating as the smiling realtor promised it would.

Who worries about dog parks anyway, dogs don’t vote, nor do many of their owners show any inclination to get involved in civic matters.

Not that they don’t care, most who live here do, but many unfortunately have been turned off or turned away by a City Hall, with its long, sad history of imperious leadership.

Welcome to small town government in, I fear, a failing democracy, for people and dogs. .

 

 

 

AWARD SHIFTS FROM STAR ARCHITECTS TO SOCIAL CONCERNS

Though having moved on to more inclusive cultural commentary, the itch of once being an architecture and design critic occasionally needs to be scratched, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere..
 
So it was when a prestigious architectural award, the Pritzker Prize, recently elbowed its way into the news, no small feat in these Trumpian dominated days.
 
What compels me to lend a perspective at this time is I sense the award just may be an indication that the profession is shifting away from the recent obnoxious obsession with celebrity architecture to more socially responsible concerns.
 
Particularly so in L.A., where architects seemed to have been more interested in self promoting, stand alone projects, rather than serving users and the public.
 
Considered architecture’s highest honor, and with a stipend of $100,000 certainly the profession’s most rewarding the latest Pritzker went to India’s Balkrishna Doshi, who is known in the Asian sub continent for his sustainable, low cost projects, and being an architect for the poor.
 
According to a statement by the prize jury, Doshi’s solutions correctly address the social, environmental and economic dimensions, constantly demonstrating that “all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure but take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of context.” In sum, that they be sustainable and social responsible.
 
Indeed from my liberal perspective, for the last several years it seems the coveted Pritzker prize has gone to architects with decidedly humanitarian predispositions, practicing in what could be described as design back waters, far from the limelight of the world cities.
 
I note it been more than a dozen years, since 2005, that an American has won, or for that matter any over blown personality that could be described as a star architect.
 
How refreshing, for when I was struggling as the architecture critic for the LA Times championing relevant urban design I felt the profession was preoccupied with how projects looked to a few peers rather than worked; that they were increasingly irrelevant, relegating architecture to a cultural sideshow.
 
To be sure, it was at times diverting. But I found the drive for celebrity status ultimately was corrupting, and that includes self aggrandizing schools and their impressionable students and faculty, fawning foundations and undiscerning media camp followers.
 
That it appears for now the Pritzker has broken this design daisy chain deserves praise, and hopefully might just help edge architecture back to its noble calling of designing spaces and places for human endeavor.
 

MALIBU TRAFFIC; BAD TO WORSE

If there seems to have been more traffic delays in Malibu than usual, it is because there are. Of late there have been several bad accidents, on PCH and also on the two connecting routes over the hill, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

And now there is a rush of construction of the ill advised projects of past pro development roosting city councils ,whose bad eggs they laid are being hatched . This includes a traffic light to accommodate the Malibu Beach Inn, and a rash of road widenings in and around the civic center to serve the approved new shopping centers there.

So don’t expect traffic to get any better, despite the usual mouse squeaks of concern coming out of City Hall. To be sure, even with their doors closed, or away on another expense paid governmental boondoggle featuring free meals and advice, the city’s top staff couldn’t ignore the welling anger of the Malibu constituency, especially those who have to use the PCH daily.

So with only a few days notice the city has scheduled a so-called “informational workshop,” for next Wednesday, the 14th, to ostensibly discuss transportation improvement projects funded by the county Measure M.

But hopefully the audience will insist the entire transportation mess plaguing Malibu will be aired, and not let the city get off the hook by blaming it all on Cal Trans. Malibu could assert itself much more, if it only had the moxIe.

However, if these meetings follow past scripts, those attending should beware of protracted presentation by city and county representatives designed not necessarily to details a list of pending projects, but to take forestall public comment and questions. In short, to bury the audience in bureaucratic blather, and deflect the arrows aimed at those responsible.

I wonder how many past council members, and the present lame ducks will be present to explain why and how they turned our seacoast coast village into a suburban-scape.

Probably not present will be the gaggle of high priced traffic, planning and political consultants that have been feeding at the city’s trough, and supposedly addressing these issues. That is in addition to hosting our neophyte municipal leaders who seem to have outsourced every city hall issue except staff payrolls and pensions, and councilperson trips.

There are so many questions to be asked, and so few answers to be expected. It is I feel frankly the sad and sorry state of local government these days

This brings to mind the urban adage, “People get the city they deserve.” Perhaps it is time to take back some of those awards given out to select past council persons when they retired.

 

 

 

JASPER JOHNS AT THE BROAD

If post modern and conceptual art leaves you wondering just what was the artist thinking when he or she conceived a particular piece, the Jasper Johns exhibit at the Broad Museum downtown might just provide some answers.

Indeed, if you are at all interested, or think you should be, in the constantly shifting and ever-challenging modes and methodology of the art world, the exhibit, entitled “Something Resembling Truth.”

As I comment on public radcio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it is a must, and runs for several more months through May 13th, and worth the $25 entry fee. The Broad is usually happily free.

This is an exception, but so is Johns, who at 88 is considered our greatest living artist, as someone once described him, an iconic iconoclast, the father of Pop and Conceptual art. Certainly he is revered among the multi-media avant garde in art, music and dance.

And specifically, if you have been entranced by Johns as I have been for six decades. the exhibit is a most welcomed well organized and explained comprehensive survey, for Johns in his constant experimentations has arguably influenced nearly every artistic movement from the 1950s to the present day.

Beginning with no less a rejection of the Modernist isims of Dada and Abstract Expressionism that isolated one’s aesthetic experience from any cultural context , Johns conversely explored what we actually see.

The curators state in a gallery introduction that “by approaching widely recognizable signs and symbols, Johns sought to make the familiar unfamiliar, inviting viewers to look more closely at what he calls, things the mind already knows.”

Thus displayed, and explained, are Johns widely recognized images of the American flag in a parade of subtle permutations. Also displayed are targets, numbers, maps, light bulbs, and several collages that feature broken school rulers. All of this may be commonplace, but it also cryptic. And Johns is not saying, and is quote suggesting “the meanings may just be that the painting exists.”

But the cultural critic Marc Haefele. says it is sometimes apparent, as in a painting called “In Memory of my feelings.” With a gloomy finish and pathetically dangling fork and spoon, Haefele suggest it evokes Johns’ sorrow over the loss of his longtime lover, the artist Robert Rauschenberg. You get it.

 

THE LOVERS OF VITEBSK AT THE WALLIS

This week it was to the U.S. premiere of the English production of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk .” an arresting portrait of the relationship between the Russian born, shtetl haunted, artist Marc Chagal had with his wife of early years, Bella.

And as it seems almost always with the stage production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, you expect the unexpected. For me, it makes the Wallis along with the UCLA ‘s Art of the Performance the most exciting venues in theatre today

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I was not disappointed. Though, to be sure, the marvelously acted two character play was challenging, with bursts of dialogue, dancing, and songs exploding on an open stage that shifts with lighting and props to hint of a synagogue, an artist’s studio, wherever.

Challenging, yes, but so was the relationship between Chagal and Bella, fanciful, frustrating, and mesmerizing, certainly to these Russian shtarker’s eyes

With a unique vision Chagal had depicted a magical portrait of his love for his wife Bella, colorfully entwined flying above a Russian fairyland where brush strokes were caresses.

He indeed is once quoted declaring “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette, which provides the meaning of life and art, it is the color of love.”  Poetic to be sure, but to the play’s credit also illustrated is the marriage’s turmoil.

Of course the Russia where the couple came of age also was in constant turmoil. There was in Czarist times the pogroms, followed by a world war, a revolution, civil war, and the machinations and madness of an emerging Soviet Union.

For the record, the Chagals left Russia in 1922, for a welcoming Paris, never to return. But Russia never left them, gnawing at their souls, and testing their marriage, to its last days in New York, There escaping the horrors of World War Two the flying lovers eventually landed, and Emma, alas, died.

As a production of the always inventive Kneehigh and the Bristol Old Vic , the play is loosely structured, more of a performance art piece, where knowledge of the Chagals is frankly helpful.

Helping definitely is the multi talented cast: the acting, dancjng and singing of Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, the onstage presence of the musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, all under the inspired direction of Emma Rice. .

Of particular note is that Rice played Emma in the original production of The Lovers 25 years ago, with the writer Daniel Jamieson then her husband playing Chagal.

The production runs for another week at the Wallis, through March 11th, Catch it if you can.

 

DOG PARK DIALOGUES

One of the distinguishing physical characteristics of my companionable Pembroke Welsh Corgi, known to all as Bobby The Bad, is his dark eyes etched in black rims, which when the occasion calls for it can be penetrating and accusatory.

And so they were recently at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park of which he considers himself lord and master, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Bobby’s eyes were indeed ablaze, and he was noticeably snarling, at the informal afternoon socialization and therapy session at the park as he broke from a pack of canines he was herding and limped up to me where I was perched among a gaggle of owners.

The limp and the look were enough to tell me why he was angry, but just to make sure that as a sometime bird brained human—his anthropomorphic description, not mine – I understood, Bobby let out with a volley of all too familiar annoying loud barks.

Since confidentially I‘m conversant in Welsh Corgi, I interpreted Bobby’s barks to say that the coarse gravel underfoot was hurting his paws when herding, and uncomfortable when lying down, and where in the hell was the fine decomposed granite promised several years ago by the city of Malibu?

I reminded him that last year when the bids to resurface the dog park came in slightly higher than anticipated, I think by $20,00, city staff recommended that it be rejected, and that the proposed contract be renegotiated or new bids solicited.

So what happened? barked Bobby. Isn’t the Malibu City Hall suppose to be a font of outsourcing? Just look at the money being pissed away – that ‘s Bobby’s language –on reseeding the grass playing fields at Trancas every few months.

Yes, soft, sweet smelling grass, like they have in other dog parks in less affluent cities. Bobby of course was right, as he usually is.

And he added with a snarl, “That’s a drop in the bucket when you think about all those trips councilmembers and the city manager take to those dogshit conferences, and what the city pays to its suck up consultants for making a few phony phone calls about what we are never told.” Bobby does have a butt sniffing nose for that sort of stuff.

That got the owners gathered at the bench talking: how the city short changes west Malibu, like not following through on the promise of the right turn lane off the PCH at Trancas Canyon Road.

“This city is going to the dogs,” chirped an owner.

“Are we talking a canine consultancy here?” I asked.

“If only,” barked Bobby, in Welsh.

 

REMEMBERING LEE HARRIS POMEROY

 

“I’m missing Lee the architect already:

Certainly at the funeral HE would have in his understated way checked out Riverside Memorial Chapel to see if it had:

1) proper means of access and, especially egress, for a place of public assembly.

2) how the lobby could be improved to accommodate public congregating, especially mindful of seasons and weather, to check and retrieve outer garments.

3) seating made more comfortable, sight lines enhanced, lighting more flexible

4) audio reviewed, with special consideration for the hearing impaired.

5) any special amenities for the seated family, cushions, raised for viewing

6) stepping to the pulpit, speaking at pulpit. descending, back to seat.

7) ease exiting, accommodate pauses in aisles, lobby, and on sidewalk. And if the venue could be vacated in the 6 minutes, in accordance to the NYC Fire Department performance standards.

The check and punch lists would (should!) go on, and on, into eternity. Yes, eternity.

I taught senior thesis with him as a team as adjunct professors at City College for several years, in the early 70s, nearly 50 years ago but really only like yesterday. He enjoyed talking about those years whenever we met.

Lee was very much the professional architect, and when he taught was indeed the advocate for the architect. He viewed the student designs as an experienced, insightful architect while I acted as the advocate for the user.

I felt with Lee I wasn’t teaching the class, but rather learning with the class. In a way, we were all students of Lee.

And I must add it was Lee in his declarative mode who dominated the grading, I never liked giving out grades, thinking the students when graduated will be graded soon enough.  He felt grades were appropriate.

Yes, Lee was judgmental, albeit in a soft voice that was sugar to his sometimes sharp reviews. This no doubt influenced me when I went into the next life to be a critic.

I especially liked it when class reviews were held in his office atop of the Plaza Hotel, in the former maids quarters, where he roosted for awhile, having been the architect for the hotel’s rehabilitation.  (Yes, he had opinions about working for Donnie back then, which we shared since my Dad was the Trump interior decorator. But I have no more to say on that.  We have enough sadness at present dealing with Lee’s death.)

I will say the Plaza was more pleasant than the ex Chevy facility on 133rd and Broadway.

Even after moving to LA. I enjoyed, staying in the illegal office bedroom, which gave me another reason to stay in touch with Lee, and to dine out on occasion with the wives.

For the record, the bill always was scrupulously split, with Lee, of course, doing the math, which I never questioned. I doubt anybody ever did.

And when the office was downtown, I loved it being above the culinary institute. I know he certainly did. Having lunch there with Lee, at his table, is a fond memory, even after we both went on diets.

For a Brooklyn born, Brooklyn Tech grad, subway commuter, street savvy New Yorker, he was exceptionally soft spoken and kind, to students as well as waiters, and also tolerant to colleagues, even the nasty ones who envied his success.

He even had a kind word for the bureaucrats here, and especially in India, who held up the design process, and worse, payments.

And he cared, not just for the clients. In particular, I remember him struggling with me of how should the 10,000 feral waifs living in the tunnels of the Calcutta train station be accommodated during the station’s reconstruction the office was planning.

It is a problem we never solved, like others Lee struggled with, in a life too short.

And I thought he was going to be immortal, like me, until, of course, we are not.”