Golijov’s music for Ainadamar was unfailingly appealing and often moving. Peabody Southwell extracted maximum value from “Desde me ventana,” for example. And the aria leading up to Lorca’s execution: vintage tango, contemporary world dance music, flamenco wailing. All very tangy and flavorful.
The problem was that this music had no context or characters. As in his earlier libretto for Howard Shore’s The Fly, David Henry Hwang alludes to significant events without dramatizing them. We get a parade of seven-decade-old clichés about Andalusia, martyrdom, poetry, the Republic, and Fascism.
The argument that these clichés are what’s inside the head of the ailing old lady protagonist merely raises the question why Margarita was chosen to be the protagonist in the first place. It’s not as though civil war, the murder of dissident writers, and political oppression by terror aren’t, unfortunately, all in the news right now. There’s got to be a more humane way to speak of these things.
The staging was not up to the usual LBO standard. The chorus of ladies of Granada spent all their time riding up and down on a riser waving their arms. It would have been nice if we could have heard them better. Frieder Weiss’s video projections were intermittently apt (the execution scene). The best effect—the heaven of chandeliers at the end—was undermined by having Margarita exit by sinking into the stage while bathed in synthetic blue disco lights. But then, there wasn’t any story for the staging to support.
[Image: Zubaran, St. Bonaventure, 1629]
The Valley is a foreign country for me anyway, and this was a real voyage of discovery.
Part of the fun of the tour was passing by all the showy ordinary residences in the neighborhood to dive in and discover a hidden gem. The Barsha house—truly the apotheosis of the California dream—doesn’t give away anything to the street. The spectacle is all inside. The pictures above show the view from the pool, and the study in the 1974 second floor addition.
Which is not to say it’s private. The interior and exterior spaces are emphatically convivial—they are machines for partying.
It was a well-curated selection, demonstrating the variety of Kappe’s designs, from the refined barely-there 1956 house to the dramatic wedge- or wing-spread forms (Hayes and Barsha houses), to intricately nestled boxes (Handman and Butnik houses, pictured below).
It was also fascinating to see the different ways people inhabit these houses. The designs are all clearly Ray Kappe, but the effect of each home was dramatically different. Anne and Mark have found a way to furnish their 1956 house that is both individual, comfortable and stylish (photo at top), but there is something touching about other people’s junk rooms, glass chairs, and accordians. And the owners impart their own history: did we really see Tina Turner’s panic room in the Handman house?!
Henri Murger has a lot to answer for. In the 1840s he popularized the myth of dropping out of respectable society to devote yourself to music, art, love or ones idiosyncratic personal style … and almost two centuries later we have the current situation in Echo Park, and analogous hipster centers in every city in the world.
Last Wednesday I got the impression that Puccini, like most people, initially found something appealing in the antics of bohemia, but, then—like most people—quickly discovered that the carryings-on, which are supposed to be amusing and touching, can become hopelessly boring. A theatrical pro like Puccini didn’t care and simply focused on the ill-fated love aspect of the material. In the resulting opera the default setting of the music dial is set pretty low, and is only turned up for Mimì, Rodolfo, and—in the second scene—Musetta. Their bits are indelible—the rest is negligible.
The production at best supported Puccini’s strategy. Stephen Costello was an excellent Rodolfo, and Janai Brugger brought Musetta to life.
Gerard Howland’s sets were brilliant and beautiful tableaux, but they cramped the action mercilessly. The opening scene was confined inside a tiny box suspended above the stage. Precariousness, agreed, is one of the themes, but that’s supposed to be an expansive moment.
As if this didn’t provide enough to think about, after the performance there was an afterparty in the lobby with KCRW’s Aaron Byrd spinning live. An novel idea, but perhaps not totally appropriate to the geriatric crowd, and the opera’s tearful finale. We hung around admiring the funky stage benches installed for the masses, but left before things heated up.
[Image: Robert Delaunay, Windows, 1912]
I imagine a lot of people responded to the news that Donna Summer died the way I did. There were six steps:
1. I was more upset than I would have imagined.
2. I got home in the mood to listen to Donna all night and discovered to my horror that I only had one song by her in my collection. And it wasn’t even the long version of I feel love. In her heyday, her music had been so ubiquitous, there wasn’t any need to own it.
3. I immediately purchased one of her greatest hits collections online. While downloading it, a friend phoned wanting to talk about her:
She was the source for all the music I have ever liked in my life. She was fantastic. The Seventies produced disco and punk, two music and lifestyle genres that have not only endured, but become park of global folklore. Without any doubt, Donna Summer is being blasted in clubs in every time zone, in every country on the planet, not excepting North Korea ….
4. The download kept failing. Too many people were doing the exact same thing.
5. When I finally downloaded the album, I didn't recognize most of the song titles. But as soon as I started playing them, they all came back. Instantly, vividly.
6. I realized that nothing less than a complete reassessment of the Donna Summer oeuvre is in order. I hope somebody with more knowledge and experience is working at it right now. Better late than never.
[Image: Donna Summer and Giorgio Morodor]
Out Spoken opening at the MAK Center put me in the position of the custodian of a collection lending work out for an exhibition. But it wasn’t just an exhibition—each of the four architects edited, manipulated, and curated videos from the SCI-Arc Media Archive into installations in different rooms at the Schindler House. Reza and I knew, of course, what material they had asked for, but we didn’t know what they were going to do with it. The results were pure delight. And each one took a different approach to the material, and presented it in different ways.
Anthony Fontenot’s City Talk approached the video in the most straightforward way: filling the bigger room off the courtyard with four desks with monitors presenting clips of architects talking about cities. The stations were chronologically divided into four decades: the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and the Aughts. One of Fontenot’s points was to demonstrate a decline and revival of interest in urbanism among architects—a point that I think a lot of veterans from the Seventies would dispute.
Marcelyn Gow’s two wall mounted monitors in the room adjacent to the kitchen also collected clips over many decades. For Drawn Out, the theme was drawing. Her two monitors presented a compelling contrapuntal dialog about the continued relevance of the freehand drawing even well into the digital age.
Paulette Singley’s Teasers, Ticklers, and Twizzlers in the little rooms off the courtyard took the most radical approach to SCI-Arc’s videos, by not using them at all. In her research in the archive she discovered several videos in which lecturers presented their own video or film works. Beyond this video-within-video issue, the content of these tapes was largely boys and their toys—the celebration of loud, violent, mechanical mayhem. Singley sought out the original tapes and presented them in all their violent glory, commenting on a strain of SCI-Arc’s sensibility, plus cheekily subverting the serene domesticity of the Schindler House. Putting Survival Research Lab in the bathtub was a stroke a genius.
Roger Sherman’s Cook Off is the work that will probably have a life beyond this presentation. In the room off the Chase courtyard Sherman installed two white butterfly chairs surrounded by 11 freestanding audio speakers. From each speaker comes, in intermittent outbursts, aphorisms from Peter Cook. Each speaker represents a single year, from 1981 to 2011. While it was under production, I heard rumors of what Sherman was doing, and assumed the effect would be like a haunted house. But not at all: it was like being at a very lively cocktail party, where all the guests are Peter Cook. It is at once an affectionate tribute to Peter Cook, his connection to Los Angeles, and a comment on the role of one-liners in architectural discourse. You couldn’t not laugh.
[Images: from a 1986 SCI-Arc Media Archive video documenting renovations at the Schindler House]
Tacita Dean arrived at the Getty last Thursday fresh from a triumph in London, where her 35mm film installation in the Turbine Hall was a critical and popular hit. One consequence of this success has been that Dean has become a popular spokesperson for the defense of traditional photochemical filmmaking.
Kodak is currently reorganizing under bankruptcy, and nobody knows how much longer film stock is going to be produced or processed. An effective popular spokesperson for the original technology of cinema would be most welcome at this moment, as digital technology seems poised to annihilate it forever. Unfortunately that person is not Tacita Dean.
The first complication is that Dean is not a filmmaker: she is an artist who makes museum installations, one element of which is often a movie. They are artifacts to be encountered for a few moments and then left. They have no more independent significance than the installation walls or chairs or lighting. It’s a cruel misrepresentation to project them on a theater screen as if they were a movie to be sat through.
To be fair, this is something that Dean is very aware of, and last Thursday night she expressed some horror at the fact that the Getty had screened her Kodak (44 min.; 2006; 16 mm.) and Michael Hamburger (28 min.; 2007; 16 mm.) as self-sufficient motion pictures. I shared her horror. As movies, these items offered a very limited reward. I don’t care for her cinematography, the way she frames scenes, what happens within the scenes, how scenes are combined, or the total effect.
After being given this demonstration of Dean’s capacity as a film artist, the Getty compelled her to lecture about her work. This was also cruel and misguided, as Dean is a maker, an artist who messes around with materials, and not an articulate speaker or thinker.
Being fuzzy brained is no crime, but things quickly degenerated as Dean was joined on stage by cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, who announced their proposal for UNESCO “to recognize the medium of film as a world cultural heritage.”
So this is the solution to the crisis of traditional film technology—calling in the United Nations? What would the UN do about it? How could it intervene in the corporate/industrial decision-making of Kodak and Fuji? Does the UN have such a strikingly successful record of accomplishments? What do the folks in Syria have to say about this? And why should the UN intervene? Dean and Navarro offered no better argument than “Don't touch my favorite toy!”
Navarro unfortunately went on to put his foot further into his mouth by proclaiming as a self-evident fact that a traditional photochemical camera is a tool you can use to make art, whereas a digital camera is merely a machine.
Ross Lipman from UCLA archive and Michael Pogorzelski from the Academy archive ventured an argument that seems a bit more compelling—that without new film stock, we won’t be able to watch movies the first century of cinema in the way they were intended. I hope somebody was listening to them.
[Image: ISO 12233 Test Chart]
By the ninth room of Ocean Park paintings, drawings and prints “Isn’t that lovely?” had been replaced by “Right, right, right.” The pleasure of being transported had been supplanted by the pleasure of recognition. The visual beauty—ravishing and august as it is—becomes just one aspect of a much larger adventure: an inquiry into a mood, which is to say, an inquiry into reality.
What the work does not do is attempt to scandalize, provoke, satirize or instruct. It is not theatrical and never a proclamation. It doesn’t shout or argue. Visual pleasure is never lacking, but it is a philosophical hedonism that can never be mistaken for fun.
Seeing the works together emphasizes their character as a journal. With discipline and patience, Diebenkorn began each day afresh: Where am I now? What next? Each journal entry is in the same vein, with the same vocabulary. Start with a rectangle, divide it into bands and boxes, pause, reflect, begin again.
The works inhabit a distinct mood, something too ordinary and too powerful to have a simple name. Call it the trepidation and hope of first looking out at the morning. Elements include intense introspection, extreme self-doubt, un-judgmental curiosity, a tendency towards refinement, but, at the same time, a tendency to accept whatever happens.
It’s not clear what the pictures “are.” Diebenkorn denied that they were landscapes—which should be kept in mind when people go on about the border of Santa Monica and Venice where he made the work. His pictures don’t provide any information or anecdotes. The “light” that everyone talks about could be that of any Mediterranean-climate beach town in the world. He was too fastidious to tie himself down to “capturing the spirit of a place.” He was creating, not reporting.
But he didn’t create in a void. Diebenkorn drew from life and made representational throughout his career. He was not a doctrinaire abstractionist: he didn’t bother about the categories. Probably nothing in his work is totally abstract or totally representational. Abstraction, for him, wasn’t a goal, but where his intense looking and reflecting often ended. I suspect that with the Ocean Park pictures, there was often some subject matter, but it dissolved under scrutiny, as Picasso and Braque dissolved their sitters into shimmering hermetic cubist canvases.
The OCMA exhibit begins with a little gouache from 1969 that is a straightforward landscape: a vista of rooftops and palm trees with a strip of ocean in the distance, blank bare walls appearing as bands on top and bottom of the rectangle.
It is not a key, and does not explain the subsequent work; but it states a theme to be elaborated in variations. And these variations don’t reject associations: the bare expanses of smudged pastel can recall certain dirty, faded stucco walls, and the crisp green rectangles can recall certain crisp green rectangular parks, and the rough grids can read like street plans or circuit boards, ….
But the more time I spent with these pictures, the more I felt they were less concerned with place than with time.
In the first place, the pictures often seem to register a specific time of day: a fogged in morning, the brilliant saturated colors of mid-day, the onset of evening casting all into shadow.
In the second place, the pictures seem to register the time spent looking, the time spent making.
The works are not realizations of a design, but documents of the struggle to design. Every surface is a palimpsest, bearing traces of an extended history of trials, false starts, second thoughts. Order and balance are achieved, but in a way that suggests that they are only provisional, only for the time being. The sturdy, straightforward structure derived “rationally” from divisions of the rectangle will be erased by the next wave, a few more year’s of sunlight.
[Image: Ocean Park goauche #13, 1983]
What a brilliant, moving show. The program was not merely clever, but poetic and theatrically striking. The Phil under Rattle emitted the eerie puffs of noise of Ligeti’s Atmospheres with delicious finesse, and then—without a pause—launched into the prelude to the first act of Lohengrin. It was a violent stormy night followed by a calm sunrise.
Then Magdalena Kožená joined the orchestra for Mahler’s five settings of poems by Rückert, and stopped everyone in their tracks. It’s no surprise that Mahler, celebrated as an opera conductor, never attempted to write one himself. He didn’t need to. He concentrated a whole opera’s worth of conflict and drama and ecstasy into a twenty minute soliloquy. Rilke wrote somewhere that “Beauty is the beginning of a terror we are just able to bear,” and that about sums up the effect these songs had.
Rattle ended the evening with a rousing performance of Bruckner’s last symphony, making him seem like the Edwin Lutyens of music: brilliant, solid, old-fashioned, and irresistible.
Rattle was great fun to watch. He cast a baleful glare at some latecomers, which might have been better directed at the would-be paparazzo taking flash photographs in the seats behind the orchestra. He also made crazy eyes at the orchestra, like an insane coach: “Faster! Faster! Come on!”
The big event of the evening was the world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s The Singing Mountaineers. The Master Chorale performed with the L.A.-based traditional music ensemble Huayucaltia. A series of scenes, each featuring a different set of soloists, and featuring different traditional instruments. The effects ranged from the zany song for the ladies about a hummingbird, to a devastating lament narrated with maximum drama by Abdiel Gonzalez.
[Image: Joan Miró, Constellation: Nocturne, 1940]