Category: Review

Art review: 'Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles' at MOCA

January 12, 2012 |  3:00 pm

“Hollywood, the last refuge of geniuses and scoundrels, welcomed me with open arms,” the photographer known as Weegee (born Usher Fellig) once wrote of his arrival in Los Angeles in 1947.

It may well have been true. Fresh off the success of his 1945 publication "Naked City," the collection of New York tabloid and crime photographs that helped to make him “Weegee the Famous” (as he humbly called himself), he had reason to identify with the promise of Tinseltown. Sorting truth from hyperbole in any of Weegee’s statements is largely futile, however; he also declared that all native Angelenos are zombies who “drink formaldehyde instead of coffee and have no sex organs.” 

In any case, Hollywood could scarcely have known what it was getting. The work that Weegee produced in his four years here — the subject of “Naked Hollywood: Weegee in Los Angeles,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art — builds on much of what made Naked City great:  the wit, the irreverence, the keen eye for incriminating detail. At the same time, it veers into very strange territory indeed. Tackling the locus of celebrity culture while having recently begun to experiment with low-fi photographic effects proved a spirituous confluence in the career of such a character. The result is a playful, bawdy, gleefully caustic portrait of L.A. that comes as a breath of fresh air in this earnest season of civic self-reflection, illuminating one quality in short supply among Pacific Standard Time exhibitions: satire. 

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Art Review: Barbara Kasten at Gallery Luissoti

December 3, 2011 | 11:30 am

Barbara Kasten 2
For all the attention surrounding the 60-plus museum exhibitions encompassed by the Pacific Standard Time initiative, many of the real treasures have been found among the countless galleries that have also taken up the mantle, providing opportunities, in many cases, for a more focused and intimate engagement with the artists of the PST generation, wherever they fall on the Getty’s radar.

“Barbara Kasten: Experimental Photography From the 1970s” at Gallery Luisotti is one such opportunity. Kasten, who lived in Los Angeles through the ’70s but later moved to Chicago, came to photography by way of painting and sculpture. Influenced by constructivism, minimalism and the then emergent Light and Space movement, she utilized the camera less as a tool for documentation than as an active element in the creation of her compositions, photographing the play of light through installations she constructed in her studio from sheets of glass, mirrors, metal and other materials.

Abstract and geometric but with a delicate sense of atmospherics, the work moves between qualities of photography, sculpture and painting, exploring the formal nuance of line, shape, light and tone. Contemporary work displayed alongside that of the 1970s reveals Kasten’s concern with these elements to be a lifelong project, offering a welcome view into a focused yet deeply inquisitive practice.

Gallery Luisotti, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, (310) 453-0043, through July 17. Closed Sunday and Monday.

--Holly Myers

Gallery Luisotti, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, (310) 453-0043, through July 17. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Above: Barbara Kasten, Amalgam Series, Untitled 79-13. Credit: Gallery Luisotti

Art Review: Nate Page at Machine Project

December 3, 2011 | 11:00 am


This post has been corrected. Please see note below

The Echo Park-based art space/collective Machine Project has done its share of meddling in recent years with the form and function of other people’s buildings: planting musicians in the parking garage of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; orchestrating a sonic bison stampede through a dinner event at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver; installing ping-pong tables on the mezzanine of the Hammer Museum, and so forth.

On occasion, however, the tables are turned and the modest Alvarado Street storefront that remains Machine’s home base undergoes the meddling of one of its artists. Such is the case with Nate Page’s “Storefront Plaza,” an architecturally ambitious installation that effectively retracts the façade of the storefront 20 feet into the heart of the main space.

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Art Review: Michael Decker at Steve Turner Contemporary

December 3, 2011 | 10:00 am


“Bloom where you are planted.” “This too shall pass.” “Friends make life bearable.” “The time to be happy is now.”

Platitudes proliferate in Michael Decker’s second solo show at Steve Turner Contemporary. Drawing from a collection of novelty tchotchkes, photographs of which he’s assembled in a fittingly kitschy wood-bound album, Decker reproduces the inscriptions in stamped black letters on 29 white painted boards hung at varying heights throughout the gallery. A computer-generated voice recites them, meanwhile, in a grating monotone, on a looped audio recording planted in one corner.

The installation, which weaves in and around the show’s other half a dozen sculptures and drawings, has a vaguely insolent title: “We’re Getting Old, So Let’s Talk Like This.” There is more at play here, however, than mere sarcasm or irony — even if it’s difficult to pinpoint just what. In this simple gesture — the displacement of text from the florid world of the gift shop tchotchke to the generic, though equally amateurish, realm of Decker’s stamped letters and digital voice — Decker seems to expose the futility that these aphorism, in their natural context, aim to obscure. They feel naked and feeble, hovering in their generic print with an air of almost desperate uselessness.

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Art Review: Charles Arnoldi at Rosamund Felsen

December 3, 2011 |  9:30 am

CA11 63

The creative restlessness aroused by the painting debates of the 1970s is on full display in a fine selection of Charles Arnoldi’s early work at Rosamund Felsen Gallery. Though he would never forsake the form altogether — and is indeed known primarily as a painter today — one can see Arnoldi feeling out the boundaries here in ways that would inform his approach in subsequent years.

Most of the 25 works on view assume the basic form of a painting: that is, a square or rectangular wall-mounted object, comparable in scale and presence to a window. Pictorially, they explore the basic elements of abstraction: gesture, line, symmetry, pattern, the interplay of flatness and depth.

Most of these works, however, are composed not in paint but with sticks, gathered from nature and sanded smooth. Some lie flat against the wall in linear patterns, others reach out a foot or more in gracefully complex relief-like entanglements. A handful depart from the wall altogether: free-standing forms that, in their slender linearity, nonetheless evoke the character of flatness.

The stick works, which fill the first two galleries, are paired in the third with a selection of actual paintings — oil and acrylic on canvas — whose stiff, crowded, overlapping brush strokes resemble nothing so much as piles of sticks.

It is impossible not to see this playful flirting between two and three dimensions as precedent to the graceful solidity of Arnoldi’s recent work, the best of which has a substance, a bulk, that seems to expand beyond the edges of the canvas.

--Holly Myers

Rosamund Felsen Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B4, Santa Monica, (310) 828-8488, through December 23. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Above: Untitled work by Charles Arnoldi. Credit: Rosamund Felsen Gallery.


Dance review: Joffrey 'Nutcracker' at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

December 2, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Robert Joffrey got just about everything marvelously right in his 1987 “Nutcracker,” the last ballet he directed before his death. 

And the Joffrey Ballet did just about perfectly as well on Thursday, when the company returned with this sparkling production to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through Sunday).

This distinguished group of 42 dancers, now headquartered in Chicago and directed by alumnus Ashley Wheater, gave Los Angeles an assured and elegant classicism, a maturation first seen three years ago here in a production of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella.”

With original scenes by co-founder Gerald Arpino and based on the 1940 Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production, Joffrey's "Nutcracker" is innocent and sweet without leaving the audience feeling sticky. It hues more closely than most to Tchaikovsky’s unerring musical story-telling. Set designer Oliver Smith imagines a picture book-charming Victorian America that never overwhelms the stage.

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Theater review: Twyla Tharp's 'Come Fly Away' at the Pantages

October 26, 2011 |  1:25 pm

Mallauri Esquibel and Ron Todorowski
If Beyoncé isn't already at the Pantages taking notes, she should be. No choreographer alive knows more about getting pop songs on their feet than Twyla Tharp -- and just about everything she knows is on view in “Come Fly Away,” the full-evening salute to the vocals of Frank Sinatra that opened Tuesday for a two-week run.

In various forms, under various titles, this show has been around since 2009. The Pantages version is a half-hour shorter than the 2010 Broadway edition, with seven songs, a dancer, an onstage vocalist and an intermission jettisoned for the tour. At a lean 80 minutes, it charts the formation and rivalries of four couples in a nightclub that sports a sensational live band upstage.

PHOTOS: 'Come Fly Away' at the Pantages

Under the supervision of Dave Pierce, that band artfully supplements and often dominates the classic arrangements and orchestrations of Sinatra's recordings. What's more, Peter McBoyle's sound design makes Sinatra's voice seem a living entity -- as if he's offstage, mike in hand. 

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Dance review: Kyle Abraham's 'Radio Show' at REDCAT

October 20, 2011 |  8:00 pm

Onstage at the REDCAT, New York-based choreographer Kyle Abraham is dancing a sublimely funky R&B solo with such perfect panache that it's a shock when he suddenly pauses, his head sadly nodding, one hand twitching, as if his soul train had become suddenly, irrevocably derailed.

The back of his shirt is slashed and torn, the recorded music chopped into a collage of fragments, and the sense of continuity -- social as well as personal -- fractured beyond repair. Welcome to “The Radio Show,” Abraham's nonlinear 75-minute action-painting of contemporary America that opened Wednesday for a four-performance run.

Abraham's feelings about the closure of a Pittsburgh radio station and his father's descent into Alzheimer's shaped the piece, but its sense of displacement and loss transcends specifics. One moment Elyse Morris will exult in her high-voltage virtuosity and the next her control will shatter into violent spasms or a mournful stillness. Intimacy between Rena Butler and Chalvar Monteiro looks promising but hasn't a chance. And Hsiao-Jou Tang doesn't even struggle against the changes she sees in herself. Her meditative solo-in-silence is mostly about resignation.

With few exceptions, the pervasive movement style is so bold and even fearless that you might not spot the intricacy of the choreography until the whole seven-member company dances in pluperfect unison. Indeed, matched moves make the second half of the piece an exciting company showpiece -- but often at the cost of the thematic rigor of Part 1.

There are a few intimations of Abraham's initial premise (his twitching hand just before the final fade-out, for example). But mostly you'll find a more literal approach to the selected songs along with an audience-participation segment conveying the forced jollity of a call-in radio show. It's all entertaining, one way or another, but not as remarkable as the deeply mournful vision brilliantly physicalized early on.

In addition to the dancers mentioned, the company includes Rachelle Rafailedes and Maleek Mahkail Washington. Dan Scully designed a lighting plan that subjects the dancers to moments of painful isolation as well as glaring assault. Somber music by Amber Lee Parker supplements the pop tracks dominating the evening.

-- Lewis Segal

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion: “The Radio Show,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., downtown L.A. 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $20 and $25. (213) 237-2800 or

Photo: A scene from Kyle Abraham's"The Radio Show." Credit: Steven Schreiber.

Music review: Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil rock Disney Hall

October 14, 2011 |  2:11 pm

In the long run, Gustavo Dudamel’s greatest strength may turn out to be his yen for programming, for he came up with a lineup Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that leaped beyond the mere printed page into autobiography.  

Normally Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 would be an invitation to routine, but in this case, it was a return to the piece with which Dudamel made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl back in 2005.  It was also -– probably coincidentally -– a bold challenge to Valery Gergiev and his hard-working Russians, who were scheduled to play Tchaikovsky 5 down the freeway in Costa Mesa on this same evening.

There would have been even more autobiographical significance had Yefim Bronfman –- who was the soloist for Dudamel’s Disney Hall debut in 2007 -–  performed the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3 as planned, but unfortunately the pianist broke a finger and had to cancel at the last minute. So the resourceful Venezuelan quickly slipped Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe” Suite No. 2 -– which he conducts from memory -– into the breach and pulled off a wonderfully sensuous performance loaded with daringly slow, sustained passages and sudden bursts of his trademark razzmatazz.

Dudamel also kept in gear his vigorous agenda of promoting contemporary music with the first Philharmonic performance of “Orion” (1979) by the French Canadian spectral-music-influenced composer Claude Vivier -– who happened to be working on an opera about the death of Tchaikovsky when, at age 34, he was stabbed to death by a male prostitute in Paris.  

A YouTube listener used the words “ascetic opulence” to describe another of Vivier’s works –- and it’s hard to think of a better way to sum up the 13 1/2-minute “Orion,” with its thick, plushly colorful textures, the Balinese influence in the pinging tuned gongs, and the ghostly male voice singing “Ay – Oh!” in two isolated spots.  Dudamel heightened and brightened the colors, gave the swellings more dynamic oomph, and made one want to hear more of Vivier’s music in this hall someday.

There is a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth by Dudamel and the kids of the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra from 2008, but in retrospect, it sounds like a rough-hewn blueprint for what Dudamel’s Tchaikovsky Fifth has become in 2011. The overall conception is about the same -– on the slow side, revving up into overdrive in the finale. Yet now there is more graceful flexibility and freedom when Dudamel pulls the phrases about; the rhythms are stronger; there is real drama, not sentimentality, in the second movement; and the Philharmonic brought everything to life with dazzling clarity. 

Hang on to your seats when Dudamel takes off on the Presto coda of the finale; it rocked the house Thursday.


Music review: Gergiev & Mariinsky play Tchaikovsky at Segerstrom

Yefim Bronfman injures finger, withdraws from L.A. Phil concerts

Tchaikovsky's Fifth, here there and everywhere

 -– Richard S. Ginell

Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel; Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; $85.25 to $185; (323) 850-2000 or  Also: Granada Theatre, 1214 State St., Santa Barbara; 4 p.m. Sunday; sold out; (805) 899-2222.

Photo: Dudamel on Oct 6 conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Art review: James Turrell at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

October 7, 2011 |  6:45 am

There are few works less conducive to representation than those of James Turrell, which makes a newspaper review a poor substitute indeed for a visit to the micro-survey that’s up through the fall at Kayne Griffin Corcoran in Santa Monica.

Pointedly titled “Present Tense,” the show presents four modestly scaled light installation works from across the span of Turrell’s 45-year career, sketching a loose trajectory of the artist’s evolution — an arc that would seem to extend from mastery to transcendence — while underscoring the fundamental now-ness of the work: the phenomenological necessity of experiencing even pieces that are decades old from the vantage point of the present moment. 

The earliest works, which date to the 1960s, are projections of light that beguilingly simulate the illusion of three-dimensional objects. The latter works are aperture installations: window-sized openings cut into a wall and lit from behind. 

In “Present Tense,” from 1991, the aperture appears as an orange rectangle hovering in the air of a very dark room. “Yukaloo,” from 2011, is similar in structure but with colors that shift with dawn-like slowness through a gentle spectrum of turquoise, pink and yellow. Until one is standing mere inches from the aperture, it is impossible to determine whether the light is a projection, a sculptural entity or a window, and even then it’s none too clear. 

The disorientation is so sharp, indeed, as to incline the mind toward mystical explanations. Gazing directly into the space of the color, with nothing solid for the eye to settle on, one has the sensation of gazing into infinity. 

-- Holly Myers

Kayne Griffin Corcoran, 2902 Nebraska Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 586-6886. Ends Dec. 17. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above:  James Turrell's "Yukaloo." Credit: Courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran 


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