Saturday, March 8, 2008

Art, Food, Wine, Art, Music

An eventful afternoon and evening yesterday. We had decided to stay in town for the weekend for a change, with plenty of things to do. I was in England visiting my sister at the time of all the gala openings for the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum (awkward and unappealing acronym: BCAM) and the attendant changes in the architectural interiors of the old campus, so we chose this Friday afternoon to play catchup.

The elevator from the convenient new underground parking area leads up to the main plaza with a view of the massive Broad building, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. A not very exciting exterior, enhanced, at plaza level, by landscaping by the artist Robert Irwin (palm trees, walkways...) and installations by Charles Ray (that big old fire truck, reconstructed, I think, in wood--a strange apparition) and Chris Burden (a dense forest of old Los Angeles street lamps, neatly arranged in serried rows.)

From the plaza, to follow the planned flow of things, a long exterior escalator brings the visitor up to the top floor of the Broad...

(sorry, my pictures are not a very useful visual representation of the architecture: I took some better ones, but for some reason my little digital Canon malfunctioned--these are the best I have)

...whence one is transported down from floor to floor in a massive glass elevator that offers a spectacular view of the Hollywood hills. Photography is not allowed, but I managed to sneak in an illicit shot of the top floor installation before being reprimanded by the one of the guards.

You'll note the the shiny Jeff Koons objects occupy pride of place. I liked the gallery spaces, especially the top floor which is lit (entirely, I believe) by natural light, filtered through computer-operated ceiling louvers. Very lovely, soft, evenly distributed light that gives the entire space a pleasant glow.

The Broad collection, I have to say, was for the most part uninspiring. Great works that, seen individually, would have perhaps worked better than seen as an entire installation, where they became a kind of pro forma encyclopedia of late twentieth century art. All the right names: Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol--and, representing the West Coast in this West Coast city, Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari. Am I missing someone? Probabably. The white male gang. Plus a handful of power females: Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Cindy Sherman... But, sadly for this now majority (?) Hispanic city, not a trace of that tradition. And only Basquiat to represent that other "minority." It all seemed, well, a little pat, a little tedious in its grandeur. As Ellie pointed out, the sheer scale of many of the works in the collection felt like a reflection of the ego of their creators.

There were a couple of surprises, for me. A few grand, elegantly-shaped Ellsworth Kellys literally jumped to life. I have never really cottoned to their uninflected, monochromatic surfaces, but a couple of them in this installation seemed to fly off the wall with vibrant urgency. I found myself liking Damien Hirst much more than I have in the past. His "cabinet of curiosities" installation of common-or-garden medical gear and drugs (with a few skulls and broken mirrors here and there, to add the momento mori touch) and another of truly beautiful skeletons of various animals and birds were remarkable, I thought, as was a monumental triptych assemblage created out of butterfly wings, evoking the sacred stained-glass windows of a European cathedral.

A couple of others, too. But I left the building on the first floor, with its installation of two more-than-massive Richard Serra maze-like constructions in imposing corten steel with the feeling that I had been there and done that. Moving east to the familiar old Periera-designed Ahmanson wing, we encountered the installation of a massive David Smith sculpture

occupying what had once been the atrium like a giant spider. Very impressive. We wandered through the galleries, admiring selections of modern works from an extraordinary private Los Angeles collection previously unknown to us, with impressive depth in the early twentieth century work of artists like Picasso and Bracque and, notably, Giacometti. Here's another not very good illicit snapshot of what was a truly moving installation.

We had to give rather short shrift to the ground floor galleries of modern and contemporary work in the Ahmanson, since we had made early dinner reservations at Comme Ca, one of those new, trendy westside places modeled on the Parisian brasserie. We enjoyed an excellent glass of house wine and good salads--Ellie chose vegetables with romaine lettuce, I chose the beets--followed by salmon for Ellie and braised beef for me, along with a side order of their special "frites."

All very good, but the chocolate tart we ordered for dessert proved disappointing. The waiter happily took it back. All in all, a good--but not great--meal, in an environment so noisy that it was almost impossible to hear each other speak. We enjoyed the occasion, but would not be in a hurry to return.

On to our concert at Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills. We have been receiving invitations for their music series, but have not taken advantage of the invitation until now. It proved to be a great gathering of art world folk, many of whom we had not seen in years. And the Mandelring Quartet gave us a superb selection of music, superbly played. They started out with the Haydn String Quartet in G Major, and I couldn't help but be tickled by the contrast between the elegant, capricious, sometimes passionate music and the environment in which it was played, with a backdrop of enormous, four times life-sized, painfully detailed photographic portraits of female body builders by the German artist Martin Schoeller.

The second piece was Leo Janacek's "Kreuzer Sonata," whose wild dissonances, for me, evoked a desolate, post-battle World War I landscape, replete with strident rhythmical assaults, sharp as barbed wire, and sometimes raging, ominous atonalities, resolving themselves into lingering lyrical moments and, at the end, a kind of tenuous truce. Very dramatic, very compelling music, recalling some of the Expressionist paintings we had seen earlier at the museum.

The last piece, Beethoven's String Quartet in B Major, Op. 130, was the hardest for me, perhaps because my brain had begun to tire! It asked from me more musical knowledge and understanding than I possess. Seduced by the easy elegance of Haydn and the irresitible emotional sweep of Janacek, I could summon neither words nor pictures with the Beethoven. Clearly there were some serious musical ideas being worked out here, under the ironic gaze of one of those giant goddesses of the unfeminine physique, but I found them hard to follow. I finally allowed myself to simply breathe and let the music in.

After the concert, after the conversations with old friends, we drove back along Wilshire Boulevard past the museum, in order to see the Chris Burden cluster of street lamps lit. We were impressed. The practical purpose of street lamps, of course, is to be spaced at long intervals along the street, to shed their light for passing pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Removed from their utilitarian context, the lamps become a magical fantasy forest glittering at the edge of L.A.'s major thoroughfare. A delightful conceit.

Thanks for joining me on this marathon. We had a great time, and hope you managed to enjoy a little of it too, through this curious medium that we share.


MandT said...

How we miss total immersion in the world of art and always look forward to your posts. Living the somewhat isolated, rural life of low income seniors we are removed from the thrilling environment of creative communities----even though Williams Town is only thirty miles away and its wonders never fail to stir the imagination. But we press on and have converted the attic into a studio for painting and paper works. Plus, we mine the old dump for rusted treasure revised into constructivist sculpture. It's amazing what the mind can play when the heart is art! Peace MandT

Anonymous said...

I love to have a day now and again to meander around a museum. It's rare, but I'm always glad when I go.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, MandT. Your comments are always welcome. And welcome to Citizen. I've been visiting you online, and appreciate your work!