Monthly Archives: June 2014

Odd Couples – SCRATCH at the El Segundo Museum of Art

I am not a big fan of20140614_133156 rap. When I see graffiti in my neighborhood, I wonder what’s coming down the pike. I’ve never seen anyone improved by a tattoo. But, there is no doubt that there are some major creative talents working in all of those forms and that their connection to traditional, accepted art is more than tenuous.

Graffiti and medieval manuscripts aren’t obvious partners but can go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Context, it seems, matters. LA’s Antics Performance Group continues to develop “Illuminated Manuscript” presented almost exactly a year ago at the Ford Amphitheatre. Amy “Catfox” Campion staged the Gilgamesh epic with an ensemble of fearless dancers to a pulsing score. Each scene is set to a video clip of a tagger doing his or her thing, illuminating the manuscript or stone tablet as the case may be. It was absorbing, thrilling, and falling short of epic by being just a little too short.

This year the Getty Research Institute and collector Ed Sweeney present SCRATCH a purely visual pairing along very similar lines at the El Segundo Museum of Art. Sweeney saw a connection, the Getty’s David Brafman agreed. ESMoA is art’s analog of a black box theater: A single long room with a vaulted ceiling, it’s success depends on the ambitions of the exhibits and here it succeeds in spades. The walls and floors are decorated by graffiti and tattoo artists from the greater Southern California area. It is an in-yer-face riot of color and literally larger-than-life representations. Some are by individuals, others by the artists working in groups. That, in itself, is surprising. We hear much of the individual, highly competitive world of graffiti. The artists acknowledge one another but to hear of them collaborating like this is like hearing of an anarchist collective. The creative choreography at work here must be an interesting story in and of itself. However it was done, it was done – much like Campion pulled together her Gilgamesh ensemble from several disciplines within the modern dance community.

The connection among the modern artists and the medieval manuscript is the Liber Amicorum or Book of Friends. We learn that it is customary for graffitists to contribute to one another’s sketchbooks as had been done in centuries past by artists of a different stripe. There are many sober display cases containing the Getty’s contribution of antiquaria, printed and scribed, for easy comparison. The older works are definitely of the subtle, understated type where the modern are emphatically not. Subject matter aside, there are some intriguing similarities in shading and the creation of depth in a two dimensional medium. The logistical problems would be many but a performance of Illuminated Manuscript would go well with this exhibit.

20140614_133329Technology unobtrusively supports the art. There are iPads aplenty, photography without flash is allowed. The Getty has taken a lead in digitizing rare materials and one can easily flip through page after page of images of the priceless books in the cases. A large chunk of it is online and can be examined from home. Johann Michael Püchler’s Calendarium Perpetuum is an almost infinitely-recursive exploration of his world and time. What look like lines and hatches are actually words upon magnification. It’s also an engraving meaning he did this with a stylus and in mirror-image.

There are plenty of other good reasons to go see SCRATCH. The LA Times is an unqualified disaster when it comes to theater and classical music reporting but has not yet given up the ghost when it comes to art commentary. New addition Carolina Miranda provides some background in a blog post. One delightful bit of fallout from this melange is that it has nicely honked off a segment of the right wing.

El Segundo has quietly become a destination. Between the chemical industry on one side and aerospace on the other lie a growing collection of breweries, galleries, shops, restaurants, the Old Town Music Hall, and a clean, well-lit 99-cent store.

The Making of video: No sound – Wish I’d stopped by the museum as this was happening…

And so it begins

Well, that was quick.

Via ArtsJournal and the LA Weekly

A Study Shows How Audiences Are Changing. But Should Data Guide Artistic Decisions?

No facet of society – not even the arts – is immune to the conversation about metrics, measurement and big data.

On Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, museum administrators, marketers and cultural leaders gathered at the Walt Disney Concert Hall for the presentation of “Culture Track 14” hosted by the Music Center. Billed as revealing a “dramatically changed cultural landscape,” the 2014 study – and the conversations around it – drove home many particulars that audience members already assumed and other dynamics long at play.

Arthur Cohen, CEO of the culture consulting firm…

Should?  What nonsense.  It will.  And just as the A&E, Bravo, Discovery, and Ovation channels went from penthouse to outhouse, so will most cultural organizations that become handmaidens to MBAs.

Farther down,

Studies such as this one are useful for deciding how to package and promote cultural content – topics on which LaPlaca Cohen is available to advise [Well, isn’t that a surprise?]. But the most authentic thing organizations can do is follow one of Philbin’s assertions: artists are leading the way, and organizations should follow the visions of the artists they support. Quantitative value should follow qualitative, not the other way around. As Tom Finkelpearl, the new Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York, recently stated in The Art Newspaper, “We don’t see the arts and culture sector solely through the prism of economics.”

Good luck with that.  A few artists with integrity will hold out much as the small theatremakers in Los Angeles have done despite ineptitude and overt hostility(*).  It will be up to interested people to make an effort to find them and fund them.

(*) It works equally well the other way

A rippled mirror – Lear at Theatricum Botanicum

Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones - via

Ellen Geer and Christopher W. Jones – via

Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum kicks off 2014 as it did 2003, with Lear. This edition differs from the prior with substantial gender-flipping in the key roles leading to a headscratcher of a production of one of Shakespeare’s most revered creations.

Revered or not, I’ve found it very hard to like King Lear. It’s been years since I’ve read it, it takes me longer to get in sync with it each time I see it, I am never sure what’s been cut, and if the actors aren’t taking liberties with the text. It is hard to sympathize with the loud, vain, and brutish Lear, cravenly bartering his affections among his children, wanting the mythical 110% from all of them. Gloucester likewise torments one son in favor of another as if either child had any say in his ancestry. The Mad Tom scenes always drag yet there is no way to eliminate them. And on a purely practical note, I’ve never understood Lear’s universe. A kingdom and victories large enough to make him a force. Small enough for messengers to cross it instantly and open enough that blinded men can stagger through it purposefully.

But when Ellen Geer plays the title role in a gender-adjusted adaptation, attention must be paid. New problems compound the old but there are also aspects of the production that amply justify the choices. It is one of the juiciest lead roles in the repertory and no one can fault the formidable Geer for wanting to play it. Shepherding a non-profit theatre in Los Angeles, especially over decades, requires regal temperament and comfort with intrigue. In her notes, co-Director Melora Marshall discusses the inching toward gender equality in our time and wants to give the feminine element, for good and for bad, some emphasis. The three Lear daughters become sons, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelian. Gloucester’s Edmund and Edgar become daughters Igraine and Eden. Everybody plays The Fool, sometime and Marshall plays it for at least the second time as she did back in 2003.

Theatricum’s prior version played it straight-up with Steven Matt as an ultimately affecting Lear and William Dennis Hunt bringing his customary depth to Gloucester. Here, the additional layers on an already difficult play are ambitious and come at a price. Geer is flighty and imperious in turns, often pulling phrases in the family style. Performers who’ve been with the company a while (Aaron Hendry as Goneril, Gerald C. Rivers as Kent, Alan Blumenfeld as Gloucester) know how to play off of this. To its credit, Theatricum gives new actors a chance to grow over the seasons, but blending with the established ensemble takes time. There are a hodge-podge of accents and deliveries, intrinsic and directed, which combined with opening night led to rough patches. Every faithful production clocks in at three or more hours yet every one of them feels rushed. There’s so much going on and so much ground to cover that there is seldom time to savor the poetry. The first act consequently drags although there are some fine moments. Goneril, Regan (Christopher W. Jones), and Igraine (Abby Craden) are almost sympathetic for a time. If your father routinely proclaims your bastardy, he’s got a few things coming to him. Who would want a parent, loved or not, and a hundred followers running amok in the house on alternate months? And it takes until the end of Act 1, with two men alternately belittling, making decisions for, and finally casting out, their elderly mother that the Geer/Marshall seed germinates.

Act 2 starts with a bang. Everyone knows Lear in the storm. Few can be prepared for how it comes here with Queen and her Fool desperately hanging onto their sanity, each other, and a nearby tree. It puts Geer and her voice at least forty feet from the front row but it packs a wallop on many levels. Willow Geer keens as Mad Tom but pulls it back and dials up unexpected accents and depth while leading and teasing Dad to the chalky cliff. Taylor Jackson Ross brings quiet dignity to the Duchess of Albany, Goneril’s wife.  This production uses every square inch of playable space on the premises and a few that probably have not been used before.  Stagecraft is spare except for costumes (Val Miller) and muted background music (Ian Flanders and Marshall McDaniel).  It still isn’t clear how time and space are bridged so quickly in this tenth century England and the superluminal speed of the treachery and intrigue jars as always. There may be no answer short of adding another hour of business which would blow budgets and further reduce the audience.

The second act does spur thought on the play beyond the title character’s downfall. What will people do when inequity is the norm, enforced by law, and predetermined winners take all? That situation is not far removed from the present day. The short answer is that those forced to play this debauched game will play it to win and will take their vengeance on the losers. Making the Gloucester children female is deft and not a given – father is still a father so it could have gone either way. In this mirror universe, women hold substantial position and authority. But, as in our own universe not everything is symmetric on reflection – it is not a complete matriarchy. The Lear boys are all slated to get something and hold it as their own. The only question is who will be first among the equals. Igraine gets nothing and an illegitimate daughter in that society has few prospects for marrying out of her predicament. So, she attacks. (Queen) Lear wants to give up just a little control and live out her years on her own terms.   Don’t we all?   Can’t be done.  It is all or nothing and nothing is what’s left of her as she loses her family, fortune, mind, and finally her life. Rightly or wrongly, such a fall of a mother figure hits us differently – Mother’s Day is after all a much bigger deal than Father’s Day.

It’s tough to say whether this should be anyone’s first Lear. In that respect, conventional stagings  may be a better choice. For those familiar with the work, the company, and who are willing to consider other elements to the story, it is definitely worth a visit.

in repertory through 28 September 2014
Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd
Topanga, CA 90290
(310) 455-3723 box office
Purchase online at:

For a distinctly Britisher take on the play, consider the Talking Lear playlist:

Big Data – The next fad to hit the arts?

Every few years, artists beleaguered by perennial lack of funding, audiences, and the time to create get hit with the Next Big Thing that will fix all three. Listservs, email blasts, podcasting, Web x.0, individual and group blogging, social media, and crowdfunding have all had their time in the spotlight just in the past ten years. After an initial rumble, prognosticators issue vaguely worded statements on how something is all the rage, that artists are behind the curve, and should be devoting more of their time to the something if they know what’s good for them. Initial experiments are conducted, advocacy groups organize seminars, there’s a flurry of interest, and in time some artists hook onto one or more of these somethings as a career before the curve flattens and disappointment sets in.

But what’s next now that everyone is sharing everything on dozens of different platforms – so much so that websites (remember them?) are 75% icons, 23% whitespace, and 2% content that hasn’t been updated since 2011?

My prediction: Big Data/Analytics

It will start with one of the usual wonks bemoaning how artists and arts organizations aren’t mining the tens of kilobytes lying untapped in their addressbooks, subscriber, and donor lists. This will be denounced as a bad thing. After all, Google, Facebook, and other major corporations are doing it and making a pile. Any who don’t or won’t will be left even farther behind. Dancers must become graph theorists, playwrights must Hadoop, and violinists must become Bayesians. All will be required to expound their data mining strategy in the application for a $250 municipal or foundation grant. Because you can’t do outreach without metrics to determine ROI.

This is the year it begins. The problems of no money, audience, or time will still be there. But, by golly, they’ll be able to measure it.

Making LinkedIn readable if not actually useful

LinkedIn is one of those products whose success bewilders. The site is poorly designed, the firm is openly contemptuous of its customers, and its algorithms are guaranteed to generate comically useless suggestions. It is an advertising racket currently enjoying 1990s Microsoft-style adoption among the hail-fellow-well-met crowd. It’s convenient to have a free profile on it and it is worth the price to squat on one’s own name along with one’s namesakes.

But the cruft… When one does check in (through the website and not its privacy-ripping mobile app) there is a barrage of infuriating junk with which to contend. The Babbitty boosterism of Pulse “influencers,” the suggestions for content-free discussion groups, the teasers for extra-cost “analytics,” and the inducements to amp up one’s profile – just to name a few. Search for how to turn these off and find that it is not possible. LinkedIn relies on its own members to provide technical support and many of these stalwarts are adept at telling fellow users to lump it, saving the company the cost and trouble of doing so itself.

Mercifully, Firefox and Chrome users have the invaluable AdBlock Plus extension and the associated Element Hiding Helper to keep the stench at bay. Through some trial and error, I’ve found these filters to make my occasional LinkedIn visits mildly tolerable. Add them via AdBlock Plus icon –> Filter Preferences –> Custom Filter –> Add Filter and perhaps they’ll enhance your visits as well.