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Charles Gaines, Numbers and Trees IV Landscape #4. Photo Credit: The Hammer Museum

There is something so oddly compelling about Charles Gaines work.  The first time I saw one of his pieces, it was a beautiful piece seen from a distance.  When I looked up close I was hit with a puzzle I still cannot figure out.  Up close was a pixellated mass consisting of uniform squares containing numbers.  I immediately was drawn into the work and attempted to crack the code to no avail.

Gaines’s work is a deceptive algorithm that I still cannot comprehend.  Taken at face value his work conveys a seemingly simple figurative subject but the closer you gaze at the deconstructed work you are forced to think of it’s deeper purpose or true meaning.  It becomes more complex as it is made simplified.  Conceptual work is so subjective, it is extremely hard for me to quickly write about my visceral, first impressions. All I can say is that the meticulous nature of the work amazes me.  It is a perfectly ordered piece of art and there is something oddly comforting in the order yet the ambiguity of the deconstruction is challenging.

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Kehinde Wiley, Houdon Paul-Louis, 2011.  Photo Credit: Brooklyn Museum

Los Angeles born artist Kehinde Wiley has developed his career in New York as a portrait artist whose work is being celebrated in an exhibition that recently opened at the Brooklyn Museum.  In  “A New Republic” his work depicts men and women placed in traditional forms of portraiture fusing that history with a present day aesthetic.  It is a revisionist, liberating view of the medium that transforms portraiture from an aristocratic to a pluralistic art form, thereby making the work accessible and relatable.  While Wiley is known for his colorful, saturated, and rich tapestry-laden paintings, I really like this bronze that is featured in the exhibit.

The strength and pride radiating from the man emerging from the hoodie is simultaneously a nod to the French neoclassical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon and an homage to black men.  While this piece was cast in 2011, I see it as a commentary on today’s events in so many ways.

In the wake of the Oscars last night I came across this clip of Nina Simone that was quoted during one of the acceptance speeches.  It perfectly encapsulates the work of Kehinde Wiley and once again, I find myself wishing I was able to travel to New York to see this important retrospective.

Director Ava DuVernay delivered a wakeup call for me as I found myself stuck in a #OscarsSoWhite funk over the lack of recognition she deserved for Selma.  If my attitude was ignited over Selma’s snub (the best picture nomination, while good was overshadowed by non-recognition of the directorial triumphs of DuVernay and David Oyelowo’s performance as Dr. King), it was stoked by this interesting historical look at Oscars struggle to celebrate diverse storytelling created by Bard Edlund.

Diversity Among Winners at the Oscars from Bard Edlund on Vimeo.

I loved how Ava DuVernay put the whole Oscar controversy into perspective.

When we get to the statues and the patting each other on the back it isn’t as important as the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is violent and ongoing and very much an emergency.”

Today is a rainy Oscar day, and because I live in Southern California this means I will not be traversing the L.A. freeways today. Since I am stuck in the house enjoying the rain with some coffee, music, the New York times and some books (the perfect rainy day set up), I will not be watching the Oscars tonight.  I see Hollywood as a monolithic institution that has not challenged itself to innovate, grow, or change.  The other day I heard that the Oscar producers, in a gesture mindful of “optics” (corporate speak for lip service), wanted us all to know they will be featuring people of color in presenter roles during the broadcast.  Ok, that’s nice, I will not be buying.

What I appreciate about Ava DuVernay during this Oscar journey is that this was not all about her. We have made it that way in making this a story about how she was snubbed, but during this process she has been mindful of bringing others into the spotlight in a selfless way that I have truly found refreshing.  In her depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. and Selma she also chose to tell the story of the people around him.

A good leader knows how to “amplify” the people around them.  In every video I have seen of her she has chosen to highlight others, one of which was cinematographer Bradford Young, who DuVernay has worked with in both of her feature films. Young’s eye is such a great complement to DuVernay’s vision.  That level of creative synergy was beautiful to see develop. Young’s use of shadow and light is incredibly stunning and is equally strong in static and dynamic contexts.

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Bradford Young’s Cinematography work for MGMT’s Cool Song No. 2

The work that Young did for MGMT’s video for Cool Song #2 is some of the best work I have seen in a music video. Young’s simple comment on his evocative process:  “I like to fill the frame with heads.  I use faces as landscapes, as architecture. That always feels like the right place to start.”  He has a way of capturing intense emotion with his close crops and subtle yet strong use of lighting.  It was a characteristic of the film that I have remembered long after seeing Selma.

For more on DuVernay’s thoughts on the Oscars and Hollywood’s Diversity problem including those who are actively trying to change it, check out this piece by Democracy Now.

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Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”~George Bernard Shaw

You know, some people may say it is unreasonable to charge a fee to attend an early preview of a museum that still doesn’t have operable indoor plumbing (especially when said museum will be free to the public when it opens in the fall), but Eli Broad prefers paths that lead to unconventional thinking.

(That’s why this George Bernard Shaw quote is one of his favorites.)

On February 15th, 3,500 lucky people seized the opportunity to get a glimpse inside Grand Avenue’s latest architectural showpiece (tickets for the preview sold out in 30 minutes).  After experiencing the space I am looking forward to seeing the Broad’s complete vision come to fruition in the fall.  Here’s what I love about the space in its current state after attending the preview last Sunday:

1.  The Veil (“The Honeycomb”, “The Asian Pear”, “The Cheese Grater”): The natural light that floods the 3rd floor gallery from the hundreds of skylights that span the acre of column free space was stunning and to see the expanse of the space really gives the Broad a tremendous amount of flexibility for curating The Broad’s collection in the future.

2.  The Glass Elevator (“The Shaft”):  If you’ve been up the BCAM elevator at LACMA then you know that Eli Broad has a preference for grand entrances.  The Broad features a tubular glass elevator and a cavernous escalator that takes visitors from the 1st to the 3rd floor.

3.  The Oculus (“The Glory Hole”). While the Honeycomb veil is a distinctive architectural feature, the fluidity of the veil forming the eye on the southern wall is an unexpected focal point.  While attempting to get a picture of this, a lamp-post was blocking the shot.  As two gentlemen were admiring the view across Grand Avenue I proclaimed “they gotta get rid of that lamp-post.”  At that point one of the men said, “yes we need to work on that”.  And in a classic case of hindsight, I now realize that I may have inadvertently offended Charles Renfro, one of the named architects at Diller Scoffido + Renfro,  the firm responsible for the building’s design.  Just add that to the long list of awkward art moments I’ve amassed over the years, but that’s a post for another day…

Perhaps the most unconventional aspect of the space was how the museum chose to highlight it.  While the Glass Elevator and escalators were not operable, visitors rode an enormous freight elevator that opens up to a panoramic view of the 3rd floor gallery.  The temporary exhibit “Sky-Lit”, Volume, Light and Sound offered two different mediums for the public to physically transform the space into a dynamic organism.  Speakers flanked the southern end of the gallery space where various recorded sounds played softly in the background both competing and harmonizing with the hollow sounds of the  gallery and the enthusiastic chatter among visitors meandering around the expansive space.

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As we reach the height of awards season with the Oscars, it is hard to imagine a time when the designer of a high profile individuals dress is NOT well known, but in 1953 when Jacqueline Onassis married John F. Kennedy, when she was asked who designed her gown she demurred and did not credit her designer’s name in the press.  According to the Huffington Post, a fashion columnist from the Washington Post was the only one to properly cite the designer as Ann Lowe.

Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, 1953.  Photo by Lisa Larsen//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images c/o Huffington Post

Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy, 1953. Photo by Lisa Larsen//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images c/o Huffington Post

Ann Lowe was born into a family of dressmakers and seamstresses.  While still a teenager she began her formal design career by making gowns for socialites in Florida.  After attending segregated design courses in New York City, she grew her design house and permanently relocated there where she continued to cater to the social elite.  The quality of detail and the creativity of her designs was a well-kept secret hidden among an exclusive list of clientele, and as a result the designer limited her production. Despite the demand, operationally the designer produced at a financial loss and never reached the same levels of profitability as her contemporaries.

Her work is part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History.

For more information on the work of Ann Lowe, click here.

walker

Kara Walker’s art disturbs me.  The first time I experienced her work, I was in Arcana Books in Culver City and I found a catalog from one of her cut out shows (I think it was at the Walker Art Center).  I was drawn by the nostalgic look of the cutouts which on some cellular level tapped into fond memories.  Then I looked deeper…

With every turn of the page the themes grew more disturbing transporting me to a dark place in our history that we don’t like to visit.  On numerous occasions during visits to MOCA L.A. I’ve been drawn to the above sketch by the artist and each time I view it I see something new.  The title in itself is fascinating.

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“Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”  ~Cesar A Cruz

This piece shook me out of my comfort level.  I value Walker’s ability to force a deeper conversation and to confront extremely uncomfortable themes of race, sexuality, power, bias and violence in the context of our past while also reflecting the realities of our present.

Kara Walker’s work came to mind when I heard the confounding news today about the Oklahoma legislature voting to ban AP History over some notion that the new curriculum teaches students what’s “bad” about America.

I found this quote by Walker on MOCA’s website, and I think it crystallizes this desire to compartmentalize our history and reframe it in the most positive light.  We want the whimsical, crafty cutouts, but don’t want to peel back those layers to get to the real story.

I don’t know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They’re satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead-end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren’t purely evil. I’m interested in the continuity of conflict, the creation of racist narratives, or nationalist narratives, or whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole—such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever’s not in the group. That’s a contact thread that flummoxes me.”

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Of the hundreds of songs that are in regular rotation on my iPod, I am willing to bet that Nile Rodgers had something to do with over half of them.  There was a period of time as a child when every record or tape I owned carried a Nile Rodgers producer credit.

The man is a musical genius.  I’m watching the Stevie Wonder tribute right now and am so touched to hear current artists pay homage to a legend who influenced their art.  I feel the same way about Nile Rodgers.  With a career spanning 40 years Rodgers inspires new generations of artists and has a musical sound that is the aural equivalent of Midas’ touch.

I’m not kidding when I say that much of my music collection bears the Nile Rodgers sound.  (Grace Jones, David Bowie, Diana Ross, INXS, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, ABC, Jody Watley, Daft Punk, Disclosure…. I could go on and on).

2015 is going to be a big year for him as Chic is going to be coming out with a new album (the first single will be released in March).  Today I decided to go down memory lane listening to tracks produced by this legend in music, and I love this video because it is iconic in so many ways.  Frankly anytime I can see Grace Jones in a Keith Haring dress is a win win.  It is a bonus that Rodgers’ magic was on the track (love his hi-top fade in the vid too).

I am also both touched and inspired to hear about his battle with prostate cancer a few years ago.  He jumped head first into projects during his battle which really appeared to be a cathartic way to manage his fight.  This blog post by Rodgers has convinced me to snag a copy of his memoir. Can’t wait to read it.

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