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Essential Arts & Culture: Getting minimal at MOCA, John Berger's passing, adapting August Wilson

Happy New Year, Los Angelistas! I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, with reports on everything from composer Terry Riley at MOCA to the drama of George Lucas’s museum to the latest on “Hamilton.” (It’s T-minus eight months until Lin-Manuel Miranda’s political musical lands in our midst.) Herewith, the week’s most essential culture stories:

A minimalist pioneer

Pianist and composer Terry Riley is in the middle of a six-day residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s branch in Little Tokyo, where he is improvising music to Doug Aitken’s massive video works. “In some ways, Riley and Aitken were at cross-purposes,” writes Times classical music critic Mark Swed. But the show, on view daily through Monday, nonetheless, “inspires awe.” Los Angeles Times

RIP John Berger

The esteemed British essayist and award-winning novelist John Berger, known for his incisive career as an art critic, and for the 1972 television series and book, “Ways of Seeing,” passed away this week at the age of 90. I wrote an appreciation: "If Sister Wendy Beckett is the kindly grandmother who takes you by the hand, and leads you, beatifically, through the wonders of art history, John Berger was the hippie-Marxist uncle who gave you the red pill and told you it was all a mirage.” Los Angeles Times

And in the event that you need a little more Berger (which I certainly do):

Emma Hope Allwood has a terrific essay on Berger’s important connection to feminism. Dazed

— Critic Ben Davis examines his complexities and contradictions. Artnet

Elisa Wouk Almino looks at how Berger’s criticism succeeded because of its tangible connection to everyday life and politicsHyperallergic

— Plus: How Berger changed one American novelist’s life. Los Angeles Review of Books

—  And most significantly: Berger was a biker. “There are really two things about riding a motorbike that help to explain my passion for it,” he told Anderson Tepper in 2011. “One is that the relation between a decision and its consequences is so close.” The Paris Review

Adapting August Wilson

August Wilson may have been one of our country’s most esteemed playwrights, but until the release of “Fences” last month — starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and directed by Washington — no Wilson play had ever made it to the big screen. Times reporter Steven Zeitchik looks at the combination of factors that make the playwright’s work difficult to transform into film, from Wilson’s insistence on a black director to the fact that some of his plays clock in at three hours. Los Angeles Times

A life in heartbreaking song

The men in musician Benjamin Scheuer’s life die young, many before they turn 50. The musician, who has had his own battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has channeled the pain into the award-winning one-man show “The Lion,” now at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. “Mortality — how intimate knowledge of it changes a person,” states Times culture reporter Jessica Gelt, “is at the heart of the show.” Los Angeles Times

Preserving L.A. Modernism

With buildings such as downtown L.A.’s Parker Center and the original trio of William Pereira-designed buildings at LACMA possibly slated for demolition, design writer Mimi Zeiger looks at efforts — successful and not — to preserve examples of Southern California’s Modernist architecture. LA Weekly

Sort of related: Architecture critic Alexandra Lange writes about the structures that define Late Modernism (“beefy bold shapes, wrapped in singular materials, sticking their sharp corners in our faces"), exploring their design legacies and why they can be tough to preserve. L.A.’s Pacific Design Center, designed by Cesar Pelli, gets a shout-out.  Curbed

Plus: Downtown L.A.’s supremely odd and supremely Modern Triforium sculpture is on the receiving end of a $100,000 grant to help revive the kinetic piece. Los Angeles Times

George Lucas’s “gift”

It’s the gift he wants to give and the one no one seems to want. “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas has been wanting to build a museum to “narrative art” but thus far, has been denied in San Francisco and Chicago. Now he’s playing off Los Angeles and the Bay Area to see if there might be a willing taker. Reporter Devin Leonard provides an entertaining recap. Bloomberg Businessweek

Life after ‘Glee’

Actor Matthew Morrison — who became known to the world as Will Schuester on “Glee” — sat down for a chat with Times contributor Christopher Smith in advance of his Jan. 14 gig at the Broad Stage (in which he will be singing Broadway standards with a live band). He talks about how “Glee” changed his life, his commitment to his alma mater, the Orange County School of the Arts, and his favorite Gene Kelly dance routine. Los Angeles Times

In other news…

— Meet the new Aaron Burr: “Hamilton” has announced the cast for its traveling show, set to land in Los Angeles on Aug. 11. Los Angeles Times

George Takei’s “Allegiance” breaks a theater-screening record. Los Angeles Times

— And Broadway marks the biggest box office week in history. Playbill

— An Asian American reimagining of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” New Yorker

— Architecture critic Mark Lamster’s open letter to incoming Housing and Urban Development chief Ben Carson. This is an incredible overview of housing issues in the U.S. Dallas Morning News

— Will a massive development designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels be the nail in the coffin of the Arts District? LA Weekly

— The St. Louis Art Museum is criticized for loaning a painting to Donald Trump’s inaugural luncheon. Hyperallergic

— The contemporary art world celebrates all kinds of outré, boundary-pushing work. Sincere religious imagery, not so much. Observer

— A pair of Paris exhibitions celebrate a century of animation, with shows devoted to the work of the Walt Disney Animation Studios and “Tintin” creator Georges “Hergé” Remi. Los Angeles Times

— 2016 as told through nine objects. New Yorker

And last but not least…

Highlights from the first season of “The Real Adjuncts of Orange County College.” It’s all about the Coronaritas, y’all. McSweeney’s

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carolina.miranda@latimes.com

@cmonstah

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