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

Essential Arts & Culture: Getting minimal at MOCA, John Berger's passing, adapting August Wilson
The 81-year-old minimalist pioneer Terry Riley plays at MOCA before works by Doug Aitken. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

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
Minimalist pioneer Terry Riley improvises to a Doug Aitken installation at the Geffen Contemporary on Thursday night.
Minimalist pioneer Terry Riley improvises to a Doug Aitken installation at the Geffen Contemporary on Thursday night. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

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

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RIP John Berger
The late British art critic and prize-winning author John Berger at home in Paris in January 2016.
The late British art critic and prize-winning author John Berger at home in Paris in January 2016. (Jacob 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
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a scene from "Fences," directed by Washington.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a scene from "Fences," directed by Washington. (David Lee / Paramount Pictures)

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
Performer Benjamin Scheuer, of "The Lion," at Rudy's Guitar Shop in New York City in December.
Performer Benjamin Scheuer, of "The Lion," at Rudy's Guitar Shop in New York City in December. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

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
A view of the LAX Theme Building in 2013 — one of L.A.'s most iconic Modern structures.
A view of the LAX Theme Building in 2013 — one of L.A.'s most iconic Modern structures. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

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

Jona Bechtolt, left, Claire Evans and Tom Carroll are heading an effort to restore the neglected kinetic sculpture called the Triforium in downtown Los Angeles.
Jona Bechtolt, left, Claire Evans and Tom Carroll are heading an effort to restore the neglected kinetic sculpture called the Triforium in downtown Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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”
A rendering for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art shows the proposed building for Exposition Park in Los Angeles.
A rendering for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art shows the proposed building for Exposition Park in Los Angeles. (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

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’
Matthew Morrison at home in Los Angeles. The actor and singer will bring his concert tour to Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Jan. 14.
Matthew Morrison at home in Los Angeles. The actor and singer will bring his concert tour to Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Jan. 14. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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

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In other news…
Two-time Tony nominee Joshua Henry will play Aaron Burr when "Hamilton" comes to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Two-time Tony nominee Joshua Henry will play Aaron Burr when "Hamilton" comes to Los Angeles and San Francisco. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

— 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

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— 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

A rendering of Bjarke Ingels' proposed development for the L.A. Arts District.
A rendering of Bjarke Ingels' proposed development for the L.A. Arts District. (Bjarke Ingels Group)

— 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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