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Essential Arts and Culture: Dealing with change -- come on, you can do it

I’m Kelly Scott arts and culture editor at the Los Angeles Times, and here are stories we pursued last week.

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Leaving on a high note

“I’m not good with change,” people announce when confronted with the new. But two L.A. arts institutions had better get used to it: The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Garden said goodbye to president Steven Koblik, who retired last week after 14 years. Mike Boehm assessed Koblik’s role in what one observer called “an explosion of vitality” at the San Marino organization: new buildings, extensive renovations, expanded gardens, and an increased interest in what museums call “the visitor experience.”

Steven Koblik is retiring as president of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. (Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times)

In another departure, Tim Dang of East West Theatre announced he’d be leaving the company after 22 years as artistic director. Dang, who worked with founder Mako Iwamatsu, is a leading theater voice in L.A. Earlier this year he challenged L.A. theaters to reconfigure their hiring so that by 2020, women, people of color and people under 35 would constitute the majority of a company’s artistic and behind-the-scenes workforce, Boehm wrote.

Maestro of midcentury Palm Springs

Christopher Hawthorne places the career of the late architect Donald Wexler, who died last week, in the context of post-World War II Palm Springs, a city still looking for an identity when Wexler arrived in 1952. Wexler was key in giving both its public buildings and the houses that were filling new  subdivisions a pronounced modernism. But that style played out in different ways through the years: “Because he was so prolific and started so young ...Wexler also leaves behind a body of work that suggests the evolution, the many chapters, of postwar modernism in California,” Hawthorne writes.

'Two Women' fails to fire

Well, it looked promising. Marco Tutino’s opera “Two Women,” based on an Italian novel that was made into classic Italian film directed by Vittorio De Sica and starring Sophia Loren -- how Italian is that? -- disappointed music critic Mark Swed when he saw it at the San Francisco Opera. Despite fine performances and excellent work by its music director, the opera company -- and Italian opera -- can do better, Swed said. And it does: He'd like to see SFO undertake something like the La Scala production of Giorgio Battistelli’s climate-change opera, “CO2,” based on Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”

"Two Women" features Sarah Shafer, left, and Anna Caterina Antonacci. (Cory Weaver / San Francisco Opera)

Photography in a world of change

So many pictures, so little time. In a world awash in cellphone and instant camera images, it’s difficult to isolate and concentrate on a single photograph. In the exhibition “Perfect Likeness” at the Hammer Museum, art critic Christopher Knight writes that “a wide variety of artists have found ways to jam a metaphorical stick into the furiously spinning spokes of the hybrid photo-wheel.” In the work on view, composition is “pushed into the foreground,” Knight says, and adds that since it also engages the digital universe, naturally there are cats involved.

From murder to slugging and spanking

At 49, Darko Tresnjak is a veteran stage director familiar to Southern California's theater audience for the five years he spent co-directing the Old Globe in San Diego. But he’s made a step up to high-profile projects in the past few years. He won a Tony award for his Broadway debut, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” His production of “Ghosts of Versailles” was seen this spring at L.A. Opera. Now Tresnjak's longstanding affection for Cole Porter brings him back to the Old Globe with a revival of “Kiss Me Kate,” the musical comedy adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Tresnjak worked out the kinks in an initial production at the Hartford Stage, where he is now the artistic director. He isn’t cowed by the potential of “Kate,” because it's derived from “Shrew,” to arouse the gender role patrol. With his Katherine and Petruchio, “We made sure that she slugs him 10 times as much as he spanks her,” he says.

Mike McGowan as Petruchio and Anastasia Barzee as Kate in the Hartford Stage/Old Globe co-production of "Kiss Me, Kate" in San Diego. (T. Charles Erickson)

Misty Copeland Superstar and, now, ABT principal

New principal dancers for American Ballet Theatre were announced this week, and two women raised in the Los Angeles area were among them. One is Misty Copeland, whose promotion made her the first female African American dancer in the company. Copeland has recently danced the dual leads in “Swan Lake” and last year made news in her first portrayal of Swanilda in “Coppelia.” Also named a principal: Stella Abrera, of South Pasadena, who said she was “overjoyed” but “still kind of in shock.”

The big pictures, old and new

Rebirth is a theme in Deborah Vankin’s profile of muralist Kent Twitchell, which chronicles his efforts to revive lost or aging work such as his portrait of Ed Ruscha and “the Freeway lady,” as well as new commissions that the 72-year-old is determined to realize. “We lose so many things, like trees and buildings,” Twitchell says in the story. “To have something from our past, that began to mean something to us in the city, come back and be appreciated — it’s kind of a magical thing.” You can find many of his works here.

Artist Kent Twitchell in his studio with a sketch of Ed Ruscha. Twitchell is preparing to re-paint his famed mural of Ed Ruscha on the exterior of the American Hotel in the Arts District of Los Angeles. (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times)

In short

The popular Deaf West Theater revival of “Spring Awakening” will move to New York this fall. ... One of Ai Weiwei's “Circle of Animals/Zodiak heads” sold for $5.4 million at auction. ... Slow down and take a look: There's new public art at LAX by Mark Bradford, Pae White and the Ball-Nogues studio.

What we're reading

The Castleton Festival, founded by the late Lorin Maazel on his estate in Virginia, will this year begin streaming all its concerts and opera performances live, which means you can watch the world premiere of “Scalia/Ginsberg” on Saturday, July 11, at 4 p.m. PDT. The comic opera by Derrick Wang, a composer with a sideline in law, is inspired by the opinions and friendship (which revolves around opera, not constitutional agreement) of the Supreme Court justices. Ginsberg will precede the performance with a talk earlier Saturday titled "Law in Opera," which will also be streamed at 11 a.m. PDT. -- Mark Swed, music critic

An engaging Stan Persky essay review in the Los Angeles Review of Books of “Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America,” by Christopher Bram, that --recounts the unusually central role of literature in gay rights campaign. Timely! -- Bret Israel, Sunday Calendar editor

“Jerry West: The Alchemy of Memory,” a lavishly illustrated monograph on the New Mexico surrealist painter with excellent essays by Rebecca Solnit and MaLin Wilson-Powell, published by Museum of New Mexico Press. -- Christopher Knight, art critic

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