Essential Arts: Looking back at LACMA's 50 years

I’m Kelly Scott, the arts and culture editor of the Los Angeles Times, and here are some of the stories we’re covering this week -- as well as one big birthday.

This is what 50 looks like

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art turned 50 in late March -- 50 years, that is, as a freestanding museum. It's marking the occasion with a gala, a special exhibition, a free day and some music events.

Calendar arts critics and writers, meanwhile, are looking at LACMA at middle age and taking stock. Has its half-century of accumulating art produced a worthy collection? What did its buildings say about L.A. architecture of its era? Who was present at the creationwho has shaped its artistic legacy and what has LACMA meant to L.A. artists?

Start here.

(Courtesy of LACMA)

Among the features are Art Critic Christopher Knight's selection of 50 LACMA masterpieces.

Also, don’t miss Knight's story about “Space Sculpture,” a stainless steel  work that greeted crowds on the plaza in front of LACMA when it opened in 1965. As Knight says, "Before there was 'Urban Light,' there was 'Space Sculpture.' It was an artwork – and an artist, Norbert Kricke – that did not stand the test of (its) time: L.A. in the last half of the 20th century. Dug up, loaned out and then quietly sold, no one knows where 'Space Sculpture' is today."

A 'Wolf' at several doors

I can’t remember another time when there have been a major television production and a Broadway stage production of the same piece of fiction running simultaneously. Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and its sequel, “Bring Up the Bodies,” are the books, her celebrated and bestselling imagining of Thomas Cromwell, self-made chief counselor to Henry VIII. The story is a PBS Masterpiece Theater  that began airing Sunday. It’s also a Royal Shakespeare Company marathon that opened in New York on Thursday. Charles McNulty found the six-hour play compelling but hardly flawless. One thing that surprised him: McNulty is a staunch admirer of actor Mark Rylance, who plays the lead character Thomas Cromwell for PBS; nevertheless he preferred RSC's Ben Miles’ take on the role.

The problem with 'Gigi'

In another review from Broadway, McNulty notes how carefully a new revival of the Oscar winning '50s movie musical "Gigi" has been adapted. No excuses necessary for the luscious Lerner and Loewe songs. But how enchanting will today's audiences find the preparation of a young French girl for life as a courtesan, when the very word "grooming" has a creepy connotation? Well, for starters, the writers and director have given the song "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" to two women characters to sing. On the other hand, how squeamish can we be when we treat the 25th anniversary of "Pretty Woman" as a milestone?

(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The hometown guys

After a week in Japan reporting on the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and Japan Orchestra Day, Mark Swed returned home in time to hear the hometown Calder Quartet play a splendid concert at the Broad Museum. In one piece, they became the Calder Quintet, with the addition of the Phil’s first cellist, Robert DeMaine. The review made him realize that “late in life” as a term to describe composers and their work is a very relative one.

Coming up this week:

Charles McNulty writes about two young actresses' striking performances on Broadway this season: Elizabeth Moss in "The Heidi Chronicles" and Carey Muliigan in "Skylight." ... The Alvin Ailey Dance Company opens its stand at the Music Center on Wednesday ... Anna Deveare Smith's latest project is something different: She delivers Martin Luther King's "Letters From a Birmingham Jail" at the Broad Stage, also opening Thursday ... The musical "Finding Neverland," based on the 2004 movie about "Peter Pan" author James Barrie and produced by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, opens on Broadway.

What we’re reading elsewhere:

Can you picture "Rent" set in Fresno? James Fallows in the Atlantic on the central California metropolis gaining a reputation as a new bohemia.

Misty Copeland wows D.C. as Odette in "Swan Lake" at the Washington Ballet. The audience did more than say "wow."

In the couldn't-have-imagined-this-a-decade-ago department: Tracing L.A.’s growth as a bike town in