Culture: High & Low
With Carolina A. Miranda
Datebook: Dreamy stop-motion, German cinema and Andy Warhol's shadows

German films of the 1920s in L.A., animated wonders and a poet's circle in Pasadena, plus Andy Warhol in downtown, a Latin American documentary series and an entire festival devoted to exploring the overlap between art and science. It's all happening this week in our big, bad, traffic-choked city:

“Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s," at the L.A. County Museum of Art. This is an off-the-hook intersection of 1920s German film, expressionist art and architectural set-piece (the installation design is by Michael Maltzan Architecture and it alone is worth the price of admission). The exhibition, done in collaboration with La Cinémathèque Française, focuses on film produced in Germany during the Weimar Republic (1919-1933) and includes photography, set-design concepts and objects related to some of the early 20th century’s seminal moving pictures: from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” the first horror movie; to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” a 1927 sci-fi flick that tells the story of an...

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Round-Up: Genius Alison Bechdel, L.A. expansionism, artist dating app

The MacArthur Foundation names this year’s crop of geniuses, L.A. may get a bit bigger, crowds rush to the Corcoran before closure, the urban planning mess that is New York’s World Trade Center site and artist-designed dating apps. It’s all in the Round-Up:

— Let’s start with the good news: The MacArthur “genius” grants have been announced. Very excited to see Alison Bechdel, the author behind the deeply psychological memoir “Fun Home,” on the list (she’s the second graphic novelist to win the award), as well as social practice artist Rick Lowe, whose Project Row Houses in Houston have shown that art has the power to change lives as well as entire neighborhoods.

— Now onto the hard stuff: A painting in the holdings of the Gustav Klimt Foundation is declared Nazi loot.

— Plus, attendance at Washington’s Corcoran Gallery quadruples as closure looms.

L.A. may add 40 acres, a stretch of weed-filled vacant lots alongside the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in South L.A. (LAist


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From narco-wars to urban basketball, making art out of activism

In 1996, L.A. artist Suzanne Lacy gathered together two teams of players in Oakland for a very unusual basketball game. Part performance art, part social activism, "No Blood/No Foul" brought together a team of cops and a team of Oakland youth for a lightning-paced game of street basketball in which the rules were changed every quarter. Kids served as referees and the audience could vote on calls with their applause.

The piece took its name from the guiding principle of street ball: no blood, no foul. And it served as the public high point of a long-term project led by Lacy that was devised to empower Oakland youth.

To understand how kids and cops regard each other, the artist conducted interviews with both groups. She worked with the City Council and various youth organizations and government agencies to develop a Youth Policy Initiative that would help fund youth programming in Oakland. Then she staged the basketball game — a cathartic encounter between kids and police that had the...

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Art jesters Gob Squad make theater from 'the most boring' YouTube video

"It's the most boring video you can imagine," says Johanna Freiburg of the European arts collective Gob Squad. "Somebody shot it in their living room. It's like three minutes long and nothing really happens in it."

The video she is describing is like countless other videos on YouTube: barely watched video snapshots of some family gathering, which are only of interest to the people involved.

But in this home movie, Gob Squad, a flamboyantly funny group of British and German performance artists, has found art. In fact, they've found a whole play. The group has taken this random piece of tedious family-gathering footage and used it as a point of inspiration for a 90-minute play-performance titled "Western Society," on view at Redcat in downtown Los Angeles starting Wednesday.

The piece examines the bits of themselves that humans put online — and what those images reveal about our relationship to technology. The video that inspired the work, says Freiburg, was filmed by a family somewhere...

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Weekend Gallery Report: From snuggles to tacos, everything I saw

Works made for opera, knitted hashtags, tar paintings, collage, a pyramid loaded with neon and plants, and eerie canvases that glow under blacklight. It seems that every gallery under the blazing 100-degree sun was having an opening this last weekend, so I made some very sweaty rounds in my beat-up Toyota, all while listening to Keith Richards' autobiography. Bonus: I photographed pretty much everything I saw with my phone (which sadly, did not include Keith Richards).

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Moment of Friday: Artist Rashid Johnson loves watching 'Black Jesus'

A Jesus that swears like a sailor, turns water into Cognac, smokes all the weed and hangs out in Compton. That's Jesus as portrayed in Adult Swim's new comedy "Black Jesus," the brainchild of Aaron McGruder, who also created "The Boondocks" comics strip. It's also a show that totally engrosses New York-based artist Rashid Johnson. (Watch a  "Black Jesus" clip here.)

Johnson, an installation artist and painter whose work has been displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the L.A. County Museum of Art and who this week is opening up his third solo show at David Kordanksy, says he has long been a fan of McGruder's work, which explores questions of race, class and identity with an acerbic eye.

"As an undergrad at Columbia College in Chicago, I came across 'Boondocks,' and then I watched the 'Boondocks' television show," Johnson says. "I became a big fan of what he was doing. His humor is very biting and very funny. So, right now I've been into 'Black Jesus.'"

The fact that...

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How storage lockers and distant relatives change the Vivian Maier case

The story of how the work of photographer Vivian Maier came to light is pretty wondrous: a young real estate agent named John Maloof purchases a box of Maier's belongings at auction in 2007. The box, it turns out, contains images produced by Maier in the 1950s and '60s, many taken in Chicago and its environs, the city where she had lived and worked as a nanny for much of her adult life. And they are stellar: stark black-and-white portraits of rumpled old men, mischievous street urchins and society ladies. Maier is hailed by critics and photographers alike for her keen compositions. Maloof publishes a book of her work and makes a documentary about his discoveries. It is an otherworldly turn of events for a photographer who died, a complete unknown, in 2009.

But as a legal battle over her estate and, ultimately, control over copyright to her work, looms in Illinois, that box of her belongings is now looking like it may have belonged to Pandora.

It is a labyrinthine case, one that...

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Datebook: Painting, performance and film as art season gets into gear

With openings in just about every corner of the city, the art industry is going bananas this week as the fall season gets underway. This means social practice in Santa Monica, video about film failures in Westwood, textiles in Mid-City and Chicano art in East L.A. There’s also assemblage, abstraction, photography and oodles of performance. Stock up on energy drinks, because there is A LOT going on:

“Citizen Culture: Artists and Architects Shape Policy,” at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. In an era in which anything can be art, there can be art in the act of protest (and vice versa). This exhibition gathers the work of well-known social practice artists such as Tania Bruguera and Suzanne Lacy, whose work is as much about shaping discussions about public policy as it is about creating an aesthetic experience. Opening reception Friday, 7:30 p.m. Runs through Dec. 13. 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica,  

Roberto Chavez and the False University, at the Vincent Price Museum of Art....

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Round-Up: Ancient discoveries, wilderness art and Koons strikes again

Art Spiegelman comments on Israel, archaeologists unearth a rare tomb in Greece and Jeff Koons is still making everyone crazy. There are all kinds of terrific essays floating around out there on everything from race, the media and wilderness. Saddle up and ride, it's the Round-Up:

— Let’s begin with where the wild things are: critic Jen Graves of the Stranger has a wonderfully nuanced essay about Susan Robb, an artist whose project explores the meaning of wilderness in a hyper-connected age. If you read only one link today, make sure it’s this one. (Incidentally, a piece of this project is on view at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana.)  

— Turning to politics: Comics artist Art Spiegelman, the author of the Holocaust memoir “Maus” and former New Yorker staffer, produced a collage for the Nation magazine on Israel, which he describes in a Facebook post as “some badly battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others.” The comments aren't pretty.

— Plus, a pair of...

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Crazy babies and pantyhose: 5 must-see works at OCMA's 'Avant-Garde'

Avant-garde is one of those terms with a short shelf-life. It refers to the new. But the new can only be new for so long. As curator Dan Cameron writes in the catalogue of the latest exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA): "Taken at its most literal, the 'avant-garde' is a phenomenon that occurs ... relative to a specific historical moment of quite limited duration, in which the art or artist referred to was leading the charge, in the front ranks — it is a military expression, after all — of the latest reliably disruptive manifestation of the new."

"The Avant-Garde Collection," a show that opened at OCMA this past weekend, examines the museum's permanent collection from the lens of what was considered cutting edge at the time it was made.

"The avant-garde is not a movement, it's not a style," Cameron says. "But it's very alive, and it's been fascinating to look at the collection in this way."

It certainly makes for an engrossing exhibition: a compilation of art-world rock...

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Message in a sweater: Lisa Anne Auerbach on cats, knitting and zines

There are artists who focus their entire lives on exploring a single material. That's not Lisa Anne Auerbach. She falls in with the artists who weave together various practices, producing objects that are eclectic, even as they explore related ideas. Auerbach's work straddles a variety of art-making traditions: she takes pictures, she produces zines, she makes paintings and she knits — hats, sweaters, pants, as well as wall-hangings that resemble painted canvases in their form, if not in their execution. 

Together, all of her work comes together to explore overlooked corners of vernacular culture: the architecture of megachurches, a Danish knitting movement of the 1970s, the language of psychics, the content of her bookshelves and — because this is the 21st century — plenty of cats.

"Sometimes politics can be so depressing," the L.A. artist says of the fact that felines seem to consistently reappear in her work. "What are you going to do? Make a sweater about Israel or cats? I don't...

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Gut-wrenching photo evidence from Brown vs. Plata in 'Prison Obscura'

The United States is a world leader in a lot of areas. Perhaps most disconcerting is our dominance in the area of incarceration. More than 2 million people currently reside in America's prisons and jails, a figure that has more than quadrupled since 1980, due to mandatory sentencing laws, among other factors. It is an area of our society that has experienced explosive growth, yet it is one that most Americans rarely see.

A new photography exhibition at the Clark Humanities Museum at Scripps College in Claremont seeks to remedy that. Organized by independent journalist and curator Pete Brook, "Prison Obscura" brings together nine projects that examine aspects of life in U.S. prisons, including portraits of female inmates in Montana and a digital project that gathers aerial views of prisons from Google Maps.

Brook, who writes the Prison Photography blog, wasn't looking to just stage a show of straight documentary photography — showing men in their cells or blue-clad inmates in a prison...

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