Culture: High & Low
With Carolina A. Miranda
Machine Project's art treasure hunt at the Gamble House

For a lot of Angelenos, the historic Gamble House in Pasadena is the sort of place you visit once. You make your reservation, you take your tour, you admire the fine Craftsman architecture at behemoth scale, you ooh and aaah over the fine wood furnishings and the glorious picture window, and then you go home. But a new series of contemporary art installations by the Los Angeles arts group Machine Project provides plenty of reason to return to the home again and again.

Mark Allen of Machine Project, who curated the exhibition, spent roughly a year studying the home's architecture and its history in the company of many of the artists who were invited to do interventions.

"We wanted to make works directly related to the house," he explains. "We wanted ideas of the now from then, and ideas of the now from now, and we wanted to put them together to see how they could have a conversation with each other."

The Gamble House was designed by the celebrated architectural firm of Greene & Greene...

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What Rick Lowe's MacArthur Grant win means for art and social practice

In 1993, artist Rick Lowe took over nearly two dozen derelict shotgun houses in Houston's Third Ward and, over the course of 20 years, turned them into a thriving cultural center that offers exhibitions, artist residencies and even a program for single moms. Project Row Houses has since become an important symbol of considered urban renewal -- of the way a neighborhood can be transformed for the better without obliterating its roots.

For this work, Lowe received a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant this week. This is an interesting development for a variety of reasons. For one, there's the fact that Lowe is an artist, not an urbanist or city planner. There is also the fact that he sees Project Row Houses not just as an example of effective community organizing, but as an ever-evolving work of art.

"People don't necessarily embrace the type of work, or the form of the work that I do, as necessarily fitting into the art world," he told the MacArthur Foundation's videographers. (See the...

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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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Moment of Friday: Hagfish hanky-panky, Lily Simonson's oceanic obsession

Step into the main exhibition hall at CB1 Gallery in downtown Los Angeles and you will see a series of stark, practically Martian landscapes illuminated by blacklight. These paintings, however, do not depict alien worlds. They are a series of works produced by L.A.-based artist Lily Simonson during a sojourn she made to the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica last year. 

To produce the paintings, Simonson spent almost a month in a tent, outfitted in three sets of long underwear and a pair of wind pants.

"It was in the 20s," she says of the temperature. "Which isn't that cold. There are sites that go to 50 or 100 degrees below zero in winter. But I was there in the height of summer."

It may not have been cold as far as Antarctica goes, but it was still pretty darn cold — especially considering that Simonson was painting outdoors. "I don't like using photographs, which is why I go into the field," says the artist. "It all started with me going to labs to see specimens."

The specimens she...

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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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