Culture: High & Low
With Carolina A. Miranda
Follow-up: More tales of the Prometheus tree and how it died

On Friday, I had a front-page article on the story of Prometheus, the 5,000-year-old bristlecone that was chopped down in 1964 in the name of science — and whose memory was resurrected by Los Angeles artist Jeff Weiss.

A number of readers wrote in over the course of the day to ask how and why the tree had been cut down and what the scientific purpose had been. The story is an interesting one.

Prometheus was cut down at the request of Donald Currey, a young scientist doing research on the geology of the area (who has since passed away). Currey wanted to study the tree’s rings in order to better understand the area’s climatological history (a science known as dendrochronology), and with the help of a ranger named Don Cox, he secured permission to remove a specimen.

The pair settled on a specimen known as "WPN-114" in the official government paperwork. The tree reached a height of 17 feet and a circumference of 252 inches. Large portions of it were dead, but a single 11-foot branch was...

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ISIS has turned the destruction of ancient artifacts into entertainment

For nearly 3,000 years, a pair of winged bulls stood at a gateway that once marked a principal entrance to the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh (situated outside the modern Iraqi city of Mosul). These giant stone colossi, known as "lamassu," welcomed visitors to the city, but also served as its imposing guardians — with taut, muscular legs, elaborate, feathered wings and their impassive human faces.

A 19th century account by British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard describes certain aspects of the sculptures as "being designed with a spirit and truthfulness worthy of a Greek artist."

The colossi were built during the rule of Sennacherib, the 7th century Assyrian king who made Nineveh his capital — and who, during his rule, worked to expand, beautify and fortify the city. It was in Nineveh, incidentally, where the tablets containing the "Epic of Gilgamesh" were discovered.

Sennacherib's ancient winged bulls have now been partially destroyed by militants from the Islamic State (known...

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The ghost of Prometheus: a long-gone tree and the artist who resurrected its memory

Somewhere in the high desert of eastern Nevada, a few turns off Route 50 — "the loneliest road in America" — a station wagon sat parked by the side of the highway. Before it lounged a young couple on red lawn chairs. A crudely painted wooden sign on the vehicle's roof advertised: "Snow Globes $20."

But this wasn't standard-issue tourist bait. Each globe had been created by Los Angeles photographer and conceptual artist Jeff Weiss, and each contained an ethereal white rendering of a gnarled bristlecone pine that grew for roughly 5,000 years on the eastern fringes of the Great Basin.

The tree, called Prometheus, took root at the dawn of the Bronze Age, centuries before the ancient Egyptians began construction on the pyramids at Giza. It outlasted the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, European colonialism, the Mexican-American War and the creation of the atom bomb. But it didn't survive the chainsaw that felled it on Aug. 7, 1964, at the request of a scientist who wanted to study the...

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Datebook: J.M.W. Turner's late work, African portraiture, lowbrow pin-ups

The painted dramas of Mr. Turner. A play about Tokyo Rose. And the architectural images of an award-winning photographer. Plus: an influential African portraitist, two exhibitions about Afrofuturism and a show inspired by objects at an estate sale. Here’s what’s happening in the Southland this week: 

“J.M.W. Turner: Painting Set Free,” at the Getty Center. Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated film “Mr. Turner” has generated a lot of interest in the 19th century maritime painter. And for good reason: His canvases were expressive explosions of color and light at a time when many paintings were still pretty darn literal. Even to this day, their power remains undiminished. This exhibition gathers more than 60 works from his last 15 years of life, a period when Turner produced some of his most enduring works. DO. NOT. MISS. Runs through May 24. 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood,

Miwa Yanagi, “Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape,” at REDCAT. During World War II, a number of Japanese American women...

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Performance art meets comedy: Casey Jane Ellison's 'Touching the Art'

The first time Casey Jane Ellison took the stage as a stand-up comedian, things didn't go well.

"I opened with, 'Don't worry, I'll lose the weight,'" she recalls. "And there was silence. It did not feel very good."

That early attempt, at age 19, soured Ellison on comedy for a while. She instead turned her attention to art. (She has a degree in film, video and animation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.)

But even Ellison's art has funny bits. She's known for making eerie 3-D animated videos of herself reciting a litany of comedic lines in a range of voices — from mean girl to desperate housewife.

Soon enough, Ellison found herself circling back to comedy. During a stint in New York, just three years after her ill-received debut, she once again gave stand-up a shot. 

"And that," she says, "is when it stuck."

Ellison, 26, has been making a name for herself as the thinking person's artist-comedian, in which she skewers her own life as well as the worlds of art and fashion....

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Roundup: Turrell's volcano, Giotto controversy, damaged Asher fountain

An Australian photographer’s multimillion-dollar business ... James Turrell's $6,500 volcano tours ... a restoration of priceless Giotto works under fire in Italy. Plus, freedom of expression and the looming Havana Biennial. All that and more, in Roundup:

— From the troubled annals of money and art and money: this delicious profile of Australian photographer Peter Lik, who reportedly sold one of his images for a record $6.5 million. Sample quote: “If you’re in Caesars Palace, you’re no joke,” says the artist. “That was a huge turning point. I’m in Caesars. I’m God. Nailed it.” 

— Rich Guy Haggling Over Art, Early 20th Century Edition: The Huntington has posted an interesting telegram exchange between railroad mogul Henry Huntington and art dealer Joe Duveen over Huntington’s purchase of a canvas by J.M.W. Turner. Duveen sealed the deal by throwing in a couple of vases. 

— Speaking of art and dough, if you have $6,500 lying around you can visit James Turrell’s Roden Crater, the...

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