Culture: High & Low With Carolina A. Miranda
Casta paintings were weird racial documents that broke stereotypes

As far as discoveries go, it is pretty epic: a rare 18th century masterpiece rolled up under a couch. My colleague Christopher Knight has the story about the rare colonial painting by Mexican artist Miguel Cabrera that was discovered in a home in the Bay Area and is now the latest acquisition by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The 1763 work, titled "From Spaniard and Morisca, Albino," is a casta painting — a type of artwork that was unique to the Americas (particularly Mexico) during the colonial era, in which painters assiduously chronicled different racial, ethnic and class groups. The Cabrera piece, the sixth in a series of 16 paintings on the subject, shows a Spanish father and a Moorish mother holding an albino baby. 

The acquisition of the Cabrera painting is the third such painting to land at LACMA in recent months. In February, I wrote about how Latin American art curator Ilona Katzew had spearheaded the acquisition of two exceedingly rare Ecuadorean casta paintings by...

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OCMA lays off five staffers including chief curator Dan Cameron

Five staffers — including chief curator Dan Cameron — have been laid off from the Orange County Museum of Art in a restructuring under the museum's new director and CEO Todd DeShields Smith.

"We sincerely thank these individuals for their service to the museum, particularly Dan, who made some significant contributions," said Smith in a brief statement that was issued to The Times on Tuesday. "Most importantly, his re-launching of the California Biennial into the International California-Pacific Triennial that has helped to build a platform on which the museum is now extending our commitment to showing art from the Pacific Rim."

This leaves the Newport Beach museum, an institution known for its vibrant exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, with a total of 14 full-time and part-time gallery staff — and no chief curator.

"Smith — with 25 years of curatorial experience — will oversee the curatorial program during the transition period," stated a museum spokesperson via email, "and is...

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A glimpse inside LACMA's hidden Damascus room before its 2016 debut

In the late 1970s, the Syrian capital of Damascus was experiencing a building boom. In the al-Bahsa quarter, for instance, a clutch of old houses were demolished to make way for a new roadway. Among the homes: an 18th century courtyard house with at least one  elaborate reception room crafted from hand-painted wood panels and inlaid stone.

Before the house was destroyed, a Lebanese dealer bought the contents of the room — floors, fountain and wood panels — and for roughly three decades, warehoused them in Beirut, where they somehow managed to survive the Lebanese Civil War.

That room is now part of the permanent collection at the L.A. County Museum of Art. The museum acquired the room in spring 2014 and it is in the process of giving its myriad parts some needed conservation treatment before it makes its museum debut at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, early next year.

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For the record

April 1, 8:34 a.m.: A previous version of this post...

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Roundup: Pope closes Sistine Chapel, Bjork at MoMA, and nude art tours

A group of homeless people is granted a special tour of the Sistine Chapel, a mysterious private investigator is digging dirt on critics of conditions in Abu Dhabi, and the Museum of Modern Art's Björk show continues as subject of debate. Plus, a look at Velazquez’s wonderfully strange “Las Meninas,” a lively discussion about the future of LACMA and a painter’s comeback late in life.

— The pope shut down the Sistine Chapel for 90 minutes last week to host a private viewing for a group of 150 homeless people

A private investigator has been looking into a critic of New York University’s role in Abu Dhabi, and at a former New York Times reporter who did a story on labor conditions there. The client and the motivation for the investigation remain unknown.

— And since we’re on the subject of labor conditions, the New York Post's gossip page has scintillating coverage of what it’s like to work at Jeff Koons’ studio: “It made an iPhone factory look like a fun place to work.” 

— NPR has an...

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An 'obnoxious gesture'? L.A. architect Thom Mayne's tower in the Alps draws ire

Release a rendering of a very tall, very shiny glass tower looming over an idyllic mountain village and the Internet goes bananas. That's what happened earlier this week when Morphosis Architects of Los Angeles released its design renderings for a new luxury hotel in Vals, a low-key spa town in the Swiss Alps.

The design, conceived by Morphosis founder Thom Mayne, would check in at a whopping 1,250 feet, making it the tallest building in the European Union. (Currently, Renzo Piano's Shard in London holds that title, coming in at 1,014 feet, with antenna.)

The outsize nature of the structure in the town of just 1,000 permanent residents is matched by the prices tourists will pay: according to The Telegraph, rooms at 7132, as the proposed hotel is called, will run from $1,000 to $24,000 per night.

All of this is made more complicated by the fact that Vals is already well-known for harboring another piece of iconic, but much less showy architecture: Swiss architect Peter Zumthor's Thermal...

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A futuristic library in Santiago by Chilean architect Mathias Klotz

One in a series of dispatches by Carolina A. Miranda on the art and architecture of Chile.

Give the building a quick glance and aspects of it appear almost pixelated, like bits of data flashing through the ether. Everywhere, there are boxes and lines, as if its facades were rendered out of geometric bits of flashing, immobile light. But look closer and you'll see that the Nicanor Parra Library, designed by Chilean architect Mathias Klotz, is made of far simpler building blocks — concrete, glass and wood — all arranged to provide a shimmering, 8-bit effect.

The 49-year-old architect is known in Chile for his plays on shadow and light — which he has deployed in the design of many homes (such as the cliff-side Casa 11 Mujeres in Cachagua, north of Santiago) as well as various public buildings (the Altamira School in the Peñalolén district of Santiago). 

Klotz serves as dean of the architecture school at the private Diego Portales University, where the library resides. And while he is...

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