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Culture: High & Low
With Carolina A. Miranda
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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Rare race, class, fashion depictions: Lost 'casta' paintings at LACMA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art didn't begin to collect colonial Latin American art in a serious way until 2006. For years, in fact, the only significant Latin American colonial object in the museum's collection was a 16th century Mexican chalice that had been donated by William Randolph Hearst.

But over the past decade, the museum has managed to amass more than six-dozen pieces in this understudied area. And it has some good ones — from a dramatic 17th century folding screen that depicts a riotous Indian wedding, to a striking 18th century depiction of the miraculous Christ of Ixmiquilpan. Plus, there's my favorite: the coca box in the shape of a shell.

Now the museum has made two new significant additions: a pair of rare canvases from Ecuador attributed to 18th century Quito master Vicente Albán. 

"Unfortunately, we don't know a whole lot about him," says LACMA Latin American Art curator Ilona Katzew. "But we do know that Vicente, along with his brother Francisco, were important...

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A life inspired by hot rods and comics: Robert Williams comes full circle

In 1964, an exhibition of work by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí went on display at the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery at what was then known simply as Barnsdall Park. The show contained nearly 50 Dalí pieces from collections all over the U.S. and Europe, from the 1936 canvas "Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)," full of contorted body parts, to "The Apocalypse," a little-seen artist's edition of the Bible's Book of Revelation.

For a budding, 21-year-old artist by the name of Robert Williams, the show was a mind-blower. "It was the first time I saw Dalí's paintings in person," he recalls. "And it really humbled me. I realized I had a long way to go."

Well, Williams, now 72, has definitely come a long way.

The long-time Los Angeles painter has had a lasting and storied career. In the '60s, he worked as an art director for legendary custom car builder Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. In the '70s, he hung with the Zap Comix crowd up in the Bay Area, producing alternative...

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Moment of Friday: Oscar-nominated animated shorts are online!

Every year when I watch the Academy Awards, I pray that someone will have the bright idea to get rid of all the ceremony's treacly song-and-dance numbers so that the screen time might be better used to air all the animated shorts (which, unless you're an Academy member, you can generally see ... well, nowhere).

Now there's an even better option: you can watch them all online in advance of the ceremony. Vimeo and Amazon both have the Oscar-nominated shorts online for on-demand viewing. (You can rent the shorts for a three-day streaming period on Vimeo for $3.95.) 

The selection includes some wondrous pieces of animated filmmaking. This includes Joris Oprins' hilariously dark "A Single Life," about a record player time machine, and Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi's dreamy and largely wordless "The Dam Keeper," about an ostracized young pig that takes care of a town's dam. 

Really worthwhile for its artful techniques (not to mention its moving storyline) is Daisy Jacobs and Christopher...

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Datebook: Wild architecture, erotic painting, historic portraiture

A solo outing by a master of lowbrow in Hollywood...bulbous babes in Beverly Hills...and wild architectural schemes in Westwood. Plus: historic portraiture in Laguna Beach, abstraction in Culver City, a collaborative installation in Santa Monica and a giant ax in Venice. Here’s what I’ve got in the Datebook:

John Currin at Gagosian Gallery. The New York-based Currin is known for his paintings of pillow-y women that seem to draw as much from 17th-century European painting as they do from pin-ups and porn. His first show in Los Angeles in more than 10 years features a series of new works that layer erotic scenes one on top of the next. Sounds totes NSFW. Opening reception tonight (Thursday) at 6 p.m. Runs through April 11. 456 N. Camden Drive, Beverly Hills, gagosian.com.

“Robert Williams: Slang Aesthetic” at the L.A. Municipal Art Gallery. The godfather of so-called lowbrow art has a sprawling new one-man show of recent works, including drawings, paintings, prints and sculpture. Though...

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