THE Hammer Museum has long had one of the cooler reading and discussion series in town. Now it has a much better place to put them: the Billy Wilder Theater, which will not only house the museum's cultural programming -- it also includes music and artist's lectures -- but UCLA's Film and Television Archive as well.
This weekend kicks it off Friday with "Selections From the Hammer Video Library," which will include videos by artists such as postmodern photographer William Wegman and visionary Earth artist Robert Smithson. (The second half of the program runs Dec. 15.)
On Saturday night, indie publishing mogul (and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" author) Dave Eggers gives a reading. Eggers' new book, "What Is the What," about Sudan, has gotten some of the best reviews of the year.
And next Thursday, Korean American novelist Chang-Rae Lee, the author of "A Gesture Life" and "Aloft," will read from his work.
Other events in the 295-seat theater include a Jan. 14 conversation about culture between two New York Times writers, film writer Manohla Dargis and architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff; a March 8 lecture by enigmatic artist R.B. Kitaj; and, also in March, a series of films by the singular Manitoban filmmaker Guy Maddin ("The Saddest Music in the World").
The theater was named for Wilder, the cinematic giant who died in 2002 at age 95, after his wife, Audrey, gave the museum a $5-million gift.
Designed by the innovative Silver Lake architect Michael Maltzan -- probably best known for MoMA Queens and Pasadena's new Kidspace Children's Museum -- the new theater, which was conceived as a flexible, high-tech space and includes optical flourishes and huge blown-up graphic elements, should be something to behold. Even with the raspberry-pink leather seats.
Billy Wilder Theater, Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. (310) 443-7000; www.hammer.ucla.edu.