Essential Arts: LACMA gets the wrecking ball mid-pandemic


My bangs aren’t going to hold out much longer and my husband is starting to look like Christopher Lloyd in “Back to the Future.” Which means I’m greeting you from yet another week in quarantine. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential arts news — and Colombian gender-bending acts:

Essential Image

Once again, let’s kick things off with work by an artist whose exhibition was cut off by the pandemic. This week it’s Genevieve Gaignard, who had just opened a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, “Outside Looking In,” when the lockdown went into effect.


The artist’s installations frequently explore issues of identity and belonging and often employ the signifiers of girls’ popular culture — black and white. (Gagnard is the daughter of a black father and white mother.) The installation above, titled “Be More,” imagines a young woman’s bathroom cluttered with aspirational beauty products, many of which are toxic.

My colleague Deborah Vankin spoke with Gaignard on the occasion of her 2016 solo show at CAAM, and the artist discussed what motivates her installation work in a video she made for Crystal Bridges. Find more of her work at Vielmetter Los Angeles.

Going, going, gone?

The big news this week, of course, is the pandemic. OK, it’s the big news every week. But maybe the also big news is that in the middle of our little plague, LACMA began demolition work on the William Pereira-designed buildings on its campus. The Times’ Allen J. Schaben got lots of pictures and Deborah Vankin has the details.

Demolition of LACMA's William Pereira buildings is underway
A construction crew begins demolition at LACMA, a symbolic move in the rebuilding of its new campus.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Remembering David Driskell

Speaking of LACMA: Times art critic Christopher Knight pays fantastic tribute to curator David Driskell, who died last week from complications of COVID-19. In 1976, Driskell produced the groundbreaking show “Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750-1950” at LACMA, examining the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s art and architecture.

“His show sought to fill a huge gap in traditional American art history, which barely mentioned the work of African American artists,” writes Knight. “What it did was harness a major platform during a historic moment simply to insist: Black art matters.”

There is a great quote by Driskell about the show in his New York Times obit: “I was looking for a body of work which showed first of all that blacks had been stable participants in American visual culture for more than 200 years, and by stable participants I simply mean that in many cases they had been the backbone.”


Art in the time of corona

“To my theater students, past, present and future: Believe it or not, the work continues.” This week, Times theater critic Charles McNulty writes a moving open letter to his students about living through the imaginable. As he did on 9/11 — when he was teaching in Brooklyn — he says it’s a good time to turn to the great plays.

The Times’ Makeda Easter reports that with everyone stuck at home during quarantine, folks have been participating in dance challenges — even the Olds, which in the TikTok universe means anyone over 25. “It’s the new reality as quarantine and stay-at-home orders keep people indoors around the world,” she writes.

Richard Unite, left, and Clare Blackwood, right, do the "Savage Challenge" on TikTok; Rodell Bautista, center, and his daughter do the "Men in Black" challenge.
(Gif by Ross May/ Mark Potts/ Los Angeles Times)

Andrea Bocelli will perform from the historic Duomo cathedral in Milan on Easter Sunday via a YouTube livestream. His only accompaniment, writes The Times’ Dorany Pineda, will be cathedral organist Emmanuele Vianelli.

Brooklyn-based artist Pablo Helguera is delivering singing telegrams via Zoom as part of a project with the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana. As Jessica Gelt reports, “Helguera’s repertoire ranges from ‘Rigoletto’ to ranchera songs” — and he plans to dress like an old-time Western Union worker for the part.

How an ICU nurse in South Korea is recording life in an Incheon hospital through drawings.

Writer Nicholas Berger, by the way, is not convinced by all the online performing. “Watching my fifth hastily written monologue by an otherwise talented playwright for Instagram, my eyes glazing over, I begin to wonder, who is this for?” He says it’s time to be thinking about systemic changes instead.

Architects pitch in

Deborah Vankin reports on how 35 architecture firms and nonprofits around Los Angeles are repurposing their 3-D printers to create face masks for healthcare workers who are facing protective equipment shortages. They are part of an effort organized by Alvin Huang and Darryl Hwang, both of whom teach at USC.

Architect Alvin Huang uses a 3-D printer to create medical masks at his home
Architect Alvin Huang uses a 3-D printer to create medical masks at his home. The design has been tested and approved by Keck.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Best arts online

Times classical music critic Mark Swed has selected four pieces of music for deep listening for the week of Passover and Easter, including Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” Wagner’s “Parsifal,” Schoenberg’s “Moses and Aron” and John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary.”

“In our solitude, we cannot expect the shared wonderment of Passions and operas meant to be consecrations of the stage as well as church,” writes Swed. “But these sacred offerings inspire deeply private thought as well.”

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A performance of “Fleabag” when it was still a one-woman show for the stage. A storytelling hour courtesy of the El Segundo Museum of Art. And a virtual tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House. Times listings guru Matt Cooper has been doing daily roundups of the best culture online.

Bookmark The Times’ Things To Do: Arts & Culture page to keep with his daily missives.

Plus, Daniel Hernandez reports on a new Netflix doc — unconnected to the coronavirus (!!!) — for streaming this weekend: “LA Originals” by photographer Estevan Oriol, which charts his long-running collaboration with tattoo artist Mister Cartoon. “In their heyday, Oriol and Mister Cartoon embodied the essence of 1990s West Coast urban culture,” writes Hernandez.

Also, may I whole-heartedly recommend this BBC podcast on the life of critic and early performance artist Arthur Cravan by writer and performer Ross Sutherland. I saw it on writer Andrew Russeth’s Twitter feed and immediately slammed the whole thing after clicking through. Terrific storytelling and blessedly corona-free.

For the parents: The Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson and the Museum of Modern Art in New York have created downloadable coloring books.

Corona and the arts

Italian cultural leaders have called on their government to create a “national fund for culture” in the wake of the pandemic.

The L.A. Phil has canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 season, and the fate of the Hollywood Bowl‘s summer season remains up in the air, reports Jessica Gelt. Ninety-four part-time employees have been laid off and musicians and management will be taking pay cuts. Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel will take no compensation during the cancellation period.

Gelt also writes that L.A. Opera has canceled two May productions, Debussy’s “Pelléas and Mélisande” and a concert performance of Handel’s “Rodelinda.” And Long Beach Opera called off the rest of its current season, but will pay affected artists 50% of their fees. It’s asking for donations to enable it to pay 100%. L.A. Opera is also reaching out with the L.A. Opera Relief Fund to help artists and staff members.

New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts announced this week that it is canceling its summer performances and activities, and the Museum of Modern Art has terminated its contracts for museum educators.

The city of New York has halted design work on upcoming municipal projects. The AIA New York fears this could delay the design community’s recovery from the pandemic.

New York has had a head start on L.A. in terms of layoffs and furloughs — so Gelt spoke with three East Coast performers to see what advice they might offer their colleagues on the West Coast. Dancer David Gonsier, for example, explains how to navigate some of the available financial benefits.

Contributor Tom Jacobs spoke to the directors of five L.A. theater companies to see how they are coping with the crisis. “They responded with a combination of grim determination and cautious optimism,” he writes. Stephen Sachs, co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, stated, “It’s going to be very hard, but we’re definitely going to come out the other side.”

Stephen Sachs, co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre
Stephen Sachs, co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Christopher Knight, in the meantime, takes a critical look at the layoffs and cutbacks at MOCA and asks why the museum hasn’t taken advantage of the federal CARES Act, which helps small businesses keep their workers fully employed: “An eligible museum cannot have an annual operating budget in excess of $27.5 million. MOCA’s budget is about $20 million. It’s classic small business.”

Critic Ben Davis says it’d be a good idea for the art world to join the #CancelRent movement right about now.

A glimmer of good news: Jessica Gelt reports on a new Artist Relief Fund that hopes to give $5,000 to 100 individual artists and then repeat with a different 100 artists every week until Sept. 1. The fund is the result of a whole bunch of different nonprofits coming together to pool their resources. It began with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation offering a $5-million matching donation if other organizations chipped in.

Gelt has also compiled a list of 22 very handy ways that you can support arts groups that have been devastated by the shutdown.


Diane Rodriguez, a beloved actress, director and playwright who began her career in Teatro Campesino in 1973 and went on to become associate artistic director of L.A.’s Center Theatre Group, died on Friday at age 68. The cause was cancer. An obituary from The Times is forthcoming.

In the meantime, here is a short piece from 2015, when President Obama tapped her for the National Council on the Arts.

Diane Rodriguez, center, is shown with director Dudley Saunders, left, and Leo Marks in 2006. She helped shepherd countless original works at the Center Theatre Group.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Mort Drucker, the self-taught cartoonist who lampooned entertainers and politicians in the pages of Mad magazine, has died at 91.

Louis Johnson, a dancer and choreographer who created works for Alvin Ailey and the filmed adaptation of “The Wiz,” has died at 90. He had recently tested positive for coronavirus.

Kate Johnson, a Los Angeles artist and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker who was known for her large-scale projections, has died at age 50 after a long battle with cancer. Her death was confirmed by the 18th Street Arts Center, where she regularly presented work.

In the news

— The L.A. Times Book Prizes will be virtual.
— What the pandemic has wrought: a museum for gerbils.
Adam Gopnik has an interesting review of a new book of Cole Porter’s letters.
Maggie Nelson has a beautiful piece on rereading Natalia Ginzburg’s essay “Winter in the Abruzzi” and admiring its “stern and tender fellowship” in this time.
— Also, read every word of this wonderful piece by Arundhati Roy: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different.”
Allison Arief writes about the ways in which the pandemic has shown us how to make cities more livable.
— Places where it is easy to socially distance: Drake’s house.
— I love following novelist Rabih Alameddine on Twitter for his great image threads. This one on masks is excellent.

And last but not least ...

The best song about the quarantine is by a pair of gender-bending Colombian satirists.