Essential Arts: The next generation of monuments? Ditch the bronze

Artists Arturo Ernesto Romo and Sandra de la Loza stand before a grass-covered hillside at L.A.'s Ascot Hills Park
L.A. artists Arturo Ernesto Romo and Sandra de la Loza are at work on a monument concept inspired by a killing that triggered a crackdown on Mexican youth in the 1940s.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The pandemic is raging, which means so is my Instagram habit for highly adorable dogs. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential art news — and drag queen film analysis.

Monuments rising

There have been a lot of monuments coming down in recent months. I go deep on what may replace them, talking to artists, architects, scholars and historians about how the nature of monuments, the processes by which they are built, and the histories they choose to honor are all in question. As part of that, I speak with Los Angeles artists Arturo Ernesto Romo and Sandra de la Loza, who have been at work on a monument concept inspired by the Sleepy Lagoon killing and trial in 1942 (the precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots of the following year). As De la Loza tells me: “We are moving away from what a monument traditionally is, which is the pedestal with the military figure that constitutes a singular idea that upholds empire.”


As part of my reporting, many of the folks I interviewed gave me their ideas for events that could be honored with a monument. I gather up various ideas — including my own — that cover labor, migration, a massacre and one very famous Los Angeles tree.

The missing cello

In the early 19th century, the French luthier Auguste Sébastien-Philippe Bernardel crafted a small cello for a royal child. The following century, that instrument ended up in the hands of a budding young musician in L.A. named Christine Walevska, who went on to become a master cellist. In the 1970s, after Walevska had moved on to adult-size instruments, her beloved — and rare — childhood cello was stolen. Decades later, it mysteriously reappeared in the hands of another child prodigy. My colleague Stacy Perman has the incredible tale.

A GIF of Christine Walveska playing the cello.
Christine Walveska plays the cello.
(Steve Saldivar / Los Angeles Times)

Coronavirus and the arts

The Times’ Makeda Easter has an extensive report on the challenge of distance learning for students in the arts. “Training often relies on in-person practice through rehearsals and private instruction,” she writes. “It requires staging ensemble shows and having access to expensive equipment such as cameras and arts software for projects. For some students, those resources, along with the mentoring from faculty and the building of a network of fellow artists, are the reasons to pursue a college education.”

The story also features some terrific photography by The Times’ Christina House.

Student Arianna Carson, surrounded by a halo of black tulle, photographed near home in Rowland Heights.
Arianna Carson of Rowland Heights plans to study dance at SUNY Purchase in the fall.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Easter also has a piece about how the Pasadena Playhouse, unable to reopen due to COVID-19, is launching a streaming platform this fall that will feature live and live-captured performances. PlayhouseLive will be available as a standalone website and on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku.

Deborah Vankin has a dispatch on a new report by the American Alliance of Museums that states that one in every six U.S. museums faces “significant risk” of closing permanently due to the financial strain of the pandemic. “Of 521 museums that responded to a survey question about operating reserves, only 1 in 3 said it had reserves that would last a year or more,” she writes. “The majority — 56% — said reserves would last for six months or less.”


Vankin also reports that L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is inviting artists to submit designs for public health posters encouraging people to wear masks. Shepard Fairey’s Studio Number One has contributed three designs.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale has called off its 2020-21 season, reports Jessica Gelt, pushing its entire slate of shows to 2021-22. In addition, the organization has issued a new five-year plan that features a pledge to devote at least half of all future programming to work by historically underrepresented groups.

The pandemic has suspended countless productions — among them, “The List,” a theater series organized by activist collective the Kilroys that focuses on unproduced and underproduced works by female, trans and nonbinary writers. Gelt sat down with three of the affected playwrights to talk about what it means to get their work on stage only to have COVID-19 shut everything down. Roger Q. Mason, author of “Lavender Men,” is choosing to see the positive: “What’s really exciting about this time is that voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard are now being put center stage.”

Plywright Roger Q. Mason poses with backyard citrus in Los Angeles
Roger Q. Mason is the writer of “Lavender Men” — a “queer historical fantasia.”
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

On the stage

Theater critic Charles McNulty has a look ahead to see how the upcoming theater seasons may be shaped by the pandemic and the dialogues about systemic racism sparked by the Black Lives Matter protests. McNulty talks to theater directors around the country to what steps they are taking to face the moment. As Sheldon Epps, former artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse tells him: “We have been living with the model of resident theater companies established by people like Gordon Davidson, Zelda Fichandler and Nina Vance for more than 50 years. What we forget is that when those people started, they didn’t have a model. They created a model, and I think we have the opportunity to do that now.”

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Ashley Lee breaks down the movie credits for “Hamilton,” chatting with title designer Chris Rubino about how he honored the original cast and the musical’s revolution-era aesthetics.

Ai on Alcatraz

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei is the subject of a new documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly,” directed by Cheryl Haines and Gina Leibrecht. It explores the artist’s 2014 art installation on Alcatraz. Deborah Vankin spoke with the artist on the occasion of the film’s release, touching on issues of art, political persecution and the pandemic. “I have long experienced ‘social distancing,’” he tells her, “since I was born the son of an enemy of the state.”

A sculpture by Ai Weiwei in the form of a Chinese dragon kite greets visitors to an industrial building on Alcatraz
“With Wind,” an installation by Ai Weiwei from his exhibition on Alcatraz in 2014.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Classical notes

Critic Mark Swed continues his series on deep listening with Bach’s Cantata No. 82 — a work that at its core has a lullaby of “consoling sweetness.” Swed took to tuning into the cantata right before going to bed, and it became the first thing he listened to when he woke up in the morning. “To the universal question of what it means to have enough when we live in a world that dangerously and self-destructively is asking for ever more,” writes Swed, “Bach is the answer.”

Find Swed’s entire “How to Listen” series at this link.

Essential happenings

Vielmetter Los Angeles gallery is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a group show (open by appointment) that features works by artists who are represented by or have been shown in the gallery over the years. It’s a reunion that brings together work by important L.A. artists, including Edgar Arceneaux, Andrea Bowers, Math Bass, Liz Glynn, Shana Lutker, Kim Dingle, Steve Roden, Ruben Ochoa and the late Laura Aguilar.

Plus, there’s a must-see backroom installation by Sean Duffy, titled “Alone Now,” that feels just right for our era: an apocalyptic man cave that features all manner of assemblage and hacked-together machinery.

The letters #FTP carved out of gallery drywall by Ruben Ochoa.
“If I Had a Hashtag for Every Time Someone Tried to Hold Me Down,” 2020, an installation by Ruben Ochoa at Vielmetter Los Angeles.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Cooper has the 15 best picks for weekend culture, including a live Zoom reading of 1970s disaster-era flicks (this is definitely up my alley) and a Piano Spheres concert featuring jazz pianist Mike Lang with bassist Michael Valerio, drummer Jim Keltner, and vocalist and percussionist Deborah Pearl.


Brigid Berlin, the New York socialite who cavorted with the denizens of Andy Warhol’s Factory — and was known for her sharp wit and her intense photographic chronicles of the scene — died last week at 80. Berlin never considered herself an artist, but as I write in an appreciation this week, her work “was prescient of our age of body positivity and of that social media compulsion to record our most trivial encounters.”

In other news

— The Marciano Art Foundation has reached a private settlement with 70 visitor services associates abruptly laid off after announcing a union drive last year.
— In the wake of a curator’s departure, SFMOMA takes steps to contend with its legacy on race.
— The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has initiated the landmark process for 10 Depression-era murals that could be destroyed as part of expansion plans at UCSF.
— Artist Harry Gamboa Jr.’s pandemic portfolio.
— In Portland, Ore., the phenomenon of the protestor known as the “Naked Athena.”
Jonathan Jones rounds up some of the finest butts in art history.
— Actor Colman Domingo has launched an award geared at supporting Black male and male-identifying artists. The first winner is playwright and actor York Walker.
— Highly recommend the PBS American Masters doc on Hedy Lamarr, actress, refugee, inventor.
— I also really enjoyed this interview with authors Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley about their upcoming book, “The Coming Quarantine.”
— Did you miss our Q&A with writer Susan Orlean about her rosé-fueled Twitter rants from last weekend? Definitely worth reading with some rosé.

And last but not least ...

Things you didn’t know you needed: Drag queens Trixie Mattel and Katya reacting to the Walter Mercado documentary “Mucho Mucho Amor.”