Essential Arts: Seeking heat wave renewal with Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’


Hello from pandemic purgatory, where I am excitedly awaiting the opening of Champion’s Curry in Little Tokyo, because life is better with katsu. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s culture news and awesome Redbone videos

Spring vibes in summer

With the pandemic keeping concert halls closed, Times classical music critic Mark Swed has been combing through works that suit the psychology of the moment and giving them a deep listen, covering composers from Beethoven to Pauline Oliveros. This week, he turns his attention to Aaron Copland and his “Appalachian Spring,” which premiered in 1944, just five months after D-day.

“Copland’s score demands our questioning of every assumption we have about American identity,” writes Swed, “whether we strive to be one people — of women and men, various gender and sexual identities, a melting pot of races and cultures and backgrounds and privileges — or whether sexual, racial, regional, political or other cultural differences make us incurably incompatible.”

Aaron Copland, depicted in an illustration, invented what became known as the "American sound."
Aaron Copland was the Brooklynite descended from Russian Jewish immigrants who invented what became known as the “American sound.”
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

The age of the digital convention

Now that Joe Biden has chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate for the Democratic ticket, the next step in our COVID-year election process will be the conventions. And that’s where Times theater critic Charles McNulty comes in — with an analysis of how COVID-19 has upended the purpose of the convention, a theatrical event intended to show a candidate engage an audience.

“As for rhetorical strategies,” he writes, “the unvarnished truth, spoken with conviction and gravitas, can still crack through our screens and touch our hearts and consciences.”

A bit more Beyoncé

Times culture writer Makeda Easter comes through with another great story this week — with excellent photography by Jay L. Clendenin — this one about floral artist Maurice Harris, who in addition to running the L.A. floral studio Bloom & Plume, hosts the Quibi show “Centerpiece” and executed the floral design on Beyoncé‘s visual album “Black Is King.” “I chose flowers as a medium,” he tells Easter, “because it’s a commercial craft, often looked at as craft, but I tried to take it to a level that becomes ephemeral art.”

Floral artist Maurice Harris sniffs a bloom in his Los Angeles storefront.
Maurice Harris takes time to smell the flowers at Bloom & Plume.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Ashley Lee, in the meantime, breaks down a key sequence from Beyoncé’s album: “My Power,” which was filmed inside an empty L.A. church on a geometric set inspired in part by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain.” “Being in that space, watching her and those brilliant dancers perform was like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” says production designer Hannah Beachler.

Coronavirus and the arts

Museums in L.A. are still closed due to the pandemic. So Times art critic Christopher Knight hit the sculpture garden at UCLA instead, checking out work by Henri Matisse, Richard Serra and Anna Mahler. “It’s an exceptional place,” he writes. “Unlike most L.A. art galleries, where new art is emphasized, aspects of postwar history unfold across the lawn. Two-thirds of the sculptures date from the 1950s through the 1970s. A dozen come from the first half of the 20th century in America and Western Europe. Only one was made in the 21st century.”

Gaston Lachaise's "Standing Woman," a 1932 work, is in the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA.
Werk it, gurl: Gaston Lachaise’s “Standing Woman,” 1932, at UCLA.
(Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

Concert pianist Inna Faliks writes about what it means to be a musician in the age of coronavirus: “Suddenly, time to commune with the music is all we have. Performers cannot survive for long without a live audience and a stage, but the coronavirus quarantine is a sudden chance to recalibrate ourselves.”


Contributor Josh Getlin went to a real-deal work of theater in Massachusetts: a performance of Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell” produced by the Berkshire Theatre ... in a 100-seat tent in a parking lot. The artists, who are quarantining together in a single house, perform 6 feet apart, flanked by plexiglass shields. “I thought it was important to see if a new model could be created, as this is not a short-term situation we’re facing,” said Lee Pearlman, copresident of the Berkshire’s board.

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Plus, the Broadway musical “Diana” is set to open ... on Netflix. It will include a testing plan and isolation for the actors and changes to the theater’s ventilation.

Speaking of ventilation: architectural engineering scholar Susan Roaf has a good story in Fast Company about why it isn’t possible to open a window in so many buildings. (Hint: the HVAC industry.)

Culture and civil rights

In the wake of George Floyd‘s death, dozens of murals have popped up around Los Angeles to celebrate Black Lives Matter and honor those killed by police. One of the most recent is a 148-foot billboard by five artists — Alexandra Allie Belisle, Amanda Ferrell Hale, Noah Humes, PeQue Brown and Shplinton — outside of the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood. “It communicates how people are feeling ... public art and murals are a way for people to take ownership of their communities,” Belisle tells The Times’ Dorany Pineda.

Artist Alexandra Allie Belisle stands before a mural she helped paint that reads "Protect Black Women."
Alexandra Allie Belisle before the portion of the mural she painted near the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The 2.2-mile installation that highlights the names of Black people killed by police on the fence that surrounds the Silver Lake Reservoir will come down, reports The Times’ Deborah Vankin — though there are conflicting reports about the reasons and timeline for its removal. Project co-organizer Micah Woods says it could have used more time in situ: “It’s something people are forced to reckon with on their daily walks.”

The Times’ Matthew Fleischer has a great piece on how the LAPD has historically supported segregation in Los Angeles.

Plus, several hundred urban planners sent a letter to the American Planning Assn. asking the organization to support defunding the police. “Historically, planners have been responsible for manifestations of institutional racism,” read the letter, “including redlining and the construction of freeways and toxic industrial development in poor and Black and Brown neighborhoods, among many others.”


Essential happenings

Dance has been keeping me going during the pandemic. Makeda Easter reports on Benjamin Millepied’s new six-minute film “Dance of Dreams,” which was shot in San Francisco with dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. Says dancer Frances Chung of the project: “The city is struggling, to say the least, and it’s just a message of hope or things will hopefully go back to what it once was and we’ll be back onstage.”

Matt Cooper comes through with his weekend picks, which includes Millepied’s new film, and a virtual fundraiser helmed by Matthew Broderick, John Leguizamo and Cecily Strong for Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y.

Rakeem Cunningham and Clifford Prince King have an intriguing series of installations at Track 16 gallery in the Bendix Building in downtown L.A. The show consists principally of a series of side-by-side artists “shrines” that pay homage to “Black reality, Black beauty and Black trauma.” In addition, the pair have been projecting Cunningham’s engrossing video work “ME, Part 3,” from 2014, through the gallery window after dark — so it can be viewed without entering the building. (Just look up!)

The gallery is open by appointment, but if you prefer virtual, you can take an online VR tour via the gallery’s website.

A close up a shrine shows family pictures presented alongside images from magazines of Black people.
A detail of “Installation #0000,” 2020, by Rakeem Cunningham at Track 16 gallery in downtown L.A.
(Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

While you’re in the Bendix Building, be sure to check out the one-man show by H.K. Zamani at 515, which offers rich dialogues between sculpture and painting — and some very effective uses of cardboard.



Jan Steward, an artist, photographer and designer who co-wrote a book with Corita Kent and designed album covers for George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, has died at 91. “Her enduring masterpiece ... was her life itself,” writes Jessica Gelt. “The vibrant way she lived it, whom she brought into it and how she helped others realize and cultivate their artistic talents.”

Luchita Hurtado, a Venezuelan-born painter who was known for creating beguiling canvases that fused indigenous pattern and the nude female form, and who became an art world sensation in her late nineties, has died at 99. Of her belated success, she once said: “I don’t feel anger, I really don’t. I feel, you know: ‘How stupid of them.’ Maybe the people who were looking at what I was doing had no eye for the future and, therefore, no eye for the present.”

Painter Luchita Hurtado stands before three of her surreal nudes in a gallery at the Hammer Museum in 2018.
Painter Luchita Hurtado at the Hammer Museum in 2018. The artist’s canvases seized the nude from the male gaze.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Herron, a photojournalist who chronicled the civil rights movements of the 1960s in the U.S. South for publications such as Life and Look, has died at 89.

In other news

— Belgian nonprofit Mophradat has launched a relief fund for artists and art organizations in Beirut.
— French-Lebanese architect Jean-Marc Bonfils was among the casualties of the Beirut blast.
A fascinating story about how the Mayas made blue.
— The Modern Art Notes podcast has an interesting interview with photographic scholar John Edwin Mason about the legacy of photography in National Geographic.
— Two interesting stories about quilts: how Sanford Biggers retools vernacular quilts into paintings redolent of Black history and the pair of artistic AIDS quilts made in honor of David Wojnarowicz and Tom Rauffenbart.
— Architecture critic Oliver Wainwright writes about a new book by Diana Darke that examines the Middle Eastern design influences of iconic Western buildings, such as Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris and London’s Houses of Parliament. Fascinating reading.
— An architecture quiz: Can you guess the city?
Mississippi is looking for a new state flag design after scrapping the old one, which included the Confederate battle flag. Somebody recently proposed a new design featuring a giant mosquito and it got mistakenly posted to a state government website. C’mon you guys, let it fly! A mosquito flag would definitely give UC Santa Cruz’s banana slug mascot a run for its money.
— Your juicy weekend read: Did Doris Duke kill her art adviser?

And last but not least ...

Oklahoma artist Brent Learned’s new animated video for Redbone’s 1970s hit “Come and Get Your Love” is full of love. Groove into the weekend.