Essential Arts: Urbanism’s racial wrongs, from Dallas’ Joppa to L.A.’s Sugar Hill
We are barreling toward the most insane election ever, so may I recommend some comfort carbs in the form of this very wonderful recipe for Amatriciana Estiva. (Hint: easy-to-find bacon is almost as good as guanciale.) I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s essential culture news — and Stanley Kubrick-inspired spoofs.
Urbanism’s racial reckoning
It is with great interest that I read architecture critic Mark Lamster’s epic report on Joppa (pronounced jop-ee) in the Dallas Morning News this week — about a freedman’s town founded in 1872 by the formerly enslaved that was later absorbed into the city of Dallas. The district lies just six miles from the city’s downtown but is isolated from the larger urban framework by its location: wedged between the Trinity River, a railyard and a row of industrial sites.
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Lamster’s lengthy report takes the reader back to the neighborhood’s origins and details a catalog of planning decisions — both mindless and premeditatedly terrible — that have led to Joppa having a life expectancy that is a staggering 13 years lower than in other Dallas neighborhoods and a poverty rate of 34.2%.
Among the list of urban wrongs: In 2018, the city cut off the neighborhood’s one reliable pedestrian access point with barely any discussion. And even that reliable access point was questionable, consisting of a trek across nearly a dozen railroad tracks.
Joppa’s isolation is also its curse, writes Lamster. “For more than a century, it has allowed Dallas to exploit, neglect, terrorize and otherwise abuse Joppa and its residents. The neighborhood serves as a disturbing case study in the systemic racism faced by Black communities nationwide.”
Certainly, it’s a lens through which we could easily view the Los Angeles landscape.
Our freeway system pretty much built segregation into the landscape, as my colleague Matthew Fleischer has written. And it did so extra-destructively: When Caltrans plotted the route of the 10 Freeway, it did so right through the Black enclave of Sugar Hill in historic West Adams. A freeway quite literally runs through Hollenbeck Park in predominantly Latino Boyle Heights — a neighborhood that bears the environmental burden of 135 acres of freeway. Boyle Heights also contends with lead contamination from the now-shuttered Exide plant, which was permitted to operate on temporary permits for more than three decades. And the promised environmental cleanup is still patchy and incomplete.
Lamster’s report, which has been in the works for more than a year, and features some terrific images by photojournalist Lynda M. González, is an incredible examination of urban planning’s role in maintaining a de facto separate and unequal urban space for Black people. As Lamster says in the related podcast interview, it’s “the idea of white supremacy built into the very fabric of the city.”
An absolutely essential read.
Now, on to our other business...
Turn-of-the-20th-century artist Granville Redmond was a talented painter. He also has a curious backstory: He was a friend of Charlie Chaplin’s and appeared in eight of his films — including the 1931 classic “City Lights,” in which he played a sculptor. Times art critic Christopher Knight digs into a show of the artist’s landscapes and their myriad influences. It’s on view at the Laguna Art Museum, which is open with COVID-19 precautions in place. “The optical fireworks of the thickly daubed surfaces are held in check by almost mathematically charted compositions,” he writes. “It’s as if a smooth, placid, sepia-toned picture were being infused with thick color.”
Plays and players
The Times’ Charles McNulty has been checking out a slew of online theatrical offerings, including David Israel Reynoso’s interactive “Portaleza,” as well as digital stagings of Aya Ogawa’s “Zero Coast House,” Ifa Bayeza’s “The Ballad of Emmett Till” and Madhuri Shekar’s “In Love and Warcraft.” He reports that technological bells and whistles do not make up for work that highlights the human condition: “Digital performance will be in a better place when it worries more about human contact than superficial spectacle.”
In addition to his computer, McNulty is also watching TV. Specifically, Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band” — which he describes as “the granddaddy of gay plays” — which is about to land on Netflix. The production reunites the cast of Joe Mantello’s Tony-winning 2018 Broadway revival and is directed by Mantello. “The work is both dated and eternal,” writes McNulty, “a period piece that still has something urgent to say.”
Culture and representation
The Ford Foundation has launched a $156-million initiative called America’s Cultural Treasures to support arts organizations of color. Among the early recipients are L.A. organizations such as the East West players theater company and the Japanese American National Museum, each of which will receive at least $1 million. A second wave of grants will land in 2021 in support of regional arts groups.
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Soraya Nadia McDonald has a great read in the Undefeated about what it will take to put on more plays by people of color on Broadway. Like every other area of culture, it is plagued by systemic challenges, among them: the small number of gatekeepers who decide what gets seen in Broadway theaters, what theaters are even considered Broadway theaters and who is doing all of the critical analysis after productions open.
A Riverside home once owned by the Japanese American Harada family — which connects to a legal case tied to citizenship rights — has been declared one of the 11 most endangered historic places in the U.S. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house, says Rep. Mark Takano, “is curiously relevant to today, with all the anti-immigrant feeling and questions about who is an American and who is not.”
Arts and coronavirus
For a new work titled “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!” Los Angeles artist Susan Silton is asking volunteers to write the name of someone who has died of COVID-19 on a slip of paper and mail it off to the White House. It is one of several works by the artist that touch on our moment. In another, she uses vintage news clippings to track Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. Silton says she is intrigued by the “quotidian banality” of news. “You’re looking at a front page and there’s something about a farm bill and something about banks and something about crime,” she tells me, “and something about German fugitives telling of atrocities at the hands of the Nazis.”
Matt Cooper rounds up all the latest cultural happenings online, including the L.A. Phil’s new series of filmed concerts, shot at an empty Hollywood Bowl. The first one, titled “Love in the Time of COVID,” features mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and selections from works by Gustav Mahler, George Walker and Peter Lieberson. It’s free to watch for 30 days!
If you see some crazy-looking cars on Santa Monica Boulevard this weekend, that’s because Deitch is staging a rally of Kenny Scharf’s “Karbombz!,” the everyday vehicles Scharf emblazons with his colorful, alien-like characters. This is a good event for the kids — with the rally ending up at Deitch’s Hollywood gallery, where a show of Scharf’s work is on view. Vehicles get rolling at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Naturally, pandemic protocols will be in place inside the space.
Juliette Gréco, the French chanteuse who had Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre write songs for her, and later landed a starring role in Jean Cocteau’s “Orpheus,” has died at 93.
San Francisco philanthropist Ann Getty, known for her support of the arts and sciences, and baptized “Ravishing Red” by columnist Herb Caen for her fiery red hair, is dead at 79.
In other news
— Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy of the New York Times have written a must-read on the destruction of mosques and Islamic shrines in China.
— Four international institutions announced they would postpone a Philip Guston retrospective over concerns about “painful” images of Ku Klux Klan characters in some of the artist’s paintings. The move was not well received by curators or critics, one of whom decried it as “patronizing.”
— The Huntington’s “Blue Boy” has gotten a freshening up and is now hanging back in his gallery.
— The Getty has an interesting digital presentation on Google Arts & Culture about Balthazar, the Black African magi frequently depicted in Medieval and Renaissance art.
— Marla Berns, director of UCLA’s Fowler Museum, will retire after 19 years in the role — and more than 170 exhibitions, 44 publications and thousands of programs.
— A San Diego mural by Salvador Roberto Torres, who helped create Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, was demolished despite protests from the community.
— San Francisco galleries have teamed up to create a communal online platform called 8-bridges.
— If you read Spanish, Juan Manuel Heredia has a terrific piece in Arquine (from 2014) about how L.A. architecture critic Esther McCoy critiqued the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán for the ways in which his purportedly Modern buildings echoed the age-old tradition of allocating little habitable space for domestic staff.
— Alex Ross looks at how Black scholars are examining the white supremacy embedded in classical music.
— Do you need a $395 water bowl for your dog made in the form of Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”? Yes, yes you do.
And last but not least ...
Lydia Cambron’s “2020: An Isolation Odyssey” is the short film for our moment.
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