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Newsletter: The Academy Museum may know film, but how well does it know L.A.?

A viewer watches a scene from David Lynch's "Eraserhead" in a darkened gallery at the Academy Museum.
A visitor watches film scenes inside the Spielberg Family Gallery at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

I’m here for investigative journalism about vegan chicken nuggets. I am also here for all things culture. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, arts and urban design columnist at the Los Angeles Times, and I’ve got the week’s essential news — as well as some blazing TikTok Met Gala reviews.

Evaluating L.A.’s new icon

When I first saw Renzo Piano‘s renderings for the new Academy Museum, I wasn’t convinced. The spherical David Geffen Theater — the one that, to Piano’s dismay, has come to be known as the “Death Star” — looked parasitical as it hooked into the graceful streamline moderne building that once housed the May Co.’s first branch store. My first thought was “Aliens.”

But, as I note in my review of the building — which was designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, with the L.A. office of Gensler serving as executive architect — it somehow all works, as does the conscientious revamp of the 1939 May Co. building. The museum’s inescapable profile makes it a new icon for L.A.

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The Academy Museum's spherical building is seen behind LACMA's "Levitated Mass."
The David Geffen Theater, whose form is inspired by the zeppelins that once took off from an area airfield, hovers behind Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass.”
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

My colleague film critic Justin Chang has a look at the museum’s exhibitions and writes a thoughtful essay on how the Academy Museum gets at the story of film in more honest and nuanced ways than the Academy Awards. As he writes: “What the curators have endeavored to give us ... is a survey of filmmaking that — while still heavily reliant on acknowledged classics and inevitably, disproportionately focused on American cinema — isn’t afraid to be smarter than the Oscars.”

I spent more time looking at the building than the exhibitions, but I do want to note that the museum contains not a single reference to the 1980s disaster flick “Miracle Mile,” which seems like a spectacular oversight. Not only does this cinematic treasure feature Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham (sporting a terrible ’80s hairdo) as a pair who find love amid an apocalypse, but the movie also begins and ends right around the location of the Academy Museum.

It is at Johnie’s Coffee Shop, across the street, where Harry picks up a ringing pay phone and discovers that the end is nigh. An end that then proceeds to go down at the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. In between, the May Co. building gets trashed.

If the Academy Museum had more of a sense of humor about itself, this would have appeared somewhere. And, while we’re at it, “Volcano,” the 1997 disaster movie starring Tommy Lee Jones that’s about an underground volcano that proceeds to ravage the intersection of Wilshire and Fairfax, should have made it in, too. (Also worth noting: The new TV series “La Brea,” which premieres next week, also lays waste to the neighborhood.)

To a large degree, Los Angeles is mostly absent from the exhibitions at the Academy Museum. L.A. figures into an installation devoted to the 2002 indie “Real Women Have Curves,” set in Boyle Heights, which shows how director Patricia Cardoso and cinematographer Jim Denault depicted the neighborhood of playwright and screenwriter Josefina López and, along with it, Greater Los Angeles. The city also appears as the backdrop in a screening space devoted to how images are deployed in cinematography. A small lounge on the second floor features vintage photos of the May Co. building. And that’s about it.

A lounge with red chairs is lined with vintage photos of the area around Wilshire and Fairfax.
Vintage photos of the May Co. building and Los Angeles hang in the Netflix Lounge at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Hollywood has a knotty relationship to L.A. — as brilliantly articulated in Thom Andersen‘s 2003 documentary “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” which shows the myriad ways in which the movie industry gets its hometown incredibly wrong. So it’s a bummer to see the museum pretty much avoid the topic altogether.

I’m aware that the academy’s purpose is to present a museum about film, not Los Angeles. And I am certainly aware that the museum’s current installations are an opening salvo, not a forever story. And that there will be new exhibitions and ideas explored as time passes.

If so, Los Angeles in the context of U.S. cinema merits examination.

The academy has long struggled with issues of diversity and representation. Perhaps, if they took a long, hard look at the city they live in, it’d be a concept that might not seem so utterly alien.

A massive dress made of fake flowers is on display on a low-rise museum plinth.
The dress worn by actress Florence Pugh in the 2019 horror film “Midsommar” sits in a costume gallery at the Academy Museum.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

In other Academy Museum news:
— Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin has some great sneak-peek images from inside the galleries.
— Incidentally, those galleries were smartly designed by WHY architects in Culver City, the firm founded by Kulapat Yantrasast. Here’s a look at some of the studio’s most notable museum projects.
— Plus, Frances Anderton makes the good point that the Geffen Theater doesn’t resemble the Death Star from “Star Wars” as much as the Aries 1B Trans-Lunar Space Shuttle from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Performance notes

L.A. Opera is back onstage with Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” And Times classical music critic Mark Swed says the mood “couldn’t not be celebratory.” Not only has the company overcome a pandemic, but it also hurriedly built a new set after the original ones failed to make it through the port. “There were no star singers but rather fresh talent,” he writes of the show. Most striking was Guanqun Yu, who played Leonora: “eloquent and understated and the most believable figure onstage.”

Tiffany Townsend and Guanqun Yu in costume onstage.
Guanqun Yu, right, who plays Leonora, sings onstage during a dress rehearsal with Tiffany Townsend.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Also back in performance mode is the Ojai Music Festival, which kicked off this week. “For a quick takeaway of a long weekend, there were three outright sensations,” writes Swed. “[Vikingur] Ólafsson, Attacca [Quartet] and the young composer Gabriella Smith, whose music [John] Adams has been strikingly featuring at the L.A. Phil in his role as creative chair.”

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Tony-winning Broadway performer Karen Olivo, an alum of musicals such as “West Side Story,” made headlines when she withdrew from “Moulin Rouge!” in response to industry silence about producer Scott Rudin‘s alleged abusive behavior. She sat down for a frank Q&A with The Times’ Ashley Lee about the decision. “In the year of community organizing during the shutdown, I realized I can actually help my industry in a different way,” she says, “by caring about the people who are suffering in silence, because we can’t go back to the way it was.”

Off the stage

There are lots of big moves happening at L.A.'s performing arts organizations. Kristy Edmunds, who has steered CAP UCLA for a decade, is moving on. She has been named the new director at MASS MoCA, the contemporary arts institution in North Adams. She says she will stay on as artistic director at CAP UCLA until the organization’s theater project — a refurbishment of the Crest Theater — is complete. It is scheduled to open next fall.

Brett Steele and Kristy Edmunds smile as they stand before the Crest Theater in Westwood.
CAP UCLA’s Kristy Edmunds, right, with Brett Steele, dean of the arts and architecture school at UCLA, stand before the Crest Theater in 2018.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Paul Crewes, who served as the first artistic director at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, is stepping down. He will serve as an artistic advisor through the 2021-22 season. No replacement has been named. The organization is scheduled to mark its return to indoor performances on Oct. 2 with a concert by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers.

The Times’ Julia Barajas has a look at how Casa 0101, the community theater founded by “Real Women Have Curves” playwright and screenwriter Josefina López in Boyle Heights, made it through the pandemic. She also looks at how a new state labor law, AB 5, is affecting small theaters that, even in the best of circumstances, have fragile budgets. As Casa 0101’s executive director Emmanuel Deleage tells her: “There’s been a good amount of relief money out there, and we’ve been able to access that. So we’ll get through the pandemic. ... AB 5 is another story.”

Students wearing masks are seen rehearsing choreography inside a black box theater.
Students rehearse choreography for an upcoming production during weekend classes at Casa 0101.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

What we’re watching

Times theater critic Charles McNulty has been tuning into HBO‘s redo of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage,” starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. To refresh his memory, he’s been watching the original series from the ‘70s too. His take: “watching the new version alongside the original only reveals what‘s missing.”

Oscar Isaac (as Jonathan) sits on a couch, looking at Jessica Chastain (as Mira), who sits on a chair across the room.
Oscar Isaac, left, and Jessica Chastain in the HBO revamp of Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes From a Marriage.”
(Jojo Whilden / HBO)

Also on McNulty’s viewing list: the film version of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which landed in movie theaters this week. The adaptation of the Broadway musical has divided impassioned audiences. The story, about a high schooler who goes viral on the internet with a lie, manages to hold the musical’s premise together, writes McNulty. “Sorry, haters, the film isn’t a train wreck.”

Ashley Lee, however, writes that the film omits some crucial numbers that illuminate the challenges and insecurities that come with parenting, thereby removing a critical part of the narrative. “Curiously, some of the onstage dialogue before and after these numbers made it to the screen,” she writes, “but no longer packs the same emotional punch and even undercuts it at times.”

Plus, Robert Abele reviews Connie Hochman‘s new documentary about ballet master George Balanchine. Titled “In Balanchine’s Classroom,” the doc serves as “a remembrance of the immeasurably influential genius by those who danced for him at the New York City Ballet and were inspired to eventually teach others.”

George Balanchine, in a vintage black-and-white image, is seen leading a ballet class.
George Balanchine teaches at Lincoln Center, circa 1964. A new doc charts his dedication as a teacher.
(Martha Swope / Zeitgeist Films / Kino Lorber)

And what am I watching? The charismatic, trouble-making teens in “Reservation Dogs” on Hulu, of course.

Art report

Forget about “immersive” Van Gogh, writes Times art critic Christopher Knight. Your time and money are far better spent at Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist‘s one-woman show at MOCA Geffen, “Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor.” The artist, known for works of video and projection, gives these forms a physical dimension. In Rist’s hands, “digital ephemera gets physical,” he writes, “gaining material heft, more like a solid sculpture than usually vaporous video art.” Read more about Rist in my interview with her.

An installation view shows projections of blobby color and human feet occupying the entire corner of a large gallery.
Pipilotti Rist’s “Corner Projections” at MOCA comes with lounging pillows for comfort.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

E-1027, the Modernist seaside villa designed by Irish-born architect Eileen Gray on the French Riviera, has survived one naked starchitect vandal, one world war, drug-fueled orgies and a murder. Artist Kim Schoenstadt honors the architect — a woman whose work nearly slipped into obscurity — in a new show at the Mullin Gallery at ArtCenter. “She gave up on external validation and, as a midcareer artist, that is fantastically important,” Schoenstadt tells me.

Essential happenings

The fall season is kicking! This weekend, among the gigs we have to look forward to are a show by Herbie Hancock at the Hollywood Bowl, a performance of Messiaen‘s “Catalogue d’oiseaux” — piano études inspired by birds — at Debs Park and the Los Angeles Master Chorale‘s big return to Disney Hall. Matt Cooper has all this and much more in the weekend roundup.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale — dressed in black — onstage at Disney Hall
The Master Chorale performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in early 2020. The chorale is making its Disney Hall comeback this weekend with a show of works by Morten Lauridsen, Hildegard von Bingen and Reena Esmail.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Passages

George Holliday, the man who filmed Rodney King‘s beating by police officers, has died at the age of 61. “In ways that then couldn’t be seen,” writes The Times’ Steve Marble in his obituary, “Holliday’s simple act of hoisting a video camera to his shoulder was probably one of the first flickers of the citizen journalist movement to come.”

Gira Sarabhai, an Indian architect who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright — she was involved in the design of New York’s Guggenheim Museum — and later went on to establish key design institutions in her native country, is dead at 97.

In other news

The Arc de Triomphe is seen in a silvery wrap at the end of a road filled with people.
People walk along the Champs-Élysées in Paris this week, with the Arc de Triomphe in the background.
(Lewis Joly / Associated Press)

— And that’s a wrap ... of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. The installation comes more than a year after Christo’s death. The New York Times has a good stop-motion video of the installation.
The cult of Valerio Olgiati, the uncompromising Swiss architect known for his pure concrete forms (and the fact that Kanye West wants him to design an underground art bunker in Wyoming).
— Forget about hard angles and clean lines, and instead read this profile of Gaetano Pesce, the designer who is intrigued by blobs and bulges.
— The Lucas Museum continues its shopping spree, acquiring a painting by Frida Kahlo.
LACMA has been promised a gift of more than 100 objects by Indigenous artists, including pottery, feather baskets and wood carvings.
— A modest proposal: As whispers abound that New York’s Whitney Museum might put its old Breuer-designed building on the market, Greg Allen suggests turning it into a house.
This story by Deborah Solomon about the concurrent Jasper Johns shows at the Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art is interesting and has good institutional dish.
— This looks good: An exhibition of work by Rico Duenas brings a bit of light to the David Ireland House in San Francisco.
— New York’s Metropolitan Opera has never staged an opera by a Black composer until now: Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”
— The rediscovered tape archive that captured the legacy of the Bay Area’s folk music scene.

And last but not least ...

The only TikTok Met Gala fashion review you’ll ever need — in one and two searing parts.


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