How the opera ‘Pauline’ brought Rudolph Schindler’s innovative Modernist house to life
Did we make it to the weekend? Do weekends even exist in our universe of 24-hour doom scrolling? Why does no L.A. museum have a churro cart? These are the existential questions that keep me awake at night. I’m art and design columnist Carolina A. Miranda with the week’s essential art news:
Opera meets architecture
Earlier this year, I reported on the centenary of the Schindler House, the home that Austrian-born architect Rudolph Schindler designed for himself and his wife, Pauline Gibling Schindler, along with another couple, Clyde and Marian Chace. This icon of Modern architecture is notable for many reasons: its fluid, indoor-outdoor plan; the fostering of communal living; and the innovative ways it rethought aspects of residential design — close to a decade before Le Corbusier had completed his influential Villa Savoye in France.
But in reporting the story, I was really struck by how Schindler had designed the home as an informal cultural stage — and the ways in which Pauline, a writer and composer who was known for her ebullient salons, employed it. There were lectures, poetry recitals and dances (some nude!).
Over the course of my assignment, I went down a rabbit hole on the work of poet and critic Sadakichi Hartmann, one of the regulars at these events. The son of a Japanese mother and German father, who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century, Hartmann was friendly with Walt Whitman, knew writers such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Gertrude Stein, and helped introduce Japanese poetic forms to the English language. He also made an appearance in the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks picture, “The Thief of Baghdad.” (Scholar Floyd Cheung published a good collection of Hartmann’s work in 2017, “Sadakichi Hartmann: Collected Poems, 1886-1944.”)
I was therefore excited to catch the Schindler House in action during a performance of “Pauline: An Opera” earlier this month, a four-act opera conceived and written by architects Frank Escher and Ravi Gunewardena (who together run a namesake Los Angeles studio, Escher GuneWardena Architecture). In the principal roles were mezzo soprano Argenta Walther and tenor Charles Lane; a trio of piano, cello and flute contributed compositions by John Cage (who once lived in the house and had an affair with Pauline), as well as Mary Ellen Childs, Henry Cowell, Sergei Prokofiev and Edgard Varèse.
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This roving performance began in the garden that bordered the studio once occupied by the Chaces, before moving through the house to the rear patio. There, the doors to the home were swung open, turning the space that had once served as Pauline’s studio into an improvised proscenium. The audience sat in the garden to take in the show.
The performance was several layers of meta: an opera about the architecture of the Schindler House and the lives it sheltered within, presented in the Schindler House — which was designed for performance. As many stories do, the opera’s narrative is one that begins with notes of optimism — the construction of the house itself — before slipping into tempestuousness: Pauline’s mental health crises, her affair with Cage, the dissolution of her marriage to Schindler, but also the intellectual reconciliation they came to in the end. A particularly wrenching moment in the fourth act is drawn from letters sent by Rudolph’s mother to her son in Los Angeles about the persecution they suffer in Nazi-occupied Austria.
“Pauline: An Opera” was first presented at the house in 2013, commissioned by former MAK Center Director Kimberli Meyer. Current director Jia Yi Gu helped bring it back for the anniversary. If it emerges again, mark your calendar. I can’t think of a better way to see the house — the way that Schindler intended.
On and off the stage
When he heard that Matthew López’s “The Inheritance” — which over the course of more than six hours follows the generational story of a group of gay men — was set to land at the Geffen Playhouse, Times theater critic Charles McNulty says he was worried that the Geffen had bitten off more than it could chew. His fears were unfounded. “This top-notch production, directed by Mike Donahue (who knows his way around López’s work), has to be counted as one of the pinnacle achievements in the theater’s history,” he writes. Is this presentation better than the version that drew critical acclaim on Broadway? Sure seems like it ...
“Oklahoma!” may be a cornerstone of musical theater, but the revival that has been touring the country for the past year is a decidedly different beast from the beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical most are familiar with. In his review of the show last month, McNulty described a work that doesn’t shy from showing the “sordid underside” of American life. Others have labeled it “edgy,” “dark” and “terrifying.” Now The Times’ Ashley Lee looks at how audiences have reacted to the reinvented version: “adoration, awe, anger or confusion,” she reports, and maybe some audible vomiting.
Omar ibn Said, a Muslim scholar from Senegal who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Carolinas in the 19th century, wrote a memoir in Arabic that is a critical (if coded) first-person account of the slave labor experience. Musician Rhiannon Giddens, in collaboration with film composer Michael Abels, used that work as the foundation of “Omar,” landing at Los Angeles Opera this weekend. Contributor Tim Greiving has a look at how the opera came together. “This is a story that is very, very important and not known, and you wouldn’t think operatic,” says Giddens, “even though it is, in scope, absolutely operatic.”
Over the summer, Kylie Jenner sparked public outrage for the ways in which the 1% are incinerating the environment after she posted a photo flaunting her private jet on Instagram. Naturally, it raises the specter of climate change, a problem so vast as to seem almost abstract. Except it isn’t abstract for the communities that live around the Van Nuys Airport, one of the busiest hubs of private jet operations in the country. As private jet use has spiked, the airport’s urban design hasn’t kept up. I have a look at what that means for some of the denser urban neighborhoods in L.A.: coffee with a side of ultrafine particles.
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Plus, another shout-out to Schindler: In the middle of a housing crunch, my colleague Lisa Boone has a look at how a photographer and an interior designer are experimenting with communal living — and digging it.
Artist Cassils is known for their demanding performance art pieces. Last week, they staged their first work of dance at REDCAT, in collaboration with L.A. choreographer Jasmine Albuquerque. A week out, I still find myself ruminating on some of the poignant gestures in this piece, in which six trans and nonbinary performers embodied joy, pain and the comforts of chosen family — and in the process created a remarkable cyanotype print with technical assistance from Bonny Taylor.
Matt Cooper has the latest L.A. happenings, including performances by the Mark Morris Dance Group at the Broad Stage, the dance troupe Bodytraffic at the Wallis in Beverly Hills and the opening of the Picasso Ingres show at the Norton Simon in Pasadena. Find all the deets here.
And because it’s spooky season: Cooper also has all the Halloween happenings, including American Contemporary Ballet’s “Inferno & Burlesque” and a performance of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” at Disney Hall — for which “Hurricane Mama,” the hall’s massive pipe organ, will be put to good use!
I saw a slew of interesting gallery shows this week, some of which are in their final days. In Chinatown, the most recent show of Patrick Martinez’s architectonic paintings caught my eye, as well as a group show he organized in the gallery’s basement, which features work by artists exploring connections with Los Angeles.
At Deitch, curator Kathy Huang has put together an absorbing show of painting by Asian American and diasporic women titled “Wonder Women” that brings a fresh gaze to femme and female bodies. I was especially intrigued by the slightly surreal, slightly ominous dreamscape presented by L.A. artist Tidawhitney Lek.
Hyperallergic’s Jasmine Liu wrote about the New York version of this show when it appeared at Deitch’s gallery there. A good backgrounder.
I was also intrigued by “Storm Before the Calm,” a group show at Praz-Delavallade curated by Michael Slenske that explores the idea of the “toxic sublime” and questions of climate change. (Expect works depicting nature that appears to be in revolt.) In the same complex, a small show of works by James Bartolacci at Anat Egbi evoked the ecstatic communion and ecstatic color palettes of club life.
Roberts Projects gallery is leaving Culver City for a much larger location on South La Brea that is being revamped by Johnston Marklee, reports The Times’ Deborah Vankin. “The energy in Culver City has changed,” said gallery co-founder Julie Roberts, “and we wanted to be closer to where the art world was moving toward — which feels like Mid-City.”
Elizabeth Cline, who served as executive director of Yuval Sharon’s groundbreaking avant-garde opera company, the Industry, is stepping down from that role after eight years, and moving on to become executive director of Christopher Rountree’s contemporary music collective, Wild Up.
Los Angeles playwrights Amanda L. Andrei, Xavier Clark, Peter Pasco, Jasmine Sharma, Mak Shealy and Thomas Daníel Valls have been named the 2022-23 class of the IAMA Emerging Playwrights Lab.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art is planning a major Ed Ruscha retrospective for 2023. The show will arrive at LACMA the following year.
Peter Schjeldahl, an art critic with a fondness for poetry and fireworks, whose venerable dispatches appeared in the Village Voice, followed by the New Yorker, has died at 80. “A poet by vocation in his earlier years,” writes the New York Times’ William Grimes in an obituary, “he brought an exquisite word sense to his polished essays, which managed to translate visual subtleties into lapidary prose.”
Back in 2019, Schjeldahl produced a staggering essay about his terminal cancer — its sentences taut and telegraphic — for the New Yorker. “Death is like painting rather than like sculpture, because it’s seen from only one side,” he wrote. “Monochrome — like the mausoleum-gray former Berlin Wall, which kids in West Berlin glamorized with graffiti. What I’m trying to do here.”
Jeff Weiss, a New York-based playwright and stage actor, known for appearing in offbeat shows, has died at 82.
Toshi Ichiyanagi, an experimental composer whose avant-garde works allowed musicians to pick the notes and the pace, is dead at 89. John Cage was a mentor and Yoko Ono, his ex-wife. Together, he and Ono collaborated on an early 1960s piece that involved using microphones to amplify the performers’ breathing.
In other news
— Catherine Wagley has an absolutely epic report in ARTnews on how Ace Gallery’s Doug Chrismas went from the art world A-list to being charged with money laundering and embezzlement.
— “Perilous to navigate, marked by tawdry vandalism and utterly inadequate to both their historical gravity and to the functional demands of the city.” Mark Lamster of the Dallas Morning News leads a charge to redesign one of Dallas’ most important historical sites: Dealey Plaza, the site where John F. Kennedy was killed.
— Artist and architect Amanda Williams was recently bestowed with a MacArthur “genius” grant. The Chicago Tribune looks at one of her ongoing projects, which visualizes redlining.
— My colleagues in the Metro section have an incredible investigative report on how L.A. came to be so overcrowded. Must-read.
— A British advisory board, which includes a former culture minister, is examining the question of returning the Parthenon Sculptures to Greece.
— Artist EJ Hill is building a roller coaster inside a museum.
— Russia’s GES-2 House of Culture marked a moment of culture’s promise when it opened in 2021. In the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, it is anything but.
— The design of cannabis dispensaries.
— Fast fashion company Shein has launched a Frida Kahlo collection. Some of Kahlo’s descendants, who have been struggling to regain the rights to Kahlo’s name, are not pleased.
And last but not least ...
John Oliver on looting.
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