Essential Arts: Don’t blame L.A.'s philanthropy culture for LACMA’s stalled fundraising

An interior view of Peter Zumthor's design for a planned rebuild of Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
(Atelier Peter Zumthor)

As our social season switches from #BabyShark to #BabyYoda, we’ve got one L.A. museum partially closed for construction and another shut down after a labor dispute. But there is still plenty happening in Southern California arts. Solange is at the Getty, Andy Garcia is electrifying the Geffen Playhouse and Wadada Leo Smith is spreading the musical gospel of Ankhrasmation.

I’m Laurie Ochoa, arts and entertainment editor at the Los Angeles Times, ready to take you through the week’s artland news for Carolina A. Miranda, who is taking a well-deserved vacation.

Museum in limbo

On Tuesday, the collection galleries at the Los Angeles Museum of Art were shuttered in anticipation of the construction and planned 2024 opening of a new Peter Zumthor-designed building that will straddle Wilshire Boulevard. (BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion remain open.) But there’s a problem. Times art critic Christopher Knight reports that fundraising has stalled and costs are rising, according to inside museum sources.

“At minimum,” writes Knight, “LACMA can claim 16 billionaires on its board of trustees. Sixteen.” Knight estimates that if these board members donated their savings from the 2017 Republican tax cuts (an average of 9% in each of the last two years), the gap would be closed. Why hasn’t that happened? Don’t blame “a longtime but misleading L.A. stereotype,” Knight insists. “The ‘sluggish L.A. philanthropy’ explanation is so 20th century.”


Knight instead blames a building design that’s become less inspiring over time and less gallery space than needed for what he calls the Incredible Shrinking Museum.

LACMA does, however, have some high-profile supporters. David Geffen has given enough to earn naming rights on the gallery and earlier this spring, before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved the release of funds to allow construction to begin, Brad Pitt and Diane Keaton were among those who spoke out in favor of the design. “He builds from the soul for the soul,” Pitt told the supervisors. “He’s an architect who builds moments.” With LACMA’s main galleries now empty, let’s hope the museum’s moment comes.

A rendering of the view of LACMA west toward the Resnick Pavilion, BCAM and the Smidt Welcome Plaza designed by Peter Zumthor.
(Atelier Peter Zumthor & Partner)

Marciano fight finds LAXart

LAXart has no official affiliation with the Marciano Art Foundation, which shut down last week after its workers tried to unionize. But the West Hollywood nonprofit exhibition space was the target of a protest Friday by laid-off Marciano workers, who held signs that read “Silence = Complicity.” The employees were trying to send a message to Marciano artistic director Olivia Marciano, who is on the board at LAXart. Times reporter Deborah Vankin was on the scene as docent Izzy Johnson, 25, read aloud from an open letter: “Why isn’t Olivia standing by her employees?”


Laid-off Marciano Art Foundation workers gather before heading to LAXart to protest the museum's closing.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA Medal goes avant-garde

Times classical music critic Mark Swed couldn’t have been more thrilled with the award of the UCLA Medal — so often given to world leaders, famed Hollywood and sports stars — to the “progressive and far less well-known” 77-year-old trumpet player and composer Wadada Leo Smith. Swed says he never passes up a chance to see Smith perform. So it’s not surprising that when Smith presented a talk, a workshop that delved into Ankhrasmation (the composition system he invented in 1965), and a premiere of a new piece, as well as the awards ceremony, Swed was there for it all.

Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith, recipient of the UCLA Medal, leads a workshop with a group of the university’s music students.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Solange and Meier

Times reporter Makeda Easter witnessed a preview of “Bridge-s,” the new performance piece by singer, songwriter and visual artist Solange, who is presenting the work with a cast of 24 this weekend on the garden terrace of Getty Center. With a score composed by Solange, and choreography from performance art duo Brennan Gerard and Ryan Kelly, the dance, Kelly told Easter, was “inspired by Getty architect Richard Meier and his attempt to ‘bridge European culture and classical antiquity with what he calls the warmth and friendliness of Southern California.’”


Solange debuts a new site-specific performance “Bridge-s” at Getty Center Museum.
(Ryan Miller/ Capture Image)

New chapter

It’s been a long year of turmoil for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, but with the appointment of Ernest H. Harrison as the group’s music director and conductor, there is hope for new stability after sexual harassment allegations, budget shortfalls and the departures of top personnel rocked “one of L.A. County’s longest-running LGBTQ arts organizations.” Times reporter Jessica Gelt has the details on Harrison.

On the stage

Andy Garcia is the secret weapon in the success of a world premiere stage adaptation of the John Huston film “Key Largo.” Times theater critic Charles McNulty writes in his review of the play onstage at the Geffen Playhouse‘s Gil Cates Theater through Dec. 10, “Taking on the role that Edward G. Robinson played with his imitable tough guy swagger, Garcia paints a gangster portrait more along the lines of those created over the years by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.”

Andy Garcia, left, and Rose McIver in "Key Largo"
Andy Garcia, left, and Rose McIver in “Key Largo” at the Geffen Playhouse.
(Jeff Lorch)

Times contributor Stuart Miller talks with Tali Pelman, producer of “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” about how she got the reluctant superstar to give her consent to the project. It helped that the musical, which opened last week on Broadway, is “a play,” Miller writes, “where Turner would not be defined by the physical abuse inflicted by Ike, her husband and original musical partner.”

Adrienne Warner as the wigged lioness in "Tina: The Tina Turner Musical."
(Manuel Harlan)

Margaret Gray talks with actor Derek Chariton about his starring role in Vince Melocchi’s play “Andy Warhol’s Tomato,” at Pacific Resident Theatre through Nov. 24. One perk of playing the part, he tells Gray: He’s “gotten really good at painting pictures of tomatoes.”

Back in 2017, when “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” had its world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse, Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote, “When I first saw the poster for ‘Summer’ ... I exclaimed, ‘I need that!’ I’ve discovered, however, that I don’t need this flimsy bio musical, and neither do you.” Still, the jukebox musical went on to Broadway and is now at the Hollywood Pantages. Has it evolved into a better show? Let’s just say that Times theater reviewer Margaret Gray described a chaotic storyline, uninspired set and subdued costumes — “when you’re in the mood for feathers and stilettos, it’s hard to be satisfied with double-breasted suits and briefcases.” And yet ... as Gray wrote in her review, “None of these cavils stopped me from standing up and cheering, with tears in my eyes, for ‘Last Dance.’


Diva Donna (Dan’yelle Williamson), left, Disco Donna (Alex Hairston) and Duckling Donna (Olivia Elease Hardy) leading the company of "Summer: The Donna Summer Musical."
(Matthew Murphy/MurphyMade)

Even better, according to Gray, is Lauren Yee’s “stunning” play “The Great Leap,” now at the Pasadena Playhouse “in a gorgeous co-production with East West Players.” It “uses the shared Chinese and American love of basketball as a kind of Rosetta Stone.”

Times entertainment columnist Glenn Whipp went on the road last week to watch the opening shows of Louis C.K.'s comeback tour. “Two years after admitting to sexual misconduct with female comedians,” C.K. told the world he would “step back and take a long time to listen.” But as Whipp writes, “what C.K. heard is anyone’s guess ... If anything, he’s even more aggressive these days” with a blame-shifting joke on consent and self-pitying comments about “how to eat alone in a restaurant with people making obscene gestures toward him.” It’s worth a read for Whipp’s account of his $4 seat and encounter with security.

Times reviewer Nikki Munoz recommends the Stephen Adly Guirgis play “whose expletive-loaded title often gets ellipse-ied as ‘The Mother ... With the Hat,’ running at Theatre 68 with a strong cast directed by Salvatore Inzerillo.”


This weekend’s cabaret show with Megan Hilty at Segerstrom Center for the Arts is just the beginning of a wave of cabaret coming to Southern California in the coming months. Times contributor Tom Jacobs talks with some of the performers who will be bringing their intimate shows to the stage.

Times reviewer Philip Brandes recommends several new productions in Southern California theaters, including Frances Fisher and Gregory Harrison in “The Lion in Winter” at the Laguna Playhouse.

Art on view

“No one does assemblage better” than Alexis Smith, says Times art critic Christopher Knight. It’s worth reading why in his review of “a beautifully installed survey at Parrasch Heijnen Gallery” that “tracks the arc of Smith’s career in just 11 smartly selected works.”

Alexis Smith, "Medium Message," 2013, mixed media mural
(Parrasch Heijnen Gallery)

Knight also takes in “Color Walks,” a show of paintings and ceramic works by Chicago artist Judy Ledgerwood now on view at 1301PE. “All of them are sensual in the extreme, a condition amplified by luxurious, irrational color.”

Judy Ledgerwood "Crossing Over."
Judy Ledgerwood’s workd “Crossing Over,” 2012, acrylic, oil and metallic oil on canvas, on view in the show “Color Walks.”

“The idea might be compelling, but the art isn’t.” That’s Knight’s assessment of landscape and seascape photographs on display at LACMA by Thomas Joshua Cooper. “The often-rollicking tales of their perilous making supplants any interest generated by largely humdrum images.” Knight also finds fault with the show’s “eyebrow-raising addendum” — a group of 19 photographs commissioned by LACMA director Michael Govan for a concurrent exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery, where the work is for sale — “an ethical swamp of considerable depth.”

Thomas Joshua Cooper, "Along the Frozen Rimtop of Horseshoe Falls — The Niagara Falls Basin and the Niagara River, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada," 2015, selenium-toned chlorobromide gelatin silver print
Thomas Joshua Cooper, “Along the Frozen Rimtop of Horseshoe FallsThe Niagara Falls Basin and the Niagara River, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada,” 2015, selenium-toned chlorobromide gelatin silver print

And finally, before she left for vacation, Carolina A. Miranda wrote about the Art Institute of Chicago show “In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists at Midcentury.” It’s a terrific read on how the influence of late Mexico City designer Clara Porset went far beyond her famous low-slung butaque chair. In dialogue with five female artists living in the U.S. and Mexico, Miranda writes, “these were figures who blurred the line between art and design and between craft and industrial production and who, in the process, helped make international Modernism more Mexican.”