Essential Arts: MOCA becomes SoCal arts biggest unionization target

The Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A huge loss for architecture, a major new museum union drive, an “end to orchestras” idea and to wean you off this week’s impeachment hearings, some emo Trump inspired by the president’s hand-written quid pro quo denial. I’m Laurie Ochoa, arts and entertainment editor of the Los Angeles Times, with this week’s essential arts stories. Carolina Miranda returns from vacation next week.

A union for MOCA?

On Friday, as Times arts writer Deborah Vankin reported, more than 120 workers at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art “joined a growing arts world labor movement by announcing their campaign to unionize with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.” It was a dramatic scene as more than 50 employees, representing nearly every department (but not the curators), crowded into the office of Mia Locks, senior curator and head of new initiatives, to make their demands known. Following the recent attempt to unionize at the Marciano Art Foundation, and subsequent shutdown of the museum, the MOCA action has many in the art world wondering how large the labor movement might grow.

“Kudos to them for doing this. It’s so difficult and intense to stand up for your rights,” Josie Cha said to Vankin about the MOCA campaign. The former docent led the successful labor effort at the Museum of Tolerance, which is currently the only Los Angeles museum to have a union in place.

In a statement, MOCA said, “We do not believe that this union is in the best interest of our employees or the museum.”



More news emerged from MOCA this week as the museum revealed details of its plans, announced at its annual benefit in May, to do away with its $15 general admission fee and go free on Jan. 11. It’s taken eight months to make the change, Vankin reports, because “free, it turns out, is complicated.” MOCA anticipates a big jump in attendance, which means, as Vankin writes, “more security guards and gallery attendants, more stanchions to contain lines, not to mention more simple amenities such as trash cans and toilet paper.”

And if you want to get in some no-cost museum viewing before MOCA does away with its admission fees, Vankin surveys 25 free art museums in and around Los Angeles.

MOCA, which will stop charging admission on Jan. 11, is facing a unionization drive.
(Los Angeles Times)

Liberate musicians

Was the late Ernest Fleischmann right when he called for the end of orchestras? Times classical music critic Mark Swed examines the idea and says that several recent concerts show that the powerful longtime boss of the L.A. Phil may have been “proven somewhat right” when he “shocked the musical world” with the idea in 1987. “Burn them, he said. They bore, bum out and burn out musicians,” Swed writes of Fleishmann’s thoughts. “What we need are larger communities of musicians who take on a variety of musical tasks throughout their towns, playing early music, new music, movie music, chamber music, whatever is wanted.”


Meanwhile, arts and culture editor Craig Nakano takes a look at some of the key Grammy nominations in classical categories. Foremost among them: two nods for Andrew Norman’s “Sustain,” which Mark Swed called the best piece of new music in 2018.

What is Broadway now?

Times theater critic Charles McNulty dives deep into the current season of Broadway and finds that “the line between off-Broadway and Broadway seems to be blurring.” He writes that “the savviest producers have been recognizing, however belatedly, that playwrights today aren’t writing for conventional Broadway audiences .... [I]t has as much to do with the richness of the nonprofit pipeline as it does with the Great White Way’s lure of media attention and money.”

"America Utopia" starring David Byrne on Broadway.
“America Utopia” starring David Byrne on Broadway.
(Matthew Murphy)

McNulty also weighs in on one of the season’s most significant productions, Matthew Lopez’ "The Inheritance,” which was inspired by E.M. Forster‘s 1910 novel “Howard’s End.” “Lopez relocates the action to contemporary New York to explore the lives of an intergenerational group of gay men. A two-part drama that runs 6½ hours, “The Inheritance” ... can’t help being compared to Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”

"The Inheritance"
Samuel H. Levine, left, Kyle Soller and Andrew Burlap in “The Inheritance.”
(Marc Brenner)

Raymond Kappe, Los Angeles architect

Raymond Kappe, who died Thursday at 92, embodied the very idea of a Los Angeles architect. The founding director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, known as SCI-Arc, as former Times staff writer Janet Eastman wrote, not only promoted “prefabricated homes as an environmentally friendly, economic solution for hilly urban lots and flat desert outposts.” but he was also passionate about “the California ideal of seamless indoor/outdoor living.” His own redwood-built Pacific Palisades home was designated a historic cultural monument of Los Angeles. Joe Addo co-founder of the A+D museum, once said of Kappe’s work, “His houses don’t shout at you, ‘I’m sexy.’ ... Ray’s is not only architecture, it’s home.”

Raymond Kappe
Architect Ray Kappe in his Pacific Palisades home in 2007.
(Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)

Life in pictures

Photographer Lynn Goldsmith has been making images of Patti Smith for more than 40 years, a working relationship that has turned into a deep friendship. Now the two have collaborated on the limited-edition book “Before Easter After,” a photographic record of Smith’s career — Goldsmith first shot Smith before the artist’s debut album “Horses” was released — mixed with lyrics and poetry. David Ulin talked with the two.


Chicago ideas

Before taking off for vacation, Carolina Miranda left us two fascinating reports from the Chicago Architecture Biennial. First, with cities around the world erupting in protest, she writes about the exhibit “The Plot: Miracle and Mirage,” “a hypnotic mixed-media installation by Chilean architects Alejandra Celedón and Nicolás Stutzin, made in collaboration with historian and filmmaker Javier Correa.” “The city is part of the problem,” Celedón tells Miranda.

Then she “zomes out” with Los Angeles artist Oscar Tuazon, who uses his obsession with “hippie outlaw architecture” to examine issues related to water-sustainable home building.

Oscar Tuazon
Artist Oscar Tuazon in his Los Angeles home.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A new kind of MFA

Times writer Makeda Easter reports that Black Lives Matter co-founder and performance artist Patrisse Cullors is starting up an online MFA program that will combine art, social justice and community organizing. She’s designed the two-year program, called Social and Environmental Arts Practice, in collaboration with Prescott College in Arizona. Students will have the option of doing a residency in Los Angeles. “In our social justice work,” she says, “we’re not doing the best job of training young organizers around the tool of art.”

Patrisse Cullors
Patrisse Cullors at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

On stage

Los Angeles Opera brought Barrie Kosky‘s silent-movie-inspired production of Mozart’sThe Magic Flute” back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Mark Swed was there. “This is once more a wonderful show, great for the holidays; great for opera lovers, newbies and the whole family; great for Mozart; great for reminding us of the wonders of silent cinema,” he writes. But was it the right location? Acoustics are a problem, Swed says, and the Chandler may be too large for the production.

"The Magic Flute"
Barrie Kosky’s production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Times reporter Ashley Lee found herself at “an unapologetically frothy cabaret,” the Broadway Princess Party, “where the fandoms of musical theater and cartoon royalty converge.” Dreamed up by Broadway star Laura Osnes with music director and “self-proclaimed fairy godfairy” Benjamin Rauhala, the party started in 2015 at New York’s Feinstein’s/54 Below and is now on a road tour. Earlier this week it was at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz; it returns to Southern California Dec. 16 at the Orange County School of the Arts. Christy Altomare, who starred in the original Broadway run of “Anastasia” in 2016, will take Osnes’ place next to Rauhala’s piano.

Courtney Reed, left, Susan Egan and Laura Osnes with Benjamin Rauhala on piano. Their “Broadway Princess Party” is touring nationwide.
Courtney Reed, left, Susan Egan and Laura Osnes vocalize, with Benjamin Rauhala on piano. Their “Broadway Princess Party” is touring nationwide and is headed for Orange County.
(Adrienne Harris)

The Beckett homage “Waiting for Waiting for Godot,” says Times reviewer F. Kathleen Foley, “is a raw and revealing glimpse into the actor’s existential dilemma, the helplessness that derives from being an interpreter, forever reliant on any number of random factors.” It’s at Sacred Fools in Los Angeles through Dec. 14.

Yuval Sharon, who has brought Los Angeles some of its most innovative opera, is taking his talents to Long Beach. As Times arts writer Jessica Gelt reports, he’s accepted the role of Long Beach Opera’s interim artistic director and will create the 2021 season. “Any other opera company in America would be completely blindsided by the projects that I’m proposing,” Sharon told Gelt “with mischievous glee.”

And Ashley Lee reports that Aaron Sorkin‘s staging of Harper Lee‘s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” will arrive at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre for the 2020–21 season.


In the galleries

Leah Ollman was out in the galleries and reviews new shows from Tony Marsh, whose “riveting,” “volcanic” ceramics are at the Pit in Glendale and Takako Yamaguchi’s oils on linen of “startling intensity” at Los Angeles’ As Is gallery;

For your week-ahead plans, Matt Cooper has previews of what’s happening in Southern California theater, museums, classical music and dance.

And ...

Finally, the art of the Trump handwritten note this week inspired at least three people to set the president’s all-caps quid pro quo denial — rendered it seems in wide-tip Sharpie on Air Force One stationery — to music and share the results on Twitter and Instagram. Imagine the words below interpreted in the style of the Ramones, Morrissey (specifically in response to a tweet request by Patton Oswalt) and just straight-ahead emo:

I want nothing
I want nothing
I want no
quid pro quo.
Tell Zellinsky [Zelensky]
to do the
right thing.
This is the
final word
from the pres
of the U.S.