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Essential Arts & Culture: A breathtaking art exhibit, Noh now, farewell Leonard Cohen

Essential Arts & Culture: A breathtaking art exhibit, Noh now, farewell Leonard Cohen
Installation view of "John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction" at LACMA (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In this week of momentous change, it is artists and storytellers who can give meaning to the tumult. I'm Laurie Ochoa, arts and entertainment editor at the Los Angeles Times. With Carolina Miranda on vacation, I'll be your guide to the arts stories of the week.

John McLaughlin’s quietly breathtaking art

Abstract paintings by John McLaughlin (1898-1976) are echoed in a chair design by Roy McMakin.
Abstract paintings by John McLaughlin (1898-1976) are echoed in a chair design by Roy McMakin. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

If you follow L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight’s strong advice, you will head to LACMA on Sunday for the opening of “John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction”  — even if, as Knight suspects, you’ve never heard of the artist. “McLaughlin,” Knight writes, “is among the most profound avant-garde painters to work in the United States in the aftermath of the cataclysm that was World War II. He’s also Southern California’s first momentous postwar artist. … You could say that the global powerhouse L.A. has become for the production of new art today can be traced back to McLaughlin.” Los Angeles Times

Knight also writes about what he calls "one of the best gallery exhibitions of the season," Paul Sietsema at Matthew Marks Gallery in West Hollywood; the Broad's special exhibition "Creature," a smart assemblage of works by some two dozen artists; the stripped down blasts of color from Lisa Williamson at Tif Sigfrids; and the interactive installation "Black Righteous Space" by Hank Willis Thomas at  the California African American Museum.

So long, Leonard Cohen 

The death this week of one of our greatest American songwriters has led to an outpouring of appreciation for Leonard Cohen. "Employing meticulous language to plumb the vagaries of the human condition," writes Richard Cromelin, Cohen "enjoyed a late renaissance, as a young generation of musicians, including Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, R.E.M. and U2, discovered him in the 1990s."  Los Angeles Times

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Randall Roberts zeroes in on Cohen's lyrics — the turns of phrase that led musicians around the world want to sing the poignant, biting and often funny lines from the self-described "patron saint of envy and the grocer of despair." Los Angeles Times

Mikael Wood takes a deep look at Cohen's most famous song, "Hallelujah," and asks if the work that became "one of pop music's most durable compositions" actually represents "a crucial misapprehension of his work." Los Angeles Times

And August Brown writes, "Of all days, of all years. What a time for one of music's greatest, wisest and kindest points of light to go dark. … If there was ever a time to need words of lasting grace and connection, this is it." Los Angeles Times

L.A. embraces an urban future

Los Angeles County voters on Tuesday approved a tax to expand its mass-transit network. Pictured here: The new Expo Line pulling into Santa Monica.
Los Angeles County voters on Tuesday approved a tax to expand its mass-transit network. Pictured here: The new Expo Line pulling into Santa Monica. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

With so much attention focused on the results of the presidential race, it was easy to miss that voters in Los Angeles County approved measures that Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne says will "at long last [move L.A.] beyond the radical privatization that accompanied postwar growth in much of Southern California" and ensure a more urban future. Measure M, passed with approximately 70% support, Hawthorne writes, "virtually guaranteed that L.A. will finally build the mature, comprehensive public transit system it has been working toward, often haltingly, since the 1980s." Measure A, meanwhile, increases park and green space investment. Hawthorne says that the measures, along with other voter actions around Southern California, are part of a transformation of an emerging Third Los Angeles with fewer single-family homes and, eventually, fewer cars.  Los Angeles Times

Philip Glass’ Pharaoh tale

Anthony Roth Costanzo in Los Angeles Opera's production of Philip Glass' "Akhnaten."
Anthony Roth Costanzo in Los Angeles Opera's production of Philip Glass' "Akhnaten." (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Opera staging of Philip Glass' "Akhnaten" corrects what L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed calls a "curious neglect" in the U.S. of the 1984 Pharaoh opera. The co-production with the English National Opera, on stage through Nov. 27, is the first major American "Akhnaten" in more than 25 years. Swed calls the opera the un-"Aida," presenting the pharaoh "as a tragic, spiritual visionary." The "eye-popping new production," Swed says, is visually "an exultant mess," with a believable Anthony Roth Costanzo as a feisty, strong-voiced Pharaoh and rising star J'Nai Bridges as an "opulent Nefertiti." Plus, Swed points out, there's "some awfully good circus juggling." Los Angeles Times

Why Noh? Why now?

Members of Los Angeles Master Chorale kneel as though they were Noh players during a recent performance of Orlando di Lasso's "Lagrime di San Pietro."
Members of Los Angeles Master Chorale kneel as though they were Noh players during a recent performance of Orlando di Lasso's "Lagrime di San Pietro." (Christina House / For The Times)

Japan's Noh theater is so stylized, formal and difficult to understand that few have learned to appreciate, or even see the challenging art form. And yet, writes Mark Swed, its traditions have influenced significant operas and artistic creators, including Peter Sellars and Robert Wilson. Swed looks for answers about why Noh casts a spell. Los Angeles Times

Mapping George Takei’s life

For Takei, the exhibition puts a fine point on his life’s work: educating the public about the Japanese American experience, especially the internment camps.

Actor and activist George Takei has donated his collection of personal ephemera to Los Angeles' Japanese American National Museum. An exhibition from the collection, "New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei," opens in March as part of a series of shows exploring the stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans in the media. But first, Takei gave The Times' Deborah Vankin a personal tour of the TV scripts, costumes, family heirlooms and photos, many from the years he spent as a child in Japanese American internment camps. Los Angeles Times 

A post-'Hamilton’ Leslie Odom Jr.

Leslie Odom Jr., who won a 2016 Tony for playing Aaron Burr in "Hamilton," is performing Nov. 17 at the Valley Performing Arts Center.
Leslie Odom Jr., who won a 2016 Tony for playing Aaron Burr in "Hamilton," is performing Nov. 17 at the Valley Performing Arts Center. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Most of us came to know Leslie Odom Jr. for his Tony-winning portrayal of Aaron Burr in "Hamilton." But there's another side to Odom. He is also a singer of jazz standards, and since leaving the original Broadway production of "Hamilton" he's been performing with a five-piece combo. Daryl Miller talked with Odom about his recent move to Los Angeles and his upcoming concert Nov. 17 at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. Los Angeles Times

A great Irish actress’ Los Angeles debut

Marie Mullen, co-star of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane."
Marie Mullen, co-star of "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

Marie Mullen, one of the great actresses of the Irish stage, makes her Los Angeles debut at the Mark Taper Forum in "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." It's a play she knows well, first earning raves in the role of a middle-aged daughter trying to escape her manipulative mother and now playing the formidable mother. Karen Wada talks with Mullen about her career and the role switch. Los Angeles Times

Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice grows 

"Untitled," 1974, by Fred Eversley, a Los Angeles light and space artist who will have a solo exhibition at Art + Practice.
"Untitled," 1974, by Fred Eversley, a Los Angeles light and space artist who will have a solo exhibition at Art + Practice. (Maria Larsson / Art + Practice)

Now in its second year, artist Mark Bradford's Leimert Park complex Art + Practice debuts a new gallery space this weekend with the opening show, "Black, White, Gray," an exhibition of works by sculptor Fred Eversley. Carolina Miranda writes that it's just one of a number of changes for the organization, including new partnerships with a foster youth services provider and the withdrawal of the venerable Eso Won Books, which had planned to move into one of the properties A+P operates but now will stay in its current location. Los Angeles Times

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Finally, for those who feel the need to scream over the election results, Yoko Ono has done it for you in a tweet to Donald Trump. ARTnews

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