Essential Arts and Culture: Rivers, fires and infrequent visitors

I’m Kelly Scott, arts and culture editor of the Los Angeles Times, with the arts stories that had an impact last week.

The riots and what came after

As Los Angeles remembers the Watts riots 50 years ago this month, art critic Christopher Knight looked at L.A. artists' response. He begins with Noah Purifoy’s “Watts Riot,” made directly from the detritus of the uprising. “After the smoke cleared, Purifoy and his friend Judson Powell gathered up tons of riot salvage — not knowing exactly why, they later said, but compelled to do it,” Knight writes. But that piece, and Purifoy’s subsequent art, showed the country a different California, and set in motion the forces that would come to shape art made in Los Angeles. In a related story by Carolina Miranda, Purifoy’s peers and collaborators talk about the artist, his work and what they remember of the times that produced “Watts Riot.”

Noah Purifoy's "Watts Riot," on display at the California African American Museum. (Bob Carey / Los Angeles Times)

It's about the water, not what you could build on its banks

The disclosure that Frank Gehry is involved in the ambitious plans to remake the L.A. River had some people scratching their heads, and others ready to oppose his involvement. Architecture critic Christoper Hawthorne offered a closer look at why Gehry took it on. “Gehry insists that he isn't interested in the river as the site for new landmarks," Hawthorne writes. Instead, ”he would take on the job only if he could look at the river primarily in terms of hydrology.” Both Times stories sparked a lively conversation, from KPCC host Larry Mantle's "Airtalk" to Frances Anderton's "DNA" on KCRW to a round-up of responses by "The Architect's Newspaper.”

The 6th Street Bridge over the L.A. River. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

He'll have another plate of mashed yeast

The thought of Woody Allen on the streets of downtown L.A. sent arts writer David Ng to the Orpheum Theatre to see the actor-writer-director play clarinet with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. Allen is having a bit of an L.A. moment. Beyond the show, he’s shooting some of his next movie here, for the first time in years. And Los Angeles Opera will present his staging of the Puccini opera “Gianni Schicchi" in September. Did the appearance signal a thaw in Allen’s frosty relationship with Los Angeles? Allen wasn’t saying, and observers thought maybe...but probably not.

Woody Allen, center, performs with the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It's 'Up Here,' bit it's not there yet

The folks behind the new musical "Up Here" that premiered at La Jolla Playhouse last week are pretty much why the term "stellar creative team" was invented. Robert and Kristin Lopez of “Frozen” wrote the book and music (Robert also worked on "Avenue Q" and "Book of Mormon"). Alex Timbers directed “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," "Peter and the Starcatcher” and "Rocky." The LaJolla Playhouse counts too -- it has launched big shows. The idea of "Up Here" -- a man, a woman, and the raucous crowd inside his head -- has promise, theater critic Charles McNulty writes, but in its current shape, it's  “quirky but undercooked."

Betsy Wolfe charms and Matt Bittner is well-rumpled in "Up Here." (Matthew Murphy)

In short

Chaz Bono is just another actor looking for a few good parts ... The singers were fine, but former Dudamel fellow Diego Matheuz was the star of the Phil's summer opera, "La Traviata" at the Hollywood Bowl.

Coming this week

If you missed her Bowl debut last summer or the concert she led at Disney Hall earlier this year, you're in luck: Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla returns to conduct the L.A. Phil at the Bowl Thursday night...Christopher Knight reviews "The Paintings of Moholy-Nagy" at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

What we’re reading

"Please Touch the Art Work: New Tate Exhibit Will Try to Stimulate All Five Senses" from the Wall Street Journal. – Bret Israel, Sunday Calendar editor

The Hirshhorn Strikes Back: An extended response from the museum  in which officials strenuously disagree that they are snubbing Washington by having the 40th-year gala in New York. – Kelly Scott, arts and culture editor

Follow me on Twitter at @kscottLATarts.