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Essential Arts & Culture: Remembering Gordon Davidson, Roy Lichtenstein's L.A.-tinged pop, MOCA's problematic show

A week of loss. A conductor's return to Southern California. And a museum exhibition that crosses an ethical boundary. I'm Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. Here are the week's most interesting cultural stories:

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Gordon Davidson, shown in 2012, was for years Los Angeles theater's most prominent public face.
Gordon Davidson, shown in 2012, was for years Los Angeles theater's most prominent public face. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Gordon Davidson, the Center Theatre Group impresario who not only launched the Mark Taper Forum, but came to personify it  died Sunday at 83. "Gordon made a claim that theater was a place not to just reflect America, but to expand our idea of America," said Oskar Eustis, who worked with Davidson at the Taper. "He did that with a showman's flair, a zest for life and the unwavering support of artists he believed in." Los Angeles Times

In an appreciation to the man often referred to as L.A.'s "Moses of Theater," Times theater critic Charles McNulty writes that Davidson was key to shepherding key plays through to production — including works by Tony Kushner, Anna Deavere Smith and George C. Wolfe. For Davidson, writes McNulty, the stage was a place of "societal reflection and collective dreaming, a meeting hall for the voicing of grievances and the thinking through of corrective measures." Los Angeles Times

Luis Valdez with the cast of the 1978 production of "Zoot Suit" at the Mark Taper Forum.
Luis Valdez with the cast of the 1978 production of "Zoot Suit" at the Mark Taper Forum. (Jay Thompson)

The Times' David Ng looks at the artistic risks that Davidson took — such as commissioning Smith's meditation on the L.A. riots, "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" and staging Luis Valdez's seminal "Zoot Suit." "He was a champion of artists who wrote little plays, and he put them on the big stage," Charlayne Woodard, the actress and playwright, tells Ng. "He was living diversity before anyone started bandying the word about." Los Angeles Times

In a separate tribute, Valdez writes: "To his everlasting credit, Gordon Davidson brought the civil rights movement into the American theater by inviting artists of color to work with his company, thus professionally integrating one of the nation's major regional stages." Los Angeles Times

Neville Marriner, at age 90, conducting the Colburn Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2015 in what would be his final visit to Los Angeles.
Neville Marriner, at age 90, conducting the Colburn Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2015 in what would be his final visit to Los Angeles. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The British violinist who became a conductor and founded the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, one of the most renowned chamber orchestras in the world, also died on Sunday. Neville Marriner's death represents an important loss for Los Angeles too, since he was the first music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Times classical music critic Mark Swed examines the parallel legacies of Davidson and Marriner, two lions who were key to establishing L.A.'s early cultural ethos. Washington PostLos Angeles Times

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on Tuesday night at Costa Mesa's Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra on Tuesday night at Costa Mesa's Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. (Miguel Vasconcellos / Philharmonic Society)

Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, who for 17 years led the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was recently back in Southern California with his London orchestra, the Philharmonia, for a performance at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. In a program that included Sibelius, Beethoven and Stravinksy, the conductor, writes Swed, led an orchestra that was propulsive and tightly focused. Los Angeles Times

Plus: Swed also checked out the L.A. Philharmonic's season opener, which featured a tribute to Beethoven that included a venturesome rendition of John Adams' "Absolute Jest." Los Angeles Times

Cast-resin vessels by Gaetano Pesce at MOCA Pacific Design Center.
Cast-resin vessels by Gaetano Pesce at MOCA Pacific Design Center. (Christopher Knight / Los Angeles Times)

A new exhibition of works by Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce at MOCA Pacific Design Center was curated by a prominent collector of his work. (In fact, the show is drawn largely from his collection.) This crosses a bright ethical line, writes Times art critic Christopher Knight. "When a museum turns over its exhibition galleries to a private collector," he writes, "you begin to wonder just what professional purpose the museum serves." Los Angeles Times

Related: Reporter Cristina Ruiz looks at why museum directors are getting increasingly cozy with private collectors. The Art Newspaper

A view of downtown L.A. through artist Patrick Shearn's installation "The Liquid Shard," on view in August.
A view of downtown L.A. through artist Patrick Shearn's installation "The Liquid Shard," on view in August. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

With all the buzz of L.A. as creative center, New York arts writer Seph Rodney looks for the truths underneath the hype — that though our city is seeing new institutions rise, we are a place that is also contending with drought, rising rents and a bubbling conflict that stems from the presence of galleries in working-class districts (see: Boyle Heights). Naturally, the story contains obligatory references to Hollywood and the weather. Hyperallergic

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Mike Daisey performs "The Trump Card" at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
Mike Daisey performs "The Trump Card" at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Monologist Mike Daisey took on GOP candidate Donald Trump as subject for a one-night performance at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. "I can't say I learned anything new about Trump from Daisey, but he did make me rethink the way I have been prioritizing information," writes Charles McNulty. "His show recalibrates the data, placing more emphasis on Trump's genius as a performer — a performer limited to one larger-than-life role, that of Donald Trump." Los Angeles Times

A detail from Roy Lichtenstein’s "Nude With Blue Hair, State I," from the Nudes Series, 1994.
A detail from Roy Lichtenstein’s "Nude With Blue Hair, State I," from the Nudes Series, 1994. (Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Skirball Cultural Center)

A new retrospective at the Skirball Cultural Center gathers more than 70 of Roy Lichtenstein's works spanning four decades — many of which evoke the artist's long-running love affair with Los Angeles, cultivated by his collaboration with key print studios such as Gemini G.E.L. "You see it in the colors, the shapes and that he wanted to do things that were so massive on scale," curator Bethany Montagano tells The Times' Deborah Vankin. "The New York art world, while burgeoning and exciting, was also pretty insular. Lichtenstein came out here, and he felt free." Los Angeles Times

Karon Davis' "Monsanto Memorial Garden" at Wilding Cran Gallery.
Karon Davis' "Monsanto Memorial Garden" at Wilding Cran Gallery. (Brian Van Der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

When artist Karon Davis lost her husband of seven years — painter Noah Davis, with whom she established the Underground Museum arts space in Arlington Heights — she says she felt like "a robot." But she poured her grief into an installation now on view at Wilding Cran Gallery in Los Angeles that captures the anxiety and bewilderment of loss. "Noah's everywhere in here," she tells Vankin. "This show's for him." Los Angeles Times

IN OTHER NEWS…

Plácido Domingo performs at a benefit for the L.A. Opera in the spring.
Plácido Domingo performs at a benefit for the L.A. Opera in the spring. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Plácido Domingo has renewed his contract with L.A. Opera through 2021-22. Los Angeles Times

Julie Kent, the new director of the Washington Ballet, heralds a new era for that corps. Washington Post

USC debuts a $46-million building for dance: The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center. Los Angeles Times

— A pair of striking orchestras in Pennsylvania point to problems in the world of classical music. The Telegraph

A tax evasion trial offers a peak into the conflicts of the prominent Wildenstein art dealing dynasty. The New York Times

San Francisco's Mexican Museum is trying to figure out who will curate it. San Francisco Chronicle

David Byrne and Mala Gaonkar stage a show about cognitive experiments in Menlo Park. The New York Times

Vancouver-based architect Bing Thom, a designer whose buildings show sensitivity to the environment and social context, has died. Citylab

— Is design solving all the wrong problems? New York Times

"Beautiful — The Carole King Musical," will be back in SoCal for a short run at the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa through Oct. 16. Los Angeles Times

Two brothers are playing the same role in an August Wilson play on opposite coasts (and you can see one of them here in L.A.). New York Times

CAN'T MISS SHOW

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An installation view of the Hanne Darboven exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles.
An installation view of the Hanne Darboven exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Los Angeles. (Joshua White / Spr端th Magers)

In the era before BuzzFeed, German artist Hanne Darboven made lists — of dates, of names, of the objects in her studio. Yet "for all of its minimalist coolness and mathematical rigor," writes critic Leah Ollman, "Darboven's work can make the heart ache and the body sigh." Through Oct. 29, Sprüth Magers, 5900 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…

Things you didn't know you needed: Ed Ruscha's recipe for cactus omelette. Hyperallergic

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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