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Essential Arts & Culture: A homecoming for Kerry James Marshall, Gehry in Berlin and a desert biennial

Essential Arts & Culture: A homecoming for Kerry James Marshall, Gehry in Berlin and a desert biennial
A detail of "Untitled (Painter)," 2009, by Kerry James Marshall, from the artist's new retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Nathan Keay / MCA Chicago)

A beguiling show of painting, plus Frank Gehry's latest. And the art that dots the desert. I'm Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, with the week's most intriguing stories about culture (and radioactive pigs):

Painting the black figure

Kerry James Marshall's 35-year retrospective comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A.
Kerry James Marshall's 35-year retrospective comes to the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

This weekend, the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. opens the doors on a retrospective of painter Kerry James Marshall, an artist known for large-scale works that touch on — in the most exquisite, painterly ways — on questions of civil rights, history, and the general invisibility of the black figure in Western art. "When it comes to ideas about art and about beauty," Marshall tells Times contributor Barbara Isenberg, "the black figure is absent." Los Angeles Times

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Frank Gehry in Berlin

Berlin's Pierre Boulez Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, is a new auditorium for chamber music.
Berlin's Pierre Boulez Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, is a new auditorium for chamber music. (Volker Kreidler)

Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne and classical music critic Mark Swed traveled to Berlin last week to check out Pierre Boulez Hall, a new chamber music space designed by Frank Gehry. The oval 682-seat hall features a flexible stage and sound design by Yasuhisa Toyota, who did the acoustics at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Hawthorne admires the flexibility of the space — the way in which "musicians can be repositioned as a concert unfolds." But, he writes, Gehry's "final product never quite strikes the unusual balance of refined and unrefined spaces, of humanism and careful proportion set against the ad hoc and the thrown together, that marks his most effective designs." Los Angeles Times

Guests arrive for the opening concert at Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin.
Guests arrive for the opening concert at Pierre Boulez Hall in Berlin. (Maurizio Gambarini / Associated Press)

Swed in the meantime, notes the hall's optimistic purpose: It is part of the Barenboim-Said Academy, where young Arab and Israeli musicians train and make music together. He sat in on a 3 1/2-hour program of works that included compositions by Mozart and Pierre Boulez, the post-War French composer for whom the place is named. "Feeling like an astronaut hovering above Saturn, I sat on the lower ring," writes Swed. "Once you begin to lean, the music has a kind of sonic gravitational pull for which we don't yet have an everyday acoustics adjective." Los Angeles Times

And, in case you missed it: Last week, Swed wrote a great primer about the work of the legendary acoustician Toyota. Los Angeles Times

Art in the desert

"The Circle of Land and Sky," by Philip K. Smith III, is part of the Desert X exhibition in the Mojave.
"The Circle of Land and Sky," by Philip K. Smith III, is part of the Desert X exhibition in the Mojave. (Lance Gerber / Desert X)

Sixteen art installations. Twenty-eight miles of desert. Times art critic Christopher Knight spent 48 hours tooling around the Coachella Valley to examine the site-specific works that make up "Desert X," the ambitious new show organized by curator Neville Wakefield. Including works by Armando Lerma, Philip K. Smith III and Jennifer Bolande, the show, he writes, thankfully skirts the most romanticized desert clichés — "or else they engage them, casting a skeptical or parodic eye." Los Angeles Times

A visual historian

L.A. painter Frank Romero in his Highland Park studio. The artist, 75, is the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
L.A. painter Frank Romero in his Highland Park studio. The artist, 75, is the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. artist Frank Romero made history in the 1970s as part of the collective Los Four, the first Chicano artists to have an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Now the painter is the subject of a career retrospective at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. I sat down with the artist, now 75, to talk about the years he spent as a graphic designer for Charles and Ray Eames, the cultural revolutions of the '60s and '70s and the magic of the burritos from Chano's. "It's all stories," he says of his work. "Basically, that's what I do: I tell stories." Los Angeles Times

An activist star

Actress Kate Shindle plays one of the lead roles in the national tour of "Fun Home."
Actress Kate Shindle plays one of the lead roles in the national tour of "Fun Home." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Kate Shindle, the actress who plays graphic novelist Alison Bechdel in "Fun Home," winner of the 2015 Tony for best musical (now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles), is a performer with an activist streak. As a former Miss America, she made HIV/AIDs awareness her mission. And in 2015, she was the youngest person to be voted president of the Actors' Equity Assn. Of her role in "Fun Home," that of a woman coming to terms with family secrets and her own sexuality, she tells the Times' Jessica Gelt: "The idea that you have to recognize your own identity, and that bad things can happen when you're not permitted to, is a message that I think is awfully relevant." Los Angeles Times

Sigur Ros, fronted by singer Jonsi Birgisson, will perform as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavik Festival in April.
Sigur Ros, fronted by singer Jonsi Birgisson, will perform as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavik Festival in April. (Andrew Benge / Redferns)

Plus, Gelt also reports that in early April, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will host 17-day festival devoted to Icelandic music of every flavor imaginable. Among the offerings is a three-night gig that pairs Sigur Rós and the L.A. Phil, as well as Björk's Disney Hall debut. Los Angeles Times

Dance and social justice

With hands up, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs "Untitled America," choreographer Kyle Abraham's piece about the prison system and its effects on families.
With hands up, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs "Untitled America," choreographer Kyle Abraham's piece about the prison system and its effects on families. (Paul Kolnik)

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is in town through Sunday for a series of performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion — featuring one piece inspired by the speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and another on the topic of imprisonment, among other subjects. Times contributor Joseph Carman met with Hope Boykin, one of the choreographers, to discuss her inspirations. Los Angeles Times

Plus, reviewer Lewis Segal took in one of the shows. The performance, he writes, contains moments of triumph — but was hampered, in parts, by the Dorothy Chandler's poor sound system. Los Angeles Times

After Measure S

Workers with the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters at an anti-Measure S news conference in February.
Workers with the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters at an anti-Measure S news conference in February. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The slow-growth initiative was roundly thrashed in Los Angeles polls. But critics agree that it doesn't mean that Angelenos want the status quo. As The Times' David Zahniser, Ben Poston and Emily Alpert Reyes report, city leaders "still need to confront the issues that fueled the campaign, such as the high cost of housing and the need for better planning." Los Angeles Times

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Hillel Aaron also has an analysis. In the wake of Measure S's defeat, he writes, the city "still must come to terms with how best to plan growth" and "how to have 'smart growth,' in a way that encourages people to use public transportation and live sustainably." LA Weekly

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The Garcetti decade

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

In a related article, Hawthorne looks at how newly reelected Mayor Eric Garcetti may shape the city's landscape more than any other mayor since Tom Bradley. "It is his capacity to shape that rising city, to give it a stronger sense of coherence and equity than it's had so far," writes Hawthorne, "that gives Garcetti a chance to be one of the most consequential mayors in modern L.A. history." Los Angeles Times

Spring Arts Guide

And with dozens of exhibitions, plays, musicals, concerts and events around Los Angeles opening this spring, The Times rounds up some of the most essential. Los Angeles Times

In other news…

An abandoned sofa sits against the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tecate, Calif.
An abandoned sofa sits against the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tecate, Calif. (Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

— The Department of Homeland Security wants potential border wall builders to consider "aesthetics." Talking Points Memo

— Few of the firms interested in building the border wall have the resources to pull it off. Including the one that designed much of the wall that is already in existence. Potemkin wall, anyone? Citylab

Antonio Pacheco looks at the "bombastic, brand-name architecture" of the L.A. Arts District. The Architect's Newspaper

Angelenos are getting a special preview of what's in store for the New York Philharmonic this weekend: Newly named musical director Jaap van Zweden is leading a pair of concerts at Disney Hall. Los Angeles Times

— "The Perfect American," the Philip Glass opera about Walt Disney lands in Long Beach. Los Angeles Times

The Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach.
The Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. (OCMA)

— The Orange County Museum of Art is back to square one after Newport Beach rescinded permission for a development plan that would have allowed the institution to move to Costa Mesa. Daily Pilot

— Essential balloon dog update: Artist Jeff Koons will be the honoree for MOCA's spring gala. Interestingly, a French court just ruled that a sculpture by Koons plagiarizes a work by a French artist. Los Angeles Times, Hyperallergic

— A former curator from the Metropolitan Museum of Art speaks about the institution's financial problems: "Too much was done simultaneously and too quickly." The Art Newspaper

— Breaking the glass slipper ceiling: Celia Fushille, of San Francisco's Smuin Contemporary American Ballet, is one of only nine women around the globe to lead a ballet company with a budget of $2.5 million or more. San Francisco Chronicle

— Related: Critic Joshua Kosman says that classical music is overdue for some diversity — such as compositions by women — in its programming. San Francisco Chronicle

— Plus, an unsavory blog interview between musicians has roiled the world of jazz with questions of sexism. NPR

— It's Whitney Biennial time!!! Here's a guide. Let the (hunger) games begin. New York Times

— "Her pictures ask how sure we are about what we know to be true." Ariel Levy has a pretty terrific profile of Los Angeles photographer Catherine Opie. New Yorker

— For anyone headed to Hauser & Wirth: Jason Rhoades, an explainer. New Yorker

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LACMA is helping Merriam-Webster illustrate words. Merriam Webster

— On Native American English — a.k.a. "the rez accent." Yes! Magazine

— This has nothing to do with culture, but everyone needs to know about the radioactive wild boars of Japan. Reuters

And last but not least…

Paintings of men who look like they're named "Fat Sal." This is obviously a solid curatorial concept. Thank you, Clickhole

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