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Entertainment & Arts

Column: New museums in the U.S., destruction in Syria, affirmation in Paris: Moments that defined culture in 2015

The ancient city of Palmyra in Syria

The Roman ruins at Palmyra, in Syria, seen in 2010. The historica ancient site has been a target of Islamic State militants over the course of 2105.

(AFP/Getty Images)

From the opening of high-profile new museums in the U.S. to cultural affirmation in Paris, these moments, for better or worse, helped to define culture in Los Angeles and the world in 2015.

BRUGUERA’S DETENTIONS:
The year of a thaw between the U.S. and Cuba was also the year in which artist Tania Bruguera was detained repeatedly by the Cuban government for trying to stage a performance on free speech. Charges were never filed, but her situation cast a shadow on the buzzy 12th Havana Biennial — drawing attention to the country’s treatment of its dissidents.

Petersen Automotive Museum

The redesigned Petersen Automotive Museum on Wilshire Boulevard gave critics a lot to talk about in 2015.

(Christina House / For The Times)

MUSEUMS RISE:
New architecturally significant show palaces energized museum-goers on both coasts, including those at the Broad in L.A. and the Whitney Museum in New York. Not to overlook the new Petersen Automotive Museum, that blazing red pile of spaghetti entrails on Fairfax Avenue.

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PALMYRA DESTRUCTION:
For two millenniums, this graceful ancient site in Syria has drawn visitors from all over with its fusion of architectural styles. That legacy was imperiled this summer as Islamic State militants began to blow up temples and statuary. A heartbreaking loss.

The Los Angeles River

The revitalization of the L.A. River has been a headline topic for much of 2015 — along with the bickering that has gone along with it. Seen here: a view of the river in Canoga Park. 

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

LOS ANGELES RIVER SQUABBLES:
As the city reconceives the drainage ditch we call a river, leaders of its various renewal factions (including architect Frank Gehry, who should know better) have taken to trash-talking each other in the press. Can famously fractious L.A. pull it together?

THE COSBY/SMITHSONIAN DEBACLE:
From the start, conflict-of-interest questions were tied to the show of Bill Cosby’s art collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. But the allegations of sexual assault by the comedian (which Cosby has denied), and the museum’s muted reaction to them, have made the exhibition Exhibit A on why it’s a bad idea for museums to promote the collection of a single living individual.

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OCMA SLASHES STAFF: Internationally known for its daring exhibition program, the Orange County Museum of Art laid off five staffers, including its chief curator, as part of a plan to construct a splashy new building designed by Pritzker Prize winner Thom Mayne. Did the museum sacrifice art for the sake of name-brand architecture? The coming months will tell.

Kahlil Joseph “m.A.A.d.”

A detail from “m.A.A.d.,” the beguiling work of video art by L.A. director and artist Kahlil Joseph that began life as a concert film for hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar.

(Chayse Irvin / MOCA Los Angeles)

POP CULTURE, RIGHT AND WRONG:
Shows in New York and L.A. showed how museums should and shouldn’t tackle pop topics. The Museum of Modern Art’s widely reviled show on the Icelandic singer Björk was a Björkatastrophe that felt like a Planet Hollywood installation with really bad poetry. L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art showcased a video piece by L.A. filmmaker Kahlil Joseph that provided a meditative, magical view of the Compton of rapper Kendrick Lamar — a familiar subject seen wondrously anew.

USC’S MFA PROGRAM:
A pair of tenured professors quit. An entire master of fine arts class dropped out. And dozens of alumni wrote an open letter in support of them. Changes to the curriculum, a new dean and concerns about the university’s increasing focus on corporate, tech-friendly programs has left the once-respected MFA program with only one student for the Class of 2017.

BASEL STABBING:
Art Basel Miami Beach had already been generating some soul-searching for its continued slide into party spectacle for the 1%. Then a young woman gets stabbed at the fair — and most onlookers confuse it with an act of performance. Is this really the purpose of art?

Eiffel Tower commemorating Paris attacks

The Eiffel Tower illuminated with the colors of the French flag in memory of the dozens that were killed during a series of terrorist attacks on Nov. 13. 

(Malte Christians / AP)

DEATH AND LIFE IN PARIS:
The year began with the attack at Charlie Hebdo and ended with a terrorist onslaught in locations around the city. In the wake of the latter, the staff of the Louvre gathered under I.M. Pei’s iconic glass pyramid to sing the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise,” in an emotional moment of affirmation that reminded us all: Ideas cannot be killed.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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