Essential Arts & Culture: Leonard Bernstein at 100, MLK tribute, peeling back the White House facade

The new year has barely gotten started, but the cultural events are blazing — with tributes to Leonard Bernstein, the civil rights movement in dance, the L.A. Art Show and an artist who pries open the significance of White House architecture. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s top culture stories:


On the first day of 2018, orchestras in cities around the world — including Tehran — kicked off the year by playing works by composer Leonard Bernstein. The occasion? It’s the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. “He was the first great American conductor,” writes Times classical music critic Mark Swed. “He became the first classical music television star. He proved an inspired educator and first-rate pianist. He was the first internationally esteemed conductor everyone, whether you knew him or not, called by the familiar Lenny.” The year will bring us a lot of Lenny, says Swed, but not necessary the Lenny we need. Los Angeles Times


And since we’re on the subject of classical music, Mark Swed has been an extraordinarily busy man this week, reporting on myriad concerts around town. These include:

— A “stupendous” recital by 2018 Gilmore Artist Award winner Igor Levit at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. Writes Swed: “If there was still any doubt that Levit has the making of a great pianist, Saturday’s recital put that to utter rest.” Los Angeles Times

— A mixed program of work that included pieces by Dukas, Ravel and Debussy performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and led by German conductor and composer Matthias Pintscher, who may be a candidate for the music director position at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. “His conducting style is relatively broad,” writes Swed, “a little heavy and somewhat reserved, all of which can disguise his impressive command of a score.” Los Angeles Times

— Sicilian violinist’s Fabio Biondi’s program devoted to Vivaldi’s Farewell Concertos at Walt Disney Concert Hall, written during the composer’s tragic last year of life. Los Angeles Times

Plus, Times contributor Richard S. Ginnell reports on Itzhak Perlman’s presentation, with the L.A. Phil, of Bach’s Concerto in A Minor, as well as works by Brahms and Elgar. Feeling like you missed the boat? There will be another performance on Saturday. Los Angeles Times


Amid the many commercial art displays at the massive L.A. Art Show, which runs through Sunday at the L.A. Convention Center, is an unusual video mapping projection of murals by Mexico’s José Clemente Orozco. On view at DIVERSEartLA, a section of the L.A. Art Show curated by Marisa Caichiolo, the multimedia installation of murals from MUSA, the Museum of the Arts at Guadalajara, is part of an attempt by the organizers “to bring a more museum-driven element to the annual fair,” writes Catherine Womack. “It’s not something you will buy a poster to have in your house,” MUSA exhibition and education director Laura Ayala says. Los Angeles Times


The Lula Washington Dance Theatre is in the midst of a three-night run at the Wallis Annenberg Performing Arts Center (the last night is Saturday!). Contributing reviewer Laura Bleiberg had a look at the first night of the show, which featured works by four African American choreographers, including Washington’s own piece, “The Movement,” depicting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the civil rights movement. The show, she writes, serves as a reminder of “the joys and responsibilities we all have to make a better world.” Los Angeles Times


Rodney McMillian is taking on the White House — quite literally. In an installation for the Contemporary Austin in Texas, the L.A. artist invites viewers to peel back the neoclassical architecture of the White House to view a film that ruminates, in abstracted ways, on white supremacy. Buildings such as the White House, the artist tells me, “purport ideologies around democracy and possibilities that those ideals espouse. I’ve been intrigued with them as symbols, but also in asking if the institutions are doing the job that the elected officials are slated to do. Or, for whom are they doing the job?” Los Angeles Times


The experimental theater company Poor Dog Group recently brought in a therapist to hold group sessions for members of the troupe. The group decided to tape the sessions and turn them into a play titled “Group Therapy.” The production has its weaknesses, including sound that is a bit “grab bag,” writes Times theater critic Charles McNulty. But the most interesting moments come “when the ensemble members, either reenacting group therapy scenes or commenting on them, reveal the wounds of being young, gifted and avant-garde in a society that prefers its culture prepackaged.” Los Angeles Times

Plus, McNulty writes about art and artists in the age of #MeToo: “The cavalier way men have systemically abused their power over women in and around the workplace warrants little leniency. But a more slippery question has emerged in this me-too moment of cultural reckoning: What to do with the works of artists whose conduct has been abhorrent?” Los Angeles Times


Eleven days. Seventy-five performances. More than 200 artists. The Pacific Standard Time Festival: Live Art LA/LA, organized by REDCAT in conjunction with cultural institutions around the city, is up and running, and it’s bringing performance art by U.S. Latino and Latin American artists to locations around the city. Times culture writer Deborah Vankin has a preview — and it includes a motorcycle performance and a concert on a lake. Los Angeles Times

In case you need ever more performance art, I spoke with Madeleine Brand about some of the festival’s offerings. See you at the show! KCRW Press Play


The surrealist photographer Man Ray spent the years during World War II in Los Angeles and during that time he took striking pictures of a culture crowd that included figures such as Igor Stravinsky, Ava Gardner and Jean Renoir. The Gagosian Gallery has now gathered images from that era for a new exhibition. Los Angeles Times


Daniel Weiss, president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gave an interview to Hrag Vartanian about the museum’s new admission hike: “The problem is regrettably that the pay-as-you-wish model no longer works. Forty years ago, in 1970, when the pay-as-you-wish model was put in place the museum was getting about 25% of its funding from the City of New York, today we’re getting about 9% of our funding from the City.” Hyperallergic

Financial writer Felix Salmon, however, says that, according to his calculations, some of Weiss’ numbers don’t quite pan out. Cause & Effect


Kynaston McShine, a trailblazing curator who, for a time, was the only person of color serving as a curator in a leading U.S. museum (he worked at MoMA), has died at 82. ARTnews

Jan Baum, the art dealer who pioneered a gallery hub on La Brea Avenue, has died. Los Angeles Times

Lina Lecaro pays tribute to a figure I sometimes saw at L.A. art openings: Hollywood Jesus. Rest in Peace. L.A. Taco

— Watching “Hamilton” in London. The New Yorker

— A 176-pound chunk of concrete fell off a Zaha Hadid building in Vienna. Co. Design

— The Los Angeles Conservancy has filed an application to turn the old Woman’s Building in Chinatown into a Los Angeles landmark. Curbed

— Speaking of women, scholar Mary Beard on misogyny in ancient Greece and Rome makes for fascinating reading. Los Angeles Times

— The Getty’s James Cuno looks at the connection between the destruction of cultural heritage and mass atrocities. The Iris

— The Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros has announced it is donating more than 200 works by 91 Latin American artists to six museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Bronx Museum and Austin’s Blanton Museum. Hyperallergic

— The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Autry Museum of the American West have announced a partnership to pool curatorial resources and share their collections. Los Angeles Times

— Los Angeles artist Ron Athey is bringing a performance to Vibiana downtown Los Angeles that will fuse autobiography with “ecstatic communion.” Los Angeles Magazine

Zak Smith on artists and publicists and spam press releases. Artillery

— A guide to Art Deco Los Angeles. KCET


A wonderfully illustrated 1925 Japanese edition of “Aesop’s Fables.” Open Culture

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