It took me no time at all to fall in love with Los Angeles -- just a few intakes of the balmy air upon emerging from the plane shortly after midnight. Until then, I didn't believe in love at first sight. Now, almost thirty years later, I know better. Never mind the wonderful climate and suspiciously gorgeous Hollywood wannabes. This huge and sprawling metropolis stubbornly refuses to follow the rules of success established by its older rivals, and instead of the storied beauty of Paris or Rome, it offers an exotic and unsettling, but ultimately intoxicating mixture of good, strange, and ugly. When I see a run-down neighborhood on the outskirts of New York or Moscow, it speaks of stagnation; somehow it's different when I drive from LAX along the streets where the only memorable sights are gasoline stations and one-story corner markets. For my eyes and ears, everything here in LA manifests raw energy and a sense of happening. Sure, on occasion it annoys and exasperates me, but at the end of the day, no other city in the world makes me feel so alive.
It took decades before the venerable New York Times discovered that Los Angeles does have culture beyond that which can be found in yogurt, and that contrary to Woody Allen's complaint, the ability to make a right turn at a red light is not the only cultural advantage of living in LA. In the last couple of years -- and especially in recent months -- the New York Times has covered the Los Angeles art scene with surprising frequency. Last Sunday the front page of the Arts section printed a witty photograph of downtown LA that accompanied an in-depth article about the city's dramatic cultural developments "two decades after Los Angeles emerged as the nation's second art capitol." Not only our homeboys Frank Gehry and Thom Mayne became the biggest stars of the architectural Olympus; other architectural luminaries such as Renzo Piano and Steven Holl are also involved here with various high-profile projects.
Angelino John Baldessari, renowned conceptual artist and beloved teacher for a generation of young artists, used to advise his students to go to New York to build their careers. Not any longer. "More and more young artists," he says, "leave school and stay here. The opportunities are better, and the cost of living is cheaper. People involved in art regularly come to LA."
However, Los Angeles is still struggling to change the perception of millions of tourists coming to the city and flocking to its beaches and amusement parks. Only 10 percent of them visit cultural sights here, compared with 40 percent of visitors to New York and London -- and 85 percent of visitors to Paris. Los Angeles still has a lot to learn about the art of promotion. It seems that the city's new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, with the help of billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, famously dedicated to its cultural development, is searching for new ways to promote the city as a cultural destination.
From my modest corner, I would suggest creating a dynamic and sexy television program celebrating the artistic scene here. After all, the best way to the heart of the American public is through a TV. Unfortunately, infrequent art programs on PBS, with the exception of Charlie Rose's interviews, are absolutely moribund. If only our cultural leaders and philanthropists could be persuaded to combine their resources into developing a unified strategy to raise the cultural profile of the city, which subsequently would bring more visitors and thus, more revenue to each of the participating institutions.
Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the New York Times, LACMA director Michael Govan talks about his desire to start collecting for the museum architecturally prominent mid-century modernist houses and to allow its curators to live there. If that happens, I can see high-profile museum curators from around the world lining up for the job.