This past Memorial Day weekend turned out to have yet another sad dimension. Yes, we honored the memory of untold thousands of American soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefield in service of our country. But in addition to that, those of us caring deeply about art had an extra reason to mourn over the last few days. Saturday brought the news of the death - at age 74 - of Dennis Hopper, the famous Hollywood actor and distinguished artist. Poetic justice would demand that he would live another month to see the opening of his major retrospective at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art. Aware of Hopper's terminal illness, MOCA's new director, Jeffrey Deitch, tried his best to hasten the exhibition's opening, scheduled for July 11.
A surprising and highly welcome component of the Hopper exhibition is the choice of curator - Julian Schnabel - a larger-than-life personality whose reputation as a painter has been in decline, while his second career as a maverick filmmaker is thriving. Come to think of it, Hopper started in film and later ventured into visual art, while Schnabel's career took the opposite turn. All that makes for a very intriguing pairing, and one hopes it will result in an interesting, challenging exhibition.
Other sad news on the art front is the death - at age 98 - of Louise Bourgeois, the extraordinarily talented and daring French-born American artist whose retrospective at MOCA a year and a half ago was, in my opinion, one of the best exhibitions of the last decade. The world caught up with her art - at last - when she was well into her 70’s, and god bless her soul, she continued to work until the very end. To see her famous signature piece, a 35-foot bronze sculpture of a gigantic spider, go to KCRW.org/ArtTalk. You will see this spider poised to attack another masterpiece, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
I wonder what Richard Wagner would say about the choice of Louise Bourgeois as a costume and set designer for his famous Ring Cycle. After watching two ambitious productions of his operas last weekend in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I was duly impressed with the extreme effort and dedication that went into this project. However, I wish I could say that I was moved and inspired by the vision of German theatrical wizard Achim Freyer, the set and costume designer as well as the director of this production.
A few times I closed my eyes to more fully concentrate on the beauty of the music and singing, and all of a sudden, the work of another German artist, Anselm Kiefer, floated into my mind. Did you see his operatic-in-scale installation here in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, at the First Baptist Church in Koreatown? Would you agree that he would be a fantastic and inspiring choice as a set designer for a Wagner opera?
So, on Sunday I was at the opera, and on Monday I went to the movies to see another classic: Jean-Luc Godard's masterpiece, Breathless. What a difference a day makes. In honor of the movie's 50th anniversary, the beautifully restored print of this black and white film is playing at Laemmle's Royal Theatre. Its superb cinematography and excellent jazz score leaves most of today's Hollywood movies in the dust. You simply owe it to yourself to enjoy this masterpiece on the big screen, the way it was meant to be seen. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Banner image: Dennis Hopper, Double Standard, 1961 (detail); Gelatin Silver Print, 16"(H) x 24"(W); Image courtesy Ace Gallery Los Angeles, 2006