Art that Stares, Spits and Screams at You

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One of the most amazing and original landmarks that we Angelenos are rightfully proud of is the Watts Towers, built by Italian immigrant construction worker Simon Rodia. Rodia spent decades using broken bottles, ceramic tiles, and what have you, to make these Towers connect with the blue skies and touch our grateful hearts.

The Watts Towers. Simon Rodia. Los Angeles.
Photographs Edward Goldman

Last Saturday, I went there with a group of friends, some of who had never been there before. We all marveled at Rodia’s persistence and perseverance, the humbleness of his materials, as well as his great vision, inspired by gothic architecture of Old Europe.

Alison Saar speaking about her work.
(L) Alison Saar. Foison, 2011 (left figure).
Carved wood clad in green patina copper sheet with cast bronze cotton balls and moths and acrylic paint.
Fallow, 2012 (right figure). Wood, paint, bronze, ceiling tin, mirror.

(R) Alison Saar. Foison Study, 2010. Mixed media.
Photograph courtesy LA Louver

Another reason for us to go there was to meet with well known Los Angeles artist Alison Saar to hear her talk about her exhibition, “hot house,” at Noah Purifoy Gallery , which is a part of Watts Towers Arts Center.

(L) Alison Saar. Bramblin’ Blues, 2013. Glass, brambles.
(C) Alison Saar. J’attends, 2007. Mixed media.
(R) Alison Saar. Cotton Eater (head), 2013
Ceramic, acrylic, graphite and cotton balls.
“hot house” exhibition at the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Photographs Edward Goldman

I’ve been a big fan of Saar’s works for decades, and this exhibition of her sculptures, prints, and drawings once again shows her ability to work with the most humble of materials to create figurative images with their references to Greek, African, and Native American mythologies.

Installation view of “hot house” exhibition at the Watts Towers Arts Center
Photograph Edward Goldman

Not many artists can show their work next to Simon Rodia’s Towers and not be dwarfed and dismissed by his vision. Alison Saar took her chances by showing artworks in the shadow of the Watts Towers, and proved that her art not only holds its own, but also fosters a conversation with the famous Towers. To admire the Watts Towers from a distance and not actually step inside of its structure is to miss its magic. The same goes for Alison Saar’s artworks, which has its secrets and surprises revealed only when you come in close and literally peer inside of them.  

And here is another pairing of two artists –– one legendary, another simply famous. I am talking about Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe, who appeared this past weekend at the Center for the Art of Performance UCLA, at Royce Hall.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe in Robert Wilson’s "The Old Woman"
Presented at UCLA’s Royce Hall
Photograph courtesy Lucie Jansch

This highly stylized production, “The Old Woman,” by avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson is based on the 1939 novella of the same name by Russian writer Daniil Kharms. Boy, Baryshnikov, who is 68 years old, can still dance like an Angel –– though in this role, more like a Devil. And he acts, and he screams, and who knew he could sing? And the one and only Willem Dafoe does all of the above in splendid unison with Mikhail!

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Willem Dafoe in Robert Wilson’s "The Old Woman"
Presented at UCLA’s Royce Hall
Photograph courtesy Lucie Jansch

Actually, the third person on the stage is Robert Wilson himself. His minimalistic, avant-garde, and constantly evolving set design, costume, and makeup, is nothing short of remarkable. We’ve seen museum and gallery exhibitions of his art, but for me, the theater stage is the most convincing and persuasive display of his unique talent.

To learn about Edward’s Fine Art of Art Collecting classes, please visit his website. You can also read the New York Times article about his classes here.