Dancing, killing and praying for art

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For those of us who cannot have enough art, last week turned out to be particularly adventurous. There was a great ballet performance with an amazing set design. Then, there was a special screening of a documentary about the artist/provocateur Maurizio Cattelan. And, of course, the big-bang transformation of a former Masonic temple into an art museum.

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(T) Eve Mutso as Blanche DuBois with Company dancers in
Nancy Meckler and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "A Streetcar Named Desire"
(B) Eve Mutso as Blanche DuBois in
Nancy Meckler and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "A Streetcar Named Desire"
Photos by Andy Ross

I never heard about the Scottish Ballet until their appearance last weekend at the Music Center. What caught my attention is the fact that they were performing A Streetcar Named Desire, I trust that most of you have seen the famous film version of this Tennessee Williams play, with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. So, how could anyone compete with the famous and iconic scream of Brando, "Stellaaaa!"? And, how could anyone forget the heartbreaking last words of Blanche DuBois, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers?" I swear to you, while watching these amazing dancers, I could hear them speaking, screaming, and complaining through the richness of their movements, inspired by classical and modern ballet. In addition to that, the dramatic set design and lighting were worthy of a special museum exhibition.

Laemmle Theatres continue to delight us with special screenings of live ballet and opera performances from around the world as part of their Culture Vulture Mondays. But Laemmle also presents screenings of rare documentaries about important museum exhibitions or artists. At the end of June, they will show the documentary Michelangelo: Love and Death, following him and his art through Florence, Rome, and The Vatican.

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Maurizio Cattelan, "All," 2011-2012
View of Cattelan's installation in the Guggenheim rotunda
Photo by David Heald, courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Last night, I went to see the documentary about Italian enfant terrible Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, who, after 20 years of a remarkably successful career, made a statement – "Finito" – he is done with making art. And, what a finale it was… In 2011, he was honored with a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, where his sculptures, in one huge cluster, were suspended from the rotunda.

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(T) Still image of "La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour)" from
"Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back" (2016)
Courtesy of director Maura Axelrod
(B) Maurizio Cattelan, "America," 2016
Photo by Kris McKay/The Guggenheim Collection

Among them, there was a life-size sculptural portrait of Pope John Paul II, stricken by a meteor. There was an equally eye-popping small-scale sculptural portrait of Hitler on his knees. After that, for several years, Cattelan's name was not in the news – and, all of a sudden, last Fall, the Guggenheim made an announcement: Museum visitors can satisfy nature's call by going to the fifth-floor restroom, where Cattelan has installed a fully functional, solid 18-karat gold toilet. It's impossible not to see it as another provocative artistic statement, especially considering the title of this golden toilet – America.

At the end of this documentary, you discover that the person who has been presented as the artist himself actually is his impersonator – which leaves you with a strange feeling of being fooled and delighted at the same time.

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(T) Exterior view of Marciano Art Foundation
Courtesy of wHY Architecture
(B) Installation view of Marciano Art Foundation
Image courtesy of Edward Goldman

The high point of last week's cultural events in LA was the press opening of the Marciano Art Foundation at the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple on Wilshire Boulevard. No one whom I know had ever been inside this imposing building, designed by Millard Sheets in 1961.

I went to the Press Preview, and the sheer complexity and richness of what I've seen there – the private collection of brothers Maurice and Paul Marciano, and the dramatically redesigned interior by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY Architecture – made me understand that I have to see and experience it more than once before I will be able to fully wrap my mind around it. So, stay tuned…



Benjamin Gottlieb