Positive and Discouraging Developments in the Cultural Life of L.A.

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Positive and Discouraging Developments in the Cultural Life of L.A.

This is the first program of the New Year, so let's start out on a positive note, shall we? I've been planning, for quite some time, to talk about the good fortune of two local museums. About ten years ago, LACMA, as you may recall, had an exhibition of 17th Century Dutch paintings from the private collection of Hannah and Edward W. Carter. There were probably two dozen small paintings, most of them exquisite, all of them in perfect condition. The exhibition caught me by surprise, as I didn't think a collection of such integrity and could be assembled by local collectors. At the end of last year, LACMA's wish came true when eleven paintings from the Carter collection were permanently put on view in a specially designed gallery named after the generous donors. Hopefully, if the museum plays its cards right the rest of the Carter collection of Dutch paintings will be donated to the museum as well.

Meanwhile, in November, the UCLA Hammer Museum presented an exhibition of 19th- and 20th-Century works on paper from the private collection of Eunice and Hal David, including works by Winslow Homer and Georgia O'Keefe, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, as well as Noguchi, Warhol, and Hockney, among others. Part of this collection has already been donated to the museum. The rest will end up in the museum as well, as a so-called "promised gift", which means that the collectors will transfer ownership of the artworks to the museum in the years to come.

Now it's time to change gears. There is no doubt in my mind that Disney Hall is the best thing that happened to our city of angels in a long, long time. Critics of all stripes - including myself - praised profusely the architecture and acoustics of Frank Gehry's building. I went there for a concert twice, but also made a point to visit it casually on a number of occasions, just to walk around and discover the gardens, the patios, the semi-secret pathways and stairwells, which seduced me to climb up and up - my bad knee be damned - all the way to the top.

If you haven't made your New Year's resolution yet, here's my suggestion: treat yourself with a visit to Disney Hall the way I did it - late in the evening, after the concert. The access to all the terraces with their gardens on various levels of the Concert Hall is free through the night. Even after midnight, no one stopped me. The only note of dissonance was the discovery of a large fountain in the shape of a rose with its rather ungraceful petals decorated with thousands of pieces of broken white and blue china. This sculptural fountain by Frank Gehry is his special tribute to Lillian Disney, who loved to collect Delft china. Unfortunately, this well-intended tribute cannot be counted among the successful works of this architect. Ironically, by building Disney Hall, Gehry created the most beautiful sculpture gracing L.A., yet while working on this fountain; he ended up with the least appealing public artwork I can think of.

I'm not encouraged either by the prospect of a gigantic sculpture, which is planned to be installed in front of Disney Hall. Though it's not yet officially announced, it's known that well-known artist Claes Oldenburg, a friend of Frank Gehry's, is commissioned to make a thirty foot-tall sculpture in the shape of a bowtie with collar. The spokesperson I was referred to, refused to comment, saying only that any announcement will be made when the sculpture is ready to go up. I wish we Angelenos were treated as adults and not as children whose opinion doesn't count. Or is someone afraid of a public debate on the merit of putting up a huge sculpture by a respected artist whose best work, in my opinion, was done decades ago?

17th -Century Dutch Landscapes
(Permanent collection)
LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 857-6010

The Eunice and Hal David Collection of 19th and 20th-Century Works on Paper
November 14, 2003- February 8, 2004
UCLA Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA. 90024
(310) 443-7020