Supervisors Approve Seriously Flawed LACMA Plan

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On Tuesday the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve a massive make-over of the LACMA campus. This was a major mistake. There’s been a lot of debate about the aesthetic quality of architect Peter Zumthor’s latest design, but really that’s a secondary issue. LACMA is a public institution and its primary purpose is to serve the public. I’m not the only one who feels that the project as proposed fails to accomplish that goal.

I wrote about the drawbacks to the plan a couple days ago, so I won’t go through it all again, but one of the main concerns is that LACMA is getting ready to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a new building with 10% less exhibition space. Does the LACMA Board really think that’s the best way to serve the public? Another serious problem with the new structure is that it doesn’t contain office space for most staff members, including curatorial staff. The museum will be renting space in a building across the street. Separating the staff from the exhibition space is a foolish and potentially costly move. How can anybody think this is a good idea?

To those who are angry about the loss of exhibition space, LACMA Director Michael Govan has said he wants to get away from the traditional idea of what a museum is. Rather than expecting people from all over LA County to come to the Wilshire District to look at art, Govan has proposed bringing the museum to the people by having LACMA open new spaces in various communities. Here are a couple paragraphs from the story in the LA Times….

Supervisor Kathryn Barger praised LACMA Director Michael Govan, who hopes to offset the loss of gallery space in the new building with future satellite locations in South Los Angeles and elsewhere.

“You really do have a vision, and it’s not just about four walls,” Barger said, later adding: “We believe it’s important to give exposure to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it.”

In theory this is a great idea. We shouldn’t keep clinging to old ideas about what a museum is, and the notion of creating different spaces in LA’s communities to engage the public directly makes perfect sense. But where’s the proposal for these satellite locations? What’s the budget? What’s the timetable? How is it going to happen?

Various sources reported that Govan pitched this idea in January 2018, and at the time he talked about the possibility of opening five different spaces anywhere between South LA and the Valley. What’s happened since then? Well, that same month the LA City Council approved an agreement which would allow the Department of Recreation & Parks to lease LACMA space at South Los Angeles Wetlands Park. The idea was that LACMA would gradually renovate an existing building at the same time it was providing programming in the park. Here’s an excerpt from the agreement.

LACMA proposes to begin providing museum programming services at designated recreation centers near the South LA Wetlands Park within six months of the execution of the Lease while the repair and retrofit work is being conducted in Building 71. Programming at the Park will be provided within eighteen (18) months of the execution of the Lease.

The LA City Council approved the lease in January 2018. The agreement says LACMA would start providing programming near the park within six months and that programming at the park would begin within 18 months. I looked all over the net. I looked at the Rec & Parks web site. I looked at the LACMA web site. I didn’t find anything about art-related activities provided by the museum anywhere near South LA Wetlands Park. The 18 month period will expire in July of this year. Will LACMA be providing programming at the park beginning in July?

What about the other locations? In July 2018 it was reported that LACMA had opened a small gallery at an elementary school near Westlake/MacArthur Park, but at that time it wasn’t yet open on weekends. Another site that’s been mentioned is Magic Johnson Park in South LA, but an article published in the LA Sentinel last month merely said that LACMA was “considering” a location there.

In other words, there is no plan in place. There are no details. Govan’s idea of bringing the museum to the people sounds good, but at this point it’s all up in the air. The locations haven’t been determined, there’s no timetable, and apparently no budget. This last part is especially concerning. Since fundraising for the new Wilshire campus has slowed, it’s hard to believe donors will be rushing forward with millions to fund this new idea of off-site locations. To say that the loss of exhibition space in the proposed building will be offset by new satellite locations without offering any concrete plan for how that’s going to happen is pathetic. Could some satellite spaces open in time? Possibly. But it’s also possible none of them will open.

I can’t believe anybody could buy this half-baked idea. But apparently the Board of Supervisors thought it all sounded great. You can read the write-up in the Times here.

LACMA’s $650 Million New Building Wins Approval from County Supervisors

 

Stop the Insanity at LACMA

LACMA Plaza

If you care about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and you haven’t heard the latest about the massive makeover planned for the campus, please check out the articles below. There’s some crazy stuff going on. When the project was being discussed back in 2015, I wrote a post supporting the demolition of existing buildings and construction of new gallery space. But after reading reports in the media about the latest twists in the LACMA saga, I say we need to slam on the brakes. The project as currently proposed is just insane.

Read the articles below for more details, but the upshot is that LACMA will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create a new campus with a lot less gallery space. Even worse, the new buildings won’t contain offices for curators and other museum staff. LACMA will be leasing space for them in a building across the street. Unbelievable.

But it hasn’t been approved yet. The LA County Board of Supervisors will consider approval of the plan at their meeting on Tuesday, April 9. If you care about LACMA’s future, please write to your Supervisor TODAY and let them know you oppose the current plan.

LA County Board of Supervisors

Here are two articles that lay out what’s going on. The first is by Christopher Knight, who gives an overview of the proposal. The second is by Joseph Giovannini, who breaks down the numbers in excruciating detail. Both authors oppose the current plan

LACMA, the Incredible Shrinking Museum

LACMA: Suicide by Architecture

When the idea of remaking the LACMA campus was first proposed it seemed like a good idea, but over the years the proposal has morphed into an awful, pathetic mess. Please tell the Board of Supervisors to reject this idiotic plan.

The Feminine Sublime

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Last Friday I went to the Pasadena Museum of California Art to take in a show called The Feminine Sublime. It features works by five artists, and it explores different ways of perceiving landscapes and experiencing the environment. Up until the 20th century, men dominated painting, and they often viewed the natural world as something that needed to be tamed or transcended. These women have a different perspective, and are looking for different ways to engage with the environment.

The only artist whose work I was familiar with is Constance Mallinson. Her piece offered a panorama of the refuse that our culture produces. A vast, multi-colored mound made up of the stuff that we use and discard on a daily basis stretches out beneath a threatening, grey sky.

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Still Life in Landscape

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Still Life in Landscape (detail)

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Still Life in Landscape (detail)

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Still Life in Landscape (detail)

The name of this painting by Yvette Gellis is Oil, Earth, Fire, Wind and Water. The title says plenty.  The image is beautiful and violent. Harsh strokes of grey and black cut across the peaceful blues and reds that seem to float in the background.

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Oil, Earth, Fire, Wind and Water

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Oil, Earth, Fire, Wind and Water (detail)

Looking at Marie Thiebeault‘s web site I found out she lived near the Port of LA, which is probably the most heavily contaminated area in the city. She talks about “witnessing […] the continual growth and rebuilding of this industrial expanse” and references “radar dishes, abandoned spy stations, and relics of WWII”. In her view, “… landscape can best mirror our culture’s complex relationship with nature, as well as contain and unfold the expanse of one’s imagination.”

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Exposure

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Exposure (detail)

I like posting about art because it gives me a break from writing about all the awful stuff that’s going on in this city, but when it comes to photographing art, I have to admit I don’t have the equipment or the skill to do it properly. I’m bringing that up here because these images don’t begin to do justice to Virginia Katz‘ work. The surface of this piece is dense and complicated, and it has the effect of pulling you through the surface into something dark and mysterious.

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Land – Into the Abyss

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Land – Into the Abyss (detail)

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Land – Into the Abyss (detail)

The two pieces by Marion Estes are seductive and disturbing. The bright colors and vivid patterns immediately drew me in, but both paintings depict the catastrophic damage we’re doing to the environment. Looking at them was an unnerving experience. I was both fascinated and afraid.

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The Great Defrost

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The Great Defrost (detail)

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Burchfield’s Plea

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Burchfield’s Plea (detail)

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Burchfield’s Plea (detail)

My one complaint about the show? It was too small. I felt like it should have been three or four times larger. These are all gifted painters and they all have a lot to say.

The Feminine Sublime will be on view through June 3. You should go.

Pasadena Museum of California Art

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I Remember When Artists Used to Live There

AE 800 Traction

800 Traction

Back in November I posted about a protest by Downtown artists facing eviction. I’d been wanting to follow-up, so earlier this month I went to a gathering at 800 Traction to check in with the folks there. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to report. The artists who’ve been living and working in this building for years, in some cases for decades, still don’t know what the future holds for them. They’ve hired a lawyer, and negotiations with the developer are currently underway. No one had any current news about The Artists’ Loft Museum Los Angeles (ALMLA), which is a short walk away, at 454 Seaton. This is another group of creative people who have called the area home for years. They were served with eviction papers in 2017, and have been wrangling with lawyers since then.

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454 Seaton

But I wanted to write a post anyway, if only to keep this situation in peoples’ minds. As gentrification continues to spread across LA, the pace of evictions is accelerating. Evictions from apartments covered by the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) have been increasing for years, with 1,824 units taken off the market in 2017 alone. Over 23,000 RSO units have been lost since 2001. But this only tells part of the story, since there’s no mechanism in place to track the number of tenants who are forced out of non-RSO units. It’s commonplace these days for people living in a building not covered by rent control to find that the landlord has suddenly hit them with an exorbitant increase. If they can’t pay, they have to leave, and no one has been keeping track of how often that’s happened in recent years. If you’re not covered by the RSO, you have no protection. Unfortunately, that’s the case for the artists at 800 Traction.

So many people have highlighted the irony of an Arts District that’s forcing artists out, it seems redundant to bring it up again. The folks at City Hall certainly don’t care. They’ve been actively assisting real estate investors in a massive overhaul of the area. The change in the neighborhood’s vibe is both striking and depressing. Even going back just 10 years, I can remember aging warehouse spaces filled with struggling artists who didn’t have much money, but who had still managed to create a lively community. Most of those people are gone now. And where there used to be cheap dive bars and funky little stores, now the streets are being taken over by clothing shops and chain restaurants. More and more these days the neighborhood seems like a giant outdoor shopping mall.

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The people at City Hall keep talking about how they want to create vibrant communities, and insist that the onslaught of high-priced apartments and upscale retail is helping to achieve that goal Downtown. In reality, what they’re doing is creating enclaves for the affluent that automatically exclude anyone making less than $70,000 a year.

If these artists are eventually forced out of their homes, it’ll be one more win for the developers. And a huge loss for LA.

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Long Beach Museum of Art

LBMA Gallery

Yesterday I took the train down to Long Beach, and since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to stop in at the Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA). It was well worth the trip.

After getting off the train I could’ve taken a bus, but I ended up just walking down Ocean Blvd. and checking out the neighborhood. I haven’t been to Long Beach for years, so I wanted to take in the sights. While there’s lots of new construction going on downtown, Ocean Blvd. offers a panorama of the city’s history. I saw low-rise apartment buildings from the post WWII era, grandiose structures that go back to the 20s, and a few homes that I imagine were among the first to be built to be built in the area. I didn’t realize the LBMA has been around since 1950. It’s been located in the historic Elizabeth Milbank Anderson House since 1957.

LBMA Mus Ext

There were two shows on view. Most of the gallery space was devoted to works by Young-Il Ahn. His early canvasses were vaguely figurative, but over the course of his career he’s moved to total abstraction. Some of the most recent works were large horizontal paintings that seemed almost monochromatic.

LBMA Ptng Red Wide

I say “almost” because on looking closer you see how subtly he uses color. While the canvas is largely filled with countless small, precise strokes of red, you can find traces of other hues bleeding through.

LBMA Ptng Red Close

Ahn is obsessed with water. Here’s an early painting called Harbor Mist, which is almost representational.

LBMA Ptng Harbor Mist

His later paintings are also inspired by water, but the end result is less pictorial than poetic.

LBMA Ptng Mag

Here’s a closer look.

LBMA Ptng Mag Close

There was also a small show of sculpture by Ann Weber. Something about her work grabbed me right away. She takes discarded cardboard and weaves it into suggestive forms. Like these.

LBMA Sclp Vert

Weber’s work is worth spending some time with. You can see that the finished product is the result of painstaking process.

LBMA Sclp Vert Close

I loved this one, titled Moon over San Pedro.

LBMA Sclp MoSP

The Ahn show was over this weekend. Weber’s sculptures will be on view til February 4. To learn more about the museum, follow the link below.

Long Beach Museum of Art

LBMA Hall

Going Gray in LA

Going Gray in LA

Today I was down at the Central Library and stumbled across a very cool show about growing old in Los Angeles. Journalist Ruxandra Guidi and photographer Bear Guerra spent time with seniors living in four communities along Broadway: Lincoln Heights, Chinatown, Downtown and South LA. The show is called Going Gray in LA: Stories of Aging Along Broadway, and it documents a side of the city that most of us pay little attention to. The images the media presents of LA are generally focussed on the young and beautiful. Senior citizens, unless they’re rich and famous, are usually ignored.

You can see the show like I did, in two small galleries on the first floor of the Central Library.

Going Gray in LA at Los Angeles Central Library

If you do make the trip Downtown, you can pick up a free print version of the material, with text in English, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

You also have the option of viewing the images and stories on KCRW’s web site.

Going Gray in LA at KCRW

Either way, you should check it out. The images are beautiful and the stories open a window on a world most of us don’t pay enough attention to.

Downtown Artists Fight Eviction

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Artists are being forced out of the Arts District. This isn’t news. It’s been happening for years. The news is that now the artists are fighting back.

On Saturday, November 4, two groups of artists facing eviction organized a parade to bring attention to the rampant displacement that threatens their community. Earlier this year the residents at 800 Traction were told by the new owners of the building that they’d have to leave. Also this year, the people behind the Artists’ Loft Museum Los Angeles (ALMLA) were hit with a steep rent increase that seems intended to force them out. So the two groups have gotten together to let the world know that they’re not going quietly.  On Saturday, November 4 they staged a parade through Downtown.

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The parade started in Little Tokyo.

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Took a right on Alameda.

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Then the protesters headed down Alameda toward Fourth.

The parade started in Little Tokyo, cut down Alameda to Fourth, then wended its way along Seaton, Fifth and Hewitt, finally winding up at 800 Traction. It was an interesting walk. Protesters waved signs and displayed artwork. Two giant skeleton figures towered over the crowd. A few cars honked to show their support.

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A momentary pause on Alameda.

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Marching along Seaton.

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And then up Merrick.

We passed in front of the building that holds ALMLA, which is actually a brand new enterprise. Michael Parker and Alyse Emdur have lived in this space, along with other artists, for 16 years. Parker says that in just the last 6 years their rent has risen by 200%. The latest increase is beyond what they can pay, and Parker believes it was designed to force them out. So the artists at 454 Seaton decided to create ALMLA, which they hope will draw attention to their situation, and to the larger wave of displacement that’s sweeping across Los Angeles. Just before the museum’s opening, the landlord went to court to shut the event down. Fortunately he failed.

I used to hang out in this area back in the 80s and 90s. It’s depressing to see some of the changes that have taken place. While most of the buildings remain, with the onslaught of gentrification many of them now house chic boutiques and pricey restaurants. Anonymous LLCs have bought up a lot of the real estate, and investors seem bent on turning this part of Downtown into something very close to a suburban mall.

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Shop in the Arts District.

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Eat in the Arts District.

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Gentrify the Arts District.

Like I said, we ended up back at 800 Traction. A number of the artists who live in this building have been here for decades. Some were among the first wave of artists to move to the area back when it was more or less a decaying industrial ghost town. And most of the current residents at 800 Traction are part of the Japanese-American community, which is crucial to this story. This community has hung on in spite of successive waves of forced displacement going back to WWII. In the early part of the 20th century, Little Tokyo stretched far beyond its current boundaries. There were numerous Japanese-owned businesses and Japanese cultural institutions in the area between Alameda and the LA River. The first assault was the internment of Japanese-Americans after Peal Harbor. Since then City Hall has carved out one piece after another. And now these artists, after years of working within the community, are threatened with eviction.

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A performance featuring two of the Downtown elite enjoying a round of golf.

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They seemed to agree that gentrification wasn’t happening fast enough.

Hanging out with the other party guests, I felt like the room was filled with a kind of giddy energy, but there was also an undercurrent of tension. I spoke with Nancy Uyemura and Jaimee Itagaki, and they gave me the latest news about 800 Traction. The building’s new owners, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, had hired a property management firm, Pearson, that seemed intent on sabotaging the gathering. Pearson had called the cops before the party, apparently believing they could shut it down, but it went on as planned. They also sent security guards to keep an eye on the tenants and guests. Harrassment in situations like this is commonplace, and Pearson is doing their best to make things uncomfortable. Uyemura said that the tenants at 800 Traction were told in May that they had to leave, and they were supposed to be out by August. Recently they received an unlawful detainer notice. Their hearing date is in December.

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Protesters gathered at 800 Traction after the parade.

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I hope the security guards enjoyed the party.

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Artists sketched their take on what’s happening Downtown.

The attempt to evict the artists at 800 Traction is bad enough, but there’s another layer to this story that makes it even more disturbing. DLJ has decided to go through the process of designating the building a Historic-Cultural Landmark, which will enable them to get significant tax breaks for renovating the structure. They hired GPA Consulting to do the research for the nomination. GPA’s report talks at length about the building’s architect and Beaux Arts revival style and the food processing industry. They even mention Al’s Bar and LACE. But somehow they completely avoid any mention of the Japanese-American community that thrived in the neighborhood for decades. They also neglect to mention that the current residents have deep ties to the current Japanese-American community, and that some of them were among the first artists to move to the neighborhood back in the 80s.

In other words, GPA’s report completely whitewashes the community’s history. At the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) hearing where the nomination was considered, some attendees pointed this out, among them Dorothy Wong, herself a preservation consultant. Wong was baffled by the fact that the report didn’t refer to Little Tokyo once, and made no mention at all of the Japanese-American artists who had lived and worked at 800 Traction for decades. To their credit, the CHC agreed that the report was incomplete and chose to defer their decision until further work was done.

This may seem like a small victory, but it goes to the heart of what’s happening in Downtown. Ruthless investors are kicking artists and others out of the area so they can turn it into a sanitized, upscale urban destination. The Mayor and the City Council are doing everything they can to help make that happen. The people who have lived and worked in the area for much of their lives, the people who built communities and kept them going through tough times, are being told to leave. And while City Hall makes a great show of preserving historic structures, they’re destroying the communities that gave those structures life.

It’s hard to say whether the artists at 800 Traction and ALMLA will win this battle. They’re a determined group, and they seem committed to fighting til the bitter end. But LA has become increasingly hostile to artists, and the Mayor’s vision for Downtown is all about handing the area over to developers.

What have real estate investors put into this community? Money. What do they want out of it? More money.

What have the artists put into this community? Their lives. And what do they want? To continue working with and for the community, as they’ve been doing for years.

Find out more by following these links.

800 Traction

ALMLA

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