TODAY I’ve got a few smallish items to catch up on.
First, it’s hardly news that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has been on a roll recently. Over the weekend, I caught the Calder exhibit – “Calder and Abstraction” – and parts of it blew me away. I’ve seen my share of Alexander Calder sculptures over the years – there is a “stabile,” the stationary version of a mobile, outside the train station in Spoleto, Italy, one of my favorite place. His mobiles are, for some, so familiar, that he’s often taken as lightweight: The show’s subtitle, “From Avant-Garde to Iconic,” is a polite way of saying, You probably know this stuff already.
But the show made a quietly persuasive case for Calder who still has new things to tell us. Seeing a few dozens of his sculptures in the same place, with the right lighting (the museum’s skylights were covered up), and with curving gray walls that complemented the graceful arcs of Calder’s pieces, it was hard not to notice his ingenuity and profundity. Often, he’s able to give each sculpture enormous personality with only a few shapes and two or three colors. He’s coming out of Mondrian in some of his work, but it still feels distinctive.
The exhibition design – among the best I’ve ever seen – was by Frank Gehry. In its more modest way, the exhibit made me rethink Calder the same way John Baldessari’s design for Magritte did a few years ago.
Christopher Knight, the LA Times’ art critic, was similarly impressed in his review, comparing the work to Einstein. He’s struck by:
an aspect of Calder’s work that, to me at least, had never been evident before. Motion doesn’t really describe it. Instead, this is sculpture whose enduring fascination rides on the articulation of the curvature of space through time.
It does so with elegance and grace. Or, one might say, with the simplicity and profundity of E=mc².
The LACMA also currently has on exhibit a delightful short film by David Hockney – The Jugglers. I’ve found some of Hockney’s work repetitive – you get to see a lot of it here in LA – but this piece is fresh and surprising, with its overlapping points of view. I’m a sucker for photography shows, and the exhibition (from the museum’s Vernon collection) See the Light, reminded me why. Taking my 7-year-old son through the show and trying to describe how a photographer can make a subjective, personal work while looking outward at nature or society gave the visit extra pleasure.
ALSO: During my two years covering books and authors for the LA Timers, I got all too familiar writing the obituaries of independent bookstores, places that I consider as crucial for culture as museums or concert halls.
Part of what killed the places I wrote about was the domination of superstores. Now the superstores are dying themselves – Borders is history, Barnes & Noble has begun closing stores, including one in Pasadena. The digital Nook was supposed to save them, and now the company’s Nook division has seen almost 100 layoffs. The New York Times has the story.
FINALLY: Since the early ‘90s, when I discovered The Baffler, I’ve been a fan of political writer Thomas Frank, a throwback to old-school social critics like Vance Packard whose thinking has only become sharper and more pertinent since then. His work on inequality and the destruction of the idea of the public may not seem to connect to my blog’s mission to document the changing fortunes of the creative class and the life of culture, but they’re all related. Artists, writers, musicians and others often live in denial, but they are caught in the ugly squeeze as the rest of the middle class.
Starting this weekend, Frank will be writing every Sunday for Salon, with smaller pieces throughout the week. This excites me greatly, and not just because I contribute to the site. Here’s their announcement.
I interviewed Frank in 2000 when his prescient book One Market Under God, on market populism, came out. We got into a bunch of topics, including the subject of his radically insightful first book, The Conquest of Cool, which looks at how Madison Avenue co-opted the ‘60s counter-culture. My favorite quote from our conversation: “The bottom line is that I’m just not very cool. In any of the ways that cool is signified – by the hair, the clothes, the slang – I’m just not one of them.”