Pond·ering sixty years of art history

Visual arts

Sixty years, more or less one generation, brought us from Monet to Almaraz. To my eye, two works aligned in hot harmony. Above, the majestic vision of Los Angeles painter Carlos Almaraz, in his reconstituted four-panel Echo Park Lake (1982) — now on rare display at LACMA, as part of Pacific Standard Time LA/LA. (Our review of the Almaraz show here.)

And below, painted sixty years prior, Claude Monet’s Waterlilies (1922), recently viewed at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art as part of the museum’s superlative permanent collection.

Playing With Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz | LACMA | thru Dec 3

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Motown magic to Malibu: Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves @ Pepperdine 1


It’s difficult to witness the decay of present-day Detroit and reckon that the city was a booming factory town in the 1960s. While Detroit’s auto manufacturers put America in the driver’s seat, Motown Records flooded dance floors and came as close to dominating Top 40 radio as any domestic record label in history. Berry Gordy, Motown’s visionary CEO, entrusted the instrumental music to the protean aggregation of Detroit jazz musicians known as the Funk Brothers. They seemed to know just how to kick a song into the realm of the extraordinary. Producers were competitive — each trying to score bigger hits than the next guy. At its zenith, Motown seemed to generate a hit a week.

Hitsville USA, Gordy’s original label, gave us the Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and more. But it was also a magnet for talented young black women: the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, Brenda Holloway and Gladys Knight and the Pips. Wells was Motown’s first big success. But Martha and the Vandellas went from secretarial jobs and hand clapping to nearly a decade of hits.

A rare double-bill, October 7 at Pepperdine University’s Smothers Theatre, pairs two of Motown’s authentic divas: Martha Reeves and Mary Wilson, an original Supreme.

With a voice straight out of an AME church, Martha Reeves had a special poignancy that spoke of a woman’s concerns. She could move from reflective resignation to a wailing lament within the space of “Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things).” Motown’s biggest-selling group in 1964 not only had big hits (“Come and Get These Memories,” “Quicksand,” “Live Wire,” “Wild One,” “Jimmy Mack,” “I’m Ready For Love”), Martha and the Vandellas recorded anthems. “Dancing in the Streets” was credited with helping to cool urban riots across the country, while “Heatwave,” “Nowhere to Run” served as sonic emblems of Sixties Soul.

The Supremes took a different creative arc. Three girls from the Detroit projects — Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard — went quite some time before “When the Lovelight Starts Shining,” their  first hit at the end of ‘63. By decade’s end they were the label’s biggest sellers. With Diana Ross’s mousey lead vocals and the group’s honeyed harmonies, they had enormous crossover appeal — riding the Dick Clark Caravan tours, appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and even starring in their own prime-time specials. Their personal stories have inspired stage, movie and TV treatments (Sparkle, Dream Girls and Empire), and their hits are legion: “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In The Name of Love,” “Nothing But Heartaches,” “My World is Empty Without You,” and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”). The Supremes eventually could only be heard at the biggest venues, like the Copacabana in New York and Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles.

Few original Motown hit-makers remain: Smoky, Stevie and Martha and Mary. Shows like this don’t come very often. Catch what it was like when Motown stars were indeed the sound of young America.

Legendary Ladies of Motown | Pepperdine Smothers Theatre | Oct 7

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Baryshnikov praises Pam Tanowitz, Cage Cunningham awardee

Dance · Featured · Language & ideas

It’s whippped cream — dolloped onto Pam Tanowitz Dance receiving the Baryshnikov Art Center’s Cage Cunningham Award. It’s the high praise BAC Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov gave in noting the ‘distinct intellectual journey’ of the choreographer’s work.

“We have followed Pam’s work throughout the years, and are greatly impressed with her intelligence, determination, and the skill of her company. Like many artists, she is inspired by the legacy of Merce and John, and she reflects their spirit of collaboration and experimentation.

Yet, her work is not an imitation of dance history , but is a distinct intellectual journey .”

The Cage Cunningham Fellowship includes $50,000 distributed over two years in support of the Fellow’s work, access to the John Cage & Merce Cunningham Studio in the Center’s far-Westside location, and administrative support.

Tanowitz is the second-only artist to receive this award, which she will apply to the development of a new evening-length work, “Four Quartets,” a staging of T.S. Eliot’s poem by the same name in collaboration with composer Kaija Saariaho.

We have not seen Tanowitz’s company, now 15 years old, in Los Angeles. I think Royce Hall would be a wonderful venue for the company or the Wallis with its good sightlines for dance. I wrote briefly about Tanowitz’s choreography for a group of Juilliard students here.

This might also be a nice moment to revisit the audio recording from 2008 in which Baryshnikov expresses his admiration of Cunningham, whom he calls “the greatest choreographer of our time.”

photo credit: tanowitz and shoe portrait, thank you Grace and Steel.

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Showing & telling the difficult: Laura Aguilar @ Vincent Price Art Museum

Visual arts
The wonderful Vincent Price Art Museum on the campus of East Los Angeles College has as its Pacific Standard Time LA/LA exhibit, “Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell,” opening Sept 16, the first comprehensive retrospective of the challenging photographer’s works. A series of talks and community events accompanies the show. This exhibition tells the story of ...

Tales of New York neurosis from Roz Chast @ ALOUD

Featured · Language & ideas · Visual arts
New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast has a new book. That makes me super anxious. It’s not that I’m jealous. I would be totally fine, but I couldn’t sleep last night. I think the waiter at that restaurant was looking at me funny. Then my neighbors were keeping me up … Chast’s new book, Going ...

To be greedy or not to be greedy, that is The Actor’s Gang question

In the photo, CBS Radio quiz show ‘Strike It Rich’ Program host, Todd Russell looks on as contest winner Joseph Snyder hands out dollar bills to men on a breadline in front of the Franciscan Monastery in New York City. Snyder, a winner of $230, reflected on his own breadline times. Dated: January 19, 1948 ...

Let Anniversary Classics entertain you … with GYPSY

Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a 55th anniversary screening of GYPSY, the 1962 film adaptation of one of the masterworks of the American musical theater, renowned for its hummable Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne score. The film version stars Natalie Wood as burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee, Rosalind Russell as Momma Rose, the ultimate ...

Smart, independent, passionate: Jeanne Moreau’s film personae on view in Cinematheque series

Well, I didn’t even know she died. I can be forgiven as my own mother died the prior day. I was preoccupied. Still this eternal artist was not meant to perish. The magisterial French actress, the queen of assertive intellect and a noble sensuality, film star Jeanne Moreau (Jan 23, 1928 – July 31, 2017) ...

Flamenco artist Jesus Carmona to punish new Ford floorboards Sept 8

A great flamenco show is an eyeful. But it’s also about sound—live music, thrilling singers, spontaneous shouts and claps, and scintillating footwork called zapateado. Making that zapateado clatter with further fury at the upcoming performance by Jesús Carmona will be the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre’s new floor. “We wanted a floor that would resonate for ...

A lot of livin’ (and singin’) to do: Jack Jones @The Barclay

Featured · Music
Frank Sinatra called Jack Jones, “one of the major singers of our time.” Mel Torme said he is “the greatest ‘pure’ singer in the world.” George Chakiris who himself recorded four memorable albums at Capitol Records recently said, “He has a wonderful voice and he never stopped working on it. The last time I saw ...