what I did in Los Angeles

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I spent two memorable weeks in Los Angeles earlier this month, thanks to the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program. Here’s some of what I got to do:

Met Larry Bell. Had his image on the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s” pointed out to me

Met Ed Moses. Saw the observation chair/throne he’s set up to view, from above, the room that displays his recent works—he makes a painting every day. Great quote from him: “I’m not an artist. What I do has no meaning. I’m not trying to express myself. What’s the other word I hate? ‘Creative.’” Was sternly informed by him that life is precious

Met art historian Hunter Drohojowska-Philp, and found out that she’s married to Dave Philp, the singer/guitarist of the Automatics, of “When the Tanks Roll Over Poland Again” ‘78 punk fame

Saw former Village Voice food columnist Jeff Weinstein, the deputy director of the program and the guy who was kind enough to host many late-night drink-ups in his suite, read a piece about Musso & Frank’s flannel cakes; he later took the whole group there for martinis and rice pudding

Met Edgar Arcenaux, the director of the Watts House Project, a group of artists who are decorating the houses across the street from Watts Towers, one of whose residents cooked lunch for our group

Sampled many, many kinds of gelato and ice cream with one of the other fellows, the marvelous gelato blogger Alissa Walker; the best one probably came from a Mexico-themed shopping mall a mile from Watts Towers

Heard some stories from L.A. Library Foundation president Ken Brecher, then took the Angels Flight shuttle down the big ol’ flight of stairs in downtown L.A. for what turned out to be the first of two times

Went up to Griffith Park Observatory on what I was told had to have been the prettiest night of the year and got my very first “ice pick headache”

Had a tour of Inner-City Arts and the New Carver Apartments (a recently built housing project for the formerly homeless, right by the freeway) and met their architect, Michael Maltzan

Got shown around The Grove by its developer Rick Caruso, a man who has ambitions

Got shown around the new L.A. Museum of the Holocaust by its architect, Hagy Belzberg, and was very impressed

Attempted to eat at the Nickel Diner with my 9-months-pregnant friend Maya, only to find that it was closed for a movie shoot, but the guy who shooed us away called us back and said “hey, the trailer for the extras is just across the street—go over there and look like an extra, they’ll give you a good breakfast,” which they did; Maya looked over my itinerary for the two weeks and said “wow, you guys are really hitting all the high points of the WEST SIDE POWER ELITE, aren’t you?”

Went to the Getty and got a tour of their panel-painting restoration studio, special-collections division, and the Conservation Institute Lab, where they showed us the shattered plastic chunks of the original version of Craig Kauffman’s “Untitled Wall Relief, 1967.” Also toured the paintings division. Most impressive famous painting: James Ensor’s “Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889.” My favorite that I’d never heard of: Bouguereau’s “A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros”

Ate dinner at the incredible Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza with food critic Jonathan Gold and Slake editor Laurie Ochoa

Wandered around LACMA, met with some of the higher-ups there, and particularly enjoyed looking at the George Grosz drawings and Moholy-Nagy’s “Diary of a Fly”

Went to the Machine Project, where Emily Lacy sang a song about the organization’s history and Mark Allen taught us to solder

Had a half-day writing workshop with Irene Borger, which gave me some interesting ideas for what I might want to try doing next

Visited Steve Roden at his house, the last surviving American “bubble house” built by Wallace Neff. Then got a tour of Roden’s show at the Armory, which is really fantastic, esp. a piece called “fallen/spoken,” a “translation” of a book of poetry by Pår Lagerkvist which he’s attempted to do without benefit of actually knowing any Swedish

Wandered through the “China Modern” exhibition at the Pacific Asia Museum; boggled at the Cultural Revolution-era propaganda art

Bought way too many CDs at Amoeba, not that anyone would have predicted otherwise

Went to a lovely party at a former editor’s place, and saw a bunch of people I knew from the ’90s NYC pop-culture-crit scene

Had an hour-long conversation about the visual aesthetics of superhero comic books with Henry Jenkins (in front of an audience!); that was followed by a wonderful dinner at The Gorbals, a bizarre little pan-cultural restaurant in a SRO hotel where the menu includes “round of beers for the kitchen staff: $10” and where, after the rest of the customers went home, Sasha Anawalt (the wonderful director of our program, and a former dance critic, who appears to be able to befriend anyone in 45 seconds flat) convinced one of the waitresses to crank up the ambient-volume drum ‘n’ bass in the restaurant and demonstrate her impressive street dance technique

Dipped a finger into the Los Angeles River; heard from at least eight people I mentioned this to that I really ought to watch “Chinatown” sometime

Spent a day at Disneyland, including a backstage tour of the Indiana Jones ride; saw “Captain Eo,” which was awful but fascinating; was most impressed by the Enchanted Tiki Room, which is astrophysics-grade kitsch and should by all rights be awful but is actually fantastic, largely because it holds nothing back in the name of potential “good taste”

Heard Ed Ruscha’s name mentioned more times each day than I’ve heard it mentioned in the previous 40 years. Saw a lot of Ruscha’s paintings. A lot

Had lunch with Barbara Kruger, a walking tour of downtown with David Ulin, and dinner with Luis Alfaro, who is adorable and took pictures of all of us wearing a pair of sunglasses he carries everywhere to take pictures of people wearing—all the same day

Toured Case Study House #22, a.k.a. Stahl House, the beautiful house where this picture was taken; Mrs. Stahl still lives there, and she and her son were both very sweet to us as we consecutively tried to restage that photo

Saw a fascinating lecture by Josh Kun about the Mexican regional music scene in L.A., which is gigantic

Visited the Sheats-Goldstein Residence, a.k.a. the villain’s house from “The Big Lebowski”; all the furniture, and I mean ALL, is triangular slabs of concrete with gray-leather-covered triangular mattresses; the property also includes a gorgeous James Turrell “Skyspace,” which the owner has taken it upon himself to trick out with ca. 1997 Ibiza techno

Hung out in my very rare off-hours with a bunch of comics people, a novelist and a cupcake expert

Saw Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct Lindberg and Bartok pieces with the L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall, preceded by a meeting with the LA Phil’s CEO

Attended a screening, curated & hosted by Manohla Dargis (who I didn’t know is the daughter of the guy who founded St. Mark’s Bookshop!), of short films about L.A., some of which were very impressive—I really really liked the 10-minute excerpt we got of Charles Burnett’s “Killer of Sheep,” and also enjoyed John Milius’ 1967 short “Marcello, I’m So Bored” (sound editing by George Lucas!) and Thom Andersen’s newish “Get Out of the Car,” the latter of which seemed fairly closely aligned in some ways with Lisa’s aesthetic

Had dinner with a cast of champions, including Barbara Isenberg and Pat Flanagan, at the wonderful scene-doyenne Lyn Kienholz’s place. Drank a glass of wine. Might have gotten a little effusive about toasting my co-fellows

Then came home to Portland, my head spinning.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on November 27, 2010 2:34 PM.

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