California has the Most ArtPlaces

 

Opening remarks from #ArtPlace Operating Commi...
Opening remarks from #ArtPlace Operating Committee Chair Dennis Scholl (@dennisscholl) (Photo credit: petermello)

America’s Top Twelve ArtPlaces 2013 | ArtPlace.

ArtPlace, an organization offering grants and other support to communities that combine art, artists, and venues to encourage creativity and expression, has named the most vibrant art neighborhoods in America. Of the twelve, three are in California, the most of any state.

The top ArtPlaces of the Golden West are Central Hollywood, The Mission District in San Francisco, and, surprising us a bit, downtown Oakland, encompassing Chinatown, Old Oakland, and Jack London Square. The neighborhoods were singled out for criteria including their walkability, for nurturing independent businesses, and for making art and artists a core part of the community.

Downtown Oakland was singled out by the organization as the “true underdog” in the competition, but noted that the transformation that has taken place in the city over the last decade would have been unthinkable 15 years ago. What brought it about was a grassroots effort – Oakland Art Murmur – very unlike the high-minded but doomed postwar urban renewal plans.

The recognition of Central Hollywood echoes one of our own regular themes: a new kind of arts and entertainment industry is growing on the weed patch of Old Hollywood. Moviegoing is an event again, thanks to Mann’s Chinese, the Arclight, and Disney’s stunning El Capitan. Music is coming back, as we noted last year:

But the beat goes on, and a walk down Sunset Boulevard on any given night offers ample evidence – from Amoeba to the Roxy – that American music is as healthy as it has ever been. The problem remains a hidebound industry more interested in defending its business model than in the product itself. The slow, disreputable whittling down of the artists and repertoire (A&R) function within the major labels is testament to as much. The industry is in decline as a result, but we can already see, here in California, the foundations of a new music industry that is rising in its place.

And all of this is taking place in a way that attracts tourists and neighborhood people alike.

When I read about what’s happening in the Mission District, I kick myself for not going there when I was in San Francisco in December. Absorbed in the myriad culinary delights in Chinatown, the Financial District, and North Beach, I never thought to wander south of Market. I won’t make that mistake again. San Francisco is suffused with art, but ArtPlaces notes that the edgier, more affordable art can be found in The Mission, along with antiques, music, and some incredible eats. I won’t be missing it next trip.

Take a look at the full report on the ArtPlaces site at artplaceamerica.org.

Advertisements

Homage to the Gadflies

Late last week I was perusing the pages of a New York opera site, and I discovered an article that was a review of a book about the art and critics of the New York opera scene. What surprised me (but probably shouldn’t have, was the sheer volume and heat of the anger at critics. All the old saws were there: only failures are critics; critics never added any value to anything, and one particularly harsh missive that argued that any critic who was unable to perform at the level of the artist he critiqued had no credibility.

Which, of course, is so much rot.

Now, I can’t paint, draw, sculpt, make a movie, write a song, or design a building. But I do write, and I have taken no shortage of verbal double-ought buckshot for my writing from people who cannot themselves assemble a coherent sentence. What is in question, though, is not their ability to write, but their ability to read, and if someone can read, he can critique a writer. If they could not (or did not) read, they’re disqualified, but only then.

The same, I would argue, applies to any art.

So while some critics can be insufferable (and some artists can be divas,) to suggest that one must be an artist or have an artist’s talent in order to critique art is so much elitist hogwash. It delegitimizes the opinion of everyone but a closed coterie of talented specialists who (I would argue) are more likely to engage in critical back-scratching (“if I go easy on him, he’ll go easy on me”) than someone without that kind of skin in the game.

What is more, that sort of intellectual snobbery seems somewhat antithetical to a democratic nation, one whose society is built on the presumption that everyone’s choice – and by extension, opinion – is of equal value, if not of equal merit. And don’t get me started on the importance of some undefined level of expertise: it was a child that pointed out that the emperor was naked, not a fashion designer.

Finally, I think we need to admit that critics have a great value if we both recognize their strengths and their limits. Critics have been instrumental (pardon the pun) to my musical growth and appreciation – I would be much more of a tyro than I am today without them. If there is one message we must comport to noobs and aficionados alike, it is this: a critic is entitled to his or her opinion, but he is not entitled to yours. Read, learn, then go listen/look/watch with an open mind.

Explaining California

This 1967 quote from the late political scientist James Q. Wilson caught my eye, and I had to share.

A person like myself, who grew up in Southern California, finds it increasingly difficult to understand people who say they understand California. “Explaining California,” especially Southern California, has always been a favorite pastime for New Yorkers and Bostonians who have changed planes in Los Angeles, or made a two-day trip to the RAND Corporation, or just speculated on what kind of state could be responsible for Hollywood. Nor need one be an Eastern to play the game; living in San Francisco carries with it a permanent license not only to explain but to explain away (far away) Los Angeles.

via « A Guide to Reagan Country: The Political Culture of Southern California Commentary Magazine.

Well said.

Happy 2013 from the Golden West Review

English: Great Wall of China
If I stand on my toes, I can almost see Crescent City from here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This being New Year’s Eve, this will be the last post of the year on The Golden West Review. I am spending the New Year’s Break finalizing plans for the next twelve months.

In our first eight months, we posted 67 articles and photographs. For 2013 we already have 153 articles planned, not including the timely stuff that pops up and the odd photograph. With a new job, our return to California after nearly two decades in China, and four other blogs to run, needless to say this is looking to be a busy year.

Just a quick heads-up: because of problems accessing our servers from China, there will be times where we will be posting by e-

mail. This will mean fewer photos and less links, so bear with us as we wrestle with the Great Fire Wall off and on during the first half.

Please accept my best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to you and the people you care about. And keep the comments and emails coming!

Best,

David

William Gibson and our Retro Futures

Example of Streamline Moderne style in a judge...
Example of Streamline Moderne style in a judge’s tower at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park. Image by User:Leonard G. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday I questioned why The Golden West Review had never delved into California’s alternate futures. Surely, I thought, this might be an interesting line of thought that would intrigue our readers.

Yet as I started outlining a handful of articles about the subject I started to realize why this might take us down a bad track. First, when you walk down any Boulevard of Broken Dreams, the tendrils of depression and hopelessness start wending your way into the writing and into the cerebral cortices of the reader. This publication has many goals, but serving the Prozac-industrial complex is not one of them.

Second, Many of those imagined futures we no know to be based on assumptions that were either wrong or no longer apply. Pereira and Luckman’s original concept design for a grandiose terminal and control tower at LAX, for example, is a relic of an era where air travel was the privilege of an elite few and South Bay real estate was cheap. Frank Lloyd Wright’s monumental plan for the Los Angeles Civic Center was, given the fragmented land ownership in Downtown Los Angeles, impractical from the start. And Frank Lumsden’s Santa Monica Bay Village plan, proposed in 1968, was ill-fated in an era of environmentalism and an activist California Coastal Commission.

Yet the factor that finally made me decide against a series on California’s lost futures was the memory of a superb short story by the author William Gibson called “The Gernsback Continuum.” In the story, Gibson’s protagonist, an architectural photographer, is hired to travel around the California and record the more prominent examples of Streamline Moderne and other features of the human landscape that were relics of early-mid 20th century modernism. In the end, the protagonist discovers that the future we have – as dystopian as it may seem in comparison to the vision embodied in Disney’s Tomorrowland – is in its own way the better future.

On reflection (and without going all Candide on this), I tend to agree.

So, if you don’t mind, we’ll stick with the real past, the good in the present, and  a future worth creating.

Architecture and Alternate Futures

The Coolest Places In Los Angeles That Never Were
David Hochman
Forbes.com
December 24, 2012

I spend so much of my time searching for the remnants of California’s history and the green shoots of its future that I’ve completely overlooked an entirely different Golden State: the California that could have been.

Thanks to everything from property developers to city planners to science fiction writers, there is no shortage of what we could call the alternate futures of the Golden West. Of all places in California, Los Angeles is probably best endowed in this area, thanks to the land speculators, railroad barons, and boosters who financed the envisioning of a future City of Angels.

Some of those visions are returning to the light of day, thanks to curators Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin and their exhibition Never Built: Los Angeles, which is scheduled to open at Los Angeles’s A+D Architecture and Design Museum this spring (and which I will miss because I’ll be in China for the duration of the exhibit.)

I can think of a lot of reasons going to an exhibition like this would be hard: nobody likes to look at inspired designs and wonder, in frustration, what forces of unenlightened self-interest put an end to these ideas?

What I hope Lubell and Goldin do instead is focus not on the missed opportunity or the laughable utopianism embodied in the unconstructed Los Angeles, but in how those visions provide grist for a new generation of planners, designers, architects, and developers. As Los Angeles lies perched on the cusp of a new, uncertain future, this is an ideal time for a new vision for the future of the Southland.

Los Angeles and The Noir Fiction

“Nothing More American: On James M. Cain”
Steve Erickson

Los Angeles Review of Books
December 10, 2012

In an essay included in the new Folio Society edition of James M. Cain’s classic noir novel of Los Angeles, The Postman Always Rings Twice, film critic Steve Erickson examines the significance of Cain’s novel the context of its time and genre. It was a racy book on a racy shelf, one that common sensibility prevented from being fully translated to film for five decades.

There is good reason behind all of this. As Erickson pithily observes, “Noir was to cinema as punk was to rock and roll.” Noir was where you felt for the ragged edge of literary (and cinematic) tolerance, that point where art was an inch away from becoming pornographic. Postman was the literary Piss Christ of the 1930s.

Unfortunately, an otherwise brilliant review is undermined by an irritant: either knowingly or otherwise, Erickson buys into The Noir Fiction: it wasn’t just people that were bad in the stories of Cain, Chandler, and others. It was the place.

Still just a euphemism for Hollywood, Los Angeles was Cain’s natural habitat more than he knew, teetering between the transcendent and the tawdry, swarming with the forsaken, disenchanted, and besotted, among them fugitives from Hitler’s coming holocaust. Centerless and gravityless, Los Angeles was the Elba of Entropy for exiles like Cain who, writing scripts within a martini’s throw of Faulkner and Fitzgerald, honed self-loathing into an aesthetic.

That reads pretty well, doesn’t it? It should. It could have come out of a Cain story, or a Chandler novel, or an early treatment of the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink. There is something wrong with L.A., something fundamental that is missing, and that either screws up the good people who come to the city or attracts all of the nasty elements.

This is the unspoken conceit that underlies noir fiction and film. You read it in Dashiell Hammett, Horace McCoy. You see it in Chinatown, in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, in L.A. Confidential as the two good-but-damaged people leave L.A. for, of all places, the corrupt company mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. Better to live at the whim of the strike-busting Phelps Dodge Corporation, the filmmakers are telling us, than to live in a dysfunctional shit hole like Los Angeles.

Just in case we missed his point, Erickson delivers it at the end, this time in a tighter wad than before.

James M. Cain left Los Angeles in the late 1940s and his fiction was never the same. It wasn’t so much that he belonged in Los Angeles: the whole point of Los Angeles is not belonging there; it’s a city for people who don’t belong anywhere.

I have lived in L.A. long enough – and been away from it long enough – to know that there are people for whom this is profoundly true, and there are Angelenos who know that this is pure slander. For some of us, there are times in our lives where it rings true, and others that prove its falsehood. When I was young, I loved this town and it ripped the guts out of me and spit me out in a way no native son should experience. Now I’m older, and things are different, and the place seems to be returning what was once unrequited. Yet I also know now that it never was the City. It was always me.

The Noir Fiction that L.A. is broken, a silent malevolent force, is an artful projection, a conceit, a device. It is a way of assuring readers that there is nothing wrong with people, really, it is just time, place, and circumstance that screw us all up. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we recognize that this device so freely shared by the guys in the back room at Musso and Frank was less a true description than an artistic tool.

Erickson seems to adopt this hyperbole, this shot-glass of Chandler dripped on one’s shirt, as the truth without reflection or examination. It is fashionable to do so. How could so many of the great L.A. authors have written about the city in that way if it all weren’t true? Conveniently, it serves the purposes of the legion of literary wanna-bes locked up in rent-controlled fifth-floor closets in Manhattan who slip six times on the ice on the way to their miserable day-jobs. L.A. isn’t a place. Manhattan, on the other hand…

The literary trade is most susceptible to the Noir Fiction. After all, its what the elite have told themselves for decades, and to be from L.A. and gain access to the halls of literary respectability, you must repeat the Noir Fiction like the Boy Scout oath, a credo: L.A. is not a real place, and nothing good emerges from it without influence from elsewhere.

Erickson, whether he believes the Noir Fiction or not, is paying his fraternity dues. That doesn’t mean we have to. We can instead recognize Los Angeles for what it is: a neutral place that has brought out the best in some (Cain and Erickson among them) the worst in others, and in the shadow of the long, slow decline of Hollywood has become the heart of a new capital of literature, arts, and culture that rivals Manhattan and Paris.

And, more prosaically, it is a place where a lot of us belong, where we feel an attachment to the people, to the place, to the very earth even when it quivers beneath our feet. We know, to borrow a line from Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, that L.A.’s not bad: it’s just written that way.