Hello La La Land
Today is August 15th, “Assomption,” aka “The Feast of the Assumption of Mary.” It’s a Catholic holiday, but forget that France has a separation of church and state—they still like to count this as a national public holiday. It originates all the way back to the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643), the son of Henri IV and Marie de’ Medici. As they struggled to produce an heir with his wife, Anne of Austria, the king started praying to the Virgin Mary. Processions in parishes were held on August 15th. And a miracle was born—in 1637, the young Louis, who would become Louis XIV, was born. Louis XIII then decided that August 15th will be a celebration honoring the Virgin Mary.
It’s the deadest day of the year in Paris because it’s the height of the vacation period and that means city-dwellers are at the beaches or in the countryside. It was the one day of the year I was brave enough to ride a Vélib bike in the city. I make a big effort to be on a beach…somewhere…on this day. Today I am not ON the beach, but I am VERY NEAR it—in Venice Beach, California, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, warm dry air, and cool breezes.
For those who follow my Nouvellettres®, then you already know that I came to Los Angeles for the Thursday evening opening of “Theophanies,” an exhibition of works by the multidisciplinary California artist, Steven Arnold at the Fahey Klein Gallery. I was so excited, I couldn’t stand it, in anticipation of what I knew would be a very special evening.
Before the big event, I took a leisurely stroll with a friend, first to the beach front and then around the Venice canals to ogle the beautiful homes. It was a surprise and pleasure to see a woman in a wheelchair maneuvering the Venice Beach Skatepark just as agilely as anyone else on skateboards or even scooters. The whole scene is so “Venice,” so L.A., so California…including the camps of homeless living adjacent to the multi-million-dollar luxury homes with canal frontage.
The homes are eclectic, in every style imaginable, and are all designed for outdoor living with the calm and quiet canals at their toes. The foot traffic of lookie-loos like us are the only real disturbance as we wind our way around the pathways peering in to see if the interiors look as inviting as the exteriors. If I had a few million dollars to spend on an L.A. home, this is where I’d do it.
We planned to arrive at the opening of the exhibition ahead of time to be the first to enter, and we were. It was the only opportunity to have taken photos of the gallery with no one else there to disturb the view of Steven Arnold’s photos and art on the walls. Just at the entry of the gallery, one of my very favorite photos, and one that I personally own, was on display. I took one look and teared up with joy. To see his work on display all throughout the gallery, was overwhelmingly exciting. Many of the images, I have in my collection. I was familiar with all of them, but not with the drawings and paintings which were also on display, but in a different room.
Vishnu Dass, the Trustee and Director of the Steven Arnold Museum and Archives, and Nicholas Fahey, Director of the Fahey-Klein Gallery, were there to happily greet us. In the spirit of the event, Erica and I had worn our Steven Arnold-inspired outfits, produced by Honey Fucking Dijon, the fashion label developed under the aegis of Comme des Garçons.
The door opened officially at 7 p.m. and the gallery started to fill up quickly. In came typically L.A. art aficionados, dressed in all sorts of fashion, along with many of the people who Steven immortalized in photography and paint: Joan Agajanian Quinn, creator, writer, producer and host of “The Joan Quinn Profiles”—a series of over 400 complete shows and a visionary who has inspired artists from all over the world to create her portrait—was there as we might have expected, as well as Ellen Burstyn, an actress known for her portrayals of complicated women in dramas and recipient of numerous accolades (including an Academy Award, a Tony Award, and two Primetime Emmy Awards)—both of whom were very close friends of Steven Arnold’s. Actor Juan de Jesús Fernández de Alarcón, a Dominican actor best known for playing antagonist roles in movies, was there showing off his starring role in several of Steven Arnold’s photos as a Jesus figure. I remembered him well from the parties Steven held before he died in August of 1994.
It was a star-studded evening. I could feel the spiritual presence of Steven Arnold himself, now looking down and watching all of us “disciples” enjoying the fruits of his labor…as we did. There was an after-party at a pub across the street from the gallery we attended until I couldn’t stay awake any longer! But, the event was everything I had ever hoped for and much more than expected. We were all so proud of the artist and of our associations with him and his work, missing him dearly all these years.
Art events didn’t stop there. The following evening, Erica was brave enough to drag along with her and her friend, her mother and her mother’s friend—the two oldest people to attend the “SENSE 4.0 Presents: FORM” exhibition at the Mirus Gallery. The gallery is located in the heart of the Arts District southeast of Downtown Los Angeles, in a 20,000-square-foot space.
Before attending the art opening, we swung through Downtown Los Angeles and had the most amazing Vietnamese cooking at “Little Sister.” It’s a “funky bistro with a Singaporean chophouse feel, serving Euro-accented Asian eats, craft beers and wines.” I’d say it’s the best meal I’ve had in years! Even my dinner at Imari Wednesday night couldn’t top it at four times the price!
Nothing about the restaurant made sense, however—the decor is as distant from Vietnamese as any could be, the music piped in a bit too loud had no relationship to the decor or the food, the lighting was so low that we could barely see our food, much less read the menu, and the price of the food was silly inexpensive compared to the quality. We didn’t want to stop eating and one thing was more delicious than the next.
Downtown L.A. is not easy to maneuver, however. We did find flat-rate parking in one of the towers, but easy in and out it was not. Nonetheless, it was worth the effort and seeing how Downtown L.A. is growing up to what will eventually become a New York or Chicago is also worth the detour. One thing that is a serious blemish on the heart of Los Angeles is the area known as “Skid Row” that we drove through en route to the gallery. It’s not a pretty picture, as the skyscrapers tower high over the sad scene looking very majestic.
The district dates back to the late 1800s, where the homeless slept on the streets just blocks away from the high rises, luxury condos and revamped restaurants and bars. It now covers some 50 blocks of downtown (from Main to Alameda between 3rd and 7th), an area that began as vineyards. Once the grand Arcade Station depot was completed near 4th and Alameda in 1888, it began to form, where it was a point of arrival for migrants, many of whom eventually gravitated to nearby streets that offered cheap temporary housing. The rest is history, from the drought and the Great Depression driving thousands of Dust Bowl refugees from the South and Midwest out to L.A. The sad news is that more than 66,400 people were homeless in Los Angeles County at the start of 2020, according to a count from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That’s roughly 12.7 percent higher than the previous year!
Homelessness in France is not far behind. France’s numbers are up, accounting for about 300,000 in all of France, 44 percent of which are living in Paris according to Statista, however, a census carried out on the night of January 20 to 21, 2022 counted 2,600 people living on the streets. This is a figure eight percent lower than last year. The housing shortage in France is certainly partly to blame.
We forged on. Once at the exhibition at the Mirus Gallery, we discovered a formidable collection of artists’ works. My daughter was represented, with three of her images rotating on a screen.
The work that impressed us the most was that of artist Kayla Silber. Her mixed media and augmented reality pieces are constructed from thousands of photographs she has taken all over the world. She transfers these digital images to the analog world by scaling, printing, cutting, pasting, and painting on wood panels to create textured and layered large-scale original works of art. Using AfterEffects—an industry-standard motion graphics and visual effects software that can take any idea and make it move—she then “revisits the digital iteration and hand-animates the elements to reveal an even richer narrative full of wonder, surprise and hidden meaning visible only by viewing the painting through an augmented reality app called Artivive.
What that means in real terms is that if you use this app on your phone and hold it up to the image, it totally comes alive and becomes fully animated, even though what you see on the canvas is just static. We were all blown away by the beauty of the images and depth of her creativity, as well as the brilliance of the electronic/digital application. View one as animated art here.
“FORM” was not just an exhibition of art, but an unusual immersive multi-art experience: “An evening of performance art.” We were entertained by a variety of artists, including visual artist Kalos of Kalogenic, who choreographed a group of five people, dressed in flesh-colored underwear to appear nude, creating various poses under stylized lighting. I can’t say to this, “Only in L.A.,” as Paris’ art scene could easily rival this one.
We made Saturday into yet another day of art appreciation, first by visiting Quantam Space LA, a 3,800-square-foot community hub. Located in Santa Monica on the 3rd Street Promenade, it features an NFT gallery and minting center store, immersion room, and an exclusive collectors’ lounge for Quantum Key holders. NFT’s, if you aren’t already following this new form of digital art, are Non-Fungible Tokens—”unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated.” NFTs can represent real-world items like artwork and real estate. “Tokenizing” these real-world tangible assets makes buying, selling, and trading them more efficient while reducing the probability of fraud. (Source: Wikipedia.org) Erica’s photos have been sold as NFT’s, thanks to Quantam’s exclusive representation.
What was particularly funny about the open house we attended was that most of the attendees were guys—computer geeks that didn’t at all resemble the art aficionados of the previous evenings! There were so few women attending that the organizer gathered the handful of us for photographs…for posterity.
From there we headed east again, this time to Pace Gallery to see the Irving Penn exhibition, “Burning Off the Page”(July 30th – September 3, 2022). One of the artist’s works on the wall was a photo I used to own and treasured, then sold when the market was hot, now more than 15 years ago. It’s an image of his wife, Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn, called “Woman in Moroccan Palace,” from 1951. She once hung over my living room couch for many years, and then there she was in all her glory on the wall of Pace Gallery. I cried like a baby when I saw her.
Fahey-Klein wasn’t too far away, so we made another stop at the gallery to see Steven Arnold’s photos without the crowds. While perusing the images once again, I remembered that the paper crown he had created and used in the photograph, “Transmitigating Inspiration,” was actually sitting with my memorabilia of the artist, tucked away at home in a safe place. I must remember to take it out when I get back to Paris, and perhaps have it framed.
Sunday I headed east again, all the way to downtown for a musical performance of “Prom” at the Ahmanson Theatre, with two of my oldest, closest L.A. friends. On until September 11th, Prom is a new musical about a small-town Indiana prom based on an original concept by Jack Viertel. The story goes that “Four fading Broadway stars are in desperate need of a new stage. So when they hear that trouble is brewing around a small-town Indiana prom—and the press is involved—they know that it’s time to put a spotlight on the issue…and themselves. The town’s parents want to keep the dance on the straight and narrow—but when one student wants to bring her girlfriend to prom, the entire town has a date with destiny. Now, Broadway’s brassiest are coming to join the fight and they are ready to kick-ball-change the world.” (Source)
The play is the live version of the 2020 film starring Meryl Streep and James Corden. The movie is still streaming on Netflix. One of our friends happened to be one of the co-producers, hence great seats…and the performance was fabulous! It’s campy and very funny, plus the singing and dancing were really superb. I got so caught up in the story that I cried crocodile tears toward the end, then discovered my friends had cried, too. One critic wrote, “But the musical’s compassionate message never fails to elicit from my keyboard a string of heart emojis.” I agree.
One thing about L.A. that has always stood out for me is how many of our friends—even though we lived there only seven years—have remained close, open, and available even after having been gone 28 years from their daily lives. L.A. gets a bad reputation for being superficial, but I never found that to be true. What I did find, in contrast, are people who are open-minded to a fault, who are not at all judgmental, allowing everyone to be who they want to be without criticism. It’s the unspoken freedom of life in Los Angeles and as a result, our friends came from all walks of life and persuasions. Our home there was filled with such characters, who could outdress any performer and fill the room with laughter without reserve. Parties in L.A. were always exceptional gatherings, thanks to the willingness of everyone to just be who they were and allow everyone else the same privilege.
Paris is a complete contrast to this. While Angelenos respect the newest ideas, Parisians are desperately holding on to their past. This doesn’t mean one is right or wrong, just vastly different. And what’s funny is that this is one reason Americans are so drawn to France: the undeniable history that L.A. has little of.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Through the looking glass…Adrian at the Mirus Gallery, photo by Erica Simone
P.S. No Aprés-Midi this month, but curious about who will be presenting at our next meetup? You don’t have to wait until we announce it, you can look into the future right now! Visit our Aprés-Midi page to see who will be there for the remainder of 2022.