Tag Archives: Los Angeles

City of Images

Los Angeles has long held a fascination with the visual; beholden to looks, surfaces and images, it is a city where even the buildings seem to strike a pose. So it might seem surprising that until now, there’s never been an institution here devoted to photography. But that all changes this week with the opening of the stunning new Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City.

Located on the site of the former Schubert Theater, in the shadow of the CAA “Death Star” offices at 2000 Century Park East, the Annenberg Space is a freestanding, 10,000-square-foot facility. With free admission and inexpensive validated self-parking, it is a community space, inviting residents and tourists alike to engage with print and digital images. More than anything it is a “Temple of Photography,” as Wallis Annenberg herself called it recently, celebrating an art form, but also a means of seeing the world we live in.

Form meets function in the design for the space, by architects DMJM Design: A central exhibition space for digital exhibits – circular in form and with a ceiling that resembles a camera aperture – is surrounded by galleries filled with photographic prints. The floor plan consciously suggests a camera, though at the same time, walking through the print galleries reminds one of a piece of film threading a camera spool. Other references to the medium can be found in the gray metal finishes throughout the museum and floors made from recycled tires that remind one of camera grips.

There’s also a full-service kitchen and an area for classes and workshops.

Interviewed at the opening press event, Annenberg explained that her passion for photography is a response to an upbringing surrounded by art, where the focus was always on “the beautiful.” Her parents collected Impressionist paintings (which were donated to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art). Given that she believes “life was far more complex,” Annenberg said she was drawn to photography that expresses “the full range of human emotions and gives us insight into our own souls.”

That is a pretty fair way of describing the opening exhibition,”L8s Ang3les,” a collection of work from 11 Los Angeles photographers. The show reminds us of the power of photography to show beauty and horror in all its forms and asks us to marvel at how the eye and the instrument can capture a story or encapsulate a whole life in an instant.

Included are the conceptual work of artist John Baldessari, the social reporting/portraiture of Catherine Opie and Lauren Greenfield, architectural photography by Julius Shulman and Tim Street-Porter, celebrity portraits by Douglas Kirkland and Greg Gorman, and the photojournalism of Carolyn Cole, Lawrence Ho, Genaro Molina and Kirk McKoy, all staff photographers at the Los Angeles Times.

One wanders from Kirkland’s images of Marilyn Monroe, to Greg Gorman’s portrait of Leonardo DiCaprio, to Catherine Opie’s images of members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, to Lauren Greenfield’s portraits of girls at their quinceañera or a bar mitzvah boy yearning for gifts he imagines will lend him status, or a young girl in the Barney’s shoe department. Then there are Coles’ searing images of the brutality of war, the reportage of the other staff photographers, which bring our world home to us. What sticks, in the end, is a sense of the humanity captured by these works.

The Annenberg Space, Kirkland told me, represents “the dawning of a new time for photography,” adding that he believes the Annenberg will come to equal the renown International Center of Photography, a museum and school in Manhattan .

Greenfield, who grew up in Los Angeles, told me she sees the educational potential of the Annenberg Space in the power of “photography to speak directly to kids.” She feels photography is an art form that kids understand intuitively and immediately. What impressed her about the Annenberg was that “everyone will feel welcome. No one will be intimidated.”

All the photographers I spoke with stressed that the Annenberg Space’s technological breakthrough lies in its ability to display so much of an artist’s work at once – a feat accomplished by using digital projection screens and by a series of tabletop touch screens that allow the visitor to examine an artist’s work in depth (plans are being made to allow one to order prints from the tabletops, as well). Having a center in Los Angeles where they could see the work of their peers and participate in workshops that will create a greater sense of the photographic community excited them all.

The Annenberg Foundation was established in 1989 by Walter Annenberg, whose father, Moses “Moe” Annenberg, owned the Daily Racing Form and acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer. Walter Annenberg expanded the empire with such publications as TV Guide and Seventeen and was canny enough to sell out at the right time to Rupert Murdoch in 1988 for a reported $3 billion (recently TV Guide magazine changed hands for $1 – I kid you not).

Walter Annenberg, who died in 2002, served as Richard Nixon’s ambassador to Great Britain, and Leonore, his second wife, studio boss Harry Cohn’s niece and chief of protocol for the State Department under Ronald Reagan, died just this month. Wallis, Walter’s surviving child, and several of his grandchildren, Lauren Bon, Charles Annenberg Weingarten and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, serve as trustees of the Annenberg Foundation, which is one of the largest private foundations in the United States and which supports a wide range of charitable activities both in the U.S. and abroad, many of which are the specific passions of its trustees.

Although the name of the Annenberg Foundation is well known to anyone who watches public television, or from their endowments to museums, universities, schools and hospitals across the United States, several local projects dear to Wallis Annenberg are set to open over the next several months: This week’s opening of the Space for Photography will be followed this summer by the Annenberg Community Beach House, located in Santa Monica on the site of the former Marion Davies estate, the only public community beach club on Pacific Coast Highway – or as I intend to refer to it, my beach club. And next year, the former Beverly Hills Post Office will be rebooted as The Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts.

If ever we needed to be reminded of the power of art and community to lift our spirits, it is now. The iconic American photographer Edward Steichen once said that “photography is a major force in explaining man to man.” The Annenberg Space for Photography gives Los Angeles a place to enjoy the artistry of the surface image and the humanity that lies beneath.

The Grammy Museum: The Culture We Keep

The Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, the Venus de Milo, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Pete Seeger’s banjo, the handwritten lyrics to Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message.”

You might wonder what all these cultural artifacts have in common. But as of Dec. 6, they can all be seen in museums — the last two items just went on view at the new Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles.

I place them together because they underline the question that came to mind recently when I attended the preview opening of the Grammy Museum: What does it mean to be a museum? Why a music museum? Why in Los Angeles?

I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately, ever since I heard Sharon Waxman speak about her just-published book, “Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World” (Times Books).

“Loot,” as its title suggests, is about museums whose collections contain contested objects, and it explores the ethics as well as the arguments surrounding the acquisition, preservation, ownership and display of such artworks and cultural artifacts. In her talk, Waxman said that one of the questions that interested her during her research was the history and conceptual underpinnings of the great museums. Many of them, including the Louvre and the British Museum, grew out of the Enlightenment. The notion was that a great society needed to collect the artifacts of the cultures that preceded, both to showcase where they had come from and to present itself as the inheritors and current standard-bearer of greatness. A museum defined what was important, what was worth preserving and hoped to educate a society, as well as raise the consciousness and the pride of its citizens by doing so.

In this light, a museum that showcases the history of music makes great sense for a baby-boomer generation as a 21st century museum set in Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.A.

When we ask ourselves what has been meaningful in our lives and in our culture, and what is it that we wish to share with our children, the answer is: our music (whatever that music may be). There is a soundtrack to our times; history and politics comes alive through our songs, our recordings and the artists who created, performed and produced the music. The challenge the Grammy Museum faces, and in its conception already has more than met, is to find a new language of interactive exhibits, film and sound to tell that story.

There may be no one more qualified to create a music museum than Robert Santelli, the executive director of the Grammy Museum, who previously has worked at both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

“Music plays an important part in our history,” he told me. “The baby-boom generation grew up with music, and they are now behind this movement to preserve [it].”

Located at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street downtown, the Grammy Museum is part of the new L.A. Live Complex that includes the Nokia Theatre, the Conga Room, and a whole assortment of new restaurants, hotels and other entertainment venues.

The museum is a 30,000-square-foot structure that cost $34 million “soup to nuts,” Santelli said. The Grammy organization, he explained, had for years talked about a music museum, and earlier considered opening it in New Orleans or Memphis. All that changed when AEG, a leading sports and entertainment presenter that is also the developer of L.A. Live, got involved and offered a location for the museum in the new complex. AEG is responsible for building the space and for the majority of the fundraising that entailed; it also committed to financially back the museum for the next decade. AEG has also brought on board major corporate sponsors, including American Express.

Santelli was quick to point out, however, that the Grammy Museum operates as an independent nonprofit entity, independent of both the Grammy organization and AEG, and that he had not received even a programming suggestion from either so far.

Santelli predicts that L.A. Live will be “the hub of pop culture in L.A.” and hopes the museum will attract 200,000 visitors annually, although he admits that with the current economic downturn, all bets are off.

I wouldn’t want to predict who and how many people will actually visit the museum in its first year, but I’m going to say that if you love music, or are interested in the history of American music (any genre of American music), or the process of recording and creating music, you should go there.

Here are some of the highlights: The fourth floor features a giant table-like interactive touch-screen guide to more than 150 genres that the museum has dubbed “Crossroads,” primed to reveal photos, songs and stories about each genre.

There are also four large display pods titled “Enduring Traditions,” which combine artifacts, history and videos about pop, folk, sacred, classical music and jazz.

Legendary objects line the walls, including Buddy Rich’s drumsticks, Wayne Shorter’s handwritten score for “Nefertiti,” Jimi Hendrix’s handwritten lyrics to “Angel” and Eminem’s to “Stan.” There are also letters from Buddy Holly (very nice handwriting), Elvis Presley (with some spelling mistakes) and Tupac Shakur (very polite). One case contains Elvis Presley’s 1942 Martin guitar, as well as trumpets that belonged to Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and Miles Davis, and Sammy Cahn’s typewriter.

My favorite quote, from the “Sacred” pod, is Larry Norman’s 1972 question: “Why should the devil have all the good music?”

The third floor focuses on the art and technology of creating music. Separate sound booths allow you to experience and learn from interactive videos, in which some of the greatest studio engineers and recording artists show how a recording is mastered. In essence, what’s offered is a free education in record production from professionals at the top of their game. There is also a large room with a giant, curved high-definition screen showing a film titled, “The Life of a Recording,” which tells the story of how certain recordings came to be — the current offerings are “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Alison Kraus, Robert Plant and T-Bone Burnett; Larry Klein and Herbie Hancock discussing “The River: The Joni Letters,” and “Jesus Take the Wheel” as recorded by Carrie Underwood.

There is also a history of how music has been recorded — from Thomas Edison’s phonograph to the Graphophone and Gramaphone, from cylinders to disks, from 78 rpms to 45s, 33s and eight-track tapes, to current digital formats. And one wall is devoted to “Record Men,” such as Ahmet Ertegun, Mo Austin and Clive Davis.

The museum’s second floor has a 200-seat auditorium that will be showing a 17-minute film titled “The Making of a Grammy Moment” — in this case, Beyoncé and Tina Turner performing “Proud Mary” at the recent 50th Anniversary Grammys.

Threaded throughout are the history and highlights of the Grammys, including award winners, backstage and performance footage, as well as exhibits related to the new Latin Grammys and the Grammys’ charities

Finally, the second floor will offer temporary exhibits, the first of which is called, “Songs of Conscience, Songs of Freedom,” a history of music and politics in America, from “Yankee Doodle” to an iPod that belonged to an American soldier serving a tour of duty in Iraq. The installation was curated by Daniel Cavicchi, an associate professor of American studies at the Rhode Island School of Design. Cavicchi’s selection of songs provide an awesome playlist and really make the case for how American songs have shaped our nation’s consciousness.

“It’s about the power of noise… [as] a political act,” Cavicchi said, “in a broader sense it’s about people exercising their rights.”

Cavicchi told me that he was most excited about having tracked down a Civil War-era over-the-shoulder trumpet (which served, as the band marched forward, to project the music backward to the troops behind), a copy of the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) “Little Red Songbook,” and a battered stop sign from a school bus graffitied to say “Stop Lies,” from a 2007 tour of a Muslim punk band — yes, Muslim punk, whose members I might report are today working as journalists in Pakistan.

My own favorites included Joe Hill’s handwritten “Last Will,” John Philip Sousa’s gloves and batons, Grandmaster Flash’s turntables, the aforementioned Seeger’s banjo, as well as guitars owned by Woody Guthrie, Josh White and Bob Dylan.

And yes, there is also a gift shop, which thus far seems to be mostly of the T-shirt, mug and keychain variety.

What distinguishes the Grammy Museum from other institutions, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Experience Music Project, Santelli explained, is the breadth of musical styles the museum embraces, as well as its mission, which is focused not so much on artifacts as on the inspiration for and process of making music.

The Grammy Museum staff also includes Ken Viste, who was associate director of the Experience Music Project (and worked with Santelli there); Lynne Sheridan, the public program manager, and Melissa Runcie, who is charged with the public education programs.

It will be Runcie’s job to work with schools in greater Los Angeles to get those buses a comin’ in, as well to develop specific education programs. Which is a good thing, because while I am the sort of music freak who could spend hours in the museum, my elementary-school-aged daughter will stand a better chance of taking in what the museum offers if she’s led through it on a school trip. There will also be family programs once a month, on Saturdays, beginning in February.

While Runcie will be working to fill the museum on afternoons, Sheridan’s purview extends after museum hours and even beyond its walls. The 200-seat Grammy Sound Stage will feature panel discussions, interviews and a forum for artists to perform and answer questions in an intimate setting. Upcoming programs include “An Evening With Brian Wilson” on Jan. 15 and a talk with Charlie Haden on Jan. 21. In addition, the Nokia Plaza, a 40,000-square-foot, open-air plaza that is fully wired, will be home to series of concerts, including free ones by emerging artists.

Finally, in case your mind is turning toward that special event you’ve been planning, the Grammy Museum includes a private fifth floor with a rooftop terrace that can be rented, with private access to the museum (did someone say baby-boomer birthday party or rockin’ bat mitzvah?).

Music museums are part of a trend to preserve our popular culture. Los Angeles already has a Museum of Television and Radio, and the American Cinematheque in Hollywood, and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is planning to build a movie museum in Hollywood. In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland (which is opening a branch in New York), the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and the Experience Music Project in Seattle, individual artists have their own iconic spaces, as well, including Elvis’ Graceland, a Liberace museum in Las Vegas and a B.B. King museum in Mississippi. AEG is also financing construction of a British Music Museum in London.

It might seem paradoxical to open a Grammy Museum just as the recording industry is in perilous decline. But that paradox brings us back to the very notion of a museum: How do we as a society, as a culture, preserve what we value. More music, in more varieties, are listened to now than ever before — we live in a culture where the iPod is on shuffle — old and new artists, pop and jazz, classical music and classic rock, spoken word and rap, all simultaneously color our modern life. As popular culture grows wider in spectrum, it also seems to become shallower. Increasingly, it falls to the cultural institutions — such as the Grammy Museum — to organize, collect, narrate and set in context the depth of our heritage. As well as to expand our knowledge.

And until I went to the Grammy Museum, I had no idea there were Muslim punk bands.

Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he’s an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.