Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Smart LA: boobs and books

On May 25th, the UCLA Hammer Museum hosted a conversation between artist Lisa Yuskavage and Lisa Cholodenko, director of High Art and Laurel Canyon, as part of the
Museum’s “Hammer Conversations” series. Yuskavage’s erotically-charged paintings pose a critical challenge to the public, since her frank, fantastic centerfolds leave the observer nowhere to hide: one cannot admire the technical artistry without confronting one’s relationship with the pornographic image. Cholodenko, whose films are filled with characterizations of strong, self-possessed female sexuality, would seem an ideal and illuminating foil (a light-saber?) to the provocative MFA from Yale.

Big Blonde with Beaded Jacket (1997)
Big Blonde with Beaded Jacket (1997),
courtesy of
The conversation was illuminating, but not entirely successful as a give-and-take. The headstrong Yuskavage was, more often than not, in control of the evening, and forceful in articulating the woman behind the art. Equally at ease in the blue-collar world of her youth—her father was a truck driver who delivered frozen pies—and the rarefied New York art scene, she confidently acknowledged that her work was not without irony, not without cognition, but also convincingly argued that her overriding aim was to create volume, to animate the space, often using a literate rhetoric of the great Renaissance painters. There was little doubt that she was a far more formidable and ambitious woman than expected.

I was surprised—but, perhaps, shouldn't have been—at the content of the audience Q&A following the talk. For all of Yuskavage’s dominance of the first part of the evening, the audience, hungry for film lore, turned to Cholodenko for advice and insight into how to break into the film and television business (she has directed episodes of HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and Showtime’s “The ‘L’ Word”). Her deft handling of the audience, especially of a funny and tedious actor who lightly interpreted the inner life of Kate Beckinsale’s character from Laurel Canyon, was impressive and amusing to this outsider, a portrait of an anxious population, a group perpetually on the make.


On the Friday before, I took in the opening night of “Sin Uncensored: Hollywood Before the Code,”
Barbara Stanwyck
a new film series sponsored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, highlighting Depression-era movies made prior to the censorship crackdown of 1934. During the pre-code period, “Hollywood produced some of the most compelling and daring films of the studio era, when profit-hungry companies were all too eager to offer salacious stories of promiscuity, prostitution and perversity.” Alfred Green's Baby Face (1933), starring an eye-popping and provocative young Barbara Stanwyck, is a portrait of young Lily Powers, a waitress who works in her father’s speakeasy who, after a conversation with the Erie’s curmudgeonly cobbler (!), embraces his Nietzschean philosophy and embarks upon a campaign to sleep her way to the top. (When a watchman in the trainyard prepares to throw her off a boxcar bound for the Big City, she, er, “succumbs” with a sly smile. Barbara Stanwyck!)

The film was introduced to a wonky crowd that filled the James Bridges Theater in UCLA’s Melnitz Hall by a short talk from Associate Programmer Mimi Brody, who explained that the print—discovered late last year at the Library of Congress—restores five minutes that had been replaced in advance of the new regime by Warner Brothers. (After the screening, the Film and Television Archive kindly screened the moralistic five minutes for comparison; in it, the cobbler comically disavows Nietzsche with a worried voice.) Afterwards, it was a short hop down Westwood Boulevard to Café Dahab, an Egyptian shisha joint that serves up a mean and minty cabbage salad, piping in Danadana TV all the while.


Five outstanding bookstores in the greater Los Angeles area, and some selections from each:
  1. Hennessey and Ingalls, in Santa Monica—H&I carries a staggering assortment of art and architecture books that easily competes with similar venues in New York and San Francisco; it's only a stone's throw away from the Pacific Ocean to boot. Comfortable and a fine place to browse.


  2. The UCLA Hammer Museum bookstore, in Westwood—a surprisingly nice selection with a great wealth of crit books, over two floor-to-ceiling, six-foot shelves. Eerily, I opened up a catalog from a show on François Curlet, and I almost immediately happened on a piece that featured photos from our fair city.


  3. Wacko, in Los Feliz—adjacent to the street La Luz de Jesus gallery, home to Shag, Ocampo, Coop, and tattoo artists across the Southland, this eighties refugee from Melrose Avenue flogs tsotchkes of all stripes, but has a healthy-sized selection of fringe literature, visual sourcebooks, and postcards for one’s corkboard.


  4. Taschen America, in Beverly Hills—perhaps the only sexy tenant in an otherwise forgettable stretch of chain retailers on Beverly Drive, there are several free parking lots here, provided that you can do your business in less than two hours. Cool and sleek (what appear to be framed film stills in the rear, above the quilted bancs, are really slo-mo video monitors), the table in the rear offers previews of upcoming titles. (The Museum of Television and Radio is across the street, on the corner of Beverly and Santa Monica.)

    • Aesthetic Surgery, edited by Angelika Taschen (upcoming in 2005): a spectacular examination of the history and phenomenon of cosmetic surgery;
    • Fashion, a two-volume visual sourcebook of female fashion from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, taken from the encyclopedic collection of the Kyoto Fashion Institute, by Fukai (chief curator of the KFI), et alia, (2005); and
    • Walter Schurian’s Fantastic Art (upcoming in 2005).

  5. The bookstore at the Museum of Jurassic Technology, in Culver City—a tiny but remarkable selection, devoted almost entirely to the literature of wonder. (I had to stop myself from walking away with more.)



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