Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’

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The Broad

October 30th, 2019
The Broad

 

My final stop on this trip to Los Angeles was The Broad (pronounced more like “The Brode”) a free modern art museum financed by the wealthy Broad family.

The museum’s main gallery is on the top and third floor, which unfortunately was the only part I had time to visit before heading to the airport. So take what I have to say next with a grain of salt.

 

The Broad The Broad The Broad

 

The main gallery is an almost paint-by-numbers collection focusing on most of the modern art superstars you probably have seen before: Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, etc. If you’ve never seen works from these artists by all means go to The Broad immediately and get up to speed on modern art. For the rest of us it’s largely comfort food.

One clever piece you’ll only see at The Broad is Under the Table by Robert Therrien. This is a giant table and chair set that seems to be a selfie-magnet, as though you’ve somehow been shrunken down after taking the pill that makes you smaller from Alice and Wonderland.

Another artist in the main collection I found particularly interesting was Robert Longo, who takes (or stages) photos, projects them, and then paints them with attention to movement and/or makes subtle differences to re-contextualize them in unusual and interesting ways.

One gallery focused on Ellsworth Kelly, who somehow turned canvases into art that I found physically painful to look at due to the bright contrasting colors. When I attempted to take photos I found some vindication as my iPhone camera had serious issues with autofocus when pointed at his pieces.

 

The Broad

 

What I did find particularly impressive about The Broad is the building itself. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro — the same firm that designed the Moscone West screen that never really worked — it looks like a white cheese grater on the outside, but on the inside it’s as though someone built an Apple Store inside of a hollowed-out cave.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, I just can’t think of any other way to describe the design without sounding like a crazy person.

 

My recommendation: To be clear I’ve only seen the main gallery on the third floor at The Broad. If you’re unfamiliar with modern art it’s a pretty solid introduction and the price is right — just make a free reservation online and go. Otherwise I’d suggest checking out the special exhibits instead. The friendly staff on the first floor will check in any bags and coats as needed.

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Thought Experiments in F# Minor

October 30th, 2019
Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major Thought Experiments in F# Major

 

The Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry is the home of Los Angeles Philharmonic, aka “LA Phil.”

In the early afternoon on non-concert days several tours are available. Thought Experiments in F# Minor from artist duo Cardiff and Miller is an immersive video narrative piece that leads the audience around the labyrinth-like building as a story unfolds.

Best of all it’s completely free.

After checking in at a desk just to the left of the entrance, you hand in a photo ID in exchange for an iPad and a pair of headphones. The experience starts at a specific bench in the lobby.

I don’t want to give too much away here but the video begins with an adorable cat in a cardboard box before synchronizing with the current location, and begging you to walk around with it.

A seemingly detached narrator guides you to walk from place to place with the video as you follow two characters played by the wildly talented actress Jena Malone around the building.

The story is difficult to describe, but suffice it to say it involves life, death, the space in between — and Schrodinger’s Cat.

In real life, security guards stationed at key points open doors that would otherwise be off limits to the general public during the tour hours.

At one moment in the narration the audience is instructed to look at their reflection in a mirrored wall — if you ignore this and watch the video instead, you see the camera operator as he mimics the action, revealing himself in the reflection. I thought that was a clever Easter Egg, perhaps a nod to the impossible mirror scene in the film Contact (also featuring Jena Malone when she was a little girl.)

What really sets Thought Experiments apart from any immersive experience I’ve ever done are the musical performances from LA Philharmonic featured throughout. I’m not even a big classical music fan but I found these to be a treat.

In the final segment I found myself almost dancing as I followed the camera choreography in an empty room as the video veers through a small orchestra performing in the same space.

 

My recommendation: This is an unforgettable experience — I can’t think of a single criticism, it’s the most unique and well put together piece of immersive content I’ve ever seen. Be aware it involves stairs and escalators, and it’s only recommended for those 10 years old or over due to the content. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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Angels Flight

October 30th, 2019

 

For my last day in Los Angeles I was determined to cross a few items off my bucket list, and in order to get there I thought I’d cross off another: riding Angels Flight, the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s really a diagonal elevator with two cars that act as counterbalances.

On my previous visit to LA I went on a walking tour that included Angels Flight, but I didn’t read the fine print correctly. Although they promised a 50% discount off the $1 fare if you had a TAP card, they were not capable of charging the fare to a TAP card and required cash payment — which I didn’t have on me.

This time around I had plenty of quarters left over after going to a fancy new arcade and doing laundry, so I figured I’d give it another go. In the video above I’ve documented this quirky, jerky short railway in all its original 1901 glory.

Well… sort of. The history of Angels Flight isn’t quite what you might think. It was originally located at a different location, closed in 1969, and reopened in 1996 at the new space, only to close repeatedly over the years after a fatal accident. You can read all the details over at Wikipedia.

Armed with a pocket full of quarters I took the trip up the hill — only to find they now have a TAP card reader at the ticket booth at the top. Better late than never.

I also took a few photos of Angels Flight:

 

Angel's Flight Angel's Flight Angel's Flight
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Santa Monica

October 29th, 2019
Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier Santa Monica Pier

 

After leaving the California Science Center I took the Metro Expo Line — soon to be renamed the E Line and combined with the Gold Line — all the way to the last stop in Santa Monica.

It stops a couple blocks from the beach right by the touristy Santa Monica Pier. Not having been to Santa Monica before I decided to wander around the pier just to see what’s there.

The pier has a few restaurants, a small amusement park with rides called Pacific Park, an arcade, a lot of buskers, and some very nice views. In a lot of ways it felt like a smaller version of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk but with much nicer weather.

It wasn’t particularly crowded when I went but that’s hardly surprising considering it was a Monday afternoon in October. I was more surprised the rides were running at all — there were no lines.

The beach around the pier is fairly pleasant. Lovely sand, lots of space to walk around, sun tan, or play volleyball. Probably best to stay away from the pier if you want to go out in the water though as they do allow fishing from certain parts of the pier.

Walking back up from the beach I wandered along the bike and pedestrian path next to the beach at street level. For whatever reason there’s a couple of old cannons placed there.

As I followed the signs to the nearby downtown area, I saw an older pale guy with long hair, sunglasses with small lenses, a cane, and a mumbling British accent who was having a friendly conversation with a storekeeper. If I didn’t know better — and to be clear I do not — I’d say that guy was Ozzy Osbourne. Then again Halloween’s coming up so who knows.

 

Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica Downtown Santa Monica

 

The focus of downtown Santa Monica seems to be the Third Street Promenade, a pedestrian street with numerous restaurants, mall stores, two movie theaters, kiosks, and some very 1980’s water features with a dinosaur theme. Unlike most downtown areas these days there’s plenty of seats if you’d like to take a break.

Again, none of this was particularly busy on a Monday afternoon.

On the South end of Third Street there’s a more traditional mall with a Nordstrom. Walking through that mall leads right back to the end station of the Expo Line.

There’s quite a bit more to see in Santa Monica if you have the time of course. The nearby Cat Cafe Lounge would be at the top of my list.

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Space Shuttle Endeavour

October 29th, 2019
Space Shuttle Endeavour

 

Today I went to the California Science Center — a free Los Angeles museum mostly aimed at kids — to see something pretty amazing: a Space Shuttle that flew 25 missions in space.

Looking back it’s easy to see the Space Shuttle program as a weird quirk of space travel history, or at worst as a total flop. It was however the only part of the much more ambitious Space Transportation System (STS) program from the late 1960’s to actually get built and used, so it could also be argued it was a modest success from a certain vantage point of history.

Unfortunately two of the Space Shuttles didn’t make it — the Challenger blew up seconds after liftoff on its 10th mission in 1986, and the Columbia broke apart upon re-entry after its 28th mission in 2003.

The Endeavour was ordered in the wake of the Challenger disaster. In those days the Space Shuttle program was still in full swing and a replacement was needed — the Endeavour would be the last one ever built.

And yes, for the record it’s spelled “Endeavour,” not “Endeavor” despite the latter being the American English spelling of the word. It was named in honor of a ship sailed by Captain Cook in the 18th century, hence the British spelling.

The museum also has an external fuel tank outside. In the near future they plan to exhibit the Endeavour with the fuel tank and two mock solid rocket boosters, but the building for this is not complete.

Seeing it up close the Endeavour looks like an airplane, but of course that’s completely misleading, and a sign in the museum points this out: after taking off straight up strapped to rockets, the wings were only there so it could land like an airplane… kind of. In order to de-orbit it had to do a barrel roll, and as a safety measure that began with the Endeavour it also had a parachute pop out the back to add additional drag.

One interesting aspect of the exhibit is a short film that shows how the Endeavour as well as the fuel tank were delivered to the California Science Center. The Endeavour was strapped to the top of a 747 and flown in, as NASA used to do to in order to move the shuttles between launch pads. The fuel tank was put on a giant barge and shipped through the Panama Canal and up to Marina Del Rey. From there they both had to be placed on giant flatbed trucks and slowly towed in, which meant moving telephone cables, street lights, chopping down trees, and closing streets in order to clear enough space.

The film shows the Endeavor slowly inching along as curious onlookers gather to see this crazy historic event.

 

Space Shuttle Endeavour

 

In one corner there’s an engine on display. These are about the size of a small car, and each Space Shuttle had three of them. NASA had plenty of extras on hand and they were apparently relatively easy to swap out for maintenance.

These engines were one of the more successful parts of the Space Shuttle program and will likely be used again in the future.

 

Space Shuttle Endeavour

 

Although the above photo may look like a futuristic torture device, that’s actually a Space Shuttle toilet. According to the description there’s a very small hole for defecation, and a hose for urine. Light suction was used to make sure the cabin air was not contaminated.

It’s an interesting reminder that humans aren’t really meant for zero gravity environments.

 

Space Shuttle Endeavour

 

Around the interior of the building containing the Endeavour are photos of the crews of each STS mission with a short description of what happened and which Space Shuttle was used. The two disastrous missions show the deceased crew in black and white photos.

One aspect of this I hadn’t considered is the number of people onboard increased toward the end of the program, as the Space Shuttles were later used primarily for bringing people, supplies, and experiments to and from the International Space Station.

My one criticism of the exhibit as it currently stands is it doesn’t really touch on the International Space Station all that much, and yet it was clearly the most successful part of the entire Space Shuttle Program. Not only has it outlived the program, it got Russia and the US to cooperate on a major project. It’s a shame we don’t do that more here on the ground.

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I got to see Neil Hamburger live at a small venue in LA

October 29th, 2019
Neil Hamburger live

 

On Sunday night I went to see Neil Hamburger (with special guests) live at The Satellite, a small venue in LA’s Silverlake neighborhood.

For those unfamiliar with Neil Hamburger he requires a little explanation: he’s not a “real” person but a comedian character played by Gregg Turkington. Neil is a sad sack, third rate comic who appears to be a relic from a forgotten era. On stage he wears large glasses, an ill-fitting suit that looks like he probably woke up wearing it, and his damp hair is swept over his forehead. He frequently whimpers and coughs directly into the mic and constantly spills the many drinks he has cradled in his elbow.

The genius of the character is that he subverts the audience expectations of this seemingly cranky old man by telling dirty knock knock jokes, jokes in the form of questions with tasteless punchlines, and/or intentionally bombing with an idiotic punchline after a long and convoluted set up.

Most of his jokes come at the expense of celebrities — especially musicians. A few examples:

  • Why does Eric Clapton close his eyes during his guitar solos? Well, because his audience is so ugly.
  • What do you get when you cross the members of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers with an octopus? Junkies with eight arms to shoot up into.
  • What does the movie Oceans 13 have in common with rapper Tupac Shakur? Both were shot in Vegas.

Neil also has recorded a few music albums over the years. My personal favorite song of his is “The Recycle Bin,” in which he angrily denounces people who put non-recyclable stuff into recycle bins.

The evening began with Todd Glass. His set ran a little long, but his overall message was about how comedy should be inclusive rather than punching down, and making fun of comedians who can’t wrap their heads around the concept of improving themselves. He was joined by a band on stage.

The Puterbaugh Sisters arrived on stage next as “conjoined twin” ghosts. Halloween is a serious thing in LA and they used it to their advantage. Most of their material covered the problems they were having dating, being dead conjoined twins and all.

Jamie Loftus had a quirky set about eating eggs that included a PowerPoint presentation. She brought a brave member of the audience to play her dad in an embarrassing sketch.

Second to last, Natalie Palamides had a Halloween themed comedy set where she was dressed as a witch. She cast some “spells” and stole the soul of one member of the audience, only to return it after deciding he was too boring.

An unbilled performer whose name I can’t recall came out to test out a short routine he was preparing for an upcoming episode of Conan. It needed work, but that’s obviously why he was testing it on a small audience.

Finally it was time for Neil Hamburger to hit the stage. He started out with some new material, some seemingly improved jokes complaining about the Halloween decorations behind him, finally followed by a set of his classic material — mostly making fun of The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Neil’s set seemed on the shorter side, although to be fair I wasn’t exactly checking my watch or anything, and the show did unfortunately get off to a late start.

This show seems to be a monthly thing at The Satellite as there’s another show scheduled in November. For all upcoming Neil Hamburger shows, visit his “unofficial” website, AmericasFunnyman.com.

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The Triforium

October 27th, 2019
Triforium

 

Easily the strangest thing in downtown LA is the Triforium, a concrete sculpture covered in colorful glass prisms in a public plaza, surrounded by government buildings.

The obvious question — what is this thing? — doesn’t have a simple answer.

Artist Joseph Young built the Triforium for the plaza. Originally the plan was for it to have a computer controlled system of lights to illuminate the prisms, to rhythmically illuminate it in sync with a carillon.

Oh, and it was supposed to be topped with a laser that projected straight up into space.

There was one problem: it was 1975, and the technology was too primitive to realize this vision successfully. Also, the laser was never installed as it was already over budget. LA Weekly has more details on its history.

The public apparently didn’t care for the Triforium much after a while, the sound was disabled, and as attention to LA’s urban core shifted outward, the Triforium was not only ignored, but the reflection pool under it was drained and replaced with plants.

Now that downtown LA has become a much more vibrant place again, with it is renewed interest in the sculpture. Twice over the past few decades there have been restoration efforts, adding a new sound system, a modern computer, and LED lights to illuminate the prisms.

 

Triforium at night

 

Unfortunately it’s still not always on, even at night. I took the photo on Saturday well after sundown at around 8 PM and it wasn’t doing anything. I suspect it’s only activated for special events.

Fortunately Curbed LA has several short videos of the Triforium back in action. I just wish I had the chance to see it working in person.

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LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits

October 27th, 2019
LACMA

 

I left the Hollywood History tour a little tired, but decided to soldier on via an LA Metro bus to see LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits next door. I should point out in advance I didn’t pay to enter either museum; LACMA’s main gallery is currently being rebuilt, and the La Brae Tar Pits museum is largely aimed at kids from what I understand.

The first exhibit I encountered at LACMA’s grounds is an outdoor piece called Levitated Mass. It’s an enormous boulder held in place with bolts over a subterranean concrete ramp. Seems simple enough, but due to a mishap with the original boulder the artist had selected, it took several decades to complete.

 

LACMA

 

The other big installation outdoors at LACMA is Urban Light, a series of outdoor light posts you might find lining a street, except all bunched up in close-knit grid.

It is kind of a headtrip to wander through this and see standard urban street furniture intentionally misused, though the main attraction seems to be getting one’s photo taken among the light posts.

 

LACMA

 

A more traditional sculpture garden off to the side features various sculptures, currently focusing on “The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” by Zak OvĂ© .

This series of statues feature a semi-faceless series of nearly identical statues that look abstract yet somehow of African descent. I was surprised to see it again as this particular work was recently exhibited at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.

Unlike the San Francisco version of the exhibit, LACMA’s is enclosed on three sides by a fence with a security guard out front. This changed the meaning completely for me — as a white man — particularly since the security guard was a black man. I don’t know what more to say here other than art can be powerful when the context is shifted.

 

LACMA

 

While trying to find the restrooms I wandered through a massive, two story tall geometric sculpture called “Smoke.” From ground level it felt intimidating, but when I wandered up the stairs and looked down upon it, it seemed much less interesting.

It’s amazing what perspective can do with large scale art installations.

 

La Brae Tar Pits

 

On the other side of the block there’s the La Brae Tar Pits, an excavation site where various fossil remains were dredged up back in the day.

Today the tar pits are known for their absurd recreations of… woolly mammoths, I guess? They look like some embarrassing 1950’s highway attraction like the “world’s largest ball of twine” or whatever.

The tar pits themselves smell like tar, similar to when a building is getting a new tar roof. It’s not very pleasant.

I’ll admit part of the reason I went over there was to see if I could spot LA puppeteer, actor, artist, and singer David Liebe Hart — an oddball local character who’s known for hanging out there. Unfortunately for me he was nowhere to be found.

 

The LA Metro Purple Line extension is being built a block down the street, and since it’s located so close to the tar pits the excavation is a slow process with paleontologists ensuring our natural heritage is preserved. As such I had to take a very crowded Metro Rapid bus back downtown instead of the yet to open subway.

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Hollywood History walking tour

October 27th, 2019
Walk of Fame

 

This morning I took the LA Metro to Hollywood and Vine, the meeting place of another Downtown LA Walking Tour, Hollywood History. The name of the tour company is kind of a misfit here as Hollywood is not located downtown.

The first thing anyone should know about Hollywood Boulevard is — if the two wax museums and the Hard Rock Cafe weren’t a dead giveaway — it’s a tourist trap. Expect people to try to hand you pamphlets for bus tours, and unlicensed costume characters to pose for photos with you in exchange for tips. I counted at least two Spider Men, three Mickey Mouses, and one Edward Scissorhands.

The tour makes all of this a little more palatable by focusing largely on the history of the place rather than the current spectacle.

 

Capitol Records Building

 

The starting point of the tour is also kind of the starting point of Hollywood as it relates to the entertainment industry. Although these days Hollywood is almost synonymous with the film industry, the intersection of Hollywood and Vine is where both local and national radio broadcast studios were located, as well as record companies. The 1950’s era Capitol Records Building — shaped like a stack of records — is located half a block away.

On a related topic, the Hollywood Walk of Fame (see photo at the top of the post) is not just movie stars, but recognizes entertainment stars in various categories. Theater actors, singers, TV actors, etc. are also eligible in their respective categories. This also means a few people have more than one star for their multiple talents.

I wasn’t paying super close attention, but I spotted stars for everyone from W.C. Fields to Lucy Lui to the band Rush.

 

Egyptian Theater Chinese Theater

 

Heading east along Hollywood Boulevard, the sights of the tour started looking more familiar. The Egyptian Theater and the Chinese Theater are two of the more iconic cinemas in the area where new films are screened, though they’re not the only ones.

One weird quirk our tour guide pointed out about the Egyptian Theater is the Spanish tiles on the roof. Apparently the building was originally going to be built in the Mission Revival style, but just after construction kicked off, King Tut’s tomb was discovered. So the plans were shuffled to cash in on the newfound popularity of Egypt, but the owner was too cheap to redo the existing roof.

The newest theater on the street that I unfortunately didn’t get very good photos of is the Dolby Theater, where the Oscars now take place. It’s attached to a new strangely shaped mall with a series of viewing platforms where tourists can go to get a clear view of the Hollywood sign.

 

Jimmy Kimmel Live theater

 

The theater where late night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live! is filmed is also on Hollywood Boulevard. Filming notices are posted outside, but if you’ve ever seen Jimmy Kimmel’s show on TV you’re probably aware a film crew might pop out (possibly with a celebrity in tow) and strike up a conversation to use on the show. Our tour guide had a personal story about this.

 

The Hollywood Roosevelt

 

The tour ends just across from The Hollywood Roosevelt, a large hotel frequented by celebrities, politicians, and — according to legend — ghosts. I wandered into the lobby to snap some photos. Can’t say if it’s haunted or not though the interior is quite stunning.

 

My recommendation: Like I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is a tour of a neighborhood that’s become a tourist trap. I’m of mixed feelings about this one, I think someone who’s more interested in Hollywood than myself would get more from learning details of the history of the area. That said it’s certainly much more enjoyable than trying to take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard on one’s own.

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class="post-8761 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-misc tag-arts-district tag-los-angeles tag-photos tag-travel tag-walking-tour">

Arts District tour

October 26th, 2019
Arts District Arts District Arts District

 

Yesterday afternoon I took a tour of LA’s Arts District from Downtown LA Walking Tours. I had the same tour guide as I did when I took the Chinatown and Little Tokyo tour on my last visit, and as it turns out he’s intimately familiar with the local art scene through his other job as a photographer.

The general story of an art district anywhere in the world follows pretty much the same pattern: a bunch of old warehouses in a poor part of town become available on the cheap, artists show up and turn them into art studios, those same artists improve the neighborhood over time, and are then forced out when the rents increase. It’s a classic tale of self-gentrification.

LA’s Arts District is a little more complicated than that, as it turns out — these artists were more organized than most. First the city codified the status of artists living in former warehouses where they worked, even if the buildings weren’t up to code. Second, some of the artists were able to hold on to their apartments even as those buildings were changed to new uses. Lastly, there are still a number of galleries in the area.

Oh, and the chickens. I should explain the chickens.

The first stop on the tour is Hauser & Wirth, the LA outpost of a Swiss chain of high-end art galleries. It’s actually several galleries in a building that was constructed as a flour mill.

In the patio of the building there’s a restaurant called Manuela, which is pricey but also apparently well liked, and is often frequented by celebrities. They grow some of their own spices and such on the patio outside, and have a fenced in area with chickens to provide fresh eggs. The chickens even have their own Instagram.

Like the former flour mill, other buildings in the area were either warehouses, or production sites for companies like Challenge Butter and Coca Cola. These businesses all left the area when the shipping economy shifted from railroads to trucks.

 

Arts District Arts District Arts District

 

Though the tour stopped at three very different galleries, there’s also a focus on the outdoor art, from enormous murals to sculptures, which includes the oversized mailbox seen above.

There’s so much street art in the neighborhood that the same tour company has a tour devoted just to that topic. Unfortunately it wasn’t available during my trip this time or I would have booked that as well.

The last place we visited, Art Share LA, is more than just an art gallery. It also includes classrooms, studios for resident local artists, and even an event space that’s used for everything from ballet classes to church groups to weddings. The whole place has a welcoming atmosphere and features some of the most quirky art in the area.

 

Arts District

 

One of the last spots on the tour is Wings by Colette Miller. What started as a simple pair of angel wings painted on a corrugated metal wall right here in the Arts District, designed to attract selfie-takers, is now an oft-imitated global phenomenon. Miller herself has been commissioned to paint many of these all over the world.

Even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ve almost certainly seen someone’s photo on Instagram standing against a wall with wings painted on it.

 

My recommendation: If you don’t know much at all about LA’s Arts District this is a solid tour. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you’ll see on it, so if it sounds interesting I’d recommend it.