Who Shot Rock & Roll?

Location: 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City

I always get excited with the changing of the museum banners along many of Los Angeles’s city streets. It means there’s something new to learn about, something new to explore.

If you haven’t been to the Who Shot Rock & Roll exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography, you’re missing out. It’s a blend of two of the greatest loves of my life: music and film. Admittedly, I’ll always be more partial to moving film over still photography because of my greatest love in cinema.

I spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon, about 6 weeks ago, exploring the show which highlights photographers who captured the moments of some of the greatest artists of our time behind the scenes. Be sure to check out the engaging documentary film produced for the exhibition that plays in the main gallery space to hear more from the artists whose work hangs on the museum walls. Watching the 30 minute film brings the photographs around you to life. I knew I’d be back before the close of the exhibition because I wanted to know more.

Another wonderful thing about the Annenberg is their dedication to their IRIS Nights lecture series, which compliments the exhibition one step further by offering free public panel talks  and discussions from the artists themselves or distinguished guests in the field.

Last Thursday night, I attended the IRIS Nights Lecture series and had a front row seat (okay, more like 5 rows back actually) where I listened in as 3 women who pioneered the music video industry and the rise of MTV itself, where the topics of discussion. What a treat to hear the stories of Penelope Speeris, Gale Sparrow and Liz Heller. From the conception of one of the first music videos, to the struggles of building the empire that MTV would become, to learning of how the power of “fake it until you make it” truly works when you’re trying to make something out of nothing.

I sat there completely absorbed in hearing how a recent college graduate, Penelope Speeris, got a call one day from a record label executive to shoot an artist and then lace their music to the sequence, creating what would become the music video genre. It was interesting to explore the financial turmoil MTV went through, nearly shutting their doors before a great marketing scheme saved them as portrayed in the words of Gale Sparrow. I was impressed with Liz Heller, who somehow fell into music video production without any experience and had to figure out how to shoot a music video and create a budget to do so.

Unfortunately, MTV has lost the “music,” so to speak, and replaced much of its programming with reality TV. I remember those times when I’d come home from school and turn on TRL while I did my homework, or sat and watched VJ’s take us through the top  10 music videos of the time. Those were the days. So long MTV.

Made in L.A.

Location: 10899 Wilshire Boulevard, Westwood

I spent this past Sunday afternoon getting some culture at the Made in L.A. 2012 exhibit at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. It kept with the weekend theme of spending time in public places flooding with central air to beat the summer heat and learn something new at the same time.

What a gem of a space! It was such a tranquil afternoon roaming the galleries taking in the works of Los Angeles based artists across the small campus. The Westwood exhibit features the expressions of 38 locals in the forms of paintings, video installations, sculpture and photographs; spread over 2 other participating institutions, totaling 60 complete works.

I won’t lie, it took me some time to relax into what I was observing around me. During the first half-hour, the very analytical side of me wanted to make sure I was understanding exactly what I was looking at and what the artist was trying to say. I wouldn’t have minded the use of interpretive media to supplement and better comprehend the context of a work of art in this case (hello audio tour?). However, much to my surprise and slight disappointment to my analytical ego, the Hammer sticks simply to sparse wall text, perhaps to keep a very clean and art-focused environment. The galleries are very open and don’t innundate you with anything other than the pieces. This was clearly done intentionally, and as I kept walking I accepted that intention.

Once I simply settled into looking at the art around me and not trying to interpret every single line, color choice, use of composition (and let’s be honest, those “what the heck is this”  thoughts), I began to see the works as artistic expressions and appreciated it more not for what it represented (because I gathered that was left mostly up to the viewer), but for what the human mind cultivated and then physically created.

I have to say though, my absolute favorite part of the Hammer was their permanent collection gallery filled with the timeless and classic paintings of Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Cézzane, amongst others. There’s something so remarkable about standing in front of a 373 year old oil painting by Rembrandt with such life-like strokes, it looks like a photograph. It blew me away! I marveled at the imagery and feeling I got gazing at my favorite piece of the day, an 1865 painting called Morning, by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. I would hang it in my house.

I couldn’t have asked more a more beautiful and relaxing afternoon. It seemed the more I immersed myself in the world around me the calmer I became, and the life outside those gallery doors faded away for a couple of hours. The Hammer’s Made in L.A. exhibit is an excellent place to spend some time, but I warn you to go with an open mind.