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Here and Now

Art after dark

September 25, 2003|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

I guess you have to get out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to see certain things. What I mean to say is you also have to leave your house, which is what I did a week ago, when the L.A. County Museum of Art opened its doors for an all-nighter, called Cabaret LACMA.

Evidently some 8,000 people showed up between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., and there were two- and three-hour lines snaking around the corner of Wilshire and Curson, where the La Brea Tar Pits are. Madonna was there. Really, I saw her.

Just kidding.

I live in the neighborhood, so I had to get in my car and drive two blocks, whereupon I looked for parking, which I found in front of Park La Brea, which meant I had driven two blocks only to park two different blocks away from the museum. Talk about your poor planning!

I'll be honest, I was sleepy, and possibly cranky. Hey, it was 4 in the morning! I could have been home, getting a jump on the "Today Show." I could have been getting news before you did. I love getting news before you do. It's like knowing stuff, but from the inside.

There were still crowds milling about the LACMA courtyard, but no lines. Lots of what Gray Davis would refer to as "young people." I had an awful feeling I would run into someone I didn't want to see: a co-worker, the shrink I sent a bad check to, that woman I met at a party who never called me back, maybe David Schwimmer. What if Schwimmer was with the chick who never called me back? What chance would I have then at a call back? He's a "Friend"! I'm not a "Friend." Do you see now what kind of stress I'm under?

Head held low, I proceeded immediately into the exhibition room containing "Old Masters, Impressionists and Moderns: French Masterworks from the State Pushkin Museum, Moscow." The gallery was fairly bustling, and it was hard not to wonder which was on exhibit, the paintings or the people? There were signs all over the museum, after all, that tonight's proceedings were being captured on film.

The Pushkin people have some good art, no question. They've got this Van Gogh I'd never seen, called "The Prison Courtyard," prisoners marching in a circle in a dank, sun-spotted courtyard. They've got a cool Cezanne called "The Pipe Smoker" and a Raffaelli, "Boulevard Saint-Michel," which I throw out as if I know who Raffaelli is.

What I do know is that if I'd had any guts I would have come to the museum in a robe and sweats, pretending that I was one of those rich patrons of the arts who has masterworks in his own home, and who goes to the east wing to stare at them on insomniac nights (Should I buy more shares of Verizon, or tell my broker to sell? Let me go stare at the Raffaelli and see what the painting says).

By now it was 4:17, 4:11 easy. Somewhere in Southern California, a fleet of Hummers was being torched by a band of anti-Hummerists. Or at least they were thinking about it. Over in Malibu, David Geffen was roaming the beach, muttering to God about owning the sea. "I am the ocean, I am the waves, I am the sea!" were not his exact words, but close. Hadn't he broken Nirvana?

I went upstairs, to see "Modigliani and the Artists of Montparnasse." First of all, the "g" in Modigliani is silent. Second of all, how brutally wonderful would it have been to be Modigliani. From what I could tell from reading the wall narrative and then looking at the work, Modigliani hung out in his Paris neighborhood with Picasso painting the suicidal women he slept with, painting his art dealer, his friends. I'm sure he had bad days, but oh, to be Modigliani on the good ones! What's the most he could have hoped for, living in L.A. in 2003? Suicidal sex? Maybe, but meanwhile he would have worked as an art director at Disney, hoping someday to put a studio in his Silver Lake two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath.

Finally it was getting along toward 5 a.m., and I crashed in the courtyard with a cup of tea. The girl who sold me the tea said it was crazy earlier, tons of people, rowdy, somebody had thrown a bottle.

I took a seat among a motley assortment, sacked out in various states of repose. They seemed too tired to cause trouble. My notes from this time say, "Enya music plays underneath raffle" and "the Clockwork Orange posse is meeting the Massage Dude." I'm not saying these are good notes.

All around were groups of Asians, African Americans, white guys. The white guys all seemed drunk. Inside the galleries, the art was still being consumed. I sat there, definitely having a moment.

Into her cell phone a girl said: "Should we do some diet pills and then go to Denny's?"

Paul Brownfield can be contacted at

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