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Critics suffer for the arts too

Los Angeles Times critics reveal some job realities: Fighting freeway traffic to get to the Segerstrom Center, the difficulty of finding a seat in art galleries, the casual dressing at too many theater performances (but not at the Music Center) and how sometimes new buildings can leave an architecture critic feeling empty.

March 30, 2011
  • The entire exhibition "Four Floor and a Basement" is by L.A. artists, including works by Ed Ruscha, above.
The entire exhibition "Four Floor and a Basement" is by L.A.… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

Healing from the traffic

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa cannot be ignored. Neither, alas, can the 405.

In recent days, for instance, the Vienna Philharmonic performed in Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the Pacific Symphony held a Philip Glass festival and Midori gave a recital of new music in the ideally intimate Samueli space.

But getting to the center for an Angeleno usually means a minimum of two irritating hours in freeway crawl. Orange County residents may not have to travel as far, but even they are likely to face nerve-racking congestion and arrive a wreck.

Here's the remedy. A short walk away is a hidden sculpture garden by Isamu Noguchi where, after a few meditative minutes, traffic tension will be wondrously released. Menacing office buildings breath down upon it, but this little park — with its rocks and benches and stream cut into pavement — brings a rejuvenating sense of nature to urban asphalt. I think of it as art's dose of vitamin C for O.C.

—Mark Swed, music critic

Just can't stand it anymore

From where I stand, what I'd really like is a place to sit.

It's a pet peeve I hear often — and one I share: Art museums don't provide anywhere near enough chairs or benches in their galleries.

Recently I was at a highly regarded museum looking at a large group show — 14 artists, 58 works — and there wasn't a single place to sit anywhere in sight. Finally near the end, where 10- and 25-minute video and film projections were installed, a couple of benches were too. (I'm guessing they were mandated by the artists.) But other than that, zip.

This isn't just an issue of general museum fatigue — of wanting a rest midway through the pleasurable labor of looking at art. It's wanting congenial conditions in which to spend some time contemplating what I'm seeing, while I'm seeing it.

Art museums ought to bend over backward to help with that. Too few do.

—Christopher Knight, art critic

Keeping a sense of dignity

Theatergoing has regrettably taken a casual Fridays detour that isn't likely to change any time soon. But attending a show at the Mark Taper Forum or the Ahmanson Theatre inspires one to at least reach for a garment still wrapped in plastic from the dry cleaners. Gentlemen can be expected to wear a jacket if not a tie; ladies can be counted on to transform mere clothes into an ensemble.

Chalk up the swankiness to the Music Center's glittering constellation of performing arts venues. Maybe it's the fountains, or the sight of al fresco wine drinkers. Or perhaps it's the synthesis of so many different cultural possibilities. But as soon as I emerge from the labyrinthine underground parking, I'm plunged into an awareness of how special it is to be there.

Other theaters may offer greater intimacy or hold out the promise of more adventurous fare. But few leave me feeling quite so energized about the prospect of becoming part of that dignified public body known as an audience.

—Charles McNulty, theater critic

Feeling all alone

Call it the challenge of emptiness. When I'm reviewing a building, I tend to see it anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before it opens to the public. We're in the news business, after all. But journalism's interest in timeliness raises its own peculiar byproduct for an architecture critic, namely the odd experience of seeing a building without any people in it.

Often the architect accompanies me on a tour. Or I'll encounter a few construction workers. But that's not the same as experiencing a building when it's fully in operation, with people sliding open the top-floor windows or stopping to chat in the lobby. One obvious solution is for the critic to come back and visit a new building a second time, to see how people are using it, and how that use confirms or complicates the architect's original vision.

But it's not always easy to convince editors — or readers, for that matter — that a piece of architecture is so significant it deserves to be covered twice.

—Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic

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