Essential Arts & Culture: Pacino as Tennessee Williams, Diego Rivera at LACMA, suspended Iranian art, 'Mr. Gaga'

Al Pacino takes to the stage at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. A pair of new paintings by Diego Rivera arrive at LACMA. And Netflix launches a new design series. This is Carolina A. Miranda, culture writer for the Los Angeles Times, delivering your weekly newsletter from Mexico City, where I am sustaining myself with very large sandwiches. Herewith, the week’s top culture stories:

Pacino at the Playhouse

Playwright Dotson Rader’s “God Looked Away” captures the life of Tennessee Williams in his later years, struggling with drug addiction and the specter of his success. In the title role is Al Pacino; playing his friend Estelle is Judith Light — and it all takes place on a stage that was key to Williams’ career. “The production is nothing if not meta,” writes The Times’ Deborah Vankin, “a play about a playwright in a playhouse where, it turns out, Williams premiered early work.” Los Angeles Times

Vankin also sat down for an interview with artist Ooldouz Alaei Novin, an Iranian artist who currently has work on view at L.A.’s Craft & Folk Art Museum, and has been personally affected by President Trump’s travel ban. “We are watching the news all the time,” she says. “You just don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.” Los Angeles Times

Audience participation

“Every Brilliant Thing,” the unusual solo performance piece by Jonny Donahoe, currently on view at the Broad Stage through Sunday, requires the audience to act out small roles in a story about family and mortality. Times theater critic Charles McNulty says it is “utterly charming.” “The audience enters the Edye, the intimate venue at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage, as an anonymous crowd,” he writes, “and leaves a friendly troupe, theatrical comrades, an ad hoc ensemble united by a total stranger’s story.” Los Angeles Times

Riveras land at LACMA

Two striking paintings by legendary Mexican painter Diego Rivera have landed at the L.A. County Museum of Art for the exhibition “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time.” Times art critic Christopher Knight writes about how “Zapatista Landscape” (1915) and “Flowered Canoe” (1931) combined iconic Mexican imagery with Western tradition. Los Angeles Times

Pacific Standard Time in Mexico

Cultural leaders from various Los Angeles institutions were in Mexico City this week to announce programming for the upcoming Pacific Standard Time series of exhibitions, which will focus on Latin America. The event, which I attended, turned into a cultural salvo in favor of exchange between the U.S. and Mexico. “There is no us and them,” LACMA director Michael Govan told me after the event had concluded. “There is just us and us.” Los Angeles Times

Design on Netflix

Netflix is kicking off a new design documentary series this week, “Abstract the Art of Design,” which features a lineup of prominent figures, including Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, illustrator Christoph Niemann and graphic designer Paula Scher. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne binge-watched all eight episodes. His conclusion: “It is impressive enough to leave you wishing it might have dug deeper and been a shade less boosterish.” Los Angeles Times

Documenting Mr. Gaga

Speaking of documentaries, director Tomer Heymann spent eight years chronicling the life and work of choreographer Ohad Naharin, the artistic director of the Batsheva Dance Company, for the film “Mr. Gaga: A True Story of Love and Dance.” Times film critic Kenneth Turan says it makes for enjoyable viewing. “If you are familiar with his mesmerizing work, nothing more need be said,” he writes, “if you’re not, this feast of dance illustrates why others are.” Los Angeles Times

Violins and a British organist

A series of performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic last week brought together favorite ballet scores as well as a classic work by Tchaikovsky — the much-recorded Violin Concerto, that was performed, in this case, by Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili. It was a memorable show, writes Times classical music critic Mark Swed: “She dreamed with Tchaikovsky and escaped with Tchaikovsky and threw it all to the wind when that seemed a thrilling thing to do.” Los Angeles Times

Swed also took in an unusual performance downtown by violinist Mark Menzies at Art Share LA — a composition by Luigi Nono, in which the musician moves among stands scattered around the space. This complex composition, Swed writes, “is like an anatomical, physiological and spiritual examination of the violin.” Los Angeles Times

Swed also attended a performance by British organist James McVinnie, who took on the imposing instrument at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Though he has played at Westminster Abbey and at the 2011 wedding of Prince William, he remained unassuming. “He avoided gaudy colors on an organ that certainly can produce them,” states Swed. But “he didn’t shy away from occasionally power pedaling or letting out all the stops.” Los Angeles Times

Not quite a play

Puppets, the D-Day invasion and a jump-rope contest featuring Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. The play “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” is no ordinary work of theater. Produced by the British Kneehigh company, and directed by Emma Rice, “946” features music, but isn’t a musical, and it’s a play, but it didn’t begin with a script. Times contributor Christopher Smith looks at how this unusual work of theater, on view at the Wallis Annenberg Center through March 5, was very creatively hatched. Los Angeles Times

Jimmie Durham and Trump Tower

Art writer William Poundstone has zeroed in on a fascinating piece at the Jimmie Durham retrospective at the Hammer Museum that connects to Trump. Namely, the time the artist created a deed in which he claimed ownership of Trump Tower as an “exclusive representative of all of the Native American Red Indigenous Indians in the land,” then sold it to Cuban artist José Bedía for a string of santería beads. Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

In other news...

— Right-wing populists protested an installation in Dresden by Syrian-born artist Manaf Halbouni, which consists of three upturned buses that serve as a monument to the victims of war in Aleppo. The Art Newspaper

— Art critic Jen Graves has left Seattle’s The Stranger. This is a huge loss for art criticism. ARTnews

— Gentlepeople, start your wallets: Christie’s auction house is opening a flagship in Beverly Hills. The Art Newspaper

— The Parker Center’s connection to some dark chapters in Los Angeles history may be what leads to its eventual demolition. Curbed

— Go, opera! The L.A. Opera is up for two Grammy Awards this weekend. Los Angeles Times

— The Pantages has announced its 2017-18 season, which will include stagings of “Waitress” and “The Color Purple.” Los Angeles Times

— A little-known comedic ballet by Martha Graham is revived in New York. New York Times

— Tony Brown, director of the nonprofit cultural organization Heart of Los Angeles, serving the Rampart community, is the winner of a $200,000 James Irvine Foundation leadership award. Los Angeles Times

— A cache of late 19th century photos that likely show Paul Gaugin cavorting in Tahiti was recently discovered. The Art Newspaper

— The 17th century Paris building where Pablo Picasso once kept his studio, may soon become a luxury hotel. I’m sure the gift shop will be wondrously “curated.” Artforum

— As the Great Salt Lake dries up, Robert Smithson’s famed land art work “Spiral Jetty” may find itself marooned. Hyperallergic

— Why Frederick Douglass was the most photographed American of the 19th century. Hyperallergic

— Jake Romm has a critical analysis of Time magazine’s cover image of Steve Bannon. Forward

— The Metropolitan Museum of Art has made 375,000 images available for free. In the mix: 10 very cool images of California. New York Times, LAist

— A collection of artful album covers. Los Angeles Times

And last but not least…

Because we could all be a little more present: A techno show at a Buddhist temple. Electronic Beats (via @jmcolberg)

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