Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pop Music

A sleepless night in a hotel room led me to watching VH1's top videos of the year. Popular music is something I have an appreciation for. Sometimes I really dig it. Like Rooney, Norah Jones, Ben Folds, heck even Queen and The Beatles would be considered 'pop' for at least most of their careers. So really, pop music is not bad as a genre. It's actually quite great.

The pop music of today is unfortunately, in my opinion, mostly rap/hip hop these days. I have no problem with rap and hip hop in the broad sense. But the songs that get made sometimes just make me really scratch my head. Like why does the new Rihanna song have a mechanical sounding dog barking for the beat? Why are 17 year olds rapping about bitches and ho's? I'm not the clubbing type, and yet I think I can pick out when it's a good beat/melody and when it's not.

This brings me to a quite embarrassing confession. Most of you who know me know I abhor Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus more than most ridiculous things in this culture. The fact that Taylor Swift won a best artist award really boggles my mind. Miley is a very well marketed quasi talented tool. I actually listened to her song "Party in the USA." Really listened to it. And I can't get it out of my head. It's a FABULOUS pop song. Exactly what pop should be. And in an age of Lohans and Kardashians, I guess Smiley Miley isn't the worst person for kids to look up to. I just hate that I tap my foot and hum along like a fool....

I downloaded the 'top 100 songs of 2009' and gave most a pretty good listen. It makes me wish that these collaborative projects could just be actual songs. For an example the song "Knock You Down" by Keri Hilson, Kanye West and Ne-Yo has a really good chorus. Nice tight harmonies, good melody. But then we get the rapping that goes on for like FOREVER. Same with "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. I absolutely love Alicia's part...but get bored with the rest. I really wish that there could be a little more originality in songwriting these days. Like instead of using tunes from 80s and 90s songs and looping us going "hey, hey, hey, hey" over top while Rihanna whines (I pick on her because she's not a nice person) a chorus over it....I just don't buy that as good music. If you're covering a song, do something original with it. REDO it. Don't just use someone's recording and bastardize it. Jeez.

I really didn't mean for this to be a rant. Just a confession and explanation on why Miley Cyrus is one of the artist categories on my iPod. No Taylor Swift though. I have to draw the line somewhere....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I was not a white girl today.

Los Angeles is expensive and difficult to get around in. Usually the places I go, I try to walk as much as possible to get a lay of the land. If I can't walk it, I feel completely incapable as a person. I'm in Beverly Hills. I wanted to go to downtown LA. 40 minute drive is what I was told was the distance. Rent a car is what I was told as far as my options. And I said a big hell to the no, I'm conquering this land of Range Rovers with my Nikes.

3 blocks walking. $1.25 bus fare. 52 minutes down Wilshire Ave to 7th & Grand listening to Florence and the Machine, noticing how when crowds of people came on the bus that they were not like me. Hispanic or Latino families, elderly Asian women, etc. 5 blocks walking to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Hello Project Runway. Hello free exhibit on Betsy Bloomingdale's haute couture gowns. Unfortunately PR and school have both shut down for the season so further exploration was impossible on the campus. Many more blocks walking on 8th, Spring, 7th and Grand, checking out downtown. It is wacky. Old beautiful art deco buildings stand tall on the somewhat swept streets. Beautiful theatres that would've been the spot for the rich and famous in the 20's and 30's are now gutted for flea markets. It's obvious no one in this city walks as I was fighting to get through crowds of people walking slower than the preteens at Mall of America. Twas this, and the color of my skin that immediately made me stick out among the masses of shoppers. It made me wonder if this city is used for anything? People obviously live there. Shop there. Do they work there? Is it all belonging to a certain stereotype while the rich and well dressed SUV drivers commute to work in Beverly Hills?
I had had enough of the lack of splendor of Downtown LA. A few more blocks to the Pershing Square Metro stop and on the underground I went. A toothless gentleman offered me his used ticket and I was shocked by this kindness. Where it was only $1.25 for the ticket, the generosity surprised me. Then as I thanked him and took it he said "I need $1 for that!" Realizing my naivety, I gave it back to him and bought my own $1.25 ticket. A few minutes and a few stops later I was at Sunset Blvd and Vermont Ave. Where I had read I could get a trolly for 25 cents up to Griffith Observatory. What I didn't know is that there were no posted times for this so called trolly, and since no one takes public transportation, and the bus drivers are no help, I ended up standing at this hopeful looking sign for about 40 minutes waiting. Just as I was getting harassed by the first caucasians I'd seen that day, asking about my natural hair color and making other inappropriate comments, I was ready to give up and start walking in the opposite direction, I saw a little red trolly take the corner and stop right at my feet. Gratitude swept over me as the driver asked for a quarter and we took off up the huge hill that became Griffith Park.
The Griffith Observatory has been seen in such films as Charlie's Angels 2 and Transformers. It is a planetarium at the top of one of the Hollywood Hills, offering scientific exhibitions and other boring junk as well as beautiful views of an over-polluted and over-populated city. The building itself is beautiful. More of that Art Deco detailing at every corner that LA embraces. I'm very glad I waited an eternity for the cheap ride. It was quite the impressive site, the building and the views (although slightly brown and grainy).

Another quarter to get back to Sunset Blvd and a bit of a walk to Vine and Hollywood Blvd. This was not a necessary stop on my trip, but since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to do the tourist thing and read the oh so famous names on the sidewalk. As klutzy as I can be, this actually helped me not trip, paying attention to the ground for once.
Aw, Michael, I love your work. Walking around Hollywood Blvd, I definitely got swept into the crowd of camera wielding tourists. It's almost a treat once and a while to be one of a crowd. You're not noticed. Not an independent person, just one of the crowd. I was offered a cd on the street and when I said "no thank you" he said "I know you're a black girl, you want this music!" I laughed and kept walking. Walking around to the tunes of Metric's Fantasies I felt content in my own little world. I picked up the novelty souvenirs I had promised to a friend and decided it was about time to head home. This time on the 4 bus from Santa Monica Blvd back to Beverly Hills. Another $1.25.

I only point out the race factor because it really is apparent here. In a city of diversity, you would expect a variety. But there were honestly no white people taking public transit. In Minneapolis, where the bus fair is $1.75 mind you, MORE expensive than LA, people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and statuses ride the bus. Every other city I've been to, this is the case. Why LA, why? Besides the fact that people have the attitude that saving hundreds of dollars is irrelevant. A day of sightseeing that would've been hundreds had I rented a car or taken a taxi cost me $4.25. All day. I think this is pretty fantastic. So if you're reading this, and if you go to LA, sometime try the bus or the Metro. It's pretty convenient and traffic sucks anyway...maybe us all jumping in a bus would make traffic lighter? Maybe???

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Jeff Koons, twist that knife...

I am angry. Deceived and tricked by an artist. I will try to type fast enough to extinguish the fire spurting out of my fingertips so that I can breathe normally again. Dramatic? You think I'm being dramatic? Well just imagine that you are from Mars. Yes, Mars. You find this thing called a video tape, and let's just say you have fantastic powers and can hold it and see in your brain the images on the video tape (because obviously you wouldn't have a VCR anymore...those were so 10th century Earth). You see this amazing film of a fuzzy frog emitting emotion while singing about how life isn't fair and you are effected by it. Moved. You may even shed a tear. Then when you go home to your Martian home and look on the internet for who this amazing being is and how you can see more of the Oscar-worthy (you obviously know what the Oscars are because Angelina Jolie used to be your neighbor) performances, you find out that he is nothing but a piece of fabric that goes on a human hand. Disillusioned, you destroy the planet Earth for tricking you so.

This is what Jeff Koons has done to art. Never having been a fan of pop art, I've never given Koons much respect/attention. My visit today to the LACMA changed my mind. I saw a piece similar to this:
The impressive thing about this is that it's made out of steel. And it looks like a balloon. And it's huge. Koons has a lot of pieces like this. Made out of steel or some other stiff material, and it ends up looking like an inflatable flexible plastic. Quite genius. Quite impressive. Then he has these paintings. The title card says "oil on canvas." Seeing this large scale paintings in person up close made me say "no. No way are these oil." Example 1:
Does this look like photoshop to anyone else? Well it got me interested. But these plastic-y forms do NOT look like they were ever touched by hand. However, the title cards usually don't lie...if these were really hand painted, that would be quite impressive.

I have googled myself blue trying to find one thing that says anything or has an image about Jeff Koon's art making process. The one article I found that sheds a sliver of light on this topic is The Art Newspaper's interview with him. In this article they explain that his studio has 120 busy assistants working hard on paintings, sculptures and maquettes. The interview even goes so far as to praise Koons for not outsourcing this work to China. For the man who sells his pieces for millions of dollars giving no one else credit, really?! Our number one thought is whether or not he could save some money?! Unbelievable. There was also a small mention on how Koons himself plans his paintings by layering images on photoshop. Which makes me wonder if a paintbrush ever does anything but touch up. By an assistant of course.

This is SO discouraging. If this is the art world, do I want to be a part of it? And the sad thing is that I think he had good ideas and good intentions in the start. But now, who's doing the work and who's getting the credit. It's turning into a commercial operation. And while I expect that the Stella McCartney dress I would love to own would not have been hand sewn by her, I do NOT expect this from artists. Especially those getting so much attention.

If you ever meet Jeff Koons, please kick him in the balls for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Irving Penn and the Dutch Countryside

What do these things have to do with each other? The Getty. As I have blogged recently, the Getty might be the best thing Los Angeles has to offer. Two exhibits in particular were very interesting to me.

Irving Penn is a well known photographer. He was one of the fortunate artists who was recognized while living and could be commercialized, thus making him successful during life. I had never heard of the photographer before, and after looking at some of his work now, have decided that the exhibit up at the Getty is the only body of work of his that I really liked. The exhibit is based on a series of works he did in NYC, London and Paris in 40-50 years ago. It's called Small Works and was published as contemporary art in Vogue magazine (see what I mean about commercial?). While most of his works seem quite simple and costume-y, understanding that there had not ever been formal portraits of the working class (much like Millet's The Gleaners broke ground in the 19th Century with finally an actual realistic painting). Most photos with the working class featured them working away. Penn brought them into his studio, photographed them, and then titled them simply as their profession. No names, no identity besides their occupation, which mirrors how they're perceived.
There were a couple of different things that intrigued me. Those in the London portraits had either serious or vacant expressions. The Parisians were similar. Those photographed in NYC were jovial. The bakers and pickle sellers had a coy smile for the camera. Very telling of culture when class is similar but expression is not. Perhaps we Americans don't take ourselves seriously, or maybe we just know how to smile. The other thing I thought was cool is that Penn experimented with different processes for his photographs. So, well done by the Getty, they had a silver gelatin print hanging next to a platinum print. There is such a difference in clarity, grain and contrast. I love when this very technical side of art is highlighted.

The Dutch have always fascinated me. Their realism is untouched. Their atmospheres are always spot on. And they have some of the darkest paintings around, meaning that the painting is almost black as a whole, and yet there is purpose, emotion, and realism in a dark piece of canvas. The exhibit at the Getty showcased Dutch drawings. Most of these had quite a bit of wash work and looked incredibly impressive form a distance. As I got closer, however, I lost a bit of that what I would call "Dutch factor" as the details seemed to be lost. So the drawings in most cases were studies for paintings, and were almost definitely sketched while seated in a field. So I decided to take a page out of their book and sit on the sidewalk and sketch the beautiful building that was my landscape.
The amount of people who came over and looked over my shoulder just affirmed the idea I had that people don't really do this anymore. Has art become so elite that we can't just sit and sketch anymore? Do we have to be part of a class to do this? Well, obviously my drawing above is not perfect nor frame-worthy. But it is a study. A quick sketch. Which is where the Dutch started, afterall...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Getty Center

The Getty Center is an amazing compound in Los Angeles. It is a research center and a house of art, ancient to contemporary. There are 4 different buildings with period rooms and floors of paintings. Then there is an immaculate garden. And did I mention its at the top of a hill that looks over Santa Monica, the Pacific Ocean, and Downtown LA. Quite fabulous, really. Oh and best bit. It's free. I asked the hotel if it was in walking distance and they replied with "people don't walk here." Well, I walked. And although the sidewalks ended every few feet and I'd have to cross the very busy street, it was definitely walkable.
The architecture alone was an astonishing work of art. I loved how the natural stone was mixed with steel and water. Mechanical perfection with organic flaws. A classic juxtaposition that is attempted quite often, but not always perfected. The Getty definitely succeeded.
A couple highlights of the collection for me included the David paintings, the photography exhibits, and the sketching room. They had a room in one of the buildings stocked with a few sculptures and paintings and drawing materials. Anyone who wants can sit and draw all day. When you're done you can keep your drawing or give it to the museum to let them hang it up. While sitting there doing a technical sketch of a bust I realized how much I miss studio classes. It was a community environment working on something we all loved. I miss it.

Los Angeles on a whole is exclusive. You have to be spectacular in some way to get into certain places, experience certain things, or fit in. Everything is so expensive, even just getting around town, that the middle class and under can't afford to live here. And if they do, they definitely don't get to enjoy the town. The Getty is the exception. It is free. They have extensive grounds open to the public and family/kid friendly exhibits and areas for activities. My experience at the Getty was the first time in LA that I have felt part of a community. Pretty darn cool. If you're in the area, it is a must.