This week, musicians perform in museum galleries and a West Adams show highlights a local doctor's doll collection.
Pianist Michael Mortilla used to tour with the Martha Graham Dance Company, playing along as dancers rehearsed and composing scores for them, including one for their performance for President Ronald Reagan. On the final day of LACMA’s exhibition “New Objectivity,” a show filled with aggressive German paintings made in the gap between the two world wars, Mortilla will play live for nine hours in the galleries, improvising scores to a suite of silent films, including Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), which documents Berlin just before the Nazi takeover. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Mid-Wilshire. Sun., Jan. 17, 10:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m. (323) 857-6000, lacma.org.
Last year, when Echo Park–based Machine Project organized an artist infiltration of Pasadena’s historic Gamble House, artist-musician Carmina Escobar installed a motion-activated bird choir in the second floor hallway. Birdsongs, and a recording of Escobar’s own voice, would serenade visitors as they walked past. Escobar also installed a tree full of handmade, sound-emitting birds in the house’s attic. This week, she will sing in Machine Project’s basement, along with vocalist Ute Wassermann, who uses birdcall whistles and other tools to generate uncanny sound experiences — she can make her voice scratch and creak. Both artists are interested in how far outside the realm of normalcy they can push their voices. They’ve titled their performance Strange Birds. 1200 D N. Alvarado, Echo Park; Fri., Jan. 15, 8 p.m. (213) 483-8761, machineproject.com.
Not so monumental
MOCA’s new music-in-the-galleries series has a misleading title. It’s called Monument, which suggests solemnity. Monuments commemorate serious, weighty things and often invite reverence. In this case, the series takes its name from Dan Flavin’s monument sculpture, tubes of fluorescent lights assembled to resemble a pyramid. Flavin's sculpture is relatively cool and aloof, and ideally the series, in which musicians respond to the permanent collection while playing live in the galleries, will not be too serious. “I try very hard not to be precious or pretentious,” says musician Nick Malick, co-curating the series with Brian Allen Simon. Simon, whose music is ethereal in a laid-back way, will perform at the first concert. So will Celia Rae Hollander, a sometimes-frenetic digital composer who goes by the name $3.33. 250 S. Grand Ave., downtown; Thurs., Jan. 21, 6 p.m. (213) 626-6222, moca.org.
Take my card
Edward Grothus used to work as a technician at the Los Alamos National Lab, where scientists worked on the atomic bomb. But he quit his job there at the end of the 1960s, and soon after opened an odd store known as the Black Hole. The store’s inventory was composed of items that were cast off from the lab — technical equipment, paperwork or office furniture, some of it quite value, lots of it less so. After Grothus died in 2009, the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) visited the store and found two Rolodexes, full of business cards of members of the corporate community had handed to the bomb-making lab. Right now, at CLUI’s small Culver City space, cards line the walls. Marketing coordinators, engineers and sales reps from the Kodak Company half smile in head shots. There’s a sense of outdated aspiration throughout the exhibition — all these cards belonging to people who hoped to get in on the big business of nuclear war. “Ultimately, the bomb was made by people calling other people on the phone,” writes CLUI director Matthew Coolidge in his essay on the Rolodexes. 9331 Venice Blvd., Culver City; ongoing. (310) 839-5722, clui.org.
Rooms of dolls
Every year, the William Grant Still Art Center puts on its “Annual Black Doll Show,” filling the galleries of its West Adams building with various dolls. This year, most of the “black dolls” in the exhibition come from the collection of Dr. Cynthia Davis, who co-founded L.A.’s Agape House for HIV-positive women and children. Davis started the Dolls of Hope project, through which volunteers make dolls for HIV-positive children around the world. Some of the dolls in her collection were made as part of that project. There’s a white-bearded African-American man in an antebellum suit, a preacher doll and long-legged little girls in striped socks. Artist Joe Terrill built an intricate altar in one of the back galleries, and AIDS quilts borrowed from the Atlanta-based NAMES Project Foundation hang in various rooms. A sense of solemnity coexists with the show's crafty cuteness, and there's no sleekness or polish to distract from the show's tenderness. 2520 West View St., West Adams; through Feb. 13. wgsac.wordpress.com.