Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
When the San Fernando Solar Observatory — one of the oldest of its kind — was finally moved to Cal State Northridge in 2016, it enlivened an already charming corner of the campus. The dollhouse-like domed structure sits next to a landscaped turtle-and-duck pond and historic orange grove, with a campus lunch bistro and Bianchi Planetarium (which hosts night-sky shows every other Friday) within spitting distance. The observatory previously was used for research in support of NASA's manned space and Skylab programs, but in its current iteration generates critical information on the sun and its effects on climate, satellites and spacecraft. The young astronomers plying the telescopes and computer systems within are literally on the front lines of combating climate change, which gives it the observatory importance beyond its visual scale. To visit, use parking lot G3 off Prairie and Zelzah, but you can usually nab street parking on Nordhoff. Non-students should contact the school's department of physics and astronomy for access.
Inspired by the ancient Mayan city of Palenque (as imagined by an erstwhile movie set designer for Paramount), the fortresslike Sowden House was built for the lavish parties of silent film–era Hollywood. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. — or Lloyd Wright, as he was known — built the faux-Mayan temple to physically imposing scale on a hill in Los Feliz (the awe-inspiring patterned block cantilevers that project from the roofline above the entrance have been likened to the jaws of a great white shark). Inside the house has an Eleusinian feel: Twisting passageways, dark recesses and secret rooms flow into an atrium with undulating contours of stonework and a proscenium stage. The overall effect is what one architecture historian has called a "unique but indeterminate exoticism." This is not a house so much as a showcase, an open space for a select group to enjoy in privacy and seclusion. The real notoriety of the house dates from 1945, when George Hodell, a sybaritic physician and friend to surrealists and Hollywood A-listers, bought the property and redecorated (all-red kitchen, all-gold master bedroom) to host infamous sex parties "delving into the mystery of love and the universe," as he told Los Angeles police detectives investigating a rape charge brought against him by his 14-year-old daughter after one such party (Hodell was acquitted of rape and incest in 1949 and sold the house soon thereafter.) Many years later it was revealed that the LAPD considered Hodell the prime suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. He may even have killed and dismembered the starlet in a locked room in the basement. The house will be hosting art events by invitation this fall.
Earlier this year, The Kids in the Hall comedian Scott Thompson's name seemed to suddenly start appearing on live lineups throughout the city, from stand-up showcases to storytelling nights to podcast tapings. It wasn't a fluke. Thompson recently returned to L.A. after a stint in his native Canada, during which he beat cancer (thanks, socialized medicine) and decided to give stand-up comedy a go. He'd spent most of his career performing as part of an ensemble, so trying stand-up in earnest was a fresh personal challenge. At 58, Thompson works the stage harder than any youngster on the same bill — he paces back and forth, practically foaming at the mouth as he rants and raves about millennials and the way people behave in gay bathhouses. He also recently revived a beloved Kids in the Hall character for Apres le Deluge: The Buddy Cole Monologues at UCB Franklin, a program of the martini-swilling raconteur's monologues, old and new but never before performed. If you happen to notice Thompson's name on a lineup, regardless of who else is on the bill, you can be guaranteed it's worth the price of admission.
Others might be nipping at its heels, but Crumbs & Whiskers, which opened in September 2016, was the first cat cafe in Los Angeles. Legend says the very first opened in Vienna more than a century ago, but in more recent times it was a phenomenon that spread from Taiwan to Japan and beyond. Full of hidey holes, shelves and comfy pillows, this place is perfect for hanging out with our feline friends, and there are fluffy mice and colorful things on sticks to tempt the kitties to come out and play while java and treats come from a store nearby. You're at their whim, of course (hint: come early or late to avoid the midafternoon snooze), and there are rules: Don't wake or pick them up, don't take flash photos, and don't feed them. The 75-minute sessions allow enough time to meet all the bow-tied four-paws here, so try to snag a spot on the white rug, as it seems to be the prime place for patting and petting. Everyone drags their heels when they leave, but if you meet a cat you just can't leave behind, you're in luck — they're all available for adoption courtesy of Karma Rescue.
If you could somehow uproot the entire Warner Grand Theatre and transplant it to Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, the magnificent art deco/moderne structure would fit right in along that street's famous row of architecturally striking vintage movie palaces, which include the Los Angeles Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre and the Theatre at Ace Hotel. But the Warner Grand has been a fixture on Sixth Street in San Pedro's quaint downtown center ever since it opened in 1931. With an ornately detailed ceiling and artfully carved lamps and other extravagant neo-Byzantine fixtures, the 1,485-seat venue is the only surviving theater of the three movie palaces Warner Bros. built in the L.A. area in the early 1930s. The Warner Grand continues to host film screenings, opera performances and occasional concerts, including the late Chris Cornell's final solo appearance in L.A. County, in 2015.
For two weeks back in January, Iam8bit Gallery transformed into the Jerry Maguire Video Store, an installation from the willfully weird dudes at Everything Is Terrible! Upward of 14,000 VHS copies of pukey 1996 rom-com Jerry Maguire lined shelves from floor to ceiling and were configured into a pyramid along one wall. Clerks in red polo shirts manned a counter where no one actually rented anything. The tagline on the video's box is "Everybody loved him ... everybody disappeared," but that wasn't the case on opening night, as a line of people wound its way down Sunset just to get inside to see the Jerrys. After that brief, wonderful stint as a video store, the gallery resumed doing what it does best: hosting video-game–centric art shows such as "Iam8bit: A Love Story," in which 30 artists remixed classic video-game romances. From constructing a version of Scrooge McDuck's money vault to celebrate the launch of a DuckTales Capcom video game to an X-Files–themed art show called "Conspiracies, Monsters & Mythology," there's always something going on at Iam8bit to appeal to the pop culture–obsessed Angeleno.
As lowbrow morphed into pop surrealism and then again into new contemporary, Copro Gallery was there. The venerable art hub founded by Greg Escalante (who also co-founded Juxtapoz magazine) traces its roots back to the 1990s and, for more than 20 years, has saluted both established and up-and-coming names. In more recent years, Copro has become the launchpad of viral art; the "Conjoined" series of group shows curated by Chet Zar has brought forth oddities such as Kevin Kirkpatrick's hyper-real busts of Beavis and Butt-Head and Kazu Tsuji's consistently stunning sculptures of artists and historical figures. Copro has been striking hard with shows from dark art masters Zar, Clive Barker and Chris Mars. This summer, it paid tribute to the icons of spooky and sexy images by hosting Heavy Metal's 40th-anniversary show, a group exhibition with a heavy-hitting roster packed with artists like Dan Quintana, Olivia de Berardinis, Ausgang, Alex Pardee and more.
What do you do when you've collected thousands of pieces of bunny memorabilia, made your collection into a museum, and then outgrown the museum? You open a bigger location. Candace Frazee and Steve Lubanski have served the Pasadena area for many years as the owner-operators of the biggest (only?) bunny museum in the world, but the Bunny Museum's new Altadena location is hopping huge. (Sorry.) Prepare to be overwhelmed by and immersed in all things rabbit. At this point, Frazee and Lubanski have amassed more than 35,000 bunny-themed collectibles, which is more than enough inventory to hold onto their Guinness Book of World Records title. If you go, please remember to bring some little treats for their rabbits — hay if you have it, but lettuce is good too. Some people actually bring their own live bunnies to see the collection but must keep the bunny in hand at all times — there are cats in the Bunny Museum.
L.A.'s newest private museum, the Marciano Art Foundation, houses the art collection of the Marciano brothers, founders of the GUESS? fashion label. In addition to seminal works of contemporary art by the likes of Mike Kelley, Takashi Murakami and Jeff Koons, the Marciano offers a glimpse into the secret society of Freemasonry, which few of the uninitiated ever get to see. Tracing its origins back several centuries to European stonemason guilds, Freemasonry consists of fraternal orders whose ranks include captains of industry, almost a third of U.S. presidents and Hollywood bigwigs Walt Disney and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. The museum is housed in the former Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, a gleaming marble and travertine citadel designed by Millard Sheets in 1961, which has been thoughtfully repurposed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY, retaining much of the original structure's character. Lining the building's Wilshire Boulevard façade, massive sculptures by Albert Stewart depict important figures from Masonic cosmology, such as Imhotep, architect of the Egyptian step pyramids, and Zerubbabel, the Biblical builder of the Second Temple. Masonic symbols such as the square and compass are featured throughout, central to the Masons' conception of themselves as builders. In their lodges and temples, Masons would enact theatrical, costumed rituals utilizing hand-painted backdrops, several of which have been incorporated by artist Jim Shaw into his stunning solo exhibition, The Wig Museum (through Jan. 13), on the main level. Upstairs, the Relic Room houses even more wonders: robes, hats, books, membership logs and other Masonic ephemera, opening a window onto a secretive, in large part bygone world.
Before movies became our culture's dominant form of mass entertainment, there was the panorama, which captivated audiences throughout the 19th century. Often depicting immersive landscapes or important events, the panorama is a floor-to-ceiling cylindrical painting placed in a round room, at the center of which stands the viewer. Three-dimensional props, lighting and sound elements heighten the illusion of surveying a far-off land or historical scene. Founded by artist Sara Velas in 2000, the Velaslavasay Panorama is a contemporary twist on these fanciful Victorian houses of wonder. Its first iteration was located in the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda in Hollywood, where The Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes depicted a 360-degree view of the Los Angeles area as it might have appeared two centuries ago. A few years later, the Panorama relocated to its current home in the Union Theatre Building and debuted a new tableau, Effulgence of the North, which portrayed an icy, arctic vista, complete with the sound of cracking glaciers and a light show emulating the aurora borealis. After more than a decade, Effulgence closed Sept. 10, with a new panorama set to open next spring. Titled Shengjing Panorama, it will feature a 90-foot-long painting made in collaboration with artists in China, capturing an early–20th century view of the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang — and thereby offering a window into another place and time.
Virtual reality has come a long way in the past few years, and now there's a growing bounty of experiences to try. The catch is that, if you want a highly immersive experience, you'll need high-priced gear, a powerful computer and a lot of space to move your physical body. That's where IMAX VR Center comes in. The virtual reality hub is a cross between a movie theater and an arcade. You buy a ticket to try a specific experience at a designated time. Inside the venue, you enter a cubicle-type area, suit up and step inside the VR world to play. IMAX's selection of VR titles includes works based on pop-culture mainstays as well as original pieces. Don't worry if you haven't tried VR before your trip; there's content designated for VR newcomers here, too. Come solo or bring friends; there are experiences for one person as well as for duos and groups.
Despite the wealth of art inside the Vincent Price Art Museum, the institution remains a bit of a secret among Angelenos. You might be forgiven for thinking this is a collection of movie posters and costumes related to the actor best known for his horror films. It's not. Price wasn't just an art lover; he also was a proponent of arts education, and in the 1950s, he and wife Mary Grant donated a considerable amount of art from their personal collection to East Los Angeles College. That gift launched what has become a treasure chest tucked inside the Monterey Park community college. Today, the Vincent Price Art Museum has swelled to a seven-gallery complex, hosting an eclectic mix of shows that bridge art's past to its future. Price's interest in pre-Columbian art became the basis for the museum's permanent exhibition, "Form and Function in the Ancient Americas," which focuses on artifacts from western Mexico and Peru.