Monday, July 15, 2019

Where to Be Merry: The “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition @ Skirball Cultural Center, Westside

The Merriment: A temporary art installation featuring the works of Kwame Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer who helped bring the “Black is Beautiful” cultural movement to the masses through his visionary artistic direction and captivating photos taken in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Location: Westside

The Vibes: Informative, historical, beautiful

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), the kiddies

When-To-Go: Weekends, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Fridays, noon – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. This exhibition officially wraps up Sunday, September 1, 2019.

The $$ Factor: General admission, $12; Seniors, full-time students and children over 12, $9; Children 2 – 12, $7

The Names behind the scenes: Photographer Kwame Brathwaite & the Aperture Foundation (exhibition organizer)

The 4-1-1: The Skirball boasts one permanent gallery and four temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are FREE on Thursdays, and free daily for Skirball members and children under two. 

Parking Situation: Complimentary onsite parking

I’ll Be Back…: When the exhibition travels to San Francisco, later this year! 

 Earlier this summer, during a trip to scout the Skirball Cultural Center for a potential upcoming event, I stumbled upon a hidden gem. 

You see, what I had always known about this prestigious indoor-outdoor complex is that it’s been a go-to destination for the city’s classy affairs for decades. Nestled right up against the Santa Monica Mountains off the 405 freeway, it's housed sophisticated graduations, ritzy class reunions, elegant weddings — you name it — since first opening its doors in 1996.

Yet what I didn’t know was that this expansive cultural center also has both permanent and temporary art exhibitions! 

Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition, during my site visit. I learned that Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer, established the African Jazz Art Society and Studios (AJASS) collective of various artists in the 1950s and also created the Grandassa Models group for black women in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His photos uplift and celebrate African-American beauty, through snapshots of snazzily dressed models, prominent artists and every day people in ordinary situations. 

A larger-than-life, black-and-white photo of a Grandassa model on the Harlem Apollo Theater stage (1968) greets guests, right before entering the exhibition (first photo in this post, up top). And throughout the handful of exhibition rooms, Brathwaite’s photos, dresses from the era, African-inspired jewelry, music records and other knick-knacks are proudly displayed. 

I think what I loved so much about this exhibition is that I felt like I was coming "home." Immediately, as I stepped into the room, I was greeted by smiling faces framed by powerful Afros and with beautiful brown skin, often adorned in Afrocentric attire. These women looked like me! And, they were beautiful!

To some degree, I also felt like I was looking at intimate family portraits — that just so happened to be blown up and hung onto a wall. These women could’ve been (and probably were) somebody’s wives, aunties, lovers, mothers, sisters, best friends and daughters. I love how Brathwaite captures their effortless grace, whether when posing while adorning the latest fashion, or while casually (and confidently!) sitting on the hood of a car. It’s grace that feels natural, genuine and truly within the moment.

What also struck me as interesting is how the issues of today are so similar — if not the same — that Braithwaite captured 40, 50 years ago. Even now, there’s still continued efforts to support local black-owned businesses and a need to exalt Afrocentric beauty in spite of it not being publicized in mainstream channels. 

It’s easy to breeze through the exhibition in about 30 minutes or so, and admission also includes access to two other temporary exhibitions —“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” and “Spotlight: Andy Warhol” — and the permanent collection, “Visions and Values” (there’s another temporary exhibition, Noah’s Ark, that is an additional fee to access). 

“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” highlights the life of this fashion designer who created first-ever pantsuit for women, wireless bra and other apparel firsts. It's a wondrous, colorful display of his timeless clothing, and I'd definitely rock many of those outfits, to this day. 

“Spotlight: Andy Warhol,” on the other hand, showcases 10 modern, colorful portraits of “Jewish geniuses” according to Warhol — from Franz Kafka to Sigmund Freud. I love how he uses such vibrant colors on the black-and-white photos to paint these luminaries in a different light. 

I haven’t been to the “Visions and Values” collection but it’s on my list to visit soon! 

So the next time you find yourself caught in Friday evening traffic on the 405, in between the Valley and Los Angeles, swerve over to the Skirball Cultural Center to relax and be inspired by all the incredible art there. But hurry and don’t wait too long — they’ll be gone before you know it. 

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Monday, June 24, 2019

Where to Eat: Contemporary Peruvian Comfort Food @ Los Balcones, Hollywood

The Eats: Northern Peruvian comfort food with an international flair, featuring dishes like ceviche and Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice)

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Earthy, authentic, intimate, chill

Good for: Alone, Dates, Groups (small and large)

When-To-Go: Opens daily at noon; closes at 10 p.m. (Sunday & Monday), 11 p.m. (Tuesday – Thursday) and midnight (Friday & Saturday)

The $$ Factor:
Appetizers, $12+; Entrees, $20+; Cocktails, $14+

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Michelangelo 'Miguel' Aliaga

The 4-1-1: Los Balcones also features weekend brunches and daily happy hours, 4 - 7 p.m.

Parking Situation: Nearby metered and limited free parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Lomo Saltado!

If you had to take a wild guess, what do you think a restaurant's average lifespan is?

A 2018 USA Today article notes that most establishments typically only last for five years before shutting down, with 90 percent closing within 12 months of opening.

So, it says a lot that Los Balcones on Vine St. in Hollywood has kept its doors open for 14 years and counting, even expanding its footprint across two new locations — Studio City in November 2018 and DTLA later this year.

But succeeding at longevity doesn’t mean that this one-room Peruvian restaurant has remained unchanged over the years. In fact, it’s had at least three renovations. The latest one has brought in rich textured woods, soft lighting and a color palate that’s reflective of native Peruvian color schemes — lots of muted reds, browns, oranges and yellows.

It also means the menu has evolved over time. Two years ago, the restaurant took a seasonal approach, rotating out items each quarter. And now, since March 2019, Chef Michelangelo “Miguel” Aliaga (pictured below with me) has been involved, bringing his own distinctive touch to the forefront. Originally from northern Peru with 10 years of professional culinary experience in Italy, he’s artfully blending traditional Peruvian dishes with international influences.

“We’re trying to put the discipline of European technique with Peruvian cuisine — that is our mission,” Chef Aliaga explained to me when I stopped by, earlier this month. “It’s European techniques, but not the ingredients.”

Paying homage to this South American country means you’ll find choclo — a native Peruvian corn that has a very large kernel — infused in a variety of dishes, such as in the thinly sliced sea bass tiraditos, pictured below.

It also means many dishes are reminiscent of comfort food that’s traditionally found in Northern Peruvian households, including the Arroz con Pollo, pictured below. Crispy chicken confit, prepared the French way of slowly cooking meat, lays on a bed of cilantro rice. It's all topped with a chilled, zesty salsa criolla, which comprises spices, tomatoes, onions, peppers and sliced jalapeños.

And the ceviche, pictured below — a dish that actually originated in Peru (who knew?!) — is made how it would typically be within the country: massive chunks of seafood and sweet potato are topped with onions, peppers, lots of lime juice, and not surprisingly, choclo corn.

In the Lomo Saltado entrée, flavors of Peru and China artfully merge. Sautéed beef filet gets doused in an Asian lee kum kee oyster sauce, accompanied by rice, roasted tomatoes and a Peruvian staple — the potato (apparently, Peru has more than 3,000 different potato variations!) Thick Kennebec fries are served soft and dense on the inside, and lightly salted and crisp on the outside.

But Chef Aliaga isn’t saying out with the old, in with the new, completely. A few Los Balcones staples from before his time actually remain, including the Fried Brussels Sprouts, pictured below. I learned that apparently, there was such an uproar from diners when they were temporarily unavailable, that they were ushered right back onto the menu in no time. They're similar to how many places these days are preparing Brussels Sprouts — crispy and slightly sweet. Yet they have their own distinct flavor, thanks to the addition of crunchy peanuts and a tangy aji amarillo yogurt sauce.

Rounding out the menu is a variety of cocktails, ranging from the pisco sour, a popular Peruvian libation, to creative inventions, like the Tamarind & Smoke, with mezcal, Jarritos tamarind-flavored soda, tamarind syrup and a chili rim. Personally, I loved Los Balcones’ fruity take on a pisco sour, called the maracuya sour, pictured below. Passion fruit gets added to the classic blend of pisco — a.k.a. Peruvian brandy — frothy egg whites, simple syrup, bitters and lime juice.

So the next time you’re up for trying out Peruvian food and cocktails, head over to Los Balcones in Hollywood. You’ll get fantastic, filling dishes, all in a welcoming ambiance.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Disclosure: I received complimentary services; all views and opinions reflected are my own and not influenced by any other third-party sources.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Where to Be Merry: Soul of a Nation - "Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983" @ Broad Museum (Los Angeles)

The Merriment: A temporary art exhibition featuring the work of 60+ black artists, spanning two decades, from 1963 to 1983

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Educational, inspiring, thought-provoking, emotional

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), all ages

When-To-Go: Tuesday – Sunday (museum closed Mondays); FREE exhibition entry on Thursdays

The $$ Factor: $18, Adults; $12, Students with valid ID; Free for kiddies 17 and under

The Names behind the scenes: Artists including Betye Saar, David Hammons, Dawoud Bey, Roy DeCarava, Wadsworth Jarrell and so many more

The 4-1-1: General admission to the Broad Museum is free, but entrance into Soul of a Nation isn’t; purchase tickets in advance online to avoid lengthy lines to enter the museum! It’s also worth checking out the permanent exhibition on the top floor. There’s hundreds of art from famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and from other #WilsonsGuide favorites like Kerry James Marshall

Parking Situation: Nearby garage parking for a fee

I’ll Be Back…: For the jazz nights and gallery talks throughout the summer!

My invite for the grand opening of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983 exhibition at the Broad Museum on March 23 — which just so happened to have The Carters and Ava DuVernay attend — *clearly* got lost in the mail (hey, it happens). So even though I really wasn’t invited didn’t have the opportunity to see the exhibition when it first opened, I made it a priority to stop by, during a recent trip back down to L.A.

Located on the first floor of the Broad Museum in DTLA, Soul of a Nation gives us access to hundreds of pieces of artwork created by more than 60 black artists, spanning two decades, between 1963 and 1983. From black-and-white photographs to colorful collages, larger-than-life paintings and complex sculptures, all types of art — big, small, traditional, abstract and everything in between — grace the space. The exhibition’s layout is chronological, neatly arranged into 12 different rooms. Each room represents a particular artistic style, time period and/or geographical region(s). We begin our journey in the “Spiral” room, with artwork from the Spiral Group that formed in 1963, and we wrap up in the “Just Above Midtown” room, which touts artists who were part of the Just Above Midtown art gallery in NYC, during the ‘70s and ‘80s. Fortunately, you can revisit rooms along the way, in case you want to catch another glimpse of a particular piece.

Similar to how the mediums are quite diverse — from photos to oil paints — so too, are the various subjects that each artist focuses on. Artist Betye Saar pays reverent homages to spiritual rituals of ancestors while others like Wadsworth Jarrell proudly portray prominent leaders, like Malcolm X in his Black Prince portrait (1971). Even mundane moments in every day life and ordinary people are captured, such as Emma Amos’ oil-on-canvas depiction of Eva the Babysitter (1973). pictured below.

Many pieces evoke strong emotional feelings, as they highlight many of the injustices blacks endured throughout our country's history. Anger, shock and disbelief engulfed me, as I viewed the inhumane mistreatment of the man in David Hammons’ Injustice Case (1970) faces. He’s gagged and hands bound behind his back while sitting in a chair — exactly how Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale was handled during his 1969 trial. With pieces such as Black First, America Second (1970), pictured below, Hammons’ also has us considering how to construct our identity: why must one identity come before the other? Will this order ever change? Who decides when/if it does?

In addition to the variety of mediums and subject matters sourced, there’s also a variety of geographical locations represented, from Chicago to New York and Los Angeles.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the various rooms within the exhibition:
  • Spiral – Showcases artwork from the 15-member Spiral Group, formed in 1963, right before the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
  • Art on the Street – Has artwork such as magazine covers and collages, from artists involved in Chicago’s Organization of Black American Culture and from Oakland’s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
  • Figuring Black Power – Highlights works from the Black Arts Movement, which stemmed from the Black Power movement and originated in the northeast U.S., eventually spreading throughout the nation.
  • AfriCOBRA in Chicago – The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists — a.k.a., AfriCOBRA — was a Chicago-based artist collective focusing on the Black family, leveraging bright colors and incorporating text and mosaic-like shapes into its art. Below is Jarrell’s portrayal of Malcolm X, in Black Prince, that I previously referred to.

  • Black Light – Shows off brilliant black-and-white photographs from Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Kamoinge Workshop formed in 1963, and other photographers like Dawoud Bey. 
  • Los Angeles Assemblage – Includes sculptures made by various L.A. artists in the aftermath of the 1962 Nation of Islam Mosque police shooting and 1965 Watts Rebellion.
  • Three Graphic Artists – Reveals the works of Charles White, David Hammons and Timothy Washington, initially shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • East Coast Abstraction – Reveres artists hailing from New York City and Washington, D.C. like Ed Clark and William T. Williams, who focused on abstract painting in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
  • Black Portraits – Displays artists who intentionally depicted portraits of Black Americans, from all walks of life. This was probably my favorite room, which includes one of my favorites, Barkley Hendricks’ What’s Going On (1974), which is a direct response to the Marvin Gaye song with the same name.

  • Improvisation and Experimentation – Follows the evolution of abstract art in the early 1970s, which included incorporating mixed media techniques by artists like Alma Thomas.
  • Betye Saar – Presents three-dimensional pieces by the L.A.-based artist Betye Saar, who blends technology and historic items within her art.
  • Just Above Midtown – Features works from this nonprofit art gallery that operated in the ‘70s and ‘80s to support and amplify contemporary Black artists’ works.
All in all, Soul of a Nation captures a multitude of interpretations of the black experience not only during these two decades, but also from past centuries and even the potential future. It’s interesting how so many of these pieces feel are so incredibly timeless and still relatable to this day, sometimes unfortunately so. For example, as depicted in Benny Andrews' Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree (1969), aren't we still fighting our country for basic rights such as equality? 

So the next time you’re looking to dive into art for a few hours, learning more about black experiences captured in incredible, creative ways and the rise of black artistry throughout the '60s through '80s, stop by this beautiful exhibition. But don’t wait too long; Soul of a Nation is only here for a few more months, until September 1, 2019.

See you there soon!

For more information:

What's going on is sourced from The Atlantic