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Mosaic Mansion, steps

Dear DNA friends,

I hope you are doing well.

I have recently had several encounters with Angelenos driven by obsession. This past Saturday I was at an event at the Mosaic Mansion, the Mediterranean-style house in the hills whose owner George Ehling spent 47 years cladding the entire building, inside and out, in tile. By all accounts, never a day went by when he did not add some tiles – old, new, patterned, decorated with images from religion, nature, geometry; shiny, matt, smooth, rough –– until he finished the job and soon thereafter died.

A week before, I attended a ceremony to mark the completion of the current phase of Bending The River, the project by environmental artist Lauren Bon and her team at Metabolic Studio to pipe water from the channelized LA River to the Cornfield, now the Los Angeles State Historic Park. Building on her previous artwork Not A Cornfield –– in which she planted the entire park with corn –– she has spent 11 years working to redirect some low flow water through pipes buried into the river. In addition to the engineering which involved removing huge chunks of concrete, Bending The River necessitated getting 80 permits from 27 government agencies, with many more to come. As anyone who has tried to pull a permit knows, getting one is an accomplishment.

This past Sunday I went to the Academy Museum to see the Pope of Trash show honoring the marvelous John Waters (another obsessive; see more below in Design Things to Do) and while there gawped at the scaffolding and emerging structure of the LACMA expansion, now wending its way across Wilshire Boulevard. The jury is out as to whether the completed building will warrant the upset and effort it has taken to get here (the most recent glitch is cost overruns caused by doubling the foundations on finding "soft soil" at the site right next to the tar pits). But the fact that it is under construction now is due to the unflinching determination of Michael Govan, who made rebuilding the campus with the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor his personal goal, on becoming LACMA director in 2006.

Mad obsessives can of course at times be dangerous, but driven people are also wildly inspiring –– think Simon Rodia, builder of the Watts Towers, or Ted Ngoy, the donut king –– and I’ve always felt that LA had a disproportionate number of them, thanks to its role as a boom town, a dream town, a laissez-faire place to come and fulfill a quest, with plenty of cheap land and open space in which to do so. 

So it was with interest that I read recent analyses of population projections for the state of California, which are set to decline by 2060, due to factors including outmigration. According to, “the real loser is Los Angeles County, where the population is projected to drop from 10,013,000 in 2020 to 8,284,000 in 2060, a loss of 1,729,000. The last time Los Angeles County had this few residents was in 1985.” In this explainer, the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 34% of Californians say they are considering moving out of the state due to housing costs, and by 2060, adults 65+ are projected to make up a larger share of most CA counties.

What this means is that California is becoming a gerontocracy, and I wonder what will become of the Golden State when it is the Gray State. Will there be room for the dreamers, the adventurers, the obsessives? If this matters to people, then we have to think beyond current, localized fights about development and figure out a path to a future with room for middle-income earners and young households that currently have no place to go but elsewhere. (Stay tuned for more from me on "missing middle" housing.)

car being watered at Metabolic Studio, IMG_5581 copyFlower-filled car at the entrance to Metabolic Studio; Photo: Robin Bennett Stein

Come on out with KCRW and the Autrey!

Design Things To Do

Modeling Sound:
An Evening of Music and Conversation with Frank Gehry and Esa-Pekka Salonen
Walt Disney Concert Hall, October 24, 8 PM
And Sculpting Harmony
Walt Disney Concert Hall, through October 29
It’s hard to believe that the Walt Disney Concert Hall has turned 20 –– especially after a long road to realize the building that began when the architect Frank Gehry was selected from a shortlist in the late 1980s. As you can see from the image below of the model made by his office then, the early concept was quite different from the final design. It was conceived before the advent of the CATIA 3D CAD design software that Gehry deployed so innovatively to create the wavy-walled building we see today.

Gehry himself shows no sign of taking it easy as he wraps a month of celebrations with a conversation this Tuesday night with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Tickets are still available for an evening of music and reflections, “that tell the story of the Hall’s creation and demonstrate its perfect union of space and sound.” It will be moderated by the Getty Research Institute’s Senior Curator and Head of Architectural Collections Maristella Casciato. All general admission seats are $10.

Click here for tickets.  

You can also see, on show in the BP Hall at WDCH, six of the models made as the design evolved. Also on display, online: Sculpting Harmony, a digital exhibition, featuring more than 150 models, sketches, and archival photographs documenting the concert hall’s development.  

Click here for information.

WDCH early model
Presentation model for Walt Disney Concert Hall competition, 1988

Pictures in the Garden
Show of works by Matt Wedel
L.A. Louver gallery
Opening Reception, Wednesday, 25 October, 6 - 8 PM
Hot off a recent group show of art depicting flowers, L.A. Louver gallery opens a solo show by painter/ceramicist Matt Wedel. Wedel's sixth show at the Venice gallery includes gouaches from his recent Potted Plant series “that use botanical forms to inquire into explorations of color and form” and from his new Flower Tree (Hawaii) series, made during a two-part residency with the Honolulu Museum of Art, where he captured a variety of flora on the island of O'ahu. Though made before the recent wildfires that devastated Maui Island, which is east of O'ahu, the gallery says these works “take on a new poignancy that highlight ideas of environmental balance and fragility.” In our age of climate anxiety, the once gentle art of flower painting becomes a clarion call.

Click here for details.

Pomegranate Tree, by Matt Wedel, image courtesy L.A. Louver-1Matt Wedel / Potted Plant, 2017 / gouache on paper / Image courtesy L.A. Louver

Art in the Garden
Chris Wolston at Bel-Air Hotel
Wednesday, October 25, 2023 – February 15, 2024
Speaking of art about gardens, here is some flower-inspired art in the garden. And not just any garden, but the lush Hotel Bel-Air.

There you can find a site-specific outdoor exhibition of functional art by Chris Wolston, who "explores craft traditions, materiality, and symbolism" in chairs, lighting, and receptacles that are full of whimsy –– like his Nalgona chairs with anthropomorphic arms and legs – as well as delight in the flora and fauna found in Wolston’s part-time home, Medellin, Columbia, a country that unfortunately became better known for its coca crops than for its abundant flowers.

The show was produced in partnership with the bi-coastal design gallery The Future Perfect, and curated by the hotel’s art curator James Hedges, who recently told Rodeo Drive: The Podcast, “the experience of going to a white cube kind of art gallery that is austere and unwelcoming is not as great as… walking through the gardens of the Hotel Bel-Air…That's a better way to experience art.”

Click here for details.

Gingersita chair, chris wolstonChris Wolston, Gingersita Chair, photo by David Sierra, courtesy of the artist and The Future Perfect 

The Great Wall of Los Angeles
LACMA, Resnick Pavilion
Commencing Thursday, October 26
In 1975 Chicana artist Judy Baca and “80 youths referred by the criminal justice department, ten artists and five historians," started painting narratives of California history from the dinosaurs to 1910, on 1,000 feet of the Tujunga Wash drainage canal in the San Fernando Valley. Since then Baca and over 400 young painters have added more decades to experiences to The Great Wall, which now totals 2,754 feet and is a monument to the people of California, "from the perspective of those erased from its history."

Now the next stage is underway and you don’t have to go to the river to witness it. Starting this Thursday, Baca and artists from her Social and Public Art Resource Center will paint two sections of the mural at LACMA. This coincides with a show of murals from the 1960s depicting the Chicano Movement, Watts Renaissance, and archival materials revealing Baca’s process. The new panels will eventually be added to the existing monumental The Great Wall, creating a mile of visual history.

Click here for details.

Great Wall, 50s_teamThe team that painted the 1950s section of the Great Wall. Image courtesy SPARC.

John Waters: Pope of Trash
Academy Museum
Through August 4, 2024
Screenings: Pecker with Cry Baby
Thursday, October 26, 7:30 PM
Cecil B. Demented with A Dirty Shame
Saturday, October 28, 7:30 PM
If you are at LACMA, and if you have not yet seen the Academy Museum’s exhibition  John Waters: Pope of Trash, about the life and work of the visionary film director, raconteur, bon vivant, provocateur, memoirist and novelist, make sure to stop by –– unless you are offended by bad taste jokes and camp humor at the expense of the Catholic church and postwar, middle-American morality.

It is a joy to see the costumes, read Waters' handwritten scripts, and learn about the Baltimore friends, including of course Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead), who routinely acted in, and worked on the design and production of, now-classics like Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), and Hairspray (1988).

The museum has been screening his movies and the series ends this week with the adorable Cry Baby (starring a winsome young Johnny Depp) and A Dirty Shame (2004).

Click here for details.

Set pieces from Pope of Trash, IMG_3765 copy-1Costumes from Hairspray, at the Academy Museum. Photo by Frances Anderton

Gower Mausoleum and Columbarium
Friday, October 27, 12:00 PM (Noon)
Even cemeteries have to go high-rise. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the eternal resting place for stars including Judy Garland, Rudolph Valentino, and Tyrone Power, and a backdrop in numerous movies and novels, is now so popular as a cultural venue you could almost forget people still get buried there. But they do and now the owners need more space. So the architects Lehrer Architects LA with Roberto Sheinberg Arquitectura y Diseño have designed the Gower Mausoleum and Columbarium, now nearing completion and open for a tour this Friday. 

The cemetery was opened in 1899, when there was room for flowing lawns and classical statuary. Tomorrow’s deceased will be placed into a five-story structure made of cast-in-place concrete modules (that bring to mind the work of the Italian architect Giuseppe Terragni). 

Hosted by the AIA/LA, the tour will be led by Sheinberg, Lehrer, and Tyler Cassity, co-owner and President of Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

The tour takes place one day before the cemetery's famed Dia De Los Muertos, so visitors may catch glimpses of stunning ofrendas being prepared.

Click here for tickets.

Hollywood-Forever-976-x-706The new mausoleum arises. Photo courtesy Roberto Sheinberg

Untapped: Print Launch + Performance
Marta, 3021 Rowena Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90039
Friday, October 27, 2023, 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
The design company Henrybuilt issues a publication about ideas called Untapped. This Friday it will launch a print edition, with a party at Marta, the highly curated furniture and art gallery currently showing the exhibition No Life, by Kristen Wentrcek and Andrew Zebulon. The founders of Marta, Benjamin Critton and Heidi Korsavong, are featured in the publication along with architect Amin Taha, neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee, and artist Roy McMakin, as well as reflections from writers Glenn Adamson, Edwin Heathcote, and Alexandra Lange.

Capping the event is a performance by thereminist Armen Ra. Do you know what a "thereminist" is? I look forward to finding out and hope to see you there.

Click here for details. 

Marta, No Life, z72-4000-hires-1800xNo Life, by artists Kristen Wentrcek & Andrew Zebulon. Image courtesy Marta.

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What I'm Digging

The no-brand big bookstore

Having recently got the good news about the return to our neighborhood of a Barnes & Noble store that closed in 2018, I was intrigued to read this story about the chain’s efforts to appear not like a chain, through makeovers devoid of a uniform identity. The change comes since B&N was acquired by the owner of British book behemoth Waterstones, and the head of both companies, James Daunt, “is pushing the chain to act more like the indie stores it was once notorious for displacing.” Interesting.

Bad Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny the singer doesn’t quite ring my bell, but Bad Bunny the comedian, now that’s something else. Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio was hilarious on this SNL as a crazed Spanish king, an overprotective aunt, and a naughty nun, among several other cameos. He was so good in drag, he could star in a John Waters movie.

Annie Philbin, Appreciated

Sad to learn that Ann “Annie” Philbin will leave the institution that she so carefully transformed into an LA art powerhouse, without ever demanding the spotlight herself. But happy to read this appreciation by Christopher Knight, and to visit the museum right now, where, in the 6th iteration of Made in L.A. 2023: Acts of Living, you can see the fruits of her 25-year commitment –– to seeking out and centering regional artists, to programming with a keen sense of social justice, and to transforming the once unprepossessing location through a multi-phase makeover by architect Michael Maltzan that is now so welcoming with its street-facing lobby and its multi-tiered inner court.

Ishi Glinsky’s “Inertia — Warn the Animals, 2023, IMG_5662Ishi Glinsky’s “Inertia — Warn the Animals,” 2023, Made in L.A. 2023. Photo: Robin Bennett Stein

With Annie's departure, I conclude where I began, celebrating the passionate Angelenos who make this place so consistently fascinating.

Happy Halloween!

Thank you so much for reading this week's newsletter.

Yours as always,


PS. Subscribe to the newsletter here, get back issues here, and reach out to me on

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