Los Angeles

April 1, 2010

Tim Street Porter - Los Angeles cover

Tim Street Porter


I had lunch with friends Tim Street Porter and Annie Kelly in their very Hollywood house, once owned by Adrian who dressed big stars such as Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo. Tim must be one of the best architectural photographers in the world and you can read a recent story on him in American Photography here. Separately and together they have worked on many projects, such as Rooms to Inspire in the City  


Tim Street Porter - Rooms to Inspire in the City   

More on Annie Kelly’s work can be found here.  

Another guest at lunch, Michael Duncan, a highly regarded curator and writer for the magazine Art in America, is now NOT coming to the Biennale of Sydney (opening next month) over some ridiculous mix up.   

A Lion Called Christian - US paperback 2010

A Lion Called Christian - US paperback 2010


I think this is my favourite cover – out of about 8! Although I just love the Scrapbook, and it is my favourite present to anyone regardless of age and they aren’t expected to read it out of duty.We had an extensive radio tour this time, compared to the television tour last year, and I wanted to be in Los Angeles for mine – one day I did 11 straight interviews. People are still very interested in Christian’s story. I visited bookshops and signed copies. I am always surprised and grateful that people ask such positive questions and don’t ever admonish us for the risks we took.  

I was staying at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in West Hollywood where many people in the music industry stay and I loved it. It was the first days of spring and sunshine, and all the girls looked SO slim – and the men pumped up and fresh from the gym. Many had miniature dogs in harnesses that were taken everywhere, or walking with the owners who were usually on the phone. There seemed to be pet boutiques every block.  

 This contrasted with more empty buildings and more homeless on the streets of LA than last year and apparently there are 33% more homeless this year in New York. I’d finally read The Road on the flight over, and with the GFC and a mild earthquake while I was there, as I skirted various people on the pavement I thought chillingly “there but for the grace of God go I” and how unresourceful I’d be in a disaster or an emergency.  

Apparently many families are finding it hard to feed their pets, and if it is a choice between animals or food on the table, pets are the first casualty. Organisations have evolved which are actually providing food to animals in homes to prevent them going to shelters.  

Barack Obama was wrestling with the Health Bill which is now signed, and even if flawed and compromised, it is a truly historic event that he will always be remembered for. Thirty million Americans have been unprotected by a ‘safety net’. I was surprised so many Americans resent so strongly helping the less well off, or sharing the benefits of a wealthy society, and Obama out-manoeuvred them brilliantly. 


I felt very fortunate with our national health scheme in Australia.  

Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move is challenging grocery manufacturers to rethink their products and how they are marketed to children, and encouraging healthy eating. Products in general need to be much more accurately labelled, especially in relation to products that contain palm oil as their plantations are eliminating animal habitats.  

Similar to Australia, two thirds of adults and one third of children are obese or overweight. And most 8 to 18 year olds spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day multitasking in front of TVs, videogames or computers. Unfortunately many live in neighbourhoods where it is unsafe to run around outside and exercise.  

I always love visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I enjoyed the exhibition American Stories – everyday life in paintings up to 1915. I wondered what images one would use to tell an Australian story? There were marvelous new acquisitions of Pacific art. There is not very much Australian Aboriginal art in public American institutions although the 3 largest private collectors of Aboriginal art have been American – Kelton, Kluge and Kahn. There were extraordinary examples of South East Asian sculptures and carvings, and I was immediately drawn to an exquisite female Hindu deity, with the most simple and elegant shape. I read it had come from Angkor Wat where I had been just a few months ago, and it suddenly seemed stolen, and poignantly a long way from home. There was also a comprehensive exhibition by Joseph Beuys, and not to forget the Picassos, Giocomettis and Brancusis.  

I finally visited the Getty Centre on top of the hill. It is fabulous site with spectacular views of LA. Of course it is the wealthiest art institution in the world, and impossible to compete with at auction. I was reminded that the collection was originally a personal collection and I imagined J. Paul Getty buying originally for his palatial Sutton Place mansion in the UK – the sort of paintings (like Gainsborough), decorative furniture and objects and stunning 17th century tapestries one would like to live grandly with if one was nouveaux riche (exceptionally). I was too dazzled by the opulent Louis 14th gold but loved especially the extraordinary medieval texts.  

The architecture by Richard Meier was a series of not large pavilions which again for me reinforced the idea of a personal collection rather than a public gallery collection. I was reading Nicolas Rothwell’s The Red Highway, primarily about the extraordinary people that have been attracted by the Australian deserts, and where the first chapter deals with one of the first major collectors of Aboriginal art. The bark paintings Karel Kupka collected from the Northern Territory in the late 1940s and 1950s are now hanging in the Musee Quai Branly in Paris. Rothwell said “He was also in the grip of an urge that gained a stronger hold on him with every day: it was the collector’s disease, that unsleeping impulse to acquire, to classify, to create a microcosm where order and pattern can be shored up against the world”.  

Frederick H Evans - Ancient crypt cellars in Provins, France 1910

Frederick H Evans - Ancient crypt cellars in Provins, France 1910


The Getty also has a huge photography collection and on exhibition were photographs from the 1890s by Frederick H. Evans. He was well known for his serene and beautifully composed photographs of cloisters and cathedrals, and portraits of friends such as Aubrey Beardsley and GB Shaw. He also photographed the 15th century house of William Morris.   

Haile Selassie I with lion

Haile Selassie I with lion


Talking to an Ethiopian staff member at my hotel, as lions were on my mind, into my head popped Emporer Haile Selassie and I said, “What do you know about the Conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah?” He said “Well, he was my great uncle”!!!   

Naturally I was totally fascinated, and Solomon Selassie told me up to 20 lions lived in the Palace and the gardens and foreign dignitaries were often met at the airport by a lion greeting them on the tarmac and no doubt were often terrified.   

Imagine having a family lineage that traditionally goes back 3000 years to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? After tumultuous events in the 1970s, including a coup d’etat, family members lost their lives while others scattered around the world, although Solomon’s father still lives in Ethiopia.   

Reading the LA Times one day was depressing: there has been a surge in brutal poaching in Zimbabwe and South Africa (which makes the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust breeding program with rhinos even more important); a sign of things to come where tanker owners in Karachi, Pakistan were siphoning off as much as 41% of the water supply and selling it off at a profit; and a top official of the UN Wildlife Agency at a 175 nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species said tigers were on the verge of extinction and where 20 years ago 100,000 tigers were in Asia, now only 3,200 remain in the wild. Also at this convention a ban on the export of Atlantic blue fin tuna fishing (stocks are down 70%) was voted down, and I am ashamed to say, it was not supported by Australia.   

As my shocking clothes from the late 1960s and early 1970s have been seen and laughed at internationally, I can’t decide if I should – or should not, talk about clothes! In my defense, we were encouraged and instructed to look very “Kings Road” and not to cut our hair for the two documentaries made about Christian. That look, especially “Carnaby Street”, was thankfully coming to an end and by then I was coveting the extremely smart menswear that YSL designed at the time. Having grown up in straight suburban Australia, it had been a relief to break out, although I still cringe at what I wore at university – yes, shorts and long white socks. Although I am an art curator, supposedly with “a good eye”, I have obviously no clothes sense. Over the years I have settled for a black and white “uniform” – jackets over a white T-shirt or shirt and often with jeans. But I love shopping in America and in LA I quite quickly found myself at Barneys New York as the clothes from all the major designers are there. I think if it is by a good designer I stand a better chance of buying something that suits me… although I envy friends who are naturally stylish and can go to St Vincent de Paul or opportunity shops and buy something great for practically nothing!   

Prada is always interesting and expensive. Yoji Yamamoto was just sensational and so imaginative again, but too chicly attention getting for me. Neil Barratt always surprises me with how good he is, and I wonder ‘who is he?’ and why isn’t he better known – or is he? Last year I was fascinated by the delicacy and fineness of Balenciaga and I didn’t even know he made men’s clothes – but you would have to be young, thin, pretty and either rich or kept! Armani had the best for someone like me (60+)… but the suits and handsome jackets were expensive enough for me to resist. I didn’t even go into BOSS – a bit of an addiction that was noticed by my companions last year in the States, but I did run into GAP at The Grove to stock up on T-shirts etc. 

Before flying home I went to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico for the weekend and it was most attractive.  When I was still at school I loved the film Night of the Iguana with Ava Gardner and Richard Burton and others. It was my first introduction to the transgressive world of Tennessee Williams. I was going to make a pilgrimage to the site as it was made nearby – you can’t visit the house, and I didn’t bother – I just relaxed – the water, beaches and surrounding hills are beautiful. Development, locals and foreigners seemingly mix well. Some Americans were so old, escaping the cold winter… it was inspiring. I found the place more Suddenly Last Summer… 


Houdini the cat - Craig Anderson

Craig Anderson's Houdini. Photograph by Tim Gadd


I’ve been enjoying reading the comments and suggestions and hope to respond appropriately in time. I’d love this blog to be more dialogue than monologue! I especially appreciated Craig Anderson’s response to the Late February post about Christian and Kimba the White Lion. Christian is indeed an “ambassador” between humans and animals, and we all do have “the capacity to be an agent for greater awareness and thus change for the better”. I loved Craig’s cat Houdini’s story (Early March) and what a good example of the joy an animal can give – and that he rescued him from a shelter. I do think Craig could have introduced him to the already resident cat Lucky a little more tactfully! I cried over his friend the squirrel’s farewell, and losing him.