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LA/LA Land: ¡Pá rriba! in an art museum

I am not much for art museums.  I am in no way anti-art; it’s just that walking around in white-walled rooms looking at drawings or sculptures or even installations eventually puts me to sleep.  I like my art loud and moving, preferably with a guitar and drums. So I was a bit hesitant about the invitation I got to the Hammer Museum near UCLA Friday night for the opening of Radical Women: Latin American art, 1960 -1985, a three and half month- long program of paintings, drawings, videos, discussions, and installations by Latinas.  What attracted me was the music element, Latinas Out Loud”: ¡Pá rriba! that opened the exhibition. I expected a short set of songs, a lecture about the artwork, and then background music.

How wrong I was! Next time I will pay more attention to the Spanish. ¡Pá rriba! means “Get up!” and that is what I and several hundred of my closest friends did in between stops at the two large and fully-stocked bars and the food trucks dispensing Korean bulgogi and other delights. The Hammer is not your father’s art museum and I was never sleepy.

The Hammer Museum, known in LA as “The Hammer,” is a blocky edifice that could be an office building.  Other than the word “Hammer” on the side in large letters it is pretty much like the office towers around it. Opened free to the public in 1990, The Hammer was founded by Dr. Armand Hammer, the late Chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corporation for his collections of old masters plus traveling exhibitions. Four years later everything changed. UCLA took over management and operations of the museum and launched programs that encompassed the entire Los Angeles Community with film, theater, music, and dance as well as static art.  Latinas Out Loud is part of The Hammer’s involvement in the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA art extravaganza and the museum’s programmers held nothing back. The music and the art were loud and full of Latinas with attitude.

The Hammer is built around a spacious internal courtyard used for sculpture, playful art or just plain contemplation.  Friday night it was a venue. At one end were a full-scale stage and first-class light and sound setup, a very hot DJ – The Chulíta Vinyl Club – and full light and soundboards and computers staffed by three people, augmented by another nine guys and gals working back and onstage. Two massive bars had been set up with multiple bartenders shaking and serving like the pros they were. At the back end of the courtyard were glass doors that led out to food trucks parked along the curb. Plus, all the galleries upstairs and around the courtyard were open and well-attended. Now, that is how an art museum should roll.

But it was the music that blew me away.  This was a full concert, not an adjunct to the galleries. It kicked off with Sister Mantos, the wild LA-based psychedelic improvisational funk, punk, pop Latin dance band founded by performance artist Oscar Miguel Santos. The nine-piece band belted out lyrics of female and queer empowerment in English and Spanish with beats that did exactly what the posters said –¡Párriba! – got us on our feet. Song after song rolled off the stage with singing, clapping shouting and most of all dancing that turned the courtyard into a noisy writhing mass that itself could have been a dynamic art installation.

It took a half hour to reset the stage for Lido Pimienta, but the Chulita Vinyl Club turntables kept rolling and the crowd kept dancing, even while they waited at the bars or the food trucks or wandered the art galleries.  It was a three-story party. Young museum volunteers roamed the floor signing up new members and a museum information table was crowded with bowls of free buttons from bands and local organizations and music posters.

When the courtyard lights came down, signaling the next act, the art lovers drifted out of the galleries to the catwalks over the courtyard and stage and the writing mass reassembled itself from the bar and food trucks and tables to the dance floor in front of the stage. They knew what was coming.

What was coming was Lido Pimiento, a small hurricane of music, anger, joy, humor, and audience love. Encased in a silver hoodie suit over black and white prison stripe wide pants, she strolled onto an empty stage chanting Spanish. She moved to stage front center stage where a voice-control pedal box allowed her to distort, modulate and multiply her bell-clear voice. Her band – a drummer, a synth controller, and a female dancer, came out behind her and began building a wall of synth and percussion while the dancer undulated to the lyrics, alternating between Spanish and English, singing the praises of women.

What followed was part bilingual performance art, part rap, part opera, part synth-punk, part stand-up comedy, part political statement (“you don’t understand Spanish and you live in Los Angeles? – get with the program!”). She moved constantly, backing up across the stage, sauntering over to the synth table and adjusting the controls, leaping, spinning and hopping. She moved to the edge of the stage and reached into an adoring audience, slapping hands and stopping for photos, then charging to the other side and putting her foot on a monitor in a classic rock pose. At some point, Lido shed the silver suit to reveal the striped pants, a brilliant flowered shirt, red track shoes and pigtails tied off of with huge flowers. She was joined onstage for a back and forth duet by Francisca Valenzuela, the Latin Grammy-nominated American-born Chilean singer, poet, and multi-instrumentalist and platinum recording star.

The beer, wine, and tequila flowed. The lights flashed and strobed and most of downtown Westwood echoes with Latin rock, punk, funk, and people – including me – looked at great art. I can hardly wait for the next art opening at the Hammer.  I will be ready to ¡Pá rriba!

Until next time – catch up on all La/La Land!

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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