Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

In early March, just as case numbers and mask requirements were dropping, the New York Times editorial board published an opinion piece titled “Why New York Needs a Covid Memorial.” City and citizens, the op-ed argued, would be stronger if it could “confront its grief instead of trying to outrun it.” The authors were necessarily hazy about shape and size, style and site, but particular about the need for a place for people to gather and mourn.

In year three of the pandemic, the United States is just shy of a million COVID-related deaths. Global deaths are six times that number, with each data point representing an individual with a constellation of loved ones, friends, co-workers left behind. Clearly, there’s a need to honor the dead. But when and how? Read More …

We generally want to interpret contemporary art museums in good faith—not as mausoleums of wealth, but as open, accessible places, removed from the vicissitude of the market and designed to produce an experience, foster education, and nurture communion with art. The recently reopened Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) in La Jolla checks all those boxes, even adding a gentle Pacific breeze and the sound of crashing breakers. Yet the $105 million renovation and expansion gives off monied vibes, accommodating a mushrooming collection and driven by the ambitions of the museum board.

Low-slung on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and conservatively clad in travertine panels, the expanded Joan and Irwin Jacobs Building, by New York-based Selldorf Architects, greets visitors with a pavilion-like entry shaded by a massive Mission fig tree. Maybe it’s the glass and aluminum storefront facade, or the gift shop positioned to the right of the ticketing desk, but the details smack of high-end retail. The vibe: minimalist, tasteful, functional. In short, everything that Venturi Scott Brown and Associates’ (VSBA) weird, whimsically vaulted Postmodernist lobby is not.

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Sesshu Foster and Arturo Ernesto Romo are authors of ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines. A surrealist history that flows backwards and forwards in time, their novel tells a utopian story about airships and revolution—including how groups like the East LA Balloon Club and the Bessie Coleman Aero Club were hard at work to revolutionize travel, with an aim to literally lift oppressed people out of racism and poverty. The text, a series overlapping narratives and imagined artifacts, grew out of a long collaboration between Foster and Romo and is accompanied by drawings, collages, and photographs.

Based in Alhambra, CA, Foster is an award-winning writer. He taught composition and literature in East L.A. for over 20 years, and at the University of Iowa, the California Institute for the Arts, and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Romo was born and lives in Los Angeles. His artwork, mostly collaborative mixed media works and drawing, has been circulated internationally.

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Oakland-based artist Sadie Barnette makes work that is born from her family history — a narrative that is both intensely personal and speaks to a legacy of resistance and opposing societal conditions of racism. Her father, Rodney Barnette, is the subject of much of her work. He was an activist, a member of the Black Panther Party, and later the proprietor of the first Black-owned gay bar in San Francisco. Sadie Barnette’s artworks recontextualize and reimagine these histories, working hundreds of pages of FBI reports into liberatory acts and fantastical objects.

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Santa Monica City Hall East deceives with its clean-cut appearance. Sleek and boxy, like a midcentury office building, it features a facade that’s tailored like a gray flannel suit. But the 50,200-square-foot companion to the city’s 1939 Art Deco City Hall is no paper pusher. Behind a bureaucratic exterior lurks a bohemian sensibility and a suite of high-performance green-building systems—including the old countercultural staple: composting toilets.
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Nearly a decade in the making, its opening pushed back by the pandemic, M+ finally greeted Hong Kong last week. The billboard-like façade of the 700,000-square-foot art museum, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, lit up the budding skyline of the West Kowloon Cultural District with a wall of 5,664 LED tubes. Blue, red, and green from the institution’s logo made watery stripes in Victoria Harbor. Read More …

It’s difficult to think of a building renovation as a riposte. Acts of conservation are generally considered and well-mannered. Conservative by design. And while the newly refreshed Denver Art Museum illustrates such polite attributes, its updates by Machado Silvetti Associates and Fentress Architects are also a sly rebuttal to the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 addition to the museum campus. After years of being thought of as difficult and inhospitable, Gio Ponti’s Lanny & Sharon Martin Building (formerly known as the North Building) is finally pushing back.

When it opened in 2006, Libeskind’s flashy architecture drew attention away from Ponti’s brooding 1971 edifice. Then, in the heady years of the Bilbao Effect’s gestural and populist expressions, the Italian architect’s design was deemed a citadel. Closed off from the city, a bit musty inside, it was branded a bastion of high art at a moment when museum directors, mayors, and developers preached openness.

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Genoese architect Renzo Piano would prefer it if you didn’t call the imperial sphere that his firm, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), realized for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures “the Death Star.” Indeed, the Star Warsreference is too on-the-nose for a bulbous structure meant to celebrate Hollywood history. Too self-referential even for an industry that loves a reboot. As if the architecture itself might break the fourth wall and mug for the camera, begging to be blown to smithereens in next year’s biggest blockbuster.

“Call it a dirigible, a zeppelin,” Renzo Piano said correctively to the press ensconced in the plush, red-carpet red, 1,000-seat Geffen Theater, snug in the belly of the monumental vessel (surround sound courtesy of Dolby). Better yet to refer to the 26-million-pound precast concrete, steel, and glass addition to the landmarked May Company building as he does: “a soap bubble.” Read More …

For the Audrey Irmas Pavilion at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Rabbi Steve Leder, senior rabbi of the Los Angeles synagogue, commissioned Rem Koolhaas and Shohei Shigematsu to design a mezuzah to grace the doorways of the new 55,000-square-foot building, a cockeyed honeycomb caught between the historic temple and Brutalist St. Basil Church. As this was OMA’s first religious structure and first mezuzah, neither architect was particularly familiar with the ritual object: a reliclike enclosure for a small scroll inscribed with a prayer. They set about fabricating a design from colored resin and aluminum foam, a material familiar to the office and used to great effect at Fondazione Prada in Milan. Read More …

What is the aesthetic of nothing? Not in terms of a meditation on minimalism, or the luxury of pared-down colour palettes and clean lines, but nothing itself. How do you design with the fewest possible resources for those who have so little and need so much?

This question rumbles in my head as I get off the 134 Freeway and drive wide, San Fernando Valley boulevards lined with new condo buildings on my way to the Chandler Boulevard Bridge Home Village in North Hollywood – 39 white, red, blue, and yellow tiny homes for the unhoused on a sliver of land between a metro rail line and a busy street. It’s not much of a site, a stingy slice of previously undeveloped municipal property in a sprawling city, but to those who live there it is everything. And it is also nothing. Read More …