I made it out to Forest Lawn for the opening of Grand Views – The Immersive World of Panoramas which mashes up the history of the Panorama form with the history of the cemetery’s monumental Jan Styka Crucifixion and Robert Clark Resurrection paintings and the more recent history of L.A.’s Velaslavasy Panorama, which has grown into an international hub of idiosyncratic creativity. I’m a lazy sod, so I didn’t get any photos, and I’m not going to do any new commentary (apart from what you’re reading at this very moment) but I did capture this remarkable transitional moment following the opening remarks, and dug out a piece I wrote on the original iteration of the Velaslavasy Panorama before it relocated to West Adams.

“Mimicking the sheer unlikeliness of the [Museum of] Jurassic [Technology] — a pocket of 19th-century cultural anachronism in the middle of a crumbling, sun-blasted commercial neighborhood — the Velaslavasay Panorama sits hunched among the palm trees of Hollywood Boulevard like a UFO with its cultural cloaking device stuck on the wrong era. From the outside, it‘s ’50s tiki-tecture, namely the Tswuun-Tswuun Rotunda, a former Chinese restaurant slightly east of the Walk of Fame, slightly west of the giant hot-dog sculpture next to Le Sex Shoppe.

Inside, it‘s a curious hybrid of pre-modern pop-cultural re-creation and postmodern painting practice. Artist and proprietress (and former Jurassic intern) Sara Velas’ “360-degree marvel” is a revival of a mostly forgotten precursor to cinema — particularly CinemaScope and IMAX. Patented by Robert Barker in 1787 as “an entire new contrivance or apparatus, which I call La Nature a Coup d‘Oeil, for the purpose of displaying views of Nature at large by Oil Painting, Fresco, Water Colours, Crayons or any other mode of painting or drawing,” the panorama, as it came to be known, took on many forms but always boiled down to the use of a painted, illusionistic vista that stretched past the viewer’s peripheral vision, often to form a complete cylinder.

A small industry grew up around this form of entertainment, and many of the hundreds of buildings devoted to panoramas were outfitted for elaborate theatrical displays, including music, narration, sound effects, special lighting and projected magic-lantern slides. A panorama built for the Paris Fair of 1900 re-created a railway voyage from Moscow to Peking in 45 minutes, using ultrarealistic luxury railcars as the theater and four concentric bands of painted scenery, each more gigantic than the last, which spun past at different speeds to simulate the parallax view, at up to 1,000 feet per minute.

In some ways, Velas is more of a purist, using only the single-cylinder format and judiciously dimmed recessed lighting to create her immersive simulation. But touches of less than academically anal fidelity to historical accuracy in many aspects of the presentation queer the deadpan museological pitch of her panorama, opening the discussion to contemporary critical fascination with this particular piece of obsolete virtual-reality technology (beginning with Walter Benjamin) and to the imprint of the artist, whose original chosen medium — Velas studied painting with Sabina Ott in St. Louis — often requires elaborate conceptual framing to buttress its currency.

The painting itself is fluid and sketchy, a landscape of the Los Angeles basin as it might have appeared 150 to 200 years ago, at the height of the original panoramania. The Panorama of the Valley of the Smokes is well-painted in a way that serves its primary illusionistic function, but there is no attempt to re-create the style of the era. Sketched-in pencil marks showing through hazy washes, roughly impastoed daubs of paint representing foreground blossoms, and a general fuzziness of detail constitute an impressionistic take on reality that would have scandalized paying customers 150 years ago.

But early on in its evolution, the panorama was already sensational — the moral equivalent of Sensurround — and the reduction in stimuli between bustling Hollywood Boulevard and the serene, low-impact Velaslavasay Panorama environment is jarring in an inverse way to its ancestor. Velas has plans to include three-dimensional diorama effects and projected slides (some audio would be nice) in future displays. Having recently applied for nonprofit status, she hopes to establish her quirky anachronism as a new kind of Hollywood landmark, changing the show periodically as the institution settles into the neighborhood as a fixture for locals and a stop for offbeat tourists.


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