Change Agent: The Art of Daniel Joseph Martinez

Daniel Joseph Martinez

By Michael Ned Holte | Artforum, December 2023

IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD, the Million Dollar Theatre was the crown jewel among the grand movie palaces lining Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Its ornate exterior, designed in the elaborate Spanish churrigueresque style, abounded with carved bison, steer heads, and allegorical figures playing stringed instruments, while the interior scheme was inspired by John Ruskin’s 1841 fairy tale King of the Golden River. By the close of the 1980s, all the palaces on Broadway had fallen into disrepair, some converted into churches or budget theaters, others simply abandoned. Angelenos went to the Cineplex at the mall to see movies; “nobody” went downtown anymore unless they were already forsaken. At the center of this history-haunted no-man’s-land, the Million Dollar Theatre provided an apt setting for Daniel Joseph Martinez’s Ignore the Dents: A Micro Urban Opera, 1990. Commissioned by the extraordinarily ambitious Los Angeles Festival—which included performances and music by artists from twenty-two countries, with an emphasis on the Pacific Rim—the project offered Martinez an opportunity to work at an unprecedented scale and with a relatively big budget. The novice director turned to collaborators including VinZula Kara, who composed the score, and Harry Gamboa Jr., whose texts served as a libretto of sorts. Ignore the Dents drew heavily on the history of the medium, with references to Monteverdi, Wagner, and Brecht, but this opera was decidedly intended for its present.