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Last weekend, a mostly abandoned town on the Salton Sea was transformed into a pageantry of art and opera and weirdness.
The three-day Bombay Beach Biennale was free to attend, unpublicized and driven by a mission of local engagement.
Call it the anti-Burning Man.
The idea came from Tao Ruspoli, a Los Angeles filmmaker, who years ago became fascinated by the Salton Sea, a onetime tourist mecca straddling the Imperial and Coachella Valleys that has succumbed to environmental decay.
He started visiting often and even bought a house in Bombay Beach, a speck of a town on the eastern shore.
“This idea of Bombay Beach Biennale popped in my head because rather than play up the sadness of the place,” he said, “I thought it would be more interesting to play on the surrealness of the place.”
He added, “It’s such a mixture of contradictions, of natural and unnatural, of beautiful and ugly.”
Mr. Ruspoli partnered with two friends, Stefan Ashkenazy, an art lover and hotelier, and Lily Johnson White, a philanthropist and member of the Johnson & Johnson family.
Last year, the trio self-funded the inaugural festival, under the theme “Decay,” and invited artists, philosophers, writers and other assorted merrymakers from their network of friends to join. It was a hit.
But rather than simply clear out once the fun was over, the festival has aimed to reinvent some of the abandoned buildings in town as permanent art spaces.
“The ethos is to be playful but also leave a lasting impact to the town,” Mr. Ruspoli said.
For this year’s biennale — redefining the word, meaning every other year, is all part of the contrarian spirit — more than 100 artists and performers were invited to interpret the theme “The Way the Future Used to Be.” (Attendance wasn’t tracked, but it was in the hundreds rather than thousands.)
Carmiel Banasky, a Los Angeles writer who visited the festival for an article in LA Weekly, set the scene:
Some photos (and many more on Instagram):
(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)
• A gunman fatally shot three people in downtown Fresno. He was believed to be targeting white people. [The New York Times]
• In 2015, the Fontana police shot and killed a legally blind man with schizophrenia during a tense encounter. Prosecutors now say it was justified. [The Associated Press]
• Some of President Trump’s most hard-line advisers shaped their views in an unlikely place: California. [Politico]
• For the first time, the government deported an unauthorized immigrant in the “Dreamer” program, a lawsuit said. [The New York Times]
• The president directed agencies to promote “Hire American” policies. Here’s what that could mean for tech workers. [The New York Times]
• Facebook introduced what it positioned as the first mainstream augmented reality platform. [The New York Times]
• Record-low salmon numbers have created an existential crisis for Indian tribes in California’s northwest. [Sacramento Bee]
• Southern California surfers rejoice: The drought’s end means beach showers are flowing again. [Orange County Register]
• A Petaluma boy pulled more than 2,200 pounds of trash from a river. [The Press-Democrat]
• “I can’t ethically tell you who I treat.” Meet the discreet Botox king of Beverly Hills. [The New York Times]
• Frederick Borsch died at 81. As leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, he elevated female and Hispanic clergy. [The New York Times]
• Twenty five years after the Rodney King verdict, three documentaries look at a Los Angeles in flames. [The New York Times]
• Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar at Monterey Pop. Janis Joplin got discovered there. In June, the festival returns. [The New York Times]
• Los Angeles has America’s most important orchestra. Period. [The New York Times]
In Los Angeles, a pool of black goo bubbles up from the ground just off busy Wilshire Boulevard.
It’s no environmental mishap. The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the world’s richest repositories of ice age fossils.
The tar is actually natural asphalt that has seeped up through the ground for thousands of years. Jay Cipriani, a reader in Los Angeles, shared a photo he captured in February.
The sticky asphalt was a death trap for the animals that roamed the fertile grasslands 10,000 to 40,000 years ago. Many became entombed in the asphalt, which turned out to be a great preservative.
Since the early 1900s, more than a million bones from mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths and other animals have been excavated from the pits, offering rare glimpses of Pleistocene life in California.
Nicholas St. Fleur, a science reporter for The Times, wrote this month about research on the battle scars sustained by saber-tooth tigers as a result of their hunting.
The insights were gleaned analyzing bones retrieved from the tar pits.
Please note: Because of a technical issue, some photos in this newsletter may not appear for people using the Times iPad app.
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The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.