Art Catalogue Tells All

October 28, 2008
". . . full of gossip and history . . . "

Art and Technology

As noted in Allison’s post of yesterday, the provenance of James Turrell’s Afrum (White) can be traced back to the Art and Technology exhibition of 1971. We’ve recently made it easy to learn about this fabled show by putting its catalogue online. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound that exciting, but trust me. It’s a different kind of catalogue—candid, original, and often very funny. “I loved the catalogue,” the sculptor Claes Oldenburg once said. “It’s full of gossip and history and time passing and attitudes.”

It was written by then-LACMA curators Maurice Tuchman and Jane Livingston and entitled A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1967–1971. It tells the story of how LACMA, then around two years old, set out to place artists within high-tech corporations to see what would happen. Two exhibitions resulted, one at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970 and one at LACMA the following year.

James Turrell and Robert Irwin

What makes the catalogue so compelling is its unconventional tendency to disclose everything: who backed the project and who was skeptical, contracts and letters, successes and dead ends, tales of the mutually beneficial interactions that resulted (notably Robert Irwin and James Turrell’s work with the Garrett Corporation) and of the mutually baffling (see John Chamberlain and the Rand Corporation). And all conveyed in a candid, deadpan style that makes the whole thing pretty charming. Here is the last line of an entry about Donald Judd, who exchanged letters (included) with the curators but did not end up participating: “Judd did not contact us while in California in September, 1969 and we could not locate him.”

Tom Drury

Recent Acquisition: Turrell’s Afrum (White)

October 27, 2008

Every year, LACMA hosts the Collector’s Committee, a group of donors who join together to purchase a handful of objects on our curators’ wish lists. The artworks up for acquisition are installed for the committee’s review; for fun, we staffers get an early look and cast our own ballots ranking favorites. This year, I was the first person in the galleries. I don’t know what I was more excited about—the prospect of basking in James Turrell’s Afrum (White) or the chance to opine on it. You see, I am a Light and Space Fiend. In fact, I even created a Facebook page to celebrate my love. You can thus imagine my jubilance to find that the Turrell made the cut.

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo by Florian Holzherr

I’m interested in the way Afrum, as with other Light and Space objects, challenges viewers’ perceptions. What appears to be a floating cube is actually projection magic—simply, elegantly, powerfully, a light on the wall. The artist once said, “In working with light, what is really important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself really quite tactile.” That quote leaves me almost as breathless as the object itself. The provenance is an added bonus. Afrum‘s original owner was a Torrance, CA-based aerospace scientist with whom Turrell and Robert Irwin worked from 1968-71 on LACMA’s Art and Technology exhibition. If you don’t know about that pioneering show, check in tomorrow to learn about the unusual collaborations that emerged as a result, as well as the delightfully candid accompanying catalogue.

Allison Agsten

The Machine Project Rehearsals

October 24, 2008

Like most people who work in museums, I have to go to a lot of less-than-scintillating meetings. The single most effective way to alleviate the daily grind is to take the extra couple of minutes en route to the next meeting to walk past some of the most exceptional demonstrations of human endeavor in LACMA’s galleries. It’s been especially pleasurable of late because of the possibility of bumping into one of the more than forty artists and performers who are rehearsing in LACMA’s galleries for our upcoming Machine Project Field Guide to LACMA.

A few weeks ago, Corey Fogel came in to try out acoustics for his combined drumming-and-putting-on-a-suit-made-of-peppercorn-cans performance. Jason Torchinsky has been getting wet in the Dorothy Collins Brown Fountain as he measures up for his hydropticonium (a made-up word for a wonderful flipbook-like contraption), that will be powered by the fountain’s water flow. There have been quite a number of LACMA staff and Machine Project collaborators helping Jessica Z. Hutchins and Dawn Kaspar refine their murder mystery trail through LACMA’s permanent galleries.

And last week, musicians, including Heather Lockie, each stood in the elevators in the Ahmanson Building playing string instruments, their music connecting, dispersing, and then tumbling out of the elevators as the doors of their respective elevators opened at different floors. Here’s one of the videos that filmmaker Jim Fetterley has been making of the rehearsals for Machine Project’s day-long Field Guide to LACMA on November 15.

Charlotte Cotton

Naptime for the Boone Children’s Gallery

October 24, 2008

This weekend marks the last chance—for a while, at least—to bring your kids to the Boone Children’s Gallery. The current exhibition, Construct, will close on Sunday so we can renovate LACMA West as part of the campuswide Transformation campaign.

The Boone Gallery has always been a feather in our cap. It opened about ten years ago, shortly after the former May Co. building was officially reopened to the public as LACMA West. The exhibitions—always free, often wonderfully noisy—have been a fun way for kids to learn about and interact with art. So it’s a little bittersweet to see the gallery lights go dark, even if just temporarily.

The good news is that when the gallery reopens as part of the refurbished LACMA West (planned for 2010), it will be better than ever. The entire second floor will be dedicated to education. Our museum educators’ offices will be right down the way from the all-new Boone Gallery, which will be joined by an interactive media lab for kids. Study centers dedicated to prints and drawings, textiles, and photography will also be installed for slightly older students (i.e., grad students and scholars, among others).

Yes, the Boone Gallery is ready for its nap; but when it wakes up it is really going to be ready to play.

Scott Tennent

Design Dispatch: Exploring Lace

October 23, 2008

When Edward Steichen described the photograph he took of Gloria Swanson (which just went up on our street banners all over L.A. for Vanity Fair Portraits), he said, “I took a piece of black lace veil and hung it in front of her face. She recognized the idea at once… her look was that of a leopardess lurking behind leafy shrubbery, watching her prey.”

Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen, 1924, Vanity Fair, February 1928, © Condé Nast Publications Inc.

Lace can act as a shrubbery of sorts—obscuring and diffusing—but it can also embellish in a way few fabrics can, its transparency allowing it to practically become part of the object. This concept of ornamentation is one reason Vanity Fair Portraits′ lead designer, Maja Blazejewska, was intrigued by the fabric—so much so that she used it in the exhibition’s typography, its entrance wall, and on a few products she created for the museum shop. The socks she designed, which she’s modeling below, feature four lace patterns from LACMA’s own collection. They’re all chantilly lace, which is distinguished by its delicacy and complexity of floral pattern—in these particular examples, the floral motifs are made by hand and outlined with a heavy silk thread.

As clever as these socks are, the design of Maja’s I’m most intrigued by is a digitized lace pattern, which she created as an homage to digital photography found in the exhibition.

She’s taken a fresh approach to something aged, and to hear her describe the process of creating the pattern—”even though I was working on a computer, it really felt like I was sewing, it was so time-intensive and intricate”—makes me dig it all the more. You can check it out in full bloom on the entrance wall to the exhibition; the show opens this Sunday.

Brooke Fruchtman


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