Potato House Experiment

December 15, 2008

I was discussing the upcoming Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures show with modern art research assistant Dorothea Schoene when I noticed something rather unusual on her office shelf.

Yes, this is an impaled potato. No, you are not to touch it. The potato is part of a conservation experiment to determine how long it takes for a nailed potato in an artificially lit space to sprout. Since Art of Two Germanys includes Sigmar Polke’s Potato House Object (1967), and as neither the potato farmer Dorothea is working with nor the conservation team know how long it will take for sprouting to occur under such circumstances—the guess is four to six weeks—they set up the test you see here. (Sprouting is the goal, by the way, as it represents the artist’s intent to find a humorous symbol for creativity and growth.) The result of the LACMA team’s investigation will be evident when Potato House Object, pictured below, goes on view January 25. It features about 350 potatoes, hopefully perfectly sprouted, affixed to wooden grids that together take the shape of a three-walled house.

Sigmar Polke, Object Kartoffelhaus (Potato House Object), 1967, courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Berlin

Allison Agsten

Hearst the Collector, a Soundtrack

December 12, 2008
Nicolas Regnier, Divine Inspiration of Music, from the William Randolph Hearst Collection

Nicolas Regnier, Divine Inspiration of Music, circa 1640

It’s always an interesting process to find the musical focus for one of our exhibitions or featured artists for our Art & Music concerts. Our recent Basquiat celebration was a slam dunk—Basquiat included his inspiring musical forces Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in his paintings. But programming the music for this coming Monday’s Hearst the Collector concert was more complex, as the focus of the exhibition is infinitely broader.

My first step was, of course, to speak with the curator and educator for Hearst, Mary Levkoff and Mary Lenihan. It turned out that much of the Hearst exhibition would be featuring exquisite works from the Baroque era, so I turned to the perfect musician to represent that period—J.S Bach—with a “Bach & Beyond” theme.

But looking at Hearst the man, the collector, was a little more problematic. His musical tastes were very eclectic, as were his pursuits beyond art. To capture the forward-thinking Hearst, I’m presenting a fascinating new work, 13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg. This marvelous piece uses the theme from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and, through thirteen wonderful and wildly disparate contemporary composers—including Lukas Foss, Jennifer Higdon, Fred Hersch, and David del Tredici—gives us a fresh look at this classic work. Presented along with Bach’s English Suite, 13 Ways give us a real soundtrack to the Hearst the Collector.

Mitch Glickman, Director of Music Programs

Butterflies in Art and Nature

December 11, 2008

Damien Hirst’s works were deinstalled last month as LACMA prepares for the Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures exhibition opening in late January. If you didn’t get to see Hirst’s spectacular butterflies, I recommend seeing them live in their natural habitat. Every winter the Monarch butterfly makes its annual migration south to warmer climates, traveling from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico. There are various spots along the California coast where the butterflies stop, but my favorite is a secluded area a little more than an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles.

The Coronado Butterfly Preserve is roughly ten acres of land protected by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. It’s quite unassuming—parking access is in a residential area, where the trail of the preserve leads to a dense section of trees and other vegetation that’s known as the Ellwood Monarch Grove. There you’ll find thousands of butterflies huddled in trees for warmth: pay special attention to the signs. The subtle movement of wings fluttering is constant, but almost invisible; words can’t describe what it’s like to see trees appear to breathe.

Hirst’s fascination with butterflies and their life cycle have been seen in his work since the early nineties. In and Out of Love, an exhibition installed in 1991, included hundreds of live butterflies, some even attached on canvases in the pupae stage. While Hirst was able to bring an ecosystem into a gallery space, now is the best time to observe the butterflies in the open. Peak butterfly sightings at the Coronado Preserve are from December to January; by March they’ll have moved onward, travelling along their migratory path. Hirst’s works of “stained glass” may exude an ornate sense of wonder, but the natural trompe l’œil of the butterflies in the preserve are just as breathtaking.

Devi Noor, Curatorial Administrator, American Art

LACMA on Film

December 10, 2008

Much like the smog that appears in the sky each day like a collar stain, L.A. makes frequent appearances in television and film (every car ad these days seems to feature downtown’s Music Center or the Second Street Tunnel, and I can’t count the times I’ve seen the streets lined with craft service tables and bored cops sipping coffee). Our very own museum has also had her share of close-ups over the years.

In the 1990s we had probably the most visible entry in L.A. Story, where a roller skating Steve Martin glides through our galleries. (Martin was a longtime member of LACMA’s Board of Trustees when he made the film.)

LACMA is often a backdrop for parties, as seen in Robert Altman’s 1992 The Player. And speaking of players, LACMA has peeked out from behind Nancy Sinatra and Dean Martin in her 1967 TV special Moving with Nancy.

Sometimes the museum plays itself. In a 1979 episode of The Rockford Files, “Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man’s Job,” Jim Rockford parks his Firebird in front of the (then) fountain-clad LACMA and visits an Egyptian expert whose office doors are the Bing Theater lobby. BCAM has also played a small role on The Young and the Restless, with soap star curators bustling about the campus spouting off art-isms.

The indies also have found LACMA a worthy film location. Minnie and Moskowitz, a Cassavetes film, has the star poised as a curator—in one scene you can see the entrance to the Ahmanson Building, the main staircase, and a contemporary sculpture of a rack of pool balls). The film Miracle Mile uses LACMA, Johnies, and the May Company Building as backdrops.

Even Hancock Park, right behind LACMA, has had a guest spot. It can be seen in I Am Sam (the last scene, where they play ball in the Sixth Street park area). I even caught it on the Fitness Channel in the background of a show featuring Boot Camp LA.

Probably the biggest “blockbuster” appearance was in Volcano, where streams of hot lava flow down Wilshire Boulevard, right past us. My memory is a bit hazy as to whether or not the campus is incinerated, but it’s implied.

Paul Wehby, Senior Graphic Designer

In Buenos Aires, a Fusion of the New and the Old

December 9, 2008

I was recently in Buenos Aires the same weekend that Fundación Proa, which had been shuttered for construction, reopened to the public. The building project expanded the facilities of the contemporary art space in the historic La Boca area by conjoining and updating two nineteenth-century houses. A Duchamp show is presently on view but, to be honest, I was more interested in the way Proa’s refreshed space, envisioned by Caruso-Toricella Architetti, fused with the original space. In fact, I found myself looking up at the magnificent ceiling more than I did taking in the objects. Here weathered columns juxtapose crisp, Flavin-esque fluorescent lighting:

Along the same vein, this is the super-white new/old façade:

In its entirety, Proa’s revitalized, expanded space reminded me of a physical embodiment of LACMA’s endeavor to illuminate the old with the new. Similar to Jorge Pardo’s innovative installation design in our pre-Columbian galleries, Proa’s space prompted me think about the power of context yet again.

Allison Agsten


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