Monday is the big day… get ready for the announcement of the winner of our Urban Light open call. We’ll also have links to the online exhibition, which includes curator Charlotte Cotton’s photo and writing picks, as well as to the print-on-demand book produced in conjunction with the project.
Why did you come to the museum today?
I am German so I came to see Art of Two Germanys.
Where in Germany are you from?
I was born in Manheim and I went to school and studied in Berlin. I’ve lived in the U.S. since ’97. I was actually [in Berlin] when the wall came down. My friend called me and said, “I think that we might want to go down there.” And I said, “I don’t think so, it looks like a mess.” But we went down there and it was a mess, because everyone was drunk and they were throwing beer bottles all over the place and you had to be really careful because it was all happy, but nevertheless, drunk Germans, doesn’t matter if it’s East or West, they’re a mess… It sank in probably five years later, the implications of it, we just didn’t know then…
Why did you come to the museum today?
Maggie: The little men. [laughs]
Holly: The Vanity Fair exhibit and we come once a month to see the modern art and the Serra sculptures.
Have you ever been inspired by art?
Holly: My husband is a writer and saw Ernest Hemingway [in Vanity Fair] and I like the idea that instead of watching TV, we would read poetry to each other at night.
What are you reading right now?
Holly: Vanity Fair.
Maggie: I read that blog, Racked LA.
If you drive down Wilshire Boulevard with regularity, you may have noticed the construction activity just a few paces east of Urban Light. The spine of the steps that lead from the plaza level of LACMA East to street level is now covered with what appears to be a giant, second set of steps. The steps aren’t for our long-legged visitors. Instead, the concrete blocks will serve as pedestals for objects in our reinstalled B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden, set to open this spring. More on the sculpture garden next month.
Also in the vicinity, the Wilshire and Ogden traffic intersection (similarly scheduled to open this spring) will be reopened, including the addition of a new, signalized crosswalk. (Ogden is the street that was closed to make way for the BP Grand Entrance and other construction on campus.)
About once a month, Renee Montgomery, LACMA’s Assistant Director of Collections Information and Risk Management, sends the entire LACMA staff an interesting piece of trivia about the museum. We at Unframed love receiving these emails so much that we asked Renee if she would begin regularly sharing them, and she generously agreed.
Most Angelenos are familiar with the tragic story of the assassination of Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls, aka Notorious B.I.G., near the intersection of Fairfax and Wilshire. Fewer residents will remember a prior tragedy at this same location approximately seventy-five years earlier.
Before the May Company (now LACMA West) and Johnie’s, there used to be two airfields at Fairfax and Wilshire, one owned by Cecil B. DeMille and another by Syd Chaplin and Emory Rogers. In 1920, DeMille’s field was the scene of a movie, The Skywayman. Acting in this film were Ormer “Lock” Locklear and Milton “Skeets” Elliott—two pilot stuntmen specializing in aerial tricks following World War I.
For the finale of The Skywayman, Elliott was to dive the plane with Locklear in it toward some oil derricks, appearing to crash into them. The trick would be faked by Elliott pulling out of the dive at the last minute; the studio lighting technicians were to keep the floodlights on the spot long enough to capture the dive scene but then cut the lights off when Elliott pulled out to disguise the trick.
Unfortunately, the electricians failed to shut off the lights as Elliott approached, and he was blinded by the light; the plane crashed, and both men were killed. The gruesome footage was caught on film and actually used in The Skywayman.
Renee Montgomery, Assistant Director, Collections Information and Risk Management
When I met with Stephanie Barron, our senior curator of modern art, and her curatorial researcher Dorothea Schoene, to review the scope of photography they were planning to include in Art of Two Germanys: Cold War Cultures, it caused me both delight and some shame because, for first time, I saw the photographs of Maria Sewcz, Helga Paris, and Gundula Schulze Eldowy.
Each of these photographers was based in East Berlin in the 1980s. In different ways, all three took the language of documentary photography and applied it to the harsh realities and marvelous banalities of GDR society. All three women found ways to both speak of and comment upon ways of life that neither visually nor politically fit with the official version of East Germany at the time.
Maria Sewcz’s observational photographs are brilliantly strange—every photographic moment is somehow out-of-kilter, full of visual and symbolic contradictions, and communicates a detached and playfully ironic perspective upon the cracks within a highly regimented culture.
Gundula Schulze Eldowy has a unique antenna for casting friends and strangers as her photographic subjects and collectively creates a powerful record of lives that did not fit with the party line. Her subjects are vulnerable, raw, expressive, and resolutely individual.
Helga Paris’s plain, naturally lit single portraits cannot be disconnected from the plainest portraits made by the early-twentieth-century German photographer August Sander. (Sander, a commercial portrait photographer, attempted to photograph and categorize social “types” ranging from those that were determined by social class, profession, and political and intellectual affiliations; the range fell foul of the Nazi Ministry of Culture in 1934 and Sander was forced to cease his project.) Paris’s portraits carry that magical, Sander-esque mix of frank fragility of the photographic connection between the subject and the photographer, and the self-determination that the subject projects to Paris and her camera.
Thanks to Stephanie’s fateful introduction to Sewcz, Paris, and Eldowy, we have since acquired works by each of them for LACMA’s photography collection.
Big art has it easy. Of course you look at it—it’s enormous. But small art has its power too. It’s intimate, it draws you in. In fact, sometimes to simply find out what it represents, you have to get so close that it ends up being all you can see.
That was my experience the other day when I happened on the 7.5 by 5 inch Copenhagen: Roofs Under the Snow by Peter-Severin Krøyer. It’s easily the smallest work in its gallery, where it appears to be the size of a framed postcard.
On closer inspection, I found this mysterious and beautiful little oil painting: a view, evidently from an upper-story window, of snow-covered rooftops, apartment building walls, and a city that recedes in a wintry fog. It’s one of the best paintings I can recall at conveying the feeling of a winter afternoon: the infinite distance from cold sky to warm building, the way that snow absorbs light as it falls.
To learn more I went to see Patrice Marandel, LACMA’s chief curator of European art. He discovered the painting in a Paris gallery several years ago and found it to be evocative, wonderful, and a bit odd, with something of an eerie feeling. “Krøyer is a painter who is quite famous for something else entirely,” he said. “His trademark image is women in long, floating gowns, walking along the beach.”
In any case the curator liked the winter painting enough to set its acquisition in motion. Today it is a promised gift, found in the David and Sylvia Weisz Family Gallery of the Hammer Building. “People love it,” said Patrice, “because it’s small and such an ambitious project, to represent a city view on a painting the size of a postcard—to create atmosphere, emotion, and feelings.”
Where are you from?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is my first visit to L.A. and I’m very pleased to be here.
Why did you come to LACMA today?
I had heard about the museum and the richness of the collections and I wanted to see them.
Have you been inspired by art?
I write, and on many occasions my source of inspiration is a piece of art. In fact, I am here in this building to look at the Rothko painting that you have. So yes. Definitely, yes.
Why did you come to the museum today?
Piaget: We are here to see modern art, I came down from San Francisco, I had a show and I’m leaving tomorrow.
If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be?
Piaget: I like Calder sculptures. They’re free, they’re playful…
Do you have plans to travel?
If I can get a job or sell some of my art, I will go to Spain…It’s beautiful, relaxing, and I’ve always gone there as a child…hopefully I will travel around and go to Bilbao.