Introducing Kids to Art

February 11, 2009

My son, who is nearly two, has been coming to museums with me since he was born. In the past couple of months we’ve seen the Louise Bourgeois show at MOCA and Oranges and Sardines at the Hammer. He’s often the only small child in the galleries, especially in exhibitions like Kara Walker, which we explored together last spring. Some might argue that the artist’s work, which addresses race, sexuality, and troubling histories, is unacceptable for children. In fact, that’s what many of the other visitors at the museum seemed to be saying as, with eyebrows raised, they watched my son and I stroll by.

I have many reasons for taking my boy to museums, and for now, frankly, it’s easy to introduce him to provocative work since he’s not asking the tough questions. But he’s only a couple of years away from understanding on some level, and I plan to continue taking him to challenging exhibitions. Perhaps naively, I look forward to the discussions that will ensue between the two of us—I think art and the context of museums is a wonderful way to plumb life’s complexities.

By and large, researchers agree that children benefit immensely from exposure to the arts. Study after study, findings indicate that “Arts experiences enhance ‘critical thinking’ abilities and outcomes” (Why Your Child Needs the Arts Advantage and How You Can Gain It). It’s clearly a private decision to be made within a family, but suppose you do take your children to museums: what about those awkward moments? LACMA educator Karen Satzman pointed out that up to a certain age, the parents are often more embarrassed than the children. When the kids grow older and begin giggling at nudes, for example, she asks why they’re laughing and opens a dialogue. Then she tells the children that what they are experiencing—a reaction—is what art is all about.

Allison Agsten

Sculpture in Miniature

February 10, 2009

Earlier this month, the Bushell Netsuke Collection: Carvings of the Nagoya Region went on view in the Pavilion for Japanese Art. Netsuke are small carvings that in pre-modern Japan served as counterweights attached by a cord to hanging containers used to carry small personal articles. One of the most beautiful examples in the entire Bushell collection (in my opinion) is part of this installation of more than 150 objects—Kano Tomokazu’s Horse and Rat.

Kano Tomokazu, Horse and Rat, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection

This piece is a wonderful example of all the traits that have come to be associated with the netsuke of this region in its material (wood), small size, compact and naturalistic treatment, and animal theme. Animals of the zodiac—of which both the horse and rat are included—were among the favorite subjects of these carvers. It should be noted that Horse and Rat, as well as the other objects on view, are miniature sculptures, and they have been installed with that in mind. Just as one would place a larger sculpture in a gallery so that it could be viewed from various angles, so too would one (ideally) install netsuke. The gallery layout and cases in LACMA’s Raymond and Frances Bushell Netsuke Gallery were specially designed so that almost every netsuke and all the inro ensembles (individual hanging containers attached to both an ojime—sliding bead closure—and a netsuke) can be viewed in the round.

Christine Drosse, Curatorial Administrator, Japanese Art

Art, Science, and György Kepes

February 9, 2009

One of the first photographs that caught my eye at LACMA was a print laying supine on the Photography Department’s long conference table, matted and covered with parchment in anticipation of a trip to the Conservation Department. The work was a photogram with a faint image of a hand behind various linear patterns and a very auspiciously placed, but tiny, red dot.

György Kepes, Hand and Geometry, 1939

An artist friend once informed me of his theory that every good piece of art includes a tiny red dot somewhere. (Of course, he was referring to the space within the artwork, not the telltale “sold” red dot beside an artwork in a gallery). After some curious digging, the more I learned about the print’s artist, György Kepes, the more apparent this work’s metaphorical dot became for me.

The most intriguing thing I discovered is that Kepes was one of those artists who dove headfirst into a lifelong pursuit of unifying art and science (two of the highlights of my elementary and high school experience were the eighth grade science award and the twelfth grade art award, so to this I can relate). In 1937, he set up a Light and Color Workshop to experiment with the means of art expression at the New Bauhaus. In 1946, he joined the faculty of M.I.T., and in 1967 he founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies in their School of Architecture to bring about the “absorption of the new technology as an artistic medium; the interaction of artists, scientists, engineers, and industry; the raising of the scale of work to the scale of the urban setting; media geared to all sensory modalities; incorporation of natural processes, such as cloud play, water flow, and the cyclical variations of light and weather; [and] acceptance of the participation of ‘spectators’ in such a way that art becomes a confluence.”

Art at play with science. From Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes to Rauschenberg’s Experiments in Art and Technology and LACMA’s Art and Technology Program to today’s new culture jammers and “infosphere visionaries” curated by festivals such as last week’s The Influencers, the effect of science on art and vice versa holds so much potential in my imagination.

Sarah Bay Williams, Ralph M. Parsons Fellow, Photography

LACMA’s Loneliest Galleries

February 6, 2009

Museums may be perceived as slowly evolving creatures, but in recent years LACMA has expanded its campus, developed its collections, and received many new acquisitions. I’ve wondered if all this growth has left some of our older galleries undervisited. They are the underdog galleries, and I was determined to find them.

Why would I want to seek out the least-visited areas of the museum? Because I believe that sometimes the best museum experiences are self-driven, isolated and solitary, where you can examine both the art and how you relate to it without being disturbed or distracted. A museum offers a variety of experiences; some are easily revealed, while others are hidden just out of sight.

To start, I turned to LACMA’s statistical data, but it was of little use as it focused primarily on traveling shows. So my mission was to take a daytime excursion through the galleries during peak hours in search of visitors, or in this case, lack thereof. The result? There were two galleries that were clearly the loneliest. Both are at the ultimate extremes of the campus; one at its highest point and the other at its lowest.

The runner up was a small space in the Japanese Pavilion, tucked almost underneath the building. This cove of sorts, where scrolls are often displayed, is at the end of the building’s long spiral. The gallery does benefit from residing near the restrooms, so occasionally I’ve seen people close by waiting for their significant others to reemerge. But the winner, if you can call it that, is in the Ahmanson Building.


To get there, you must go to the fourth floor, and walk all the way to the back—past the Islamic tiles and fragile glasswork, through the green and brownish rooms filled with ancient drums, pottery, and other South and Southeast Asian pieces, to the last deep blue Himalayan gallery, crammed with casework. The gallery is actually brimming with art, a treasure trove of intricate metalwork and objects fills the room, as sculptures hover above, waiting patiently, as if ready to spring to life at the sight of a visitor.

Paul Wehby, Senior Graphic Designer

The Illegal Operation

February 4, 2009
Ed Kienholz, The Illegal Operation, 1962

Edward Kienholz, The Illegal Operation, 1962

Last week we installed Ed Kienholz’s sculpture, The Illegal Operation, which was purchased in October as a result of a hugely gratifying community-wide fundraising effort. The Illegal Operation, a commentary on back-street abortion, was just featured in a major L.A. art exhibition in Stockholm, and I was eager to put the much-discussed recent acquisition on view as soon as it returned.

Installing The Illegal Operation also gave us the opportunity to feature two other early Kienholz sculptures, A Lady Named Zoa (below right) and History as a Planter (left), that hadn’t been on view for some time. Together, they represent a sampling of our remarkable Kienholz holdings, which include more than twenty objects, one being the iconic Back Seat Dodge ’38.

On a personal level, it is thrilling to finally be able to show this work that I first encountered in L.A. decades ago. When I first saw The Illegal Operation in the home of the collectors who bought it from Kienholz, I was stunned. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before. It has haunted me for thirty years.

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator, Modern Art


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