Installing the Capua Aphrodite

April 30, 2009

As LACMA’s conservation photographer, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks documenting the installation of the exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa, which opens this Sunday. It has been nothing short of amazing to experience the installation of this fantastic exhibition and to be so close to these gorgeous and historical works of art. I thought it would be fun to share some images of the installation of one of the most magnificent pieces in this show—The Capua Aphrodite (117-138 AD). Standing well over six feet, this goddess was treated with utmost respect by our expert art handlers—up to eight people at times—guided by the very gentle and experienced hand of Giovanni Cirella from the National Archeological Museum of Naples. The images show the process of installation—from uncrating, lifting, and moving, to finally sliding and shifting into place.

Yosi Pozeilov, Senior Conservation Photographer


LACMA Loves these Wikipedia Loves Art Winners

April 29, 2009

In February, we told you that LACMA would be one of fifteen arts institutions taking part in Wikipedia Loves Art, a scavenger hunt and free content photography contest organized by the Brooklyn Museum. And now, winners for each participating museum have been declared: congratulations to the winning LACMA group, Artifacts! We’ve got a selection of catalogues as well as VIP tickets for you; you did a great job. Thanks to everyone who participated, to Brooklyn for coordinating, and to Frankie and Lauren, our Communications interns, who did the lion’s share of the sorting and organizing on behalf of LACMA.


La vie moderne at COLCOA

April 29, 2009

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Amid the rapid gunfire and spilled blood at this year’s City of Lights/City of Angels (COLCOA) festival of new French cinema, curiously foreshadowing the “bloody Cannes” to come this May, there was at least one oasis of natural light and earthy allure. Raymond Depardon’s La vie moderne is titled with more than a pinch of irony. These craggy farmers and other last remaining inhabitants of hillside hamlets are worlds removed from loudmouth Mesrine or the perplexingly damaged Girl on the RER, Parisian public enemies both. A photojournalist first (he joined Magnum in 1978), Depardon has been making feature films, mostly documentaries, for the past few decades. Here, he fills the CinemaScope screen with images equally vast and intimate. Though switching between so-called “talking head” shots and landscape-based “inserts,” Depardon’s film has an unfussy pictorial elegance that’s belied by such tech-speak. Always at the kitchen table, he joins the Challayes for black coffee and butter cookies or just watches as Paul Argaud absent-mindedly smokes before a funeral mass warping like some alien frequency on his black-and-white TV set. More than scenes or interviews, these are instants of present-tense observance, edited together with the generous pacing of a memory.

La vie moderne concludes Depardon’s decades-long trilogy tracking the denizens of rural France that offers an entirely unromantic yet lyrical view of agrarian life, with a chunky Occitan accent and obsolescence looming on the horizon. The film’s first and final shots complete a diurnal cycle, floating into and out of the valley where the eighty-some-year-old brothers Privat and their nephew’s family live somewhat inimically. Though it’s a simple enough device, a car-mounted camera gliding over country roads lit by the endless summer sunset, with echoes of Kiarostami’s itinerant drivers and the ruggedly calligraphic terrain they steer through, this winding forward and backward mainly recalls an unspooling film reel and both cinema’s fragile promise of return and life’s inevitable voiding of it.

Bernardo Rondeau


Lester Beall: Finding Clarity in Complexity, and Vice Versa

April 28, 2009

As a graphic designer here at LACMA, I was excited to see the works of Lester Beall—in my opinion one of the U.S.’ greatest graphic designers—go on view through May 31.

Beall was someone I call a true modernist—with a twist. On the one hand he lived by the credo “form follows function.” On the other, he allowed himself the joy of working with color and pattern. He spurned symmetry, which in his mind contradicted the dynamism of contemporary life, and was well known for bold, imaginative, and yet always radically simple graphics.

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He once said that a graphic designer “must work with one goal in mind—to integrate the elements in such a manner that they will combine to produce a result that will convey not merely a static commercial message, but an emotional reaction as well.” This oneness of message is apparent in the series on display at LACMA. Here concept meets form in the most exquisite way.

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To me, Beall was also a great translator of European avant-garde graphic design into American modernism. I love the boldness and simple complexity of his posters that always look as if they have designed themselves. I also love his use of pattern and contrast that make his work full of life yet never overdone.

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What amazes me, and what I think visitors will discover in this installation, is the timelessness of his pieces and how much we can all still learn from them. By “we,” I mean graphic designers as well as the public and potential clients, who so often don’t understand the importance and power of visual communication.

Maja Blazejewska, Graphic Designer


LACMA’s Collectors Committee Makes Two Major Acquisitions

April 27, 2009

Every year for the last twenty-four years LACMA has held its annual Collectors Committee event, in which donors come together as a group to purchase works for LACMA’s collection (something we’ve written about before). I’ve had the chance to attend a few of these now, and they’re always fascinating. Here’s the premise of the event: curators from various departments each present an artwork they’d like the museum to acquire. The members of the Collectors Committee get to see the objects installed in a gallery and hear the curators give presentations about the works—and then they vote on which objects LACMA will acquire, using a pool of funds created by their membership dues.

This year’s event took place on Saturday, and the results are in: LACMA has acquired a monumental painting by Matta, Burn, Baby, Burn (L’escalade); and a collection of 117 African Kuba textiles from the late nineteenth-early twentieth centuries.


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Matta, Burn, Baby, Burn (L'escalade), gift of the 2009 Collectors Committee

Burn, Baby, Burn is a massive painting—nearly ten feet tall by thirty-two feet wide. It was created in 1965–66 as a response to the Vietnam War and the Watts riots, and remained part of the artist’s personal collection until his death in 2002. The mural-like painting draws the eye every which way; writing about the painting, curator of Latin American art Ilona Katzew said, “Like Picasso’s Guernica (1937)—a work that Matta greatly admired—Burn, Baby, Burn is a bold indictment of the destructiveness of mankind and a manifesto for peace.”


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Four examples from the collection of Kuba textiles, Democratic Republic of Congo, gift of the 2009 Collectors Committee

The collection of African textiles, from the late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century Kuba culture of the Democratic Republic of Congo, helps enhance an important area of the museum’s collection. The 117 textiles and ceremonial skirts each feature unique geometric forms and rhythmic patterns, and were created collaboratively by both Kuba men and women. Within the culture these textiles were of the utmost prestige—traded as currency, given to kings as tribute, and used in ceremonial garb. In her presentation to the Collectors Committee on Saturday morning, curator Sharon Takeda told the story of twentieth-century missionaries who had come to the Congo offering the Kuba king a motorcycle as a gift, hoping to impress him with this magnificent feat of technology. The king paid the motorcycle no mind, but was captivated by the pattern of the tire tread left in the dirt, hoping to incorporate it into a textile pattern.

Since 1986 the Collectors Committee has made 159 acquisitions for the museum, including works by Benedetto Luti, Edvard Munch, George Bellows, Man Ray, and many more. Their support over the years has been essential to the growth of the museum’s collections—all the more so in today’s economy. Having just entered our collection two days ago, these new acquisitions aren’t yet on view; we’ll let you know as soon as they go up.

Scott Tennent


Rekindling Our Relationship to the Book

April 24, 2009

I find myself thinking of artist Steve Fagin’s amalgam of criticism, fiction, visual arts, and numerous other disciplines as a productive model for a contemporary art curator working within an encyclopedic museum. I’ve been in discussion with Fagin ever since my graduate student years in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego. Fagin is exemplary of the hybrid and genre-bending artists that have created and sustained that department in the sunny beach town of La Jolla. (San Diego and the Origins of Conceptual Art in California, a fascinating show at a local gallery, recently chronicled this history.)

Ugo da Carpi, Sibyl Reading, Lighted by Child with a Torch, c. 1480-1532)

Ugo da Carpi, Sibyl Reading, Lighted by Child with a Torch, c. 1480-1532

Recently, Fagin has been contemplating the next life of the book. In this age of the Kindle and E-Ink, there is an increased technological mediation of our reading experience. Fagin’s romantic, frenetic, and intellectually challenging response to the rebirth of the book as electronic (illuminated) manuscript—impishly titled The Last Book: This Ain’t Your Grandson’s Kindle—is a live performance and video projection involving an international roster of writers, artists, and filmmakers that will take place at the MAK Center at the Schindler House this Sunday. Fagin’s idea is to rekindle (pun intended) a physical and visual relationship to the book.

As Clive Phillpot once noted, “Artist books are distinguished by the fact that they sit provocatively at the juncture where art, documentation, and literature all come together.” Fagin, the wizard behind The Last Book, is staging what might be the future of reading as an amazing voyage into the twenty-first century, and I’m readjusting my reading specs accordingly.

Rita Gonzalez, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art


On Erased James Franco and Other Films as Films Disguised as Other Films

April 23, 2009

In a recent Culture Monster post, the LA Times‘s David Ng quickly profiles a new 16mm film by the artist who goes by the name Carter. Titled Erased James Franco, it’s over an hour’s worth of footage in which the titular lead plays himself. Or, synecdochically speaking, he appears as the actor presently known as James Franco.

Playing out starkly distilled and sequentially unmoored solo reproductions of scenes from John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Todd Haynes’s Safe, and even several titles from the Francography, he concretely renders the crude serialism of filmed performance. Sure, the list of works that find actors playing actors is long and even includes other artists’ efforts (see Francesco Vezzoli). But in most cases, it’s actors’ muddled sense of identity that is roundly satirized. The strange and tedious “craft” of acting is fleetingly glimpsed, though Jacques Rivette’s gigantic Out 1 spends its first few hours (!) monitoring this zone of artifice and actuality while David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE riffs on it to oneiric ends.

At present, there are no plans to screen Erased James Franco at the museum. Not quite conciliation, but I think both Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (screened at LACMA April 10 and 11) and Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light (screening this Friday and Saturday) may belong in the same Warholian continuum as Carter’s film. These fictions in a documentary register use long, steady takes and oblique performances. Delphine Seyrig plays lumpen-bourgeois Jeanne Dielman, all routine and repetition in cage-like Brussels, as much as the Mennonite cast of Silent Light play their lyrical likenesses languidly drifting through Reygadas’ Scope paradise. Erased looks to be the most edit-heady of the three, replacing the dizzying zoom “cuts” of The Chelsea Girls with real splices. But all three works seem entranced by the materiality of the present moment.

But where these two films seem to greatly divert from Erased is in their lack of Carter’s explicit detournments. For something closer, maybe we should look at Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take or just about everything by found-footage fountainhead Craig Baldwin. In these films-playing-films-disguised-as-other-films, to paraphrase Kirk Lazarus, we find phantom likenesses of Alfred Hitchcock, L. Ron Hubbard, and Jack Parsons in stories, settings, and relationships only availed though montage.

Like Carter’s Franco (or should it be Carter’s Franco’s Franco?) these avatars are loops: simultaneously in the process of emergence and erasure. Then again Grimonprez and Baldwin more or less belong to another continuum altogether: that of Joseph Cornell and his basement wunderkammers and archive fever dreams. These channels of eternal return messily mutate, remap and recycle. They’re porous and fluid, while Erased seems closed and somewhat sculptural in its density. After all, regardless of its title, Erased James Franco is a production, sort of somewhere between séance and Sweding.

Bernardo Rondeau


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