French Sculptures, L.A. Garden

April 17, 2009

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In 2005, in preparation for impending construction at LACMA, the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden was deinstalled. As we recently told you, we’ve been in the process of moving the sculptures—ten Rodins and three Bourdelles—back to their rightful home. They’re now on view, along with a few new additions from Robert Irwin, who has reenvisioned the space and introduced his palm garden into the area.

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Though at first the palms, icons of L.A., might seem out of place with French sculpture, Irwin says it’s a time-honored pairing. When working on his plans for the garden, he presented LACMA staff with an old photo of Versailles that captured palms in the summertime alongside the palace. The French felt palms were to be treasured and they brought the trees out of greenhouses in warm weather to introduce an exotic element to the grounds.

Just out of the greenhouse into our own sculpture garden—a selection of Bromeliads, shown below.

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They’re still covered as they have been living indoors for the past year and need to become acclimated to their new environment. Over the next three to four weeks they will gradually be exposed to more sun for their good health and welfare until finally the shades come off entirely. More on the sculpture garden on Monday from John Bowsher, director of special art installations, who helped Robert Irwin realize his vision.

Allison Agsten


Last Chance to See Art of Two Germanys

April 16, 2009

It feels like it just opened yesterday—actually it was back in January—but Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures is closing this weekend. Sunday is your last chance to see it, whether for the first, second, or third time. (With more than 300 works, it definitely rewards multiple viewings). From here, the exhibition will head to two venues in Germany: next stop will be the Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg,  on view from May 27–September 6; after that it’s off to the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, on view October 3–January 10 and coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Whether you’ve yet to see it or you already have, you might also want to use the occasion of this closing weekend to check out the fascinating, in-depth timeline of the period covered in the exhibition, or to revisit some of the posts we’ve done here at Unframed, including looks at works by Dieter Roth, Thomas Schütte, and Gerhard Richter. There were also a few interesting posts by curatorial assistant Dorothea Schoene on the use of floral wallpaper in Richter’s Volker Bradke; by editor Sara Cody on working on the exhibition catalogue (also including a video interview with exhibition curator Stephanie Barron); and by photography curator Charlotte Cotton on LACMA’s acquisition of photographs by three East German photographers that are featured in the exhibition.

Scott Tennent


A Tale of Two Cities: Merging Emerging at MOCA Shanghai

April 15, 2009

Once known by European traders as the Paris of the Orient, Shanghai, China’s financial center and one of the world’s largest metropolises, is also a blossoming center for contemporary art. M50, the city’s avant-garde artist community, is gaining comparable recognition to Beijing’s trendy 798 Arts District. MOCA Shanghai, located at the heart of the city in People’s Park, is the first nonprofit, independently operated contemporary art institution in Shanghai.

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On my recent trip, I visited MOCA, which is currently showing the exhibition Merging Emerging: Art, Utopia and Virtual Reality. Among those artists whose work was exhibited, one in particular reminded me of L.A.

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Zhong Kangjun’s City (2008), a diminutive rendition of Shanghai, offers an interesting combination of dystopia and wit. On the one hand, City, constructed out of iron, looking worn and dirty, reminds one of what Shanghai might look like in a state of complete dilapidation. On the other hand, navigating through this toy-land version of Shanghai actually feels possible and uncomplicated, a contrary sentiment to many foreigners’ experience. Miniature cars weave through traffic below, and above toy planes wrap around skyscrapers; urban activity seems to be pulsing almost as swiftly here as it does outside the museum doors.

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While standing next to the “my-size” Oriental Pearl Tower, I thought of my city: Los Angeles. Also a city with a thriving contemporary art scene, Los Angeles shares in the big city ambiance of traffic congestion and buzzing activity. Looking at City I began to think about the urban energy in cities like Shanghai and L.A. that offers inspiration to so many artists; the yin to the yang of the natural world which likewise ignites artistic creation. Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost time for evening rush hour in Shanghai. While I hustled through the sea of people in the subway, Los Angelenos were just waking up, sipping their morning coffees, and preparing to face the 405 freeway.

Jenna Turner


Cursive and Art

April 14, 2009

USA Today and Newsweek recently published articles on the decline of teaching formal cursive in elementary schools (block lettering is still mandatory). In order to prepare young students for today’s Digital Age, grade school curricula are showing a preference for keyboarding lessons over cursive. Both articles question the need for teaching formal handwriting in cursive from an educational, historical, and evolutionary standpoint. With students now only being taught formal penmanship approximately fifteen minutes a day in the third grade, I began to wonder how this would affect visual art. Take for instance this work:

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Written in French, the letters in René Magritte’s La trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (1929) can be identified by the reader. An accompanying gallery label would aid further in translating the text. But with more and more students less inclined to write in cursive at a young age, one can’t help but also wonder how well they would visually identify and comprehend it. The text of this work is crucial to the point the artist is trying to make about the perception of visual art.

As mobile phones and computers become the main forms of communication nowadays, is this a sign that English cursive is actively on its way to hieroglyphic status? Fortunately we still have time; canvases aren’t optioned with an electronic signature just yet.

Devi Noor


Behind the Scenes: The Workshop

April 13, 2009

As I approached LACMA’s workshop to take a few photos for the latest in our series of behind-the-scenes posts, David Bowie’s baritone and the distinct scent of cedar wafted toward me. Inside, Simon, Chuck, and Charlie were at work on the pedestals and vitrines for the upcoming Pompeii and the Roman Villa.

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They play music loud—I also heard Dave Matthews and Janet Jackson during my visit—so they can hear it over the saws and hammers. Not only does the construction team build the cases the objects reside in, but they also make furniture for the galleries and even frames. (As Simon told me, “We built Pompeii.”)

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They custom-blend all the paint colors by eye versus machine in-house as well. It’s perhaps the least museum-y space in the museum. Whereas the galleries are pristine and hushed, the workshop, as is evidenced by the paint-spattered mirror below, feels much less ordered. And if you ask me, it smells and sounds better too.

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Allison Agsten


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