ArtWalk Wonderland

May 29, 2009

As part of this weekend’s ArtWalk 2009 in the Miracle Mile, Goldenvoice (of Coachella Art & Music Festival fame) is transforming the La Brea Tarpits into a temporary “art wonderland.” Here’s a preview of just some of the large-scale installations you’ll find…

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La Divina Familia install The Shrine. The huge hit at Coachella contains more than twenty years of drawings and relics from Pasadena’s Spears family.

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Sonik Mercury and his crew recreate the Ice Age by wrapping the park’s trees and statues in white lycra to be lit from the inside.

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Gerard Minakawa and friends use the bamboo plant to fashion the Bamboo Archway, making for a uniquely fascinating way to enter the park.

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Dustin Feider constructs a 20 foot geodesic dome that will one day be transformed into one of his sustainable treehouses.

Jason Gaulton, Muse Coordinator


Deconstructing “Night at the Museum”

May 28, 2009

A question that always intrigues me when Hollywood intersects with the world of museums is how truthfully our institutions are portrayed on film. What art or historical objects are featured and why? What liberties (and there are many) are taken? Even if it might be a little harder for me to suspend my disbelief, I enjoy the fictions created and always have fun deconstructing such movies from an insider’s perspective. I was happy to say yes when Unframed asked me to check out Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

One instance of directorial license I noticed is that many of the key scenes in the movie take place in the stately interiors of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which is not part of the Smithsonian Institution. And many of the featured artworks, which come to life, facilitate time travel, and interact directly with the protagonists, don’t even belong to the National Gallery or the Smithsonian. Instead we see iconic American paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago—Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

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The movie is populated with lots of other world-famous works set in the National Gallery space, like Rodin’s Thinker, which is transformed into a dolt of a he-man, and the classic black and white photograph—enlarged to take precedence over the painted masterpieces hanging adjacent—from Life magazine’s coverage of VJ day in August 1945: Alfred Eisenstadt’s unforgettable Times Square Kiss. And this is not to mention Jeff Koons’s gigantic Balloon Dog prancing around the halls of the museum!

Then there is the real Smithsonian, from the National Air and Space Museum, to the Castle on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the largely imaginary subterranean “federal archives,” which all figure prominently in the plot. Underground we see historical figures from outmoded dioramas come to life: General Custer, Sacagawea, Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, and the Egyptian pharaoh Kamunrah, who has enthroned himself in the Castle in Archie Bunker’s easy chair on top of a mountain of other objects looted from the Smithsonian’s vast collections (including Dorothy’s red slippers from the Wizard of Oz, which he tosses aside because they aren’t made of real rubies).

Watching these icons of pop culture, history, and art history whiz by on the screen, I couldn’t help but think of how the very real mission of museums—to preserve such objects and histories for the public and posterity—shapes Hollywood’s reliance on instantly recognizable imagery to reach and entertain the broadest possible audiences.

Austen Bailly


Art and Ambiguity; or, Why I Like the Museum of Jurassic Technology

May 27, 2009

LACMA’s Art Rental and Sales Gallery occupies several hallways underneath the Bing Center, including the one outside my office, so my coworkers and I are used to a regularly shifting selection of work from local artists.

Several years ago, one small collage caught my eye. It was hung in a short connecting hallway leading to the Hammer Building elevator. A bit oddly, it was hung higher on the wall than the other pieces. And it had no label.

I eventually noticed, too, that while other artworks would come and go, this anonymous collage stayed in place. I imagined it orphaned by its maker and, with no one to return to, it had been left to stay in a little-known corner of the back hallways of LACMA. It had insinuated its way into our permanent collection, like a stray that takes a shine to that secluded spot under your porch. I found this rather appealing.

Taking the back way to the Hammer one day, I noticed that a small label had finally appeared.

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Colorant Durability Test
 PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB
Questions? Call Conservation

Ah.

One local institution trades in such ambiguities every day. (Well, strictly speaking, it trades in such ambiguities on Thursdays through Sundays.) Shortly before I moved to L.A., I was in town visiting my sister. One afternoon, with only the barest of explanations, she took me to an unassuming storefront in Culver City. I looked at the sign and laughed: The Museum of Jurassic Technology?

“Is it… a comedy club?” I asked.

She smiled enigmatically.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I dutifully read every word of every label (my future as a museum editor evidently being fated). Somewhere between the animation of the Plane of Experience passing through the Cone of Obliscence (from Geoffrey Sonnabend’s Theory of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter, naturally) and a gallery featuring displays of such folk practices as the duck’s breath cure, mice on toast, and the malevolent uses of scissors, I turned to my sister. She was now grinning outright.

“It’s all fake, isn’t it?” I said. “It’s a satire of a museum.”

“That depends on your definition of it, is, and fake,” she said.

And, I eventually realized, on your definition of satire and museum, too.

The brainchild of David Wilson, the MJT has been home for nearly twenty years to a wondrous array of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, brilliantly (if eccentrically) curated to blend the lofty and the kitsch, the historical and the fantastical.

I take my own out-of-town guests every chance I get—of course, with only the barest of explanations when they first ask what it is.

Sara Cody, Editor, Publications Department


Franz (and More) Free Today

May 25, 2009
"Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof," installation view

"Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof," installation view

If you haven’t caught LACMA’s Franz West show, closing June 7, this is the day to do it. General admission to the museum is free on Monday thanks to Target Free Holiday Mondays. Of course the permanent collection, including the award-winning modern installation, is another great reason to come by. And there’s the rest of our twenty-acre campus and encyclopedic collection to explore.

*Please note that the Pompeii exhibition still requires a special ticket.


Five Things I Didn’t Know about Pompeii

May 22, 2009

fovI’ve just finished The Fires of Vesuvius, Mary Beard’s 2008 book on the ruins of Pompeii, and thought I would pass along some of the things that revised my very vague sense of what the lost city was all about. The book makes a great companion to Pompeii and the Roman Villa, creating a context for the artworks and the lives lived among them.

Graffiti

Writing on walls and public surfaces was evidently popular in Pompeii. Some examples: “Epaphroditus and Thalia.” “Atimetus got me pregnant.” “I won at Nuceria playing alea, 855½ denarii—honestly, it’s true.” “Celadus, heartthrob of the girls.” (Beard concludes that this last example and other tributes to gladiators were written by the gladiators themselves.)

Evacuation

Pompeii was not engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius without warning; tremors would have affected the town hours and possibly days in advance. The town’s population is figured at between 6,400 and 30,000; of those, Beard estimates, at most 2,000 died in the disaster. The book opens with the terrifying episode of some who waited too long before trying to leave.

Riot at the Amphitheater

Twenty years before the end of Pompeii came what Beard calls its “second most famous appearance” in Roman history—a gladiatorial show that went bad when the rivalry between hometown Pompeii and visiting Nuceria progressed from name-calling to stone-throwing to open sword combat. There were so many casualties that the matter was taken to Nero, and Pompeiians were prohibited from holding similar events for ten years.

Garum

Pompeii was known for making and distributing a fish sauce called garum. The point of manufacture seems to have been outside of town. Pliny the Elder praised Pompeii’s garum (while disparaging a local wine as likely to produce a hangover till midday). Pottery labels show that you could get kosher garum as well as “best,” “premium best,” and “absolutely the best” garum.

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The Moregine Triclinium, installation view

Nero

Mary Beard excels at dividing what is known about Pompeii from what is guesswork or wishful thinking. Did the emperor Nero visit the city? The author finds the evidence flimsy. She cites a recently discovered wall painting of Apollo that’s been said to resemble Nero and thus demonstrate that Nero had used the location as a temporary residence. Or not, says Beard. But you can have a look for yourself. The painting is part of the Moregine Triclinium on display in Pompeii and the Roman Villa. (Oh, and I checked the wall label—there’s no mention of Nero.)

Tom Drury


Words Without Pictures Book Launch

May 21, 2009

I am really excited to announce the book launch for LACMA’s Photography Department project, Words Without Pictures. For one year on the web site wordswithoutpictures.org, we asked an artist, educator, critic, art historian, or curator to write a short, un-illustrated, and opinionated essay about an aspect of photography that, in his or her view, was either emerging or in the process of being rephrased.

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At 502 pages—all words and no pictures—the book is an impressive document, with contributions from artists and critics including James Welling, Sharon Lockhart, George Baker, Walead Beshty, Allen Ruppersberg, Allan McCollum, Charlie White, Mark Wyse, Shannon Ebner, John Divola, and many others. In addition to the book’s essays, conversations, and panel discussions, we also included a series of questions and answers about the contemporary state of photography. Here’s a quick glimpse at a few of them…

CATHERINE OPIE

Q: What would you consider some of the most important changes that photography has undergone in the last few years?

A: Photography has always been based on new technologies and inventions have always brought change to the medium. The most surprising change is how many more people are working in photography and the ease of using the medium through digital technology. Photography is so prevalent and the communities around Flickr and other web sites have created a very large audience. It used to be you joined a photo club and you sat in a darkened room watching someone’s slide show of a trip. Now you sit in front of a computer screen and sort through thousands of photographs and blogs.

EILEEN QUINLAN

Q: Do you enjoy looking at photographs online?

A: I don’t look at photos online, not intentionally, that is. If you’re referring to art photos, I’d much rather look at them in person. I’m dismayed by the fact that my work is often consumed, at least upon first encounter, in jpeg form. The real thing sometimes disappoints. The illuminated screen offers a punchier image, a sexier image. And as the first image, it sets an impossible precedent. They are apples masquerading as oranges.

NATALIE BOOKCHIN

Q: What would you consider some of the most important changes that photography has undergone in the last few years?

A: I think the single most significant change has been the transformation of images into immaterial—digital—information that can spread like wildfire around the world. This change, together with the inclusion of cameras in mobile devices and the increase of cell phone use around the world, has had the unintended consequence of putting cameras in more people’s hands than ever before—soldiers (and torturers), protesters in Myanmar and China, ordinary people all around the world witnessing and documenting historical events and everyday life.

For much more discussion on photography, to meet some of the book’s authors, and to celebrate its release, please join us at LACMA’s Director’s Roundtable Garden Tuesday, May 26 at 7 pm. Hope to see you there.

Alex Klein, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

May 20, 2009
Kristi, just completed her graduate degree in Art History

Kristi, just completed her graduate degree in Art History

What would you like to do with your degree?
I’d love to work in a museum, actually. I was thinking education.

What made you want to study art history?
I’ve always loved it. My mom’s an interior designer, so I grew up talking about aesthetic things, like is it beautiful? and form versus function. It was just a natural fit. It never felt like work to study art history, as opposed to math, which is a nightmare.

What’s your favorite museum?
I was really impressed when I was in Philadelphia a couple of years ago because the museum was set up in such a way that you felt like you were walking into a space where those objects really could be exhibited originally. Context is everything. The Asian room had Asian art, but displayed with architectural features and gravel walkways. All of these things made you feel like you had stepped out of Philadelphia and into Osaka.

Laurie, mother of 4-year-old twins, Sophia and Emmett

Laurie, mother of 4-year-old twins, Sophia and Emmett

Why did you come to the museum today?
Laurie: It was a beautiful day and we actually just got our NexGen memberships.

Do you like coming to museums?
Sophia: Yeah, we went to the tarpit museum [The Page Museum].
Emmett: I’ve been to the Hot Wheels museum [The Peterson Museum], and in one of the rooms they have all these toy cars.

Do you guys like to make art?
Emmett: Yep, we like painting.
Sophia: And I did clay!

Abraham, Robert, and Brittany, students

Abraham, Robert, and Brittany, students

Why did you come to the museum today?
Abraham: Just random.

If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be and why?
Abraham: I was thinking maybe the minimalist art, something like that, where you just stare at it and you don’t have to think too much; you just take it in and observe, because maybe that’s what I like to do, just observe.

For your next trip, where would you want to travel to and why?
Abraham: Maybe somewhere in Japan, just to see a completely different culture.

What are you reading right now?
Abraham: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It just opens your eyes to different things and I’m not even done with it yet and it’s already changed my view on the world.


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