In the Home of the Photographer of Homes

June 5, 2009

On a recent afternoon I visited the legendary photographer Julius Shulman at his house high in the Hollywood Hills, ostensibly so that he could sign books for LACMA’s showing of Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, a new documentary on his work. Since Shulman, now 98 years old, is charming and full of stories when friends come to visit, I asked Edward Robinson, our new Associate Curator of Photography, Alexandra Klein, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow, and my husband, Don Llewellyn, to join me. We all talked about photography and ate pastries while Shulman signed books.

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Carol Norcross, Julius Shulman

Architect Raphael Soriano designed Shulman’s house, which was built in 1950 on a bare hillside. Today it is surrounded by a lush tangle of plants and neither the L.A. basin below nor the surrounding houses can be easily seen. Except for the front hallway, it seems almost entirely built of glass. Sliding doors and hidden gardens on all sides allow breezes to flow through the rooms. I have been up to visit several times and it always surprises me. One time, the clouds were so low that the house seemed to float among them. This time, the sun was out and hummingbirds flew among the flowers outside.

Shulman’s daughter Judy was visiting that day, and she talked about growing up in a house with built-ins and wood-paneled walls—her double bed was immovable, its headboard part of low shelves that run around two sides of the room. An eight-foot glass door leads to a tiny garden just outside, and during spring cleaning she would pull her toys and dollhouse there.

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Side door with garden

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The studio

The first time I was in this house was for a benefit for the Ennis Brown House. As a supporter for museums and landmarks in and around Los Angeles, Shulman partnered with Juergen Nogai in 2006 to create Disney Hall at Twilight, a limited-edition print for LACMA’s Photographic Arts Council. Cheerful always and glad to recount stories about his Los Angeles, Shulman is himself a monument.

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Edward Robinson takes a close look at the photographer's work

Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman will be screening at LACMA this Sunday, June 7.

Carol Norcross, Book Buyer


Making Time for Art

June 4, 2009

Like many of my colleagues, I began my career in the for-profit world and made the transition to the museum after choosing passion over paycheck. I longed for art to be the centerpiece of my professional experience—still do—yet, overall, I’ve done a poor job of actually spending time with the objects. Days fill quickly here, and I spend most of my time ensconced in my office, firing off emails and taking care of the usual day-to-day operations. A few weeks ago, I realized something had to give. I wanted more time with the art—it’s why I signed on with LACMA, after all—and if I couldn’t find ten minutes a day to step into the galleries, I had some serious time management problems on my hands.

To that end, I’ve declared June my own personal Month of Art. I’ve got a calendar posted in my office and a couple of weeks already filled with objects I want to see. (Sad to say, but I’ve never laid eyes on a few of our key works and some of the others I’ve only rushed past.) I wondered if I scheduled dates with art if I would actually do a better job of keeping this commitment to myself.

I kicked off my Month of Art with Kandinsky’s Untitled Improvisation III as a nod to my father, who considers this amongst his favorite permanent collection works.

I kicked off my Month of Art with Kandinsky’s Untitled Improvisation III (1914) as a nod to my father, who considers this amongst his favorite permanent collection works.

So far, so-so. I missed my Tuesday painting because of a big presentation I was a part of—excuses, excuses!—but have otherwise stayed the course and felt enlivened by my art breaks, which draw me up from my basement office to light of day, to the public, and to the art. The upward rise is a fitting metaphor. Art can really lift you. So, on that note, I invite you to create your own Month of Art. Unless you work in a museum, it would be pretty hard to make it into galleries every day—but of course, thanks to the internet, masterpieces are at all of our fingertips seven days a week, 24 hours a day. LACMA’s own Collections Online is a great jumping off point. Then there’s the Met’s daily permanent collection offering and the Getty’s wonderful art database too . Would a one-work-a-day commitment change your life in any small way? For me, the answer is yes.

Allison Agsten


Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

June 3, 2009
SNAPSHOT

Gatsby, actor, and Marissa, who works in commercial production

Why did you come to LACMA today?
Gatsby
: Well, I’m new to L.A. and I just wanted to get to know the city and see some exhibits. I’ve been to the Getty, so I wanted to come to LACMA as well. Kinda made sense.

Where did you move from?
Gatsby
: Atlanta. I’ve been in L.A. for three months now and I love it. Love the weather, no humidity. Just the earthquakes take some getting use to.
Marissa
: I’m a member here and I suggested that we come because I know he likes museums. I was born and raised in L.A. so I’ve been coming to LACMA my entire life, but I’ve only been a member for two years because I was living overseas.

What’s been one of your favorite museums or exhibitions?
Gatsby
: Mine hands down is the Smithsonian, I just love it. I could just live in there. You feel like a kid in there. You can see dinosaurs and ancient history. You feel like you are in that movie Night at the Museum.
Marissa: For me, it’s definitely the Louvre. It’s beautiful. I don’t know if I could think of my favorite exhibition, because I like constantly seeing new things and appreciate arts, different facets from different periods. Recently, one of my favorites was actually here, it was the Dali. The fact that they had mixture of paintings and films, it was multifaceted.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc


African Inspiration

June 2, 2009

As I prepare to depart for two years of service with the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa, I can’t help but daydream of what this new experience will bring as I walk the LACMA grounds during my last days here. One of my favorite places is the sculpture garden that lies between the LACMA café and Hancock Park which features the abstract works of artists including Donald Judd, Alexander Calder, and Martin Puryear.

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Martin Puryear, Decoy, 1990, cast iron, purchased with funds provided by the Art Museum Council and the Flintridge Foundation

Puryear’s sculpture Decoy sits along a path that is almost within an arm’s reach of the largest La Brea Tar Pit. With replica mammoths mistaking the pit for a watering hole (and consequently getting stuck), the tar pit nearly resembles a scene one might find in National Geographic of African elephants quenching their thirst at a desert oasis. Fittingly, this scene, as well as my own upcoming endeavor, reminded me of Puryear’s time abroad in Africa.

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In the fall of 1961, John F. Kennedy paved the way for the creation of the U.S. Peace Corps, and his words on international peace and friendship during a speech at the University of Michigan resonated with many young people throughout America, including the young artist and sculptor Martin Puryear. Puryear enlisted in the U.S. Peace Corps in 1963 and headed to Sierra Leone, West Africa, in search of adventure and new experiences. While he was there, he occasionally taught art at a local school and produced many drawings, some that were intensely realistic and others that flirted with abstraction.

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Martin Puryear, Untitled (Joseph Momoh), 1965, ink on tan woven paper, collection of the artist

He also met local craftsmen and carpenters and learned their techniques. Later, Puryear would write, “When I left the country and went to Africa I think that was when I really earnestly in two-dimensional terms at least…found a way to deal with what I had recently discovered about abstraction.”

Although Puryear’s Decoy was produced decades after he lived in Africa, it is interesting that these first discoveries and inclinations towards abstraction occurred during his time there, and would consequently inform his work throughout his life. Decoy, though cast in iron, certainly displays a level of craftsmanship with the material that Puryear so admired about the craftsmen in Sierra Leone. As our parents and grandparents remind us time and again, we are the sum of our experiences and Puryear’s work is certainly a testament to that. Cheers to Africa!

Jenna Turner, Curatorial Administrator, Art of the Middle East


Follow up: Deconstructing “Night at the Museum”

June 1, 2009

After my post last week on Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Michael Buitron asked in our comments section whether there were any contemporary objects featured in the film besides the Koons, which I had already mentioned, and more specifically about permissions required to reproduce contemporary art on the big screen.

The filmmakers concentrated not on recent contemporary art but on canonical nineteenth-century sculptures like Degas’ little dancer, Rodin’s Thinker, and a Canova Venus (these three are actually listed on the movie’s website) and mid-twentieth-century American art classics, all of which are activated in the movie: a large Calder mobile spins, a Jackson Pollock drip painting squirms, a Roy Lichtenstein painting of a woman cries. As Buitron suspected, these choices likely reflected the rights and reproductions issues associated with depicting contemporary art on the big screen—a topic Adam Gopnik coincidentally writes about in the June 1 issue of the New Yorker (for the record, I hadn’t read Gopnik’s “Art Attack” when I wrote my post).

The process of obtaining clearances to reproduce these images he notes was, in fact, “a minor procedural nightmare.” Gopnik interviewed filmmaker Shawn Levy, who worked with a visual effects team to bring their museum of approved works to life in the movie, and we also learn which artists would not consent. “We had to ask permission from each of the artists or their estates, and it was a double clearance issue—not only asking permission to show the work but to animate it. The one artist who turned us down outright was Claes Oldenburg. I wanted to use his clothespin. I wrote Oldenberg a letter saying that his whimsy, the re-perception of the pedestrian, was much the same as what I was trying to do in the movie. But he seemed unmoved by the argument.” In one compromise with the studio, Jasper Johns allowed one of his iconic flag paintings to be pictured but not to come to life.

In my last post, I suggested the connection between icons displayed in actual museums and their appearance in Hollywood’s fictional counterparts, so I was delighted to see that Gopnik found a real example of where art, education, and the entertainment factor of the movie truly overlapped—at LACMA:

The reactions of Levy’s two daughters, Sophie and Tess, proved the enterprise’s success. Levy recently visited the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) with his children. “The girls had been with me during the filming,” Levy recalled, “and in the BCAM they said, ‘Look, Dad, there’s a Koons here! And a Lichtenstein there!’ They had touchstones. It was kind of thrilling—they’ve been to many museums, but I’ve never seen them engaged to this extent.” He went on, “I didn’t create these movies with an educational agenda, but it’s been one of the truly satisfying aspects of my career that our first movie actually increased attendance at the American Museum of Natural History.”

Austen Bailly


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