Twitter en Español

July 22, 2009

Over the years, we’ve translated many materials for our Spanish-speaking audience, but it’s an involved, lengthy process that keeps us from reaching out in this way as often as we’d like. So, we’re trying something new—Twitter in Spanish. (140 characters, now that’s doable.) @enLACMA, the first bilingual account we know of at a museum, will be manned daily by our own Marietta Torriente de León. It’s a translation of the @LACMA account and also a place—and person—for Spanish speakers to come to with questions and comments about the museum. We hope you’ll join us at our new forum.

A través de los años hemos traducido varios materiales para nuestro público de habla hispana, pero es un proceso que a veces puede ser muy largo y complicado y no siempre hemos podido comunicarnos con nuestra comunidad latina tan a menudo como quisiéramos. Así que ahora estamos intentando algo nuevo: Twitter en español (140 golpes, que hace que esto ahora sea una realidad). Hasta donde sabemos, @enLACMA es la primera cuenta bilingüe creada por un museo, misma que todos los días revisará nuestra propia Marietta Torriente de León. Se trata de una traducción de la cuenta @LACMA, pero también de un lugar—y una persona—a la que la comunidad latina pueda acudir con preguntas y comentarios sobre el museo. Esperamos que puedan unirse a nuestro nuevo foro.

Allison Agsten


Secret Art

July 21, 2009

Last week, we told you about Koo Jeong-A’s Mountain Fundamental, an installation purposely removed from the rest of the Your Bright Future exhibition one floor up in BCAM. There are a couple of other works by Koo in the show, and one of them is even harder to find than Mountain Fundamental. In fact, I’d call it the most hidden object on view at LACMA. Next time you’re here, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and try to find Sound around the Smell. Two clues: It’s placed on the exterior of the Art of the Americas Building; and your best bet is to look for the wall label. Chances are, you’ll find it before you find the (tiny) installation.

Allison Agsten


Looking Back on Celebrating Urban Light

July 21, 2009
Untitled, uploaded to flickr by honeybeejen

Untitled, uploaded to flickr by honeybeejen, July 12, 2009

We began Celebrating Urban Light in January, and since then more than six months and a thousand images have passed by. The project, which invited visitors to submit their pictures of our landmark sculpture, left me wondering how digital photography has impacted the way we perceive public art since these days anyone can take a picture of art, upload it, and distribute it worldwide within seconds.

Curious, I posed my question to Charlotte Cotton, head of LACMA’s photography department, and to Joshua Decter, director of USC’s Master of Public Art Studies: Art in the Public Sphere program. Cotton told me that the sharing aspect of digital photography has created a communal experience among photographers, particularly in terms of participation in contests like ours. There’s a feeling of being a part of something, of being a part of art. This photographic exchange, she said, turns a fixed, monolithic sculpture like Urban Light into something even bigger than it already is.

For Decter, the more important question is if a picture—one person’s re-imaging of art—can transform another person’s relationship to and understanding of said art. His answer—it’s debatable. Decter said that photography creates a “sensation of access” which is quite different from actual access, even though some contend that the former can be substituted for—or has already become interchangeable with—the latter within the broader public sphere of culture. He gave me a great example—seeing a picture of a friend’s baby and actually holding the baby are entirely different experiences; one can hardly compare to the other. In the case of Urban Light, I have to agree; there’s nothing like passing by 200 gridded, vintage streetlamps alit.

I connected with both Cotton’s take—digital photography creates a new, shared art experience—and Decter’s take as well—there’s nothing like the real thing. Together, their ideas reminded me of a core concept of artist Koo Jeong-A’s work that I find rather enchanting: it is only once her work is seen as art that she considers it complete.

Allison Agsten


Ask a Curator: Framing Contemporary Photography

July 20, 2009

Doug Wichert Asks:

I’m a photographer who trained as a printmaker but for the last twenty-five years I’ve been a freak about framing artwork. The thing bugging me is my observation that “modern” framing emerges just in time for Pop and that means it dies on its feet and we’re left to argue what is next. Memphis was substituting bad taste for new taste. What do you think you see that could be called a contemporary style of framing (or not framing) photography that seems to best exemplify the post-modern sensibility? I’d like to find it before I die. To repeat, do you see a trend in the framing of artwork that seems to present the work in the spirit/sensibility of this time?

Dear Doug,

I share your fascination and ongoing questioning of what constitutes a “neutral” or up-to-date framing style for photography. I think that the style and emphasis shifts over time. In the mid 1990s, you often saw contemporary photographs dry mounted onto to a smooth sheet of aluminum, and then, unframed, held by a cleat onto a gallery wall. To use that technique now seems to directly speak of the production values and the ethos of photographic art practice of over ten years ago. A brushed metal frame speaks of the 1960s, a stained wood, decoratively moulded frame refers to the late 19th century conventions of framing virtuoso photographs. About five years ago, we were seeing a lot of photographs front mounted with Plexi, which responded to this process that is famously used by some of the most high profile photographers such as Andreas Gursky, typically working with large and spectacular print sizes. I am not a great fan of this process because it doesn’t actually protect the photographic print (a piece of Plexi is easily scratched, Plexi isn’t exactly a durable material) and I think it somewhat shouts “I am art” and hides the substance (or lack of) the work under the highly seductive production values of face mounting. Today, well, I like to think that we are in a different place. As the market for photographs exits a boom moment when being big, flashy and colorful meant there was a chance that it would be collected, as our sense of the resonance of the (analog) history of photography shifts in this (digital) age, I think that the possibilities of framing photography are much more diverse. Doug, I think you can safely decide what a photograph or body of work really needs its frame to do—how can it complete the meaning of the work? You can reference an earlier period of photography by your choice of your frame, you can emphasize the organic or inorganic forms of your photographs by your choice of wood over metal frames. I don’t think that there is a particular type of frame that exemplifies the moment, there are so many options open to you and it really depends on what you want the frame to say.

Charlotte Cotton


A Peek into Paper Conservation

July 17, 2009

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For every work of art on paper featured in an upcoming exhibition, our lab in conservation examines it to determine its condition and whether any treatment is needed. So when we received a woodblock print from Yoshitoshi’s Demons, an installation of works from one of Japan’s top print artists of the Meiji era (opening at LACMA tomorrow), we noticed a disfiguring gray patina over some of the image’s red areas. We immediately set to work trying to figure out whether the gray was intentional or a form of degradation.

We know that the red lead used in Japanese prints can react chemically with sulfur in the environment, causing the ink to discolor. Sometimes, this darkening was utilized by the printer intentionally as an artistic tool. But, after comparing our print with copies of the same print in various collections around the world, we knew this wasn’t the case—what we were seeing was discoloration. In addition, traditional representations of this type of scene include a female robed in red and white—not gray and white. After these comparisons and consulting with the curator of the show, we unanimously decided that a conservation treatment was needed.

To convert the blackened pigment back to its original red-orange hue, we treated the discolored media with an oxidizing agent. This changed the lead sulfide to lead sulfate and revealed the print’s original color, as you can see in these before and after pictures.

In the treated print, the folds of the female figure’s costume are clearly visible, as are the details of the muscular structure of the back of the demon in the lower right corner.

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This treatment was an incredibly gratifying experience, as it resulted in a dramatic visual improvement of the print.

(By the way, the Freer & Sackler Galleries in Washington D.C. is currently featuring an exhibition on the Tale of Shuten Doji—the subject of our print).

Erin K. Jue, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Paper Conservation Center


Family Portrait

July 16, 2009

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I love this photo. It was taken in February 1968 and features forty-five artists gathered on LACMA’s steps—many with artworks in hand—for a “family portrait” of sorts. Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Frank Gehry, Judy Chicago, Billy Al Bengston, Penny Little, Claes Oldenberg, and many others dropped in for the photo op (as full a list as we can come up with is after the jump). The occasion was to document, for posterity, an exhibition of Los Angeles County artists’ works that was to go on view in Sacramento’s capitol building later that summer. The artists come from a variety of fields—painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion, film, graphic design, etc.

I first came across this picture when I flipped through the book LACMA published on the occasion of BCAM’s opening last year. Then I came across it again the other day when some research I was doing brought me to some old press clippings from 1968. From articles in the Los Angeles Times and the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, I gather it was a pretty swell party, with hors d’oeuvres and hard liquor in supply just off camera.

Each of these articles describe what seem to have been the two major stories of the party. First, the mod woman licking her lips and staring straight into the camera like the scene-stealer she knows she is. As the author of the Evening Outlook article described, “I looked her right in the eye and asked her name. ‘Leon Bing,’ she answered, ‘from San Francisco. Aren’t you going to ask my opinion on the war or something?’”

It was her forward attitude and, even more so, that strip of clear plastic running down the center of her “shocking pink” mini-skirt, that had the reporters’ tongues wagging. As it should have, since that’s why she was there. For in fact, she wasn’t an artist but a model, wearing the latest design by Rudi Gernreich (seated next to her in the jacket with the oversized zippers).

The look on Gernreich’s face essentially illustrates the other common theme of the day—the dueling disinterest of all involved vs. their desire to have their fabulousness documented. As noted by the Los Angeles Times’ Art Seidenbaum—who actually appears in the photo, I’m told, though I couldn’t tell you which is him—“On the plaza, a show of mixed emotions. Each artist seemed torn between the desire to be photographed and the need to prove he didn’t want the publicity.” Of the forty-five people in the picture, I count eleven who actually looked toward the camera when the photographer shouted “smile.”

We’ve come up with thirty of the forty-five people on the steps. If you recognize anyone else, let us know! The full list, in alphabetical order, after the jump.

Scott Tennent

Read the rest of this entry »


Have You Seen My Mountain?

July 15, 2009

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If you missed Koo Jeong-A’s Mountain Fundamental on the first floor of BCAM, you’re not alone. And, if you did happen to find it, you might wonder why it’s there. Mountain Fundamental is comprised of a tiny landscape of stones that the artist sanded into a fine powder and placed atop a very long-legged table that comes to about nose-height. The spindly table and the diminutive mounds are practically invisible in a huge space that’s swallowed up by Richard Serra’s Band.

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Koo Jeong-A, "Mountain Fundamental," 1997-2009 (detail), stone powder on wooden table, dimensions vary, courtesy of the artist and Yvon Lambert, Paris

Since Mountain Fundamental is part of Your Bright Future, an exhibition installed one floor up, I presumed the placement was curator Lynn Zelevansky’s decision. I was wrong. It was the artist who determined the location for the artwork, and for all of her works in the show. Rather than having her own gallery space, she often chooses unexpected locations for her works; sometimes this means moving into space where other art is already installed, or in the case of Bridge, another work in the exhibition, taking over a storage room not normally accessible to the public.

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Koo Jeong-A, "The Bridge," 2009, razor blades, dimensions vary

The atypical placement evokes a sense of mystery, poetry, and, for Bridge, which features dimly lit razorblades, even a sense of danger. Koo uses an artist’s technique that’s a few decades old—disguising installations as a means of drawing viewers into the creative process. The idea is that, once visitors “see” the work—recognize it as art—it becomes complete. Suddenly, seeing Mountain Fundamental aside Band makes a lot more sense to me.

Allison Agsten


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