Who made the hyperrealistic and seemingly infinite array of tiny household objects to be found in Fallen Star 1/5? Is the Needle Woman real or an illusion, as she holds her ground on the streets of world cities? And what’s going on in the enormous twenty-dollar bill projected on a BCAM wall? Annie Carone and the Behind the Scenes video camera visited the galleries of Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea to get the answers on these vital questions. There Assistant Curator Michele Urton provided the lowdown on Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5, Jeon Joonho’s The White House, and Kimsooja’s A Needle Woman, three commanding large-scale works at the heart of the exhibition—an Artforum Critics’ Pick that’s on view till September 20.
What triggers curators to do an exhibition on an artist? Is it who’s hot in the art market? Or is it popularity (Picasso, impressionism are the usual suspects)?
Popularity and the art market can be motives for selecting a specific exhibition topic. But that is too narrow. When a curator presents something new in contemporary art, he is making a selection, and by doing so is confirming the belief that a specific artist or trend is noteworthy.
Exhibitions have a variety of intentions, but primarily are a means to educate their visitors. This didactic function gives me quite a leeway. Often, my choice of subject matter is related to our permanent collection. I have been inspired by a work of art in LACMA’s holdings to explore a certain theme, as was the case with The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam (1988), one of which we own, and our forthcoming Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins, celebrating our recent acquisition of Eakins’s last sporting canvas, Wrestlers.
At other times, I have investigated art that is not well represented in our permanent holdings. Such was the circumstance with A Question of Modernity: The Figure in American Sculpture (1995). Then my aim was not only to present works usually unavailable to the Los Angeles community, but also to investigate the concept of “modern” as it was originally conceived at the beginning of the twentieth century and later modified. The exhibition and accompanying catalogue revised the history of American art; I like doing that. The social aspects of American culture seen through its visual material world also fascinate me, and so my next show in 2011 will focus on women Surrealists.
By now you must be realizing that my choices are personal: I love research and learning new things, and so whatever topic I choose, it has to be complex and meaningful enough to keep me occupied for at least five years (the time it takes to organize most art-historic exhibitions). Sounds selfish, perhaps, but it seems to work!
Ilene Susan Fort, The Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art
We’ve really enjoyed receiving so many great questions since we started our Ask a Curator series a couple of months ago. Most of the questions from our first round have been answered (with a couple more answers still in the works—including one tomorrow).
We’re sure you have more questions—whether about the nitty-gritty details of planning exhibitions or installing artworks, about specific works in our collection, or bigger questions about the art and museum world (or anything else you can think of). Ask away in the comments here, on our Facebook page, or reply to us on Twitter (you can even ask us in Spanish—though we’ll answer in English). We’ll collect your questions and over the next few weeks will post responses from our curators.
In case you missed them, here are the questions our curators have answered so far:
A few months ago I attended the Grilled Cheese Festival held at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, off Spring Street, north of the Chinatown Goldline metro stop. I didn’t make the art connection until I learned from assistant curator Rita Gonzalez that this was the same park where Lauren Bon’s art project Not a Cornfield took place a few years ago. Now it is one of a number of sites on the Governor’s proposed list of state parks to shut down, its fate unclear as lawmakers determine which parks will close sometime after Labor Day.
Most commonly known as the Cornfield, the 32-acre parcel has gone through a series of transformations throughout history. Once the land of the native Tongva-Gabrielenos, it became a settlement of primarily Mexican and Chinese immigrants in the mid to late 1800s. During the twentieth century it served as a trainyard, accumulating years of industrial waste on once fertile ground. After the property was purchased by the Trust for Public Land in 2001 and turned over to the California parks department, Lauren Bon initiated a long-term art project designed to engage the community and renew the land as public space. Volunteers sowed, tended, and harvested corn, a socially responsible undertaking using conceptual art methodology as its guide (an exhibition on this project concluded last month in Rochester, New York). By marrying community involvement with artistic innovation, the project created a renewed recreational space for Angelenos in the center of urban sprawl.
The trend for socially responsible art projects has been apparent for quite some time; Berin Golonu credited notable works in Art Papers such as Agnes Denes’s Wheatfield—A Confrontation, Amy Francheschini and Jon Bela’s Victory Gardens in San Francisco, and Fritz Haeg’s nationwide Edible Estates. These projects may well lead more artists to combine art and environmental sustainability, and it will be interesting to see how museums respond (Haeg’s Animal Estates exhibited at the Whitney last year).
While the LA State Historic Park is not fully completed, about half of the land is temporarily accessible to the public, with didactic panels noting the history of the area and its plans for future development. As we look to the coming months to see which parks will remain open, historic parks with high maintenance costs have become a factor due to the state’s financial deficit and the spotty economy. In the meantime, should a number of parks close due to budget cuts, we can only hope innovative ways will be found to keep them creatively occupied.
One time they were moving a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Mason City, Iowa, and I got to walk through the house as it rested on I-beams. I’d read a Wright biography but, standing in the living room and looking out the band of windows, I suddenly understood that, oh yeah, he made houses that people lived in. The Stockman House, as it’s known, elaborated on a floorplan Wright had presented in a 1907 Ladies’ Home Journal article called “A Fireproof House for $5,000.”
A chair reminded me of that house the other day: a wooden side chair created by Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Marli Ehrman and featured in the new exhibition “From the Spoon to the City”: Design by Architects from LACMA’s Collection. Plain in appearance (“the homeliest piece in the exhibition,” assistant curator Bobbye Tigerman says cheerfully), the chair was part of Eames and Saarinen’s first-place entry in MoMA’s 1941 competition “Organic Design in Home Furnishings.” As with Wright’s floorplan, the idea of the competition was to encourage contemporary design at affordable prices.
“That was a major mission of modernism, going back as far as the Arts and Crafts period,” Bobbye says. “The perennial struggle of the designer is whether to create for the masses, using less expensive materials and processes, or to design for the few and be able to incorporate expensive refinements. All designers must decide where they fall on that spectrum.”
It can be an inexact science, though. The Eames and Saarinen chair would have sold for a then relatively expensive $45 and was never put into production. That’s because the chair, simple as it looks, represented a radical innovation in furniture making—the first time that thin layers of wood and glue were molded into three-dimensional shapes. The process wouldn’t be practical for mass production until after World War II (during which Charles and Ray Eames learned a lot about molding plywood by making splints and airplane parts for the Navy).