One Way to Get Through Baggage Claim

October 14, 2009

Allison discovered the trove of art and history that is LACMA’s library only yesterday, but I’ve been digging through its archives almost since I arrived at LACMA nearly three years ago. If it weren’t for our archives I wouldn’t have been able to bring you this post on the history of the Wilshire/Fairfax intersection, or this one on all the illustrious debuts of 1913, or this great family portrait taken at LACMA in 1968.

When I came across the family portrait in a book of press clippings from ‘68, I also happened upon a news item from the Venice Vanguard concerning Edward Kienholz. Apparently the artist managed to outdo that United Breaks Guitars guy some forty years in advance. Here is the article in full:

Airline desk ruined by artist’s axe

Artist Edward Kienholz, who is best known for his display of controversial sculpture at the L.A. County Museum of Art last year, has—literally—struck again.

The scene of the improvised “happening” was the TWA terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Kienholz… arrived at the terminal at 1 p.m. Thursday and presented a letter of introduction before he proceeded to demolish a lost and found desk in the baggage department with a long-handled axe.

Police report that the steel and formica desk was completely ruined by the four hefty swings which Kienholz took at the TWA property.

The outburst was prompted by a disagreement between Kienholz and TWA. Police said that Kienholz had presented a $150 claim for damage to one of his works of art while it was being transported from San Francisco aboard a TWA flight. When the claim was denied, it was presumed that Kienholz decided to collect “in kind.”

Los Angeles police officers of the Airport Division met Kienholz in an airport parking lot after the incident and returned to the scene of the crime to investigate the damages. TWA officials refused to file charges and Kienholz was sent home.

Photos and a report of the damage has been sent to the West Los Angeles City Attorney, who may file a complaint of malicious mischief against Kienholz

Kienholz is reported to have been accompanied by two friends and a photographer.

For more on “the TWA incident,” this article at X-tra Online goes into more detail, and Kienholz himself recounted the incident to Lawrence Weschler in a 2004 issue of the Believer (though only a portion of the article is available online). A story like this one makes me extra glad that LACMA takes special care when it comes to transporting art! Warning to all baggage handlers: do not invite the wrath of the artist upon ye.

Scott Tennent

Daring to Enter LACMA’s Library

October 13, 2009

I’ve been at LACMA for more than four years, but until last week I had yet to step foot into our research library. Partly I was put off by the “research” bit; since I’m not a scholar, I figured my kind probably wasn’t welcome. And the “by appointment only” sign on the door also scared me off. The place just seemed way too intellectually exclusive so I kept my distance. But, on a quest for information on a past exhibition, Scott dragged me down the hall to check it out for the first time. And of course, I walked through the door and instantly fell in love. I have really been missing out for the last four years.

Ed Ruscha's "Every Building on the Sunset Strip"

Ed Ruscha's "Every Building on the Sunset Strip"

A smattering of Surrealist ephemera

A smattering of Surrealist ephemera

The extensive, non-circulating collection of 175,000 books, journals, and periodicals contains everything from exhibition catalogues to, as I found, Ed Ruscha’s classic Every Building on the Sunset Strip book. And here’s the best part—not only was I welcome there, but so are you. The research library is open to the public by appointment (call 323 857-6118 or email Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I’ll be back again soon to pull out some of the gems the library staff shared with me including the surrealist ephemera above and, particularly pertinent to my job, this old press clipping book—an entire volume devoted entirely to the controversy surrounding the exhibition of one of our iconic (and lightning rod) works, Back Seat Dodge ’38 by Ed Kienholz. Great headline, right?

Allison Agsten

We’re Here for You (And We’re Free, Too)

October 12, 2009

The third day of a three-day weekend can feel a little funny sometimes. It feels like a Sunday, moving at a relaxing, mellow pace, but the newspaper isn’t fat, and strange things are on TV, like Regis and Kelly and Brady Bunch reruns. Worse—everything is closed!

Except LACMA. Not only are we open, we’re free all day today. Come to the museum and check out Luis Meléndez or Joseph Beuys, or bring your kids and get a little brush-painting in while you check out our Korean galleries. We also have a few regularly scheduled tours of the permanent collection. Come on, you’ve seen all those Brady Bunch episodes anyway.

Scott Tennent

The Bread Savant

October 9, 2009

Most visitors who have seen our Luis Meléndez show note the spectacular fruit and vegetables in the still lifes. But, for my husband, a fourth-generation flour expert, it was all about the bread. It’s always about the bread.

When we’re out to dinner, an assessment typically begins the moment the bread basket arrives. Usually, with just a cursory glance, my husband tells me what bakery the bread came from, whether it is truly fresh baked or frozen and then partially baked off at the restaurant, and how I can expect it to taste and feel in my mouth—all just by looking! The bread savant routine finally came in handy earlier in the week when he stopped by to see the Meléndez show.


Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Pigeons, Onions, Bread, and Kitchen Utensils, c. 1774, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, the Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Summer Collection Fund

Of the dozen paintings in the show featuring bread, this is the one my husband really fixated on. He pointed out a detail in the background that I’d never noticed—on the right-hand side of the painting, there’s a ridged pan resting in a bowl. Judging by the concentric pattern on both the vessel and the loaf, that’s likely what this bread would have been baked in, with a lid placed on top. (You can tell there was a lid because of the crease in the middle of the bread; this is where the dough oozed through.) My husband also noted that this bread would have been quite dense because Meléndez was painting during a time before commercial yeast became available. It was likely baked in a hearth oven, with wood beneath.


Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, c. 1770, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patron’s Permanent Fund

For this loaf, he rendered quick judgment: “Don’t even thinking of using it for a sandwich!” Way too crusty and difficult to cut neatly because of the deep split top created by scoring the surface of the loaf before baking. Fruit, fittingly, would have been a perfect accompaniment.

Allison Agsten

A Convincing Lie

October 8, 2009

A couple of weeks ago John Baldessari graced the stage of the Bing Theater in conversation with LACMA’s director, Michael Govan. The talk was part of The Director’s Series, which has previously seen Govan in conversation with, among others, Chris Burden, Jorge Pardo, Robert Irwin, and Jeff Koons (many of which you can see in full in our Screening Room). The next one, by the way, will be with Barbara Kruger. (The event is free but tickets are required. But if you want my advice—if you find that the event is sold out, take a risk and try the standby line on the night of.)

The entire Baldessari conversation was really interesting, giving a brief overview of the artist’s career and whetting appetites for the retrospective of his work that will go on view here next year (and is opening next week at the Tate Modern). One segment that got my mind working was their discussion of his text paintings, which involve Baldessari using text written by someone else and then painted onto the canvas by a sign painter. Their discussion of what makes something “art” only begins here; if you’ve got the time, watch the conversation in full.

Another moment in the talk stuck out at me as well, since not long before Allison had done her series of posts on keeping tabs on the art collection. In her post about the backs of paintings, which contain documentation of everywhere they’ve been, one commenter asked what happens when the back of the painting is filled up. Baldessari clearly wrestled with that same problem at least once, and came up with a worthy solution:

Scott Tennent


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