How We Acquire Art

December 21, 2009

With the recent coverage of the proposed Jeff Koons sculpture, Train, a lot of people have been asking me about the way we acquire art. Where exactly does the money come from? Is the rest of the institution impacted (i.e. keeping the lights on) when millions of dollars are spent on an object? I share this information often with the media and thought it might be of interest to Unframed readers as well.

The majority of art that comes into the collection is via donation. Either an interested donor gives art to the museum or provides funds to acquire a work or collection identified by curators. Sometimes, as with our Pacific Island art collection, on view now, donors pool funds to help with an acquisition, and annually our Collectors Committee gathers together to fund and choose art to acquire for LACMA. (It should be noted that a donor is not always an individual. The Ahmanson Foundation, for example, along with the Ahmanson family, is the largest donor in the history of the museum, having given more than $100 million for art acquisition.) So, if/when Train does come to LACMA, it will be via this route—a donation to the museum from an interested donor or donors.

St. Martina, circa 1635-1640, Pietro Berrettini (called Pietro da), Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation

A smaller slice of the funds comes from deaccessioning, the practice of selling lesser works in the collection to buy greater works, and also from the interest generated by the museum’s endowment that is restricted for art purchase. (And no, we don’t dip into the endowment principal to buy art—we draw 5% annually of the accumulated interest.) Curatorial departments have access to certain other restricted acquisition funds, but that slice is smaller still. Every now and again there are exceptions to the means used to acquire art outlined above—an amazing collection will come on the market and the museum will budget a small sum (in our world) annually of, say, a million dollars, to purchase the collection over the course of a few years. Otherwise, general operating funds—this is the keeping the lights on part—are not typically involved.

Allison Agsten


A Temple Within a Pavilion

December 18, 2009

Our artist-in-residence Emily Lacy is now well underway with her series of performances in the Pavilion for Japanese Art. Emily’s instrumental and vocal projections transform the space into something ethereal. It’s interesting to see how sound and architecture interact, each conditioning the experience of the other. The pavilion, designed by Bruce Goff with Bart Prince, is a unique architectural environment, with its long spiral walkway wending its way through the interior atrium and curving bays that house an extraordinary collection of Japanese art. Enormous Shoji screens admit diffuse natural light that changes dramatically throughout the day. As we near the winter solstice, you can stop by any afternoon Thursday through Sunday in December and January and listen to Emily perform as the winter sunlight fades into evening. Her residency will culminate in an album produced entirely at LACMA. Meanwhile, some of her recordings are also available in our gift store.

Amy Heibel, Manager of Contemporary Public Programs and New Media


Trivial Pursuit: Ardabil Carpet Edition

December 17, 2009

Most carpets are meant to be viewed directionally. From what point was LACMA’s famed Ardabil carpet, featured below, intended to be experienced?

Answer after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »


Making Memories from Silk

December 16, 2009

Do Ho Suh’s Gate (2005) will go on view this weekend in LACMA’s Korean art galleries. Made of translucent silk, Gate is a full-size rendering of one of the gates to the artist’s childhood home in Seoul. Suh’s father, the artist and scholar Suh Se-Ok, built the house based on the design of traditional Korean architecture of the 1880s. He reconstructed the traditional scholar’s house using discarded wood from demolished buildings that were torn down as Korea was modernizing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Do Ho Suh, Gate, 2005, purchased with funds provided by Carla and Fred Sands through the 2006 Collectors Committee

Born in Seoul in 1962, Suh lives and works in both New York and South Korea. He began making “fabric-architecture” in 1994, using transparent and translucent materials like silk and nylon to recreate the places he has lived throughout his life. Architecture and memory are central themes in Suh’s work. By rendering such intimate spaces as his childhood home and his first adult apartment in translucent materials, he evokes questions in the viewer about their own sense of place and memory. When asked about the fabrication of these works, he responded: “A big portion of the fabrication has been done by me, especially measuring and pattern making. Measuring is such an important process and it becomes always very personal since the process allows me to revisit my childhood memories and personal histories. It has to be also a very intimate process, too, because it is a very tactile process. I have to caress all the surfaces of the building and record the measurements. Of course, I must hire other people who are in various skill levels from ‘Human National Treasures’ (old sewing ladies who still carry on traditional techniques) to part-time students because it is a very labor intensive process.”

Michele Urton, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art


Best of the Decade—Tell Us What You Think

December 15, 2009

The Los Angeles cultural community has grown dramatically in the last ten years. On the eve of a new decade, we at Unframed asked LACMA curators and other museum staff what they felt the best thing was to happen to the visual arts in LA and at LACMA since 2000. Next week we’ll run their responses along with a selection of your opinions.

So, tell us what you think—what’s been the greatest development in the LA art scene, and at LACMA, in the last ten years?

Allison Agsten


More Renewed Topographics

December 14, 2009

A few weeks ago we featured some before-and-after comparisons of some of the Los Angeles-area locations featured in New Topographics, on view through the end of the year. There were a couple of mystery spots, however, that we couldn’t locate, so we challenged our Unframed readers to help us out. Thanks to commenters Sue and Michael we’ve identified the correct coordinates! Frank Gohlke’s Landscape, Los Angeles, 1974, was shot at West 4th and South Hill Streets in downtown Los Angeles, and Henry Wessel’s Hollywood, 1972, was snapped at De Longpre Avenue and North Gower Street. Good detective work, Sue and Michael!

Here’s the proof.

Left: Frank Gohlke, Landscape, Los Angeles, 1974. Right: Composite from three images of West 4th and South Hill Streets facing northwest. This was a tricky one! Notice that the wall behind the white truck on the right and the streetlamp match Gohlke’s original.

Left: Henry Wessel, Hollywood, 1972. Right: De Longpre Avenue and North Gower Street facing east toward a wall of Sunset Gower Studios.

For those of you in the rest of the country, here’s your chance to go hunting, too! Take a look at this Google map that indicates the locations of almost all the photographs on display in New Topographics. Some of the exact locations are a mystery—even the photographers don’t remember where they were. These are indicated as approximate on the map. But several of the pins represent exact locations indeed, such as most of Nicholas Nixon’s work in Boston and John Schott’s photograph of what is now the Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, Arizona. Take a look and see if you can see what any of these New Topographers saw back in the seventies in a town near you. Let us know what you find and how it looks today.

Sarah Bay Williams, Ralph M. Parsons Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


Tour New Topographics with Catherine Opie

December 11, 2009

Concluding our series of photographer-led tours of New Topographics, we are honored to have leading American artist Catherine Opie join us this Sunday. Cathy’s epic documentation of the American landscape highlights the inherent political nature of land use, including the forces of marginalization that come to bear upon its less conventional inhabitants. With insight into the social forces that shape both American terrain and community, Cathy has created iconic, individual portraits of social community as well as provided a major survey of our nation’s landscape. She recognizes as a photographic subject “the landscape as portraiture,” the ongoing site of collective and contested identity writ large. New Topographics has proven a fruitful inspiration to her practice.

Cathy’s earliest association with New Topographics was made while studying at the San Francisco Art Institute with participating photographer Henry Wessel. Although she was initially drawn to the more expressively inflected work of photographers like Lee Friedlander and Robert Frank (promulgated by curator John Szarkowski at MoMA), Cathy later turned her attentions toward New Topographics with the encouragement of her MFA tutor at Cal Arts, photographer Allen Sekula, known for his visual critiques of the social and geographic landscape. While living in Valencia at Cal Arts without a car, Cathy began her series Master Plan, detailing the rapid residential development taking place in the surrounding area. Her critical view of the exclusionary practices of development—seen in model home sales and aesthetic regulations of homeowners’ association—come to the fore in her study of the meaning of “home.” Subsequent series like Being and Having and Portraits focus on elements of such excluded communities. Her iconic series Portraits depicts the leather community of San Francisco, raising attendant issues about open gay identity, physical manipulation in S&M, and the role of the transgendered. Cathy’s investigation of the built landscape continues with such Los Angeles-based series as Mini-malls, Freeways, and Houses. Her recent series High School Football investigates still further the relationship of the football field’s highly contested terrain to formation of gendered individual and national identity.

I recently sat down with Cathy to discuss the early lessons she drew from New Topographics and which she now imparts as professor of fine art at UCLA. Here is a glimpse of her insights into the exhibition’s continued importance to viewers today:

Edward Robinson, Associate Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


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