Ghosts of Exhibitions Past: My Year in BCAM

December 23, 2009

After a hundred and twenty odd hours on a post—in my case, on the second floor of BCAM—an image can get lodged on the back of the retina, ghostlike—and lovingly so, if you’re lucky. A tale told in a single image can be a haunting affair, and may even become the symbol of that exhibition, intentional or not.

Thus Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled head from the inaugural BCAM exhibition flashes its indelible and striking image. In a white gallery, the black spiky skull, bristling with ferocity, jarring color, and a wink of ironic humor, sits iconically in my brain, like the ghost it is.

From there we travel back in time to last winter’s Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures. Hans Grundig’s To the Victims of Fascism is a harrowing painting of two Jews prostrated in dying poses while a red-orange sky is littered with blackbirds soaring portentously overhead. This is but one page of a profound scholarship that traces the pathos of a nation coming to terms with a dark and diabolical past. The idea of a “haunting” may not say enough about this giant of an exhibition.

Hans Grundig, To the Victims of Fascism, 1946/49, © 2009 Hans Grundig Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

But like it or not, the scene changes from World War II’s broken and dark past, and I find myself in Your Bright Future, a new and strange and even somewhat personal construct of another nation’s life. Once more, an emphatic and imposing piece of art becomes a mesmerizing experience. The once small grey gallery morphs into a large white cavernous space, dimly lit. Here a vanity is brought to life as a small Korean house crashes into a larger American boarding house. With Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5, we enter a private metaphor, a dream as it were, in unbelievable detail. The dollhouses are brought to a reality that is indescribable; yet they achieve a demonstrative display of alienation and integration.

Installation view, Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-09, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

In spite of these hypnotic ghosts, the last exhibit is a form of release, for the images are framed photographs of the delightful and captivating series of The Sum of Myself: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, spanning a hundred and fifty years—of which, from my station, sadly I can only see the sides of frames.

Yes, those past powerful exhibitions are with me still; they are forms of immateriality that give art the hold it has, or can have, on us.

Hylan Booker, Gallery Attendant


The Ten Best Films of 2009

December 22, 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, we asked Bernardo Rondeau to give us a rundown of his ten (plus) favorite films of the year.

1. Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (Miguel Gomes)
Plastered wall-to-wall with tunes of transcendental schmaltz, cast with cranky crew members and awkward locals, and filmed with improbable grace, this is meta-cinema of casual monumentality.

2. Police, Adjective (Cornelio Porumbei)
As stripped down as Gomes’s film is overabundant, Porumbei’s mordant procedural is equally plentiful. In our era of semiotic subterfuge, this film has stick-figure clarity.

3. City of Life and Death (Chuan Lu)
Forget Haneke and Hillcoat, this year’s most harrowing motion picture was Chan Lu’s devastating Nanking panorama.

4. Ne Change Rien (Pedro Costa)
The year’s best materialist, Nick-Ray-via-Straub-Huillet musical.

5. Petition (Zhao Liang)
Shot secretly over a decade, in shades of grime and smudged grays, another startling report from China on the expansive other side of modernity.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Anderson’s diorama universe has never been more precisely appointed, but the quicksilver formalism and Hawksian rapport keep away any mold.

7. What Happened on 23rd Street in 1901 and Jonas Mekas in Kodachrome Days (Ken Jacobs)
Two time-machine wunderkammers that cost one millisecond of Avatar’s screen time (and require no eyewear to realize their special effects). In the first, a glimpse of the swarming, impossibly kinetic and brand-new twentieth century is recomposed into a lucid and often hilarious study of the optical unconsciousness; in the other, we’re at the halfway mark as underground film’s fountainhead strobes and shimmers in eternal youth.

8. The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch)
Isaach De Bankolé is Jarmusch’s Delon. Probably the year’s most misunderstood film, Jarmusch’s saga may be the truly Tarkovskyian feature in anno-Antichrist. Its Meville-stately cool aside, it offers a fully inhabitable world of free-associative enigmas.

9. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) and Still Walking (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Secrets, lies, and other domestic ghosts, all through quietly majestic mise-en-scène.

10. Night and Day and Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo)
The long and short of it, as Hong stretches out and contracts, on a newly cosmic scale.

And special mentions to The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) and Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino): A pair of steadfastly schematic films with towering performances—Jeremy Renner is as dialed down and distressingly withdrawn as Christoph Waltz is pathologically showy and diabolically charismatic—and self-destructive macho spectacles both. Plus, Encarnação do Demônio (José Mojica Marins): Brazilian cinema’s Gran Torino, in which Mojica Marins sends off the country’s gonzo boogie man—and his onscreen alter ego—with a fitting blast of baroque vulgarity.

Bernardo Rondeau


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 »


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