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

Q&A with Buddhist Monk Hyon Gak Sunim

December 10, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Hyon Gak Sunim (Ven.), the much-respected Buddhist monk who will be at LACMA on Saturday to join in conversation with the head of our Korean art department, Hyonjeong Kim Han. I was especially eager to talk to Hyon Gak since I recently had the very powerful experience of partaking in the Buddhist blessing ceremony for the Pensive Bodhisattva, which will be on view here through Sunday.

Hyon Gak Sunim (Ven.)

Q: Can you tell me about the place art holds within Korean Buddhism?

A: In any religion, art is the communicator of the life of what cannot be seen—the spirit, the soul; our Christ nature, our Buddha nature. Art creates a representation of what we cannot see with our eyes. It performs the same function as in Christianity but in Buddhism the difference, perhaps, is that art tries to convey an enlightened state—the light, bright, clear, compassionate mind. Some religious art shows how sinful or dirty people are but Buddhism is not oppositional in that way. The aim is to show the enlightened state.

Q: I felt privileged to take part in the blessing for Korean National Treasure number 78, the Pensive Bodhisattva, when it arrived here earlier this year. Are prayers like this commonplace in Buddhism?

A: All of these pieces of art were not made for museums, which are a modern construct. The Pensive Bodhisattva, the Sistine Chapel, and other similar, iconic works, were not made as objects to be looked at themselves. These things belonged in ceremony and were always having prayers performed around them.

Q: I suppose it was really a matter of context—of having a religious experience in a secular place.

A: Yes, it was a devotional experience that may have been just as powerful if it were a Catholic blessing.

Q: One line in the prayer really struck me: “It is said that to seek the Buddha through form and sound is not the truest search. However, for us who lack spiritual realization, we have brought these holy statues as a method of spiritual development.” Can you embellish on this idea?

A: The soul, true self, or true nature can’t often be experienced. This statue helps us. Looking at it, do we feel angry, jealous, bitter, or vengeful? No. If you are angry at your friend, you could feel a little calmer. Blood pressure goes down, brain waves calm; it’s been scientifically proven. Looking at the Pensive Bodhisattva, your spirit has developed for a little bit, even for five minutes.

Allison Agsten


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