Packing the Pensive Bodhisattva

December 9, 2009

It’s been an honor for LACMA to have the Pensive Bodhisattva, a Korean national treasure, on view here for the last three months, but after this weekend, it will be packed to return to its homeland.

Installation view featuring Pensive Bodhisattva, late 6th century

It’s not going back to Asia in just any old shipping crate, however. It will return in a box made especially for it based on scans of the object.

As you can see in the image above, cuts in the wood precisely mimic the contours of the Pensive Bodhisattva. The crate is so perfectly made for the statue that it needs very little wrapping to protect it once it is safely ensconced inside.

The assembly of the box reminds me a lot of Lincoln Logs. In fact, it’s not such a bad analogy in that nails aren’t used to keep the box together; rather, an interlocking construction holds all the parts in place. The wood itself comes from Paulownia trees, which are renowned for their light weight and strength. Paulownia wood is also a good insulator, resistant to bugs, and remains stable in spite of humidity variations. Your last chance to see this sacred Buddhist object before it’s stowed away in its fittingly special crate is this Sunday.

Allison Agsten

The Painstaking Process of Tying 15.5 Million Knots

December 8, 2009

There’s a good chance that you have a modern Oriental carpet in your home but, if you’re like me, you don’t know too much about how it was made. I recently received an education on the weaving of classical Persian carpets from our Curator and Department Head of Art of the Middle East, Linda Komaroff.

Ardabil carpet, Iran, dated 1539–40, gift of J. Paul Getty

One of the first things she taught me about Persian pile carpets, such as LACMA’s renowned Ardabil carpet (on view now), is not to refer to them as rugs. (It’s not a rule, per se, simply a more formal salutation. Linda noted that using the word rug would be similar to calling a painting a picture.) Next I learned about the three components of a hand-woven Persian pile carpet: warp, weft, and pile.

The warps form the first part of the carpet’s foundation. Wool, silk, or cotton yarns are tightly stretched parallel to each other on the loom. Next there is the weft, composed of similar threads which pass under and over the warps from one side to the other. To form the pile, dyed silk or wool yarns are tied around consecutive sets of adjacent warps to create the elaborate designs in the carpet. As successive rows are tied to the foundation, these knots become the pile.

If it sounds like a long and painstaking process, it is. As I tweeted a couple of weeks ago, an outstanding classical Persian carpet such as the Ardabil took about four years to make and, at 23 ft. 7 in. by 13 ft 1 ½ in, is comprised of approximately 15.5 million knots.

Allison Agsten

Counting Flowers on the Wall

December 7, 2009

What are the odds that two major, widely acclaimed exhibitions in Los Angeles this year would prominently feature floral wallpaper in the galleries? I would have guessed slim until I saw the spectacular Robert Gober-curated Charles Burchfield show at the Hammer recently. Burchfield, it turns out, was a wallpaper designer in Buffalo, New York from 1921 to 1929, and a reprint of one of his creations covers the walls in the third room. (Check out some very cool installation shots here.)

Sunflowers (design for M. H. Birge & Sons Company wallpaper), 1921. Watercolor and graphite on paper mounted on board, 27 1/2 x 20 in. Burchfield Penney Art Center. Gift of Charles E. Burchfield Foundation, 1975. Image courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

If you experienced our Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures exhibition in January, or if you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may have also recall floral wallpaper figuring prominently in the installation of Gerhard Richter’s installation Volker Bradke. At this rate, I’d say perennial paint favorite Benjamin Moore Super White had better watch its back.

Allison Agsten

Tour New Topographics with Kim Stringfellow

December 4, 2009

This Sunday’s next artist-led tour of New Topographics will be given by multimedia artist and educator Kim Stringfellow. Kim just happens to specialize in guiding people through geographic space. Her research-driven art projects, which explore such historically fascinating landscapes as the Salton Sea and California’s I-5 corridor, are both edifying and engaging in her study of these areas that are so beautiful and horrible in their states of decay and misuse.

Kim’s latest project, Jackrabbit Homestead: Tracing the Small Tract Act in the Southern California Landscape 1938–2008, focuses on the strangely patriotic and ideologically sweet (but now mostly dilapidated) shacks that speckle the desert landscape of California’s Morongo Basin region near Joshua Tree National Park. These shacks are remnants of a mid-century phenomenon whereby the United States government deeded plots of land it found to be “useless” to any able-bodied American interested in leasing to own a five-acre spread of desert brush, rock, and sand on which to build whatever their heart desired—roads, water, and electricity not included. Kim weaves a grand tour of the “jackrabbit” homesteads via multiple avenues. The project’s website features stunning photography and a downloadable car audio tour with music and storytelling.

Edward Robinson, associate curator of photography, sat down with Kim to chat about how New Topographics has influenced her work as well as her contemporaries and influences such as the Center for Land Use Interpretation (whose multimedia presentations are included as part of LACMA’s exhibition) and photographer Richard Misrach.

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

Kid Lit Goes to the Museum

December 3, 2009

What do the American Museum of Natural History, the Celesteville Museum of Art, and the Ploomajiggy Museum of Animal History all have in common? Children and animal visitors from literature. Fascinated by all things museums, LACMA’s Collection Information staff have recently researched children’s books with museums as settings—and found many children’s authors frequently using museum galleries as a backdrop to explore the theme of kids-gone-wild. Maisy, Theodosia Throckmorton, Little William Everett Crocodile, Norman the Doorman, Amelia Bedelia, and Holden Caulfield are just a few of the book characters involved in museum activities like hiding, sleeping, sleuthing, time-traveling, or simply breaking priceless artifacts.

As we reached out to colleagues for feedback in compiling a bibliography of museum-related fiction [note: pdf], most surprising was the number of museum professionals who had been inspired by children’s books. I thought my colleagues might be annoyed by my request to review our bibliography, but I couldn’t believe the response. We received one recommendation after another, some citing a child’s book as their reason for entering the museum field. The book most cited by museum colleagues? From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the story of two siblings who sleep overnight at the Met in a royal eighteenth-century bed.

For holiday gifts I recommend two popular current books whose authors were especially helpful to this project: The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and Brian Selznick, the true account of the first model-maker of life-size dinosaurs, and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, where the young protagonist establishes the Found Object Wind Chime Museum in the California desert.

Renee Montgomery, LACMA Assistant Director of Collections Information


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,074 other followers

%d bloggers like this: