Telling American Stories

February 26, 2010

In anticipation of American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915, I interviewed Bruce Robertson, guest curator and co-organizer of the exhibition. Among other things, Bruce talked about the painting Watson and the Shark that appears in the first gallery. Bruce emphasizes the ambiguity of the painting, the way you can interpret it this way or that way. Listen to what he has to say, below:

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ferdinand Belin Fund (1963.6.1), image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

There’s so much to be said about this painting (watch for more in upcoming posts), and it supports a premise of the show: that these paintings are open to myriad interpretations that depend on the viewer. Bruce put it this way:

Next week, I’ll also share some entertaining and insightful comments from a group of kids about what they see in the painting Cliff Dwellers, by George Bellows—a favorite from LACMA’s collection that appears toward the end of American Stories.

Amy Heibel


Unlikely Activity in the Resnick Pavilion

February 25, 2010

I recently stumbled across some shocking activity inside the soon-to-open Resnick 
Pavilion.
 Andrew Martinez, assistant site manager for building cleaning,
 was pouring pomegranate juice, red wine, olive oil, and coffee on the gallery 
floor. Further investigation revealed the not-so-shocking truth: Andrew was testing the mock-up for the new floor with food—food known to stain.

“The new 
flooring surface in the Resnick Pavilion is a raw gray concrete,” explained Andrew. “The 
challenge for our building cleaning crew will be to maintain the beautiful, 
natural finish of the material, so we’re testing various sealants with the 
goal of finding one that won’t alter the appearance of the floor but will 
provide an effective barrier to the spills that will undoubtedly occur.”

Andrew showed us how the sealant works, noting that once they identify the
 right product and apply it, the liquids will remain on top of the floor and
 not soak into what is naturally a very porous material. He likened
 it to a newly waxed car: the water should bead on the surface.

The type of sealant chosen invisibly saturates the porous concrete surface, restricting the ability of liquids to penetrate the floor, protecting it against staining.

Andrew conceded that it was fun making a mess for once instead of cleaning 
one up.

Randy Murphy, 
Director of Operations


Measuring Arts Education, Part I

February 24, 2010

As museum educators, we’re always looking for ways to engage students and adults in looking at and talking about art, both here on campus and out in the community. With these goals in mind, we developed Art Programs with the Community: LACMA On-site five years ago when LACMA received the largest endowment in our history ($23.9 million) from former trustee Anna Bing. Since then, we’ve been investing approximately $1 million a year in the schools and community of L.A.’s District 4—an area with a student population the size of the entire Boston public school system.

In developing this program, I was just as interested in creating meaningful experiences centered on our collection here at LACMA as I was in demonstrating that we can make a measurable difference through teaching from works of art. We’ve taken a multilayered approach to the program where we reach not only students and teachers but also families through workshops at libraries and community organizations in L.A. Working from a California Standards-based curriculum designed by our education staff, teaching artists introduce lessons that include talking about and looking at images of art from the collection, in addition to making art. The focus is also on big ideas: “How artists use their work to share experiences or communicate ideas,” “How art plays a role in reflecting life,” or “The role of a work of art created to make a social comment.”

Have we made a significant impact? The answer is a resounding “yes!” But don’t just take my word for it—in the coming weeks my colleague Elizabeth Gerber, manager of school and teacher programs, and evaluator Susy Watts will follow my blog entry with postings about the process of evaluating our program and the impact its had on our community—the methodology of which is more interesting than you might think…

Jane Burrell, Vice President of Education and Public Programs


Bye Bye

February 23, 2010

This is my last week at LACMA so I thought I’d say a quick goodbye. Only a year and a half has gone by since we started Unframed but that seems like positively ages in internet time. Since then, I’ve spoken with colleagues at other museums, with college students, and aspiring social media practitioners about what we do here. When people ask what makes our blog stand out, I always say that it’s the editing. We treat the blog really seriously and I think that shows. Tom, Brooke, and Scott, editors extraordinaire and my partners on the blog, are the absolute best there is and I’ll miss our collaboration very much. I’ll also miss having the opportunity to tell you about the little-known in and outs of the museum. (This remains my favorite post I wrote for Unframed.) Our other contributors have those and other stories covered though. (I’m especially looking forward to reading American Art curator Ilene Fort’s take on the term “California artist”—stay tuned for that post.) But I won’t be too far away. In fact, I’ll still be on Wilshire Boulevard. Starting in March, I’ll be at the Hammer, working with the museum’s artist-in-residence in a curatorial capacity and also creating a new department to totally reenvision the museum experience. So, for now goodbye, though with any luck, we’ll meet again soon.

Allison Agsten


Where Am I Supposed to Put This?: An Installation

February 22, 2010

A few weeks ago I was invited by LACMA’s Collections Manager, Lana Johnson, to a very special art opening in her office—a “break opening,” as in, come during your fifteen-minute coffee break. The invitation mentioned free cookies; I was sold.

Lana had commissioned the work on view from Senior Art Preparator and artist Steve Craig. Inspiration came to Steve from a conversation with Lana where she told him of her never-ending quest to find space for the storage and protection of LACMA’s permanent collection as well as the crates that contain them—a dilemma that often prompts her to ask herself: Where am I supposed to put this?

So, Steve set to work, creating “Where Am I Supposed to Put This,” an installation that consists of a wall contraption that mimics a rudimentary balance. At each side of the balance hang two small crates made to resemble those used here at the museum to transport and house artwork—logos, markings, and all.

Yosi Pozeilov


Fruit Trees: Where Are They Now?

February 19, 2010

Left to right: Matias Viegener, Austin Young, and David Burns of Fallen Fruit.

A few weeks ago, we told you about LACMA’s collaboration with Fallen Fruit and our kickoff event, the fruit tree giveaway. Over the course of two days, Fallen Fruit facilitated the distribution of 300 fruit trees to families who filled out adoption forms and promised to plant their tree in a public place or on the perimeter of their property.

New “parents” at the Watts Towers Arts Center.

With trees come stories. I’ve always been partial to the Washington Square Moon Tree in my hometown of Philadelphia, the first of many moon trees planted during the Bicentennial by astronaut Stuart Roosa, who carried the seeds on a trip to the moon to mark the contributions forests have made to our way of life. Fallen Fruit follows up with the families that adopt, and they often receive photos and stories about how the trees are doing and where they were planted.

One story in particular stands out from the adoptions—Diann Bryant, who adopted in Watts surrounded by her family and friends, responded via email that she planted her Fuji apple tree in her son’s honor. He passed away four years ago to the day of the adoption. Another adopter, Kevin West, local canner and jammer, told me that he didn’t have the proper spot to make his new Cuties Clementine tree publicly accessible, but that he would use his jam-making talents to provide jars of jam for all in the neighborhood. He also wrote a post on his blog about the day including a survey of the “socio-geography” of citrus in Southern California.

Here are some more pictures and stories from new tree parents:

An email sweetly signed A Happy Little Family In Los Angeles explains: “We don't have a proper shovel, so we dug this hole, laboriously, with a little trowel, but we made it big enough for our new, beautiful little tree. After we watered the hole and the tree we planted the tree and now we are waiting for oranges. We think we might have some next week.”

Sarah Chambers says: “Here is the tree in its pot. I am going to try and get it established and get a saucer under it in the warm weather. Not sure if I can replant it into the ground around me as the soil is rock hard dust for most of the year and so watering would be the main consideration. I used cactus soil for good drainage as advised by the plant center. I hope it stays healthy and inspires others in its place.”

Here’s Cuties Clementine new dad Michael Kurcfeld and his tree pot with garnish.

Agata Gotfryd reported: “Here is a picture of my fruit tree which was planted in San Pedro by the sidewalk by my house. My niece helped with the planting.”

You can follow the fruit tree futures and see other photos of EATLACMA events as they happen on the EATLACMA Flickr page.

Sarah Bay Williams


How to View Renoir

February 18, 2010

Renoir wasn’t always popular. As a man who helped pioneer the age of impressionism, the artist’s dabbling in modernism was not quite met with a warm response. A decade later, author Roger Benjamin has a simple solution to those who dismissed the aging painter—look at the paintings through the eyes of Matisse, a friend and champion of Renoir. To see late Renoir through Matisse’s eyes is to love late Renoir.

Benjamin’s essay, “Why Did Matisse Love Late Renoir?” in the exhibition catalogue breaks down the process nicely.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "The Concert" (1918-19), collection, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Gift of Reuben Wells Leonard Estate Photo © 2009 Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto/The Bridgeman Art Library

Step One
“Learn to love the indecisive in form. Away with specification, all sharp lines. Renoir’s world is a cottony world.”

Step Two
“To love his color you must accept red and pink as the principal colors that translate the world, with green and pale blues as the primary obverse.”

Step Three
“To understand his landscape you have to accept that Renoir’s was a life confined by illness. In it, you are either inside—a theater of curtains, upholstered chairs, and costume props—or you are outside it, near the house: a world of gravel paths, old stone walls, clumps of foliage…”

Step Four
“To love his women you have to forget the body we know from the media today, and intuit one based on the sensation of proximity, indeed intimacy.”

Annie Carone, Jr. Associate, Communications


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