Site Specific

Clockwise from top left: Promo image for the 1955 film "The Kentuckian"; Thomas Hart Benton, "The Kentuckian" (1954), oil on canvas, gift of Burt Lancaster; detail of Benton's painting; Michael Asher, "Sign in the Park" (detail), 1981.

What do American painter Thomas Hart Benton and conceptual artist Michael Asher have in common? I had no idea either until my recent serendipitous discovery (in our amazing new Reading Room) of The Museum as Site: Sixteen Projects, the exhibition catalogue that first caught my eye the day the Reading Room launched. I started clicking through and was astonished to find on page 36 an image of Benton’s 1954 painting in our collection, The Kentuckian. Painted for the eponymous movie starring and directed by Burt Lancaster, The Kentuckian depicts Lancaster as frontiersman “Big Eli Wakefield,” Donald MacDonald as his son “Little Eli Wakefield”—and their dog. Turns out it inspired Asher’s 1981 project: Sign in the Park. As curator Stephanie Barron wrote in the catalogue, Asher’s project deals “very specifically with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, its own site in Los Angeles, and its relation to Hollywood.” You can still see The Kentuckian in our American galleries (and in our Collections Online) and now you can virtually flip to page 35 of The Museum as Site to read just how Asher played Benton’s monumental painting (and the dog!) off of these L.A. sites. You’ll soon realize, truth be told, that Asher and Benton don’t really have anything in common—anything that is, except LACMA as site.

Austen Bailly

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