Q&A with Dagny Corcoran, Part II

February 10, 2010

Yesterday we introduced you to Dagny Corcoran. Today, more on the bookstore she’ll be opening at LACMA on Valentine’s Day—also, by the way, the opening day for Renoir in the 20th Century.

Q: It seems as if you showed up at LACMA one day and were ready to open a dramatically different bookstore on the next. Did it all transpire as quickly as it seems?

A: Yes! I came on as a consultant just a month ago.

Q: What is your approach to book buying?

A: I look at an exhibition catalogue and then I make links. For example, Renoir in the 20th Century. I’m looking at modernism in film, in literature, in music, in theater, and in other artists working at the time. They all were looking at each other, these artists, and some of them were friends.

Q: What’s your vision for the latest venue for Art Catalogues?

A: The bookstore will be much more of a performative space, a theater. All of the bookcases will be on wheels so we can push them aside to make room for talks, signings, music, theater. Why not have a band in there? Or a poetry slam? There will be webcams that can stream performances live. I don’t want to go backwards to having lunches in the store like I did in the old days because I didn’t have any customers. Yet, I would like to do some version of that today because I want to have a dialogue. Art is art and it’s all connected.

Q: Will you only sell books?

A: No. There will be one large, long wall used for changing exhibitions. I specialize in museum and gallery exhibition catalogues, but there will also be a lot of multiples, of objects. Some wildly expensive, some not expensive at all. As an aside, members will still get their standard discount on books. The most interesting thing is that the inventory will change. Artists and curators will curate the books and make displays, which is interesting because it’s a different point of view.

Q: How will that work?

A: I’ll approach a curator, for example, and ask her about her next exhibition—what research she’s doing, what books she’s interested in, and what on earth led her to those books. What’s her reading list? Then, I’ll augment that list with interesting things that are collateral to it. Then I’ll ask about objects or posters from the era of the selection and have a display of that stuff.

Allison Agsten


Q&A with Dagny Corcoran, Part I

February 9, 2010

It seems like everyone knows Dagny Corcoran. Even if you don’t, there’s a good chance you admired Art Catalogues, her store at MOCA’s Pacific Design Center location. Now, Art Catalogues is coming to LACMA, inside the Ahmanson Building. To celebrate the opening, here’s a little Q&A with the woman behind the project. Tomorrow we’ll tell you more about the store itself.

Q: How long have you been selling exhibition catalogues? Can you tell us a bit about the history of your business?

A: My first boss, and life-long influence, was Walter Hopps. In the ’70s, as the Norton Simon Museum was taking over the Pasadena Art Museum, Walter told me to go and buy the archives of the Pasadena Art Museum, which the Norton Simon Museum was not interested in. That was my first inventory—I had the inventory before I had a store. The first Art Catalogues opened in 1977 above the Nicholas Wilder Gallery, on Santa Monica Boulevard. I was married to Jim Corcoran at the time, whose gallery was next door to Nick’s. Patty Faure and Betty Asher opened Asher Faure Gallery upstairs, next to Art Catalogues. Later, in the early ’80s, Larry Gagosian’s gallery was on Almont Drive, and I rented a weird space from him, which is now Regen Projects I. Behind my shop was a storage space for Gagosian. Some days, a big truck would drive up and drop of loads of blank canvases. Then, a few hours later, a limo would show up, Jean-Michel Basquiat would get out, and they’d put him in there with the blank canvases and he’d paint. At that time, I was really the only place that sold exhibition catalogues. My customers were generally dealers and artists, people who were seriously interested in art.

Dagny and Walter Hopps (far right) with unidentified guest at the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1965. Photo by Hal Glicksman.

Q. What happened next?

A. I had my Barbara Stanwyck period and I moved to the country, where I bought a cattle ranch and learned about cowboys… I took the books and that’s where I cemented my mail order and library business. No cowboys were interested in my books. Five years ago, I came back and went to work for MOCA when Paul Schimmel approached me, and jointly we cooked up an idea to establish Art Catalogues there.

Dagny with Barnett Newman (back to camera) and Annalee Newman at Sao Paulo in 1965. "My job was to pour coke and lemon juice on Barnett's sculpture to make it rust." Photo by Hal Glicksman.

Q: Things seemed to have changed dramatically since you began your venture at MOCA; we’ve really begun to enjoy books differently. (Take for example our Reading Room.) How has digital consumption impacted your business?

A: The challenge now is to sell books to an audience who expects content to be free. I am all for free content, by the way. It’s also a challenge to sell on site here versus on Kindle or Amazon. But I like to think of a physical book as a sculpture, as a limited edition, as a print. Again, I agree that content is free but buying an object is a different thing.

Q: How did Michael Govan convince you that LACMA is the place to be?

A: He’s like a popcorn machine or a champagne cork, exploding with ideas. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to catch one of those ideas and put it into reality. And to have the possibility of using the bookstore as a laboratory. That’s what I want to do.

Allison Agsten


Stephanie Barron on Billy Al Bengston

February 8, 2010

As you may have heard, last week we launched the Reading Room,  an online space devoted to the electronic publication of the museum’s catalogues. Our first selection of books focuses on the L.A. art scene of the 50s, 60s, and 70s—a real heyday for L.A. artists, galleries, and art institutions.

From the beginning, even as we were selecting which books to digitize, one of our biggest concerns was that we’d lose something deeply valuable by putting the books online, that the tactile presence of each of these great artifacts would instantly evaporate. One way to address that, we determined, was to show them in someone’s hands in order to give better context for their scale. We also thought it would be helpful to hear a thoughtful narrator describe what each of them meant as books and also as exhibitions. We asked Senior Curator of Modern Art Stephanie Barron to talk about the Billy Al Bengston exhibition from 1969. As Stephanie notes, both the catalogue and the installation were designed by friends of Bengston’s. And they’re not just any old friends…

Allison Agsten


Fruit Tree Giveaway This Weekend

February 5, 2010

copyright Fallen Fruit

Editor’s note: On  Saturday, the fruit tree giveaway will be held at Watts Towers Art Center, starting at noon. On Sunday, the event will be held at LACMA, starting at noon. Please plan to arrive early as the quantity is limited. More event information.

For the past six months, I’ve been working closely with local artist collective Fallen Fruit on plans for EATLACMA–artist designed gardens throughout the museum’s campus; an exhibition that invites public participation and draws from LACMA’s collection; and Let Them Eat LACMA, a one-day final event with more than fifty artists and collectives to activate, intervene, and re-imagine the entire museum’s campus and galleries.

Our first EATLACMA event will be this weekend’s public fruit tree adoptions held at LACMA’s campus and Watts Towers Arts Center and Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center. Fallen Fruit encourages the public to “plant the perimeter”—plant fruit trees in public space or on the perimeter of private property—so that generations to come will enjoy public fruit.

On Saturday and Sunday, Fallen Fruit will hand out 150 trees each day along with planting instructions and ideas for transforming your neighborhood with the simple act of planting one tree. Fruit tree adoptions begin at 12 pm and quantities are limited so come early! (You can check out a video about the project at FallenFruit.org.)

P.S.—We’d love your help! EATLACMA is in the running for a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh Everything grant and your votes could help us win! The grant would allow us to expand our public programs and on-site garden projects, and would especially benefit the one-day Let Them Eat LACMA event, allowing us to fund more artists’ projects. You can vote at refresheverything.com/EATLACMA once a day until voting ends on February 28. Thanks!

Michele Urton, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art

Tree distribution at LACMA is sponsored by Paramount Citrus, the world’s largest grower of California Cuties, and tree distribution at Watts Towers Arts Center and Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center is sponsored by TreePeople and Paramount Citrus.


Growing Up with LACMA

February 4, 2010

Last September I taught a figure drawing class for teenagers through LACMA’s Education Department. On the first day of the session, I perused my roll sheet and was delighted to see some familiar names. On the roster were three teens that have been taking art classes at LACMA since they were little kids. One teen in particular, Andy, I met when he was three years of age, and his sister Matisse was only a baby. I wanted to see how they thought making art and growing up around the art collections at LACMA affected their lives.

When Andy grows up he wants to be an architect. Matisse will always be an artist. At ages 14 and 12, respectively, this brother and sister grew up visiting LACMA on a regular basis, taking art classes, and delighting in the art on display. In the studio, Andy was a quiet and focused artist who paid incredible attention to detail. One time he made a sketch from memory of a gallery of animal vessels from Mexico. He drew the artworks in their display cases and all the light sources in the gallery. He was about five years old. Matisse was a happy, excitable artist who took delight in mixing a color or layering one material over another.

Andy's gallery sketch, age 5

I recently spent the afternoon with them, looking at their artwork and talking about their experiences at LACMA. Both kids vividly remember their weekend ritual of going to their morning art class with their mother, then going up to the plaza to do another art project at Family Sunday, then to the Tar Pits before coming back to the plaza for a snack purchased from the food cart. What was their first art memory? Andy remembers “using sumi ink, bamboo brushes, and bamboo pens in the underground studio [Studio East in the Ahmanson Building].” Matisse remembers “drawing the statue of the horse [that would be Picasso's Centaur] and being able to stay after class to finish my project.”

Pablo Picasso, Centaur, 1955, gift of Gloria and David L. Wolper

The Centaur, as drawn by Matisse

In his teen figure drawing class, Andy was one of the few kids who chose to use the sumi ink on a regular basis. Did using the ink now bring back any memories? “Mostly it reminds me of the underground studio” he said.

An Andy original

And another

Matisse recently took two drawing and painting classes at LACMA that focused on the still life. Her instructors took the class to view the Luis Meléndez exhibition, and then set up fruits and vegetables in the studio. Matisse was so inspired by this, she went home and made a painting on her own of a still life with home baked bread and ceramic vessels. (Did I mention she’s a talented ceramicist too, who can throw pots better than most people twice her age)?

Matisse, 2009

Matisse, 2009

Matisse's still life

Andy showed me a model he made when he was 10 years old. He told me, “all the kids in the class made one room and I did a whole building with an interior and an exterior.” I asked him if this was this was the thing that made him want to be an architect. “Something like that,” he said.

Matisse isn’t sure yet what she’s going to be when she grows up, but she’ll always make art. She keeps taking classes at LACMA because, “I keep learning new things.”

Finally I asked them if any of the art they’ve seen at LACMA stood out in their minds. King Tut, they both said in tandem. Then like a good brother and sister team, they took turns offering Pompeii and the Roman Villa, Dalí & Film, “The Flying Spam!” [Ed Ruscha's Actual Size], the Richard Serra sculptures, and Heroes and Villains. “I like the big Matisse painting,” laughed Matisse.

Rosanne Kleinerman, LACMA Teaching Artist


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