From Ruscha, with Love

July 15, 2010

Want to find out what’s behind the curtain inside EATLACMA?

Ed Ruscha had been painting single words onto canvas using a trompe l’oieil technique since about 1967. But, as he explained in his catalogue Raisonné, “I felt for awhile there that I was painting pictures. And in painting pictures, I was just applying skin to canvas… There was not enough for me.” In 1969, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood invited Ruscha for a two-month fellowship where he would work with master printers to produce lithographs using the words Anchovy, Mint, and Carp, all looking as if the words were spelled out of spilled liquids.

Ruscha took the “spilled liquid” prints a step further when he started experimenting using organic and inorganic materials such as Vaseline petroleum jelly, tobacco, egg yolk, beer, chocolate syrup, wine, Liquid Drano, grass, and even his own blood in work called Stains. It was around this time that his friend and master printer Jean-Milant decided to open up his own shop, Cirrus Editions and Cirrus Gallery. Under Milant, Cirrus welcomed experimentation, and it was here that Ruscha created the two-color screenprint titled Fruit-Metrecal using apricot and grape jams, and a diet drink from the sixties called Metrecal. 

Edward Ruscha, "Fruit-Metrecal Hollywood," 1971, Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions

I talked to Chail Norton, assistant paper conservator, to find out why it needed to stay behind a curtain. LACMA conservators did some highly technical “fadeometer” readings within the last few years to find out just how quickly the colorants will fade. They determined that since the piece is comprised of organic materials it is highly light sensitive, and will fade easily.

The Hollywood sign was not a new subject for Ruscha, he often uses the visual language of Los Angeles in his work. In 1986, LACMA acquired the Cirrus Collection which included a similar piece, using Pepto Bismol and Caviar. Pepto-Caviar Hollywood will be on view at the Norton Simon later this year.

Edward Ruscha, "Pepto-Caviar Hollywood," 1970, Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions

Meghan Moran, Graphic Designer


Collection Favorites: Rembrandt and Picasso

July 13, 2010

Two favorite works make for an interesting comparison: both were extensively reworked but still seem unresolved.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, "The Raising of Lazarus," c. 1630, gift of H. F. Ahmanson and Company, in memory of Howard F. Ahmanson

Rembrandt’s The Raising of Lazarus, with its dramatic light and brilliant paint application and color, went through various transformations. (The x-ray shows vigorous scraping by the artist of an earlier design in the right side, changes of the figures at lower left, and painting out a cloth once held in Mary’s hand.) It is a powerful image that reads from a distance but when looked at closely shows carefully observed details. Imagine creating this work of death and resurrection at age 24. Intriguing for me is that it still seems unresolved; one can feel this tension not only in the subjects but in the contrast between the highly resolved upper part of the painting and the possibly unfinished lower part, where only dark broad brushwork is visible.

Pablo Picasso, "Portrait of Sabastia Juñer Vidal," 1903, David E. Bright Bequest, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso painted his Portrait of Sabastia Juñer Vidal at 22 and it too went through numerous changes, many visible in x-ray. (A dog once sat at the lower left corner—also visible in raking light—before the table was added, and the artist scraped out earlier paint on the right side and repainted.) Juñer’s companion was added, it seems, as the painting progressed, and she is painted so differently from Picasso’s friend Juñer: He was painted with depth of character in several layers of paint and she superficially in an almost offhand manner to make one ask if she is actually there with Juñer or something of his imagination. The latter results for me in psychological tension compounded by the deep blue color and the feeling of it not being fully resolved.

Though unresolved in my mind, these are still great works of art and great examples of extensive artistic experimentation and development.

Joe Fronek, Hannah and Edward Carter Senior Conservator, Paintings Head of Paintings Conservation


Collection Favorites: Hiromu Kira

July 12, 2010

Recently we surveyed our Graphics Department for some of their favorite works in LACMA’s permanent collection. This week we turn our eyes to the Conservation staff for their picks.

Hiromu Kira, "Man on Steps, Bowl (The Thinker)," c. 1930, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Hiromu Kira, a Japanese-American photographer belonging to the pictorialist movement of the 1920s and ‘30s, made this bromide print using an image he made while demonstrating a camera to a customer, the sitter, at the Hollywood Dam.

Of all of the wonderful work that I get to see and photograph here at the Conservation Center at LACMA, this print has really stuck with me. I just love the compositional elements of this picture, its simplicity and inviting repeating pattern, so modern in graphic terms, accentuated by the perfect positioning of the dwarfed subject in this massive weaving of steps which could be anywhere. The fact that the picture was made at the Hollywood Dam surprised me.

The more I think about this image, the more I feel it is a beautiful photographic representation of yin yang, where a brighter area of a step gives way to the darker area of its own self, and vice versa. The repetitious pattern going downward from top left to bottom right inversely accentuates the strength of this relationship by shortening the integration of the light-dark elements and at the same time increasing the perceived contrast of this same integration. The sitter becomes the light and dark dot simultaneously due to what seems to be a contemplative placement right in the middle of a light-dark-light interface, himself being divided in light-dark values almost in complete opposite to his surroundings. Life represented with the most minimal of elements.

Yosi Pozeilov, Senior Conservation Photographer


This Weekend at LACMA

July 9, 2010

Have you ever seen someone beatbox through a flute? Me neither, until I saw Katisse do it. The jazz/hip hop/funk group is playing for free tonight. Check this video for a sample—the way Katisse is able to punctuate his beats with melody from the flute is mind-blowing.

As with every weekend we’ve got free concerts every night: Saturday, Braziliando performs a mix of samba, Brazilian jazz, and bossa nova in Hancock Park. Sunday in the Bing Theater, Phillip Levy and Francois Chouchan perform works by Beethoven and Grieg.

Starting tonight we’re also kicking off a month-long salute to the great director Ernst Lubitsch’s American comedies.The series opens with the film Lubitsch considered his personal favorite, Trouble in Paradise paired with the Lubitsch-produced 1936 comedy Desire, starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. Lubitsch’s daughter, Nicola, will be in attendance for the opening night. Read the L.A. Times article on the series, in case you missed it.

Saturday sees two more Lubitsch films, the Oscar-nominated Garbo comedy Ninotchka and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, the latter another Cooper vehicle also starring Claudette Colbert and David Niven. Both feature screenplays written by Charles Bracket and Billy Wilder. Here’s a trailer for Bluebeard, should you need to be reminded of “the Lubitsch touch”:

Art-wise, we’re happy to have opened four more galleries for our permanent European collection, as you may have surmised from yesterday’s post. We’ve been reinstalling the entire third floor of the Ahmanson Building in phases over the last few months, with plans for completion soon. The latest galleries to open feature works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mostly Italian and French (joining the already-open galleries for Dutch paintings and works from Spain and Northern Italy). Do check out the latest additions, which includes Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of Jean-Pierre Delahaye, Ludovico Mazzanti’s Death of Lucretia, and a gallery full of Monets, Gaugins, Cézannes, and more.

Scott Tennent


Txt U L8R?

July 9, 2010

What is Cell Phone Stories? Who is on the other end of the line? And why does LACMA want me to tune in?

Such are the questions that have been in the ether since we launched Cell Phone Stories, a project conceived of by artist Steve Fagin, in late May. Cell Phone Stories brings to my mind the title of a short essay by Jonathan Swift, “On the Difficulty of Talking with Objects.” If El Lissitzky’s Proun 3A (on view in the Ahmanson Building) sent you a message, what would it say? If the walls, even the escalator, could chat, what would they say? Such fantasies fuel the content of Cell Phone Stories.

It has been an interesting challenge to succinctly respond to “what is Cell Phone Stories?” Technically, the project takes place on and through a communications device, the cell phone, but conceptually the participants who have been invited to interpret and “speak for” the museum have chosen many ways to give voice to the museum’s contents. Overall, this project has been an experiment led by artists, writers, and other cultural figures, to test the limits of how curatorial and education departments have utilized the notion of interactivity through technological interfaces. Not surprisingly, some of our participants have responded with a critique of interactivity.

Steve Fagin’s ongoing chronicle Only For Dummies: Punctured Utopias of Another Century uses a ventriloquist proxy not only to give voice to historical objects and personas (and what better “voice” than a dummy’s?) but to reflect on the utopian discourses that drove past art movements and how those “punctured” ideologies are still at work in conceptions of the museum in the twenty-first century. Fagin’s other Smart Phone partners in crime, Barry Yourgrau, Kianga Ford, and Adrienne Ferrari, have also used the CPS weekly missives to send out fractured forms of institutional critique.

In the weeks to come Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the power sister team behind the Rodarte fashion label, will send out sketches for designs based on LACMA’s permanent collection; actor Rainn Wilson will take over LACMA’s Twitter account; Barry Yourgrau (in a maneuver that Jonathan Swift would love) will send out a story about the incredible shrinking LACMA; not to mention more surprises from our regular contributors Fagin, Ford and Ferrari!

Text “LACMA” to 67553 to receive weekly text messages that will direct you to the various components of this project, which will include text stories, links to videos, graphics, and audio experiences.

Rita Gonzalez, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art


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