A Grand Tour of LACMA

July 8, 2010

For a wealthy English aristocrat in the eighteenth century, a “Grand Tour” of Europe was part of a complete education. Now on view in our newly installed European galleries, we have a Pompeo Batoni portrait of English traveler Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham commemorating just such a trip.

Pompeo Batoni, "Portrait of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham," 1758–1759, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Wyndham gestures to a landscape in the background that many grand tourists visited—the ruins of an ancient temple at Tivoli, near Rome. To his left, you can see a classical sculpture that he may have brought back from his travels.

The Grand Tour was a rite of passage, an opportunity to explore the roots of European culture, build language skills, and gain worldly experience. It might last months or years. Now that the new European galleries are open, it’s possible to take your own miniature Grand Tour through the museum and see works of art like those an eighteenth-century aristocrat might have traveled to see.

Let’s start in Rome.

"The Hope Athena," 2nd century AD, William Randolph Hearst Collection

This is Athena, the goddess of wisdom—the Romans also called her Minerva. We know who she is because of her helmet, and because here she wears a shield decorated with a head of Medusa, often associated with Athena. Statues like this were very popular with Grand Tourists. This Athena was created in ancient Rome, based on an even older Greek model. So when Grand Tourists saw this Athena, they were experiencing the combined skill of ancient Greece and Rome. The statue was excavated outside Rome in 1797—when lots of Grand Tourists were visiting—and it was acquired by Englishman Sir Thomas Hope, who had just recently completed his own Grand Tour.

"Canaletto Antonio Canal, Piazza San Marco Looking South and West," 1763, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

The Grand Tourist would also have visited Venice. The European galleries include an excellent scene of Venice, Piazza San Marco Looking South and West, by Canaletto. In essence, it is a large and very expensive postcard, a souvenir that would hang on the wall as proof that you had been there. So many tourists brought views of Venice back to England that the popularity of visiting that city actually increased!

Antonio Montauti, The Triumph of Neptune and Europa, c. 1735–1740, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold

Florence was part of a typical Grand Tour, and we have Antonio Montauti’s Triumph of Neptune and Europa from the early eighteenth century. This bronze relief sculpture depicts the ancient god Neptune along with Europa, daughter of a Phoenician king. Grand Tourists visited Florence to learn more about ancient myths and culture—which was, conveniently enough, being used as subject matter by many contemporary artists of the time. So the sights in Florence may have included works of art like this Montauti relief, though probably not this exact work, which was created for Pope Clement XII’s personal collection.

The Grand Tour eventually lost its cachet of exclusivity as the railroad and other transportation improvements made it much easier for middle-class people to travel throughout Europe. Today, you don’t even need to leave Los Angeles.

Mary Lenihan, Manager, Adult Programs, Education


Preserving a Prize-Winning Pear

July 7, 2010

Wesley Vernier, "The Great Californian Pear," 1864, gift of Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby

What is so very special about this painting? It’s just a pear. And only one at that. But it’s no ordinary pear. When the painting was brought to conservation for a minor treatment in preparation for the EATLACMA exhibition, paintings conservator Bianca May noticed something odd about the surface of the canvas near the bottom edge.

The surface was slightly cockled and when she touched it (something one should not ordinarily do) the canvas appeared to have something hard behind it. At first she thought it was just dirt and debris but when she turned the painting over and removed the backing board, out popped what can only be described as part of a plant stem—and a rather large one at that. She also noticed remnants of glue on the stem and the backside of the canvas suggesting this part of a stem was at one time adhered purposely to the back of the painting. But why would anyone adhere the stem from the piece of fruit they are painting to the back of the canvas? Well, as you can see from the inscription on the backside of the painting, this was a prize-winning, four pound, Duchesse of Anjoulene pear.

Mark Gilberg, Suzanne D. Booth and David G. Booth Conservation Center Director


Post Studio Art: Remembering John Baldessari’s Famous Cal Arts Class

July 6, 2010

One of the many pleasures of the current Baldessari retrospective Pure Beauty is looking at a whole gallery of his work from the 1970s, which exercised a measurable influence on a generation of younger artists. James Welling, Jack Goldstein, David Salle, Barbara Bloom, and Matt Mullican were among Baldessari’s first students at Cal Arts, where he started teaching in 1970. In our recent video interview, below, Baldessari recalled that he had been hired at Cal Arts as a painter. But in fact, he had just renounced painting and started making images with mass media images and print. He offered to teach a class called Post Studio Art instead.

Jim Welling enrolled in the class. In an interview, he recalled it thus:

John was very low key, very gentle. He would offer suggestions but didn’t say much.

I remember I made this work Hair on a field trip John took with the Post Studio class in 1973, six or eight of us. We went across the street from CalArts, at the time there was just a large open field there and we tramped around and made some work.

At that point I did not own a camera, so I borrowed one. I photographed people’s hair. It was a sort of conceptual joke—photographing people’s hair was the closest you could get to photographing their brain. One of the people in Hair is John Baldessari.

I remember that day John did a piece where he rolled a tire down a hill and documented it in a series of photographs.

John got all of our film and sent it to a lab and had prints made.

He traveled a lot and when he traveled, he would have substitutes come in—Michael Asher taught his class once for a couple of weeks. John would come back with a suitcase of catalogues and Matt Mullican and I would pour over these catalogues—mostly from shows in Europe that were hard to get and hard to see.

The 70s were a recession era. Around this time there was a common spirit. A lot of artists were really forced to go back to basics. There wasn’t really an art market. There were strong alternative spaces for art and music. Most of us came up through this system of alternative spaces, which was fantastic for young artists.

In the video clip below, Baldessari reflects on the class and the artists who were his students.

Amy Heibel


This Weekend at LACMA

July 2, 2010

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British, 1852, Bicentennial gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Schaaf, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker, and Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr.

Happy Independence Day, fellow patriots. You’ve likely got fireworks on your mind for Sunday night, but what about the rest of the weekend? This being one of the quintessential summer weekends, you’d be remiss not to get out of the house and have a little fun. Maybe take in an exhibition? Maybe a concert? We can help on both fronts.

As with every weekend this summer, we’ve got free concerts every night: the Rickey Woodard Sextet performs tonight at 6 pm; tomorrow sees the Mandinga Afro-Peruvian Ensemble at 5 pm; and Sunday in the Bing Theater you can catch the trio of Bryan Pezzone, Douglas Masek, and James Smith performing the music of Gershwin, Porter, and others. That concert starts at 6 pm—well before sunset, so you’ve got plenty of time to make your 4th of July festivities afterward.

One more reason to come to LACMA on the Fourth: for the very last time this summer—we swear!—the Resnick Pavilion will be open all day on the 4th of July. The Walter De Maria sculpture will be de-installed in July, so this really is your last chance to see the artwork and the Resnick Pavilion in its current state. Next time we invite you in, it will be October.

Artwise, John Baldessari: Pure Beauty and The Fruit of LACMA have both been open for a week now. If you haven’t seen them yet, do drop by. While you’re inside BCAM for Pure Beauty, don’t forget to head upstairs to see Joseph Beuys: The Multiples—this is your last weekend to see it. Also coming down after this weekend is a small installation in the Ahmanson Building, Houra Yaghoubi Prints. Yaghoubi is a contemporary artist from Iran, and this collection of prints draws on that region’s history as well as contemporary Iranian society.

Houra Yaghoubi, “Who is my generation,” 2005, gift of the Art of the Middle East Council, Iran Trip 2009, with additional funds provided by the Farhang Foundation

Finally… many of you have Monday off—don’t forget the museum is open. If you’ve got a houseful of kids in want of something to do, or if you’re going stir crazy after too many days off, or if you’re looking for a quiet way to forget whatever it is you did under the fireworks, the museum is here for you.

Scott Tennent


This Land is Your Land

July 1, 2010

I’ve been lucky enough to travel all around the States since I was a kid. But it wasn’t until I did a cross-country road trip at age eighteen, free of parents and continental breakfasts, that I really discovered America for myself. Since then I’ve done three or four more such trips—once to New Orleans and back, once through the Midwest, and twice between New York and L.A. Traveling by land—seeing the land—is a truly different experience than hop-scotching by air. Seeing the colors of the Southwestern desert drain away into the Texan expanse; feeling small amidst the vast flatness of Nebraska and Kansas; being surrounded by the orange and gold trees of Ohio in fall; reaching the Eastern shores and remembering the West Coast’s beaches—none of these landscapes, by themselves, are quintessentially American; you have to take all of it in to get the picture.

Martin Johnson Heade, "Rhode Island Shore," 1858, gift of Charles C. and Elma Ralphs Shoemaker

That feeling came back to me during a recent stroll through the American galleries, moving from Martin Johnson Heade’s Rhode Island Shore and Fitz Henry Lane’s Boston Harbor, Sunset to Albert Bierstadt’s The Grizzly Giant Sequoia, Mariposa Grove, California and Thomas Moran’s Hot Springs of the Yellowstone. The bays and mountains and trees, the dark blues and rough browns and vibrant greens, all added up to a larger portrait of the nation (very unlike that created by the narrative paintings of the recent American Stories exhibition, though in some ways just as arresting). With the land in mind, I even saw Winslow Homer’s Cotton Pickers in a new way—focusing more on the golden sky and the field of cotton more than the two women in the foreground. You could remove them from the painting and still know this is the South.

Fitz Henry Lane, "Boston Harbor, Sunset," 1850–55, gift of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary

Many of these landscapes suggest human presence—boats in Lane’s Boston Harbor, a stone wall in Heade’s Rhode Island Shore—though usually dwarfed by nature. Living in the paved garden that is Los Angeles, these intrusions—even that modest stone wall—pricked at me. None more so than the mill in Frederic Edwin Church’s Lower Falls, Rochester.

Frederic Edwin Church, "Lower Falls, Rochester," 1849, gift of Charles C. and Elma Ralphs Shoemaker

So much of Church’s painting is nature at its most imposing—the vast sky, the red cliffs, the luminous water, the verdant trees, the cascading waterfall. In the bottom of the painting is a young fisherman, miniscule by comparison. Not so miniscule is the mill, situated at the dead center of the painting. Its position seems to anoint human achievement with an unbalanced power. Nature is segmented in relation to the mill—sky above, water below, trees and cliffs to the left and right—as if the structure were the center of its own solar system, the land bound to revolve around its axis.

Walking from these galleries to the more modern—urban—works such as George Bellows’s Cliff Dwellers and Millard Sheets’s Angel’s Flight, Church’s mill hung over me. But so too did the land: I wanted to reject Bellows’s cityscape, to say no. I actually turned around and walked back to the galleries I’d just been in, to soak up the nation’s landscape again.

Scott Tennent


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