Fischl and Katz Go to the Beach

August 17, 2010

Eric Fischl, “Saint Barts Ralph’s 70th,” 2009, © Eric Fischl 2009

Somewhere you probably have a snapshot of some of your closest friends and family members on the beach. It might be a 4 x 6 inch print or maybe it’s just saved on your cell phone. Could you imagine such a casual image as a life-size painting? Eric Fischl can and does. His 8 x 10 foot painting St. Barts Ralph’s 70th (2009), currently on loan from the artist, both challenges and channels the spontaneity of the ordinary snapshot with its dynamic brushwork and through the inclusion of celebrity friends, such as actors Steve Martin and Martin Short in the center of a scene set on the Caribbean island of St. Barts. In perhaps another nod to the links between painting and photography, Fischl’s painting marks the birthday of his friend, the photographer Ralph Gibson, who happens to be represented in the museum’s collection.

Eric Fischl, “Saint Barts Ralph’s 70th,” 2009, © Eric Fischl 2009

I then discovered that Round Hill (1977), a 6 x 8 foot painting by Alex Katz promised to LACMA, is also set on a Caribbean beach (Nevis). The opportunity to display these monumental paintings at LACMA for the first time and to pull out connections and themes, including beaches and the figure in painting and photography, led me to curate to Alex Katz, Eric Fischl and the Beach Scene, now on view in the American art galleries.

Alex Katz, Round Hill, 1977, partial and promised gift of Barry and Julie Smooke, © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

I couldn’t resist the beach theme and also found several relevant photographs in the collection that resonate with the divergent character of Katz’s and Fischl’s modern-day conversation pieces set seaside. In contrast to Fischl’s fluid painterly execution and the cheerful camaraderie represented, Katz’s forms are more hard-edged, nearly abstracted; the flattened space in works like Round Hill deliberately accentuate painting’s two-dimensionality and can evoke the graphic quality of black-and-white photographs. The curious lack of interaction between the figures in Katz’s composition resonates for me with the work of Anthony Friedkin and Larry Fink, whose photographs present edgier takes on the sandy subject. Ultimately, I also decided to include David Salle’s new lithograph Vista (2010), commissioned for LACMA , to underscore the pop sensibility and timeless quality that permeates beach imagery in American art.

Austen Bailly


LAX to IND

August 16, 2010

Last week I visited the Indianapolis Museum of Art as part of a team led by Rob Stein of IMA Lab. We were there to discuss Art Babble, a collaborative site featuring video from museums including LACMA. During a break, we adjourned to the recently opened 100 Acres Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park adjoining the museum. I saw work by familiar artists and some I haven’t encountered before.

We started with Jeppe Hein. This is one of 15 benches, collectively called Bench Around the Lake. I love the way it engages the rock.

Nearby, you enter an underground passageway leading to Alfredo Jaar’s Park of the Laments. The passage has a strange acoustic effect, muffling the noise of the outside world as you near the stairs that lead up into a walled garden.

The profundity of the walled space silenced our typically talkative group; the only noise was the hum of cicadas. Jaar intended the park as a refuge and a place to lament the atrocities of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. I was struck by the way the strict geometry of the garden appears to hold at bay the lush chaos of the surrounding parkland, as if the trees and undergrowth are respectfully complicit in the piece.

In marked contrast to the solemnity of the Park of the Laments, Cuban collective Los Carpinteros created a radical variation of the basketball court, called Free Basket.

I watched an excellent video interview with one of the crew who erected the piece; he describes the pride the fabrication team took in demonstrating their welding skill to achieve the swooping arches that animate and complicate the court. (Incidentally, Rob tells me that he sees people shooting hoops there everyday, and that it’s one of the best places around for a game of horse.) Apparently the artists originally proposed a half-court creation; a prescient curator urged them to go full-court and it’s impossible to imagine the piece any other way.

Have you ever been through a cringe-worthy team-building workshop? I once had to assemble a raft from a bunch of junk and paddle it down a frigid creek in the Welsh countryside. I wish that, instead, I’d been part of Type A’s team-building workshop at the IMA, which resulted in the stunning piece, Align.

I hear that the collaborative process had its bumps, but the finished work suggests a coming together of imagination and purpose. I can’t wait to see the documentary about Type A that the IMA is producing.

Andrea Zittel, whose work is included in LACMA’s own collection, contributed Indianapolis Island,  a floating pod-like structure anchored to the bottom of the lake.

For two weeks this summer, two artists lived aboard the island. Every day at an appointed time, they paddled ashore and traded with visitors who brought all manner of supplies. I love their blog account of the experience.

The park is the site of an ongoing commission series. I’d love to see it in the winter.

Amy Heibel


This Weekend at LACMA: Films by Fuller and Mizoguchi Plus More Free Concerts

August 12, 2010

Our Samuel Fuller film series closes tonight with two films from 1957: Forty Guns, a western starring Barbara Stanwyck as a villainous cattle baroness; and China Gate, which follows a group of mercenaries—including Nat “King” Cole!—into dangerous territory.

The first film starts at 7:30; come early and have a drink while you enjoy the Nick Mancini Collective on the plaza.

Mancini is a whiz on the vibes; here he is wowing the audience on an episode of Showtime at the Apollo:

Tomorrow night you’ve got another chance to do a concert/film combo, starting with Latin Sounds out in the park at 5 pm. If you’ve ever listened to KJZZ’s “Jazz on the Latin Side” program, then you know host Jose Rizo. You can get to know him in a whole new way as leader of the nine-piece ensemble Mongorama.
As the name might suggest to any fan of Latin Jazz, Mongorama specializes in the 50s and 60s material of the legendary Mongo Santamaria —i.e., Cuban rhythms meets straight ahead jazz.


Following that we’ve got a screening of Kenzo Mizoguchi’s classic 1952 period drama, Life of Oharu,  starring Kinuyo Tanaka and Toshiro Mifune. Mizoguchi himself considered this his greatest achievement.

Finally, on Sunday be sure to drop into the Bing Theater for a free performance from the Lyris String Quartet,  who specialize in late Baroque and early Classical.

Scott Tennent


Bananas for Moholy-Nagy

August 12, 2010

While introducing his students to Lazlo Moholy-Nagy through a 1936 essay called “Photography: a New Instrument of Vision,” artist Patterson Beckwith became personally interested in a section titled “The Eight Varieties of Photographic Vision.” It is a very simple list that describes what is possible to do with the medium—photograms, reportage, snapshots, timed exposures, infrared photography, x-rays, transparent superimposition, and optical illusions.

“Bananas for Moholy-Nagy” is a photo illustration Beckwith produced using all the methods on the list with a single banana for each image. In 2009 LACMA acquired the series of photographs and created a small publication of the project, available in the Art Catalogues store in the Ahmanson Building.

All photos by Patterson Beckwith, 2006, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © Patterson Beckwith

Why a banana? Beckwith explains: “The bananas are slightly harder to explain. The work is not ‘about’ bananas, really, they are a vehicle—you can slip on them, ladies can’t eat them in the street because they are a phallic symbol; the Warhol and other Pop banana art aspect was a plus too. Personally I always love talking on a banana phone. I think art should be funny, and I think bananas are funny.”

From start to finish the entire project took less than three weeks. “Each image was a technical challenge; I had the time of my photo-nerd life, using infrared and litho films, learning how to tone prints… I had the most fun making was the Harold Edgerton style high-speed image—capturing a 1/30,000th of a second of the fruit exploding using a firecracker.” Both images are currently on view in EATLACMA.

Harold Edgerton, .30 Bullet Piercing an Apple, 1964, printed 1985, gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation

Patterson Beckwith, Untitled (Rapid seeing by means of the fixation of movements in the shortest possible time: snapshots), 2006, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © Patterson Beckwith

Meghan Moran


The Perfectionist’s Anxiety

August 11, 2010

Thomas Eakins, "The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)," 1871, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund and George D. Pratt Gift, 1934

You wouldn’t think that I, a lowly LACMA volunteer, would have anything in common with Thomas Eakins, the greatest American realist of the nineteenth century. I like two-for-one sales and cats; he was more into dissecting horses and organizing nude photo shoots. Also, I can’t paint. Yet I think we share a common trait, Eakins and I: perfectionism.

Eakins found it hard to cope with failure. Whilst studying in Paris he sent home frantic letters to his father promising to become a better painter. He had two nervous breakdowns in his lifetime: one following the death of his mother, whom he had “failed” to nurse back from mental illness; the other was after his dismissal from teaching (due to alleged “misconduct”). Some might say he overreacted.

Perfectionists always do. Subject to polarized thinking (seeing situations/people as either “wonderful” or “awful”) the perfectionist crafts a self-oriented world that either helps or hinders them in their quest for the ideal. If the latter, the perfectionist dreams up scenarios in which everything turns out right.

For Eakins, this meant that his drawing master, Leon Gerome, was “raised above the swine,” whilst his Philadelphian detractors were compared with an “evil person.” It meant creating “enchanted” worlds in his art: rivers, woodland grottos, sports arenas. Even his infamous “surgery” paintings feel like a magic show.

But the driving force of the perfectionists’ anxiety is that, deep-down, we know wishes don’t come true—at least, not as we imagine. 

This explains why, in his paintings, Eakins turned his frustrations on himself. In The Gross Clinic (1875) his bloody body lies passive on the operating table. In The Champion Single Sculls (1871) Eakins, seen rowing in the distance, is a towering emblem of male strength and self-reliance. But look closely at his reflection: this fantasy is cut through by a gash of paint slicing the body. 

I struggle with my own, more mediocre, self-destructive tendencies. (Will I EVER get to the gym?) But, whilst perfectionism can be a difficult character trait to live with, it can also birth greatness. Eakins’s work is testament to the fact that it’s okay to aim high… just so long as we can allow ourselves, and the world, to occasionally fall short.

Olivia Chapman


Gluttons for Punishment

August 9, 2010


If you were following our Twitter feed Friday and Saturday, you might have wondered whether we’d been hacked. Well, in a way we were—by Rainn Wilson, the actor known for his role as a second banana in My Super Ex-Girlfriend and the lead in The Rocker—a film I’ve not seen but is a modern classic, according to my thirteen-year-old nephew (who by the way claims that explosions, the television show Wipeout, and this youtube video are also “classic”).

Following his takeover we feel we should clarify a few things: we’re not selling our collection or bulldozing the museum, we don’t support the Birthers, we do not have any emoticon-based exhibitions in the works, and many artists in our collection are post-modern maximalists working in a pre-ironic milieu, not pre-modern reductivists working in post-irony—an inferior genre if ever we’ve seen one.

Mr. Wilson—sadly, not related to actors Owen or Luke, nor to Ann and Nancy of the band Heart, nor to the volleyball in Castaway (any of which would have made him way cool)—did get a couple of things right amid his hate-spewing under the guise of our name: There is an automotive museum across the street, and omg Justin Bieber is cute. Sooooooo cute.

(If you missed his takeover and want to catch up, check our twitter feed.)

Scott Tennent


This Weekend at LACMA

August 6, 2010

Clearly, somehow, we have been suckered. The nefarious Rainn Wilson, known to some as the nefarious Dwight Shrute from The Office, has finagled the login and password of our Twitter account and has locked us out. In a dastardly act, he has promised to tweet today and tomorrow all about how he hates LACMA. We are powerless but to follow him and be outraged—and, okay, entertained too.

If you choose to love LACMA, we’ve got more free concerts and a new film series kicking off this weekend. First, the music: tonight, bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin will stop in for Jazz at LACMA. Franklin has played with greats including Archie Shepp, Willie Bobo, Freddie Hubbard, and Hugh Masakela.

Saturday evening Cuban vocalist Adonis Puentes checks in for Latin Sounds before heading to New York for a performance at Lincoln Center. Puentes has shared the stage with Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, and other greats, so this should be a not-to-miss (and free!) performance. You can hear some audio samples at his website.

Sunday, South African pianist Petronal Malan performs works by Griffes, Haydn, and Liszt. Here’s a sample of what you can expect:

This weekend our latest film series begins—Fuller at Fox— looking at a handful of films by director Samuel Fuller. Tonight will see his 1953 thriller Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark, followed by 1951’s Fixed Bayonets!, about a U.S. platoon trapped behind enemy lines in the Korean War. Saturday features House of Bamboo, the first Hollywood film to be filmed in Japan, and Hell and High Water, Fuller’s first color film, again starring Widmark. Now, I could show you trailers of these films, but I think this interview with Fuller, about Pickup on South Street, gives you a much better idea of what you can expect. It’s priceless.

Finally—don’t forget the exhibitions on view!

Scott Tennent


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