Recent Acquisition: Along the Ghats, Mathura

September 14, 2010

Along the Ghats, Mathura is the first Edward Lord Weeks painting LACMA has ever acquired. Weeks was a leading late nineteenth-century American-born Orientalist who is best known for his paintings of India created during the 1880s and 1890s—this painting is undated but was likely created in the ’80s.

Edwin Lord Weeks, Along the Ghats, Mathura, gift of Gordon and Elizabeth Anderson

Weeks’s typical palette was rich in sunlight, vivid blue skies, and sparkling stonework, and Along the Ghats, Mathura is no exception. The work reveals Weeks’s fascination for the aesthetics and symbolism of water; he set many of his most famous Orientalist scenes on rivers, many of which have religious significance in India. In this painting, his narrative is at a ghat (the steps that lead down to a holy body of water) at the Yamuna River. Also interesting to note is that Mathura was the birthplace of Lord Krishna.

Along the Ghats, Mathura is now on view on the third floor of the Art of the Americas Building.

A Picasso for a Picasso

September 13, 2010

LACMA recently loaned its prized painting Portrait of Sebastia Juñer Vidal (1903) by Pablo Picasso to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona for their groundbreaking exhibition Picasso Looks at Degas.  Not wanting the galleries to be without an example of Picasso’s figural portraiture, the curators have arranged for the Museu Picasso’s Harlequin (1917) to be on view in LACMA’s modern art galleries through the end of January 2011.  This painting affords us the rare opportunity to see firsthand Picasso’s return to a neoclassical style after the advent of cubism.

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

Portrait of Sebastia Juñer Vidal represents the artist’s famed Blue Period, where his tragic blue palette and his portraits of outcasts display a palpable loneliness often present in his work.  Although in the Rose Period his eerie blues gave way to flesh-toned pinks, Picasso consistently portrayed figures haunted by an inescapable solitude.  He gravitated towards harlequins, dancers and singers whose jobs are to entertain the public yet find no solace in it.  After living for several years in Paris, at which time he and Georges Braque developed cubism, Picasso in 1917 moved back to Barcelona for a short time; the dominating neoclassical art scene inspired the artist to revisit figural representation.

Pablo Picasso, Harlequin, 1917, oil on canvas, Museu Picasso, Barcelona, © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Harlequin, a ballet dancer in full costume stands upon a stage, his downcast gaze communicating his isolation.  The flatness of the dancer’s costume, emphasized by its geometric pattern, contrasts with the weight and volume of his hands, and its monotone background conflicts with the depth achieved by the curtain.  Thus, this rare painting stands as a unique amalgamation between the subject matter of the blue and rose periods and the play with perspective and illusionism found in his cubist works.

The painting holds particular importance for the city of Barcelona as it was the first work by Picasso to enter the city’s museum collections.  Its installation at LACMA allows viewers to see a pivotal moment in Barcelona’s history as well as in Picasso’s development into one of the most important and influential modern artists.

Lauren Bergman, Curatorial Assistant, Modern Art

This Weekend at LACMA: Baldessari Closing, LA Jazz Treasure Award, Bergman Series, and More

September 10, 2010

John Baldessari, "Wrong," 1966–68, Contemporary Art Council, © John Baldessari

Have you been putting off seeing John Baldessari: Pure Beauty? Well put it off no longer: the exhibition closes this weekend. Depending on what day you come, there’s plenty more to do while you’re here.

Tonight’s Jazz at LACMA concert is a special event, as we bestow the LA Jazz Treasure award on legendary keyboardist Les McCann. McCann has been around for decades and has played with all the greats. He’s the man behind the outstanding track “Compared to What,” among others. Here’s an amazing TV performance of the song, along with Eddie Harris on saxophone, from the late 60s. Tonight he’ll be performing with the Javon Jackson Quintet.

Also tonight, our latest film series begins—Cries and Whispers: The Psychological Cinema of Ingmar Bergman. Tonight’s films are Persona and Cries and Whispers, both starring Liv Ullman. The series continues tomorrow with a triple feature: The Magic Flute, Hour of the Wolf, and The Magician. These are all classic, if intense, feats of cinema. Here are a couple of trailers, for tonight’s Persona and Saturday’s Hour of the Wolf, to give you some idea of what to expect.

Sunday we’ve got a film of a whole other kind—Bruno Wollheim’s award-winning documentary David Hockney—A Bigger Picture, which follows Hockney at age 70 as he leaves his longtime Southern California home for his native England, reinventing his painting along the way. It’ll be a great—and free—way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

If you prefer a great—and free—way to spend a Sunday evening, then stick around for the Debussy Trio—Marcia Dickstein (harp), Angela Wiegand (flute), and David Walther (viola)—who will perform as part of our Sundays Live concert series.

A Tale of Two Narratives

September 9, 2010

On view in the Pavilion for Japanese Art is a summer kimono, known as a yukata—a cotton plain weave kimono worn both by men and women, which evolved from a bathing robe. Printed in woodcut on this kimono is the acclaimed novelist Jippensha Ikku’s nineteenth century masterpiece, Hizakurige (meaning “journey on foot”). The garment is covered in a hundred and ten or so individual woodcuts that depict the humorous and lusty adventures of the two madcap characters, Yaji and Kita, as they travel on Tokaido Road, from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto.

Summer Kimono (Yukata) with Illustrations from the 180 novel ‘Hizakurige’ (Shank’s Mare) by Ikku Jipensha (1765–1831), Edo period, early 19th century, Costume and Textiles Deaccession Fund

The scenes are beautifully spaced and ironically, one is unable to establish the beginning, not that it’s necessary. The garment could well represent a time of this late Edo period where the populace was allowed to search for enjoyment, which became known as ukiyo (the floating world). It was a time when the arts flourished in all forms: music, popular stories, puppet theater, and literature. Tourism was the rage. It was the world of inns and teahouses and festivals. Beautiful woodcuts were very popular, thus one can imagine the joy of following the vividly animated two Buster Keaton-like characters on the kimono as they comically pratfall from one scenario to another, while making the journey oneself.

Detail, Summer Kimono (Yukata) with Illustrations from the 180 novel ‘Hizakurige’ (Shank’s Mare) by Ikku Jipensha (1765–1831), Edo period, early 19th century, Costume and Textiles Deaccession Fund

In the retrospective Pure Beauty —closing this weekend—John Baldessari’s narrative is a many splendored thing, to borrow an expression. Here in Duchampian voodoo, the very narrative itself is the game, the foil, the silent film hero or dangling participle, the malapropism; or it’s on the make, mendacious and coy, cunning and yet beautiful in its geometric melodrama of black frames like a femme fatale; and, of course, it’s fun and games.

Not unlike his nineteenth-century counterpart, Baldessari represents his time and the collective fissure that says so much about living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. To quote him; “I stopped trying to be an artist as I understood it and attempted to talk to them in the language they understood.” Of course this is only slightly disingenuous, for sometimes he achieves the “full Monty,” revealing our foibles and narcissistic dreams. Ultimately Baldessari’s prescient art captures our ad-enriched, Hollywood soaked, media-choked mixed messages with its amusement, its meaning scrambled or hidden in puzzles or laying in wait to be scratched out or searched within other images. Russell Ferguson suggested as much with his perceptive essay title in the book for the exhibition, “Unreliable Narrator.”

John Baldessari, “Hope (Blue) Supported by a Bed of Oranges (Life): Amid a Context of Allusions,” 1991, Tate, purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery and Tate Members 2004, © 2009 John Baldessari, photo © Tate, London, 2009

And yet for us, having been so well trained, some of the work has lost its wow factor, which ironically exists in a time and a reality that most suits its expression, the digital age. Nevertheless, Baldessari’s inventive and ceaseless energy drives his narratives—enticing and alluring and unsparingly humorous. In that way it reminds me of Jippensha Ikku’s narrative. Though the author’s portrayed narrative on the surface seems simple, the world one senses from the garment is a world of freedom, joy, a kind of cultural play, unselfconsciously delighted in and savored.

Hylan Booker

June in Paris with the Surrealists

September 7, 2010

For the past year, I have been working as a research assistant here at LACMA, helping the curator Ilene Susan Fort with the preparations for a major exhibition called In Wonderland: the Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. This show, opening in January of 2012, will showcase the work of many well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, but also introduce many important women who have not achieved such international renown. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on this project has been tracking down key paintings and sculptures by these lesser-known artists and learning about their extraordinary lives.

This past June, I was lucky enough to travel to Paris in the pursuit of information on one such artist, Helen Phillips. Born in San Francisco in 1913, Phillips won a travel scholarship to study art in Paris in 1936, where she fell in love with the ideals and practices of the surrealist movement. Phillips also fell in love with the artist William Stanley Hayter, director of the Atelier 17, a print studio which served as an important center of experimentation for many surrealist artists. In the 1940s and 1950s, Phillips created anthropomorphic forms in bronze, and we are eager to include a few of these in show.

In Paris I went to stay with Phillips’ daughter-in-law, the Italian curator Carla Esposito Hayter, whose apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is right down the street from the famous Café Les Deux Magots. With regular doses of espresso and pain au chocolat, we spent long hours happily digging through Phillips’ documents from throughout her career, including wonderful photographs such as this of Phillips and Hayter in their studio.

We also measured and photographed many examples of Phillips’ work, lugging bronze sculptures onto a bathroom scale (it is important to have a weight estimate for shipping purposes). Phillip’s best-known sculpture is a work in Carla’s apartment called Metamorphose (1946) a good example of the artist’s concern with forms in perpetual motion and transformation.

As Carla and I were looking through a batch of old photographs of Phillips’ sculptures, she suddenly realized that one of the works was in corner of the bedroom where I was staying. Neither she nor I had given much attention to the piece, which seemed sort of flat and nondescript. However, as we carried the bronze out into the living room and set it in the proper position according to the old photograph, a fully-realized work came to life.

Although the piece is romantically called Amants Novices (Inexperienced Lovers), its sharp “teeth” and tangled limbs give the sculpture a slightly menacing quality that may relate to the surrealist interest in symbols of violent female sexuality, such as the Praying Mantis. Carla and I were very excited about our discovery, and it may turn out that this sculpture is perfect for a show about the ways in which women artists responded to surrealist concepts.

Terri Geis,

Research Assistant, American Art


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