Just Acquired: Spanish Colonial Paintings by Ramirez and Aguilera

October 21, 2010

Yesterday we added to the collection two paintings that mark very different moments in the history of New Spanish (Mexican) painting. The first is an imposing work by Pedro Ramírez that portrays the Marriage of the Virgin. Ramírez is a seminal artist from the second half of the seventeenth century who descended from a prominent Sevillian family of sculptors and altarpiece-makers. His bold compositions are characterized by stark contours and firm modeling and a high degree of naturalism. 

Pedro Ramírez, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1668, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund

This scene is based on apocryphal accounts of the marriage of the Virgin in the Golden Legend. While the subject was not all that common in Europe, it became popular in New Spain, where it was taken up by some of the best brushes of the time. Here, the Jewish priest in the center is flanked by the holy couple. Among the most striking details, are the priest’s hands, with every knuckle clearly drawn. The scene is presided over by the Holy Ghost, beautifully rendered within a circle of light, as two majestic hands descend from the heavens to embrace the couple and sanctify the union. This is an unusual detail that recurs in all of the New Spanish paintings of the subject, but which is conspicuously absent from the European models. It is possible that the artists shared a common visual source (either a print or a painting not yet identified), but it is even more likely that they were looking at each others’ work, demonstrating the significance of a local pictorial tradition within Mexico itself. 

By the early eighteenth century a major stylistic change was introduced in New Spain. The firm modeling seen in works such as Ramírez’s is replaced by a softer, more vaporous style. Juan Francisco Aguilera is credited along with the brothers Juan and Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez with propelling this pictorial shift. Despite Aguilera’s importance, we still lack the most elemental information about his origin and training—if he was born in Spain or Mexico. We do know, however, that by 1722 he was in Mexico City, where he was a member of the first academy of painting established by the Rodríguez Juárez brothers, and hence part of this influential modernizing group. 

Juan Francisco de Aguilera, The Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple, c. 1720, Purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund

The Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple, signed in the lower center, exemplifies Aguilera’s unmistakable style, especially the fluid and soft rendition of the two cherubs who hover benevolently above the scene. The scarcity of known works by Aguilera makes this acquisition highly significant in terms of understanding the artist’s development. The two works by Ramírez and Aguilera together anchor our growing collection of Spanish colonial painting  by allowing us to tell the story of the transition of seventeenth and eighteenth century painting in New Spain. We could have not asked for better examples to do so.

Ilona Katzew, Curator and Co-Department Head, Latin American Art

No Mere Wallpaper

October 20, 2010

Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection gallery installation

For the past few months I have been in the brand new Resnick Pavilion every day during the installation of its three inaugural shows. Two of the exhibitions, Fashioning Fashion and Eye for the Sensual, were designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi and Massimo Gasparon, opera/costume designers from Italy.

Since all of the pieces in Eye for the Sensual are part of Lynda and Stewart Resnick’s personal collection, Pizzi and Gasparon wanted the show to look like it was hung in someone’s home; albeit a sumptuous, elegant, palatial home. I spoke with Massimo last week to find out more about the wall coverings, which are made of a fabric created by the Italian company Rubelli.

Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection gallery installation

Housed in a Venetian palace, Rubelli has been around for over 200 years and has historically created beautiful fabrics for nobility; they are now doing a lot of restoration. Rubelli has an archive housing a collection of over 6,000 textile samples ranging from the late fifteenth century to mid-twentieth century from Europe, the East, Africa, and the Americas. From this amassment, they have created fabrics for La Fenice in Venice, La Scala in MIlan, San Carlo Theatre in Naples, the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, Cologne de Buenos Aires, and the Museo Verdi in Parma. “They did all of this stuff, with different patterns. You can have incredible quality; it can be very expensive. They have some fabrics that are at least 2,000–3,000 Euro each meter, because they are hand-made. They can do Brocatto [brocade] with gold [woven] inside—real gold! They can do whatever.”

Looking through the archives at Rubelli, Pier Luigi found a pattern that he liked and had something similar made for Eye for the Sensual. “This is a pattern that simulates the ancient fabric, ruined by time; when it’s been worn,” explains Massimo. The original swatch was made of silk, but because of import rules, fabrics must be fireproofed, and it changed the color of the silk; Pizzi decided on viscous fabric instead. “I think it’s really interesting to see what the light does because it almost makes the pattern disappear.”

Meghan Moran

A Space Monkey

October 19, 2010

Costumed Monkey with Tobacco Pouch and Pipe Case, late 19th-early 20th century, Japan

When I see this monkey I think of space. He could be one of Stanley Kubrick’s obelisk rubbing primates. It makes me wonder where this strange traveling monkey came from. He looks so wise and almost exhausted with knowledge. Looking at him from the left you might be conned into believing that he is wearing some kind of soft cap—but no—observing him dead on there can be no mistake. This is a space monkey if ever there was one.

The ceramic monkey predates Abel and Baker’s mythic trip into orbit by at least sixty years. He has survived long enough to see even Men on the Moon. His eyes are glazed and worrisome. He has seen too much. Not just the horrors or puzzles of humanity—but he has seen everything he knew in the world sink back into orbit and become so small it could all be covered by the span of his thumb as he looked down from space.

His body consists of well-groomed, uniform, neatly kempt fur. The mouth is an off kilter gash ridged in perfectly even, monkey-white teeth. The lips are parted slightly, like he wants to talk but all that comes out are slights wisps of an inaudible sigh. His secrets are locked down. His experiences have accumulated on the marks of his body. The blue glaze of his outfit is seeping over his fur. Space suit and beast have become indivisible.

Laura Cherry

This Weekend at LACMA: Eakins and Opie Closing, ARSG Opening, Film Foundation Series Continues

October 15, 2010

This is your last chance to see Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins and Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape—both are closing this Sunday (as is Tad Beck’s installation Palimpsest, which is installed within Manly Pursuits).

Thomas Eakins, Salutat, 1898, gift of anonymous donor, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts

Catherine Opie, Football Landscape #16 (Waianae vs Leilehua, Waianae, HI), 2009, collection of the artist, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles CA, © Catherine Opie

Tonight the great jazz drummer Peter Erskine will lead his quartet in a performance as part of our free Jazz at LACMA series. The concert celebrates the release of their newest album, Standards 2: Movie Music, which follows on the heels of their last, Grammy-nominated album. Just to give you a taste of Erskine’s talents, here’s a video of him during a performance with Diana Krall in Montreal.

Also tonight, our Art Rental and Sales Gallery is hosting an opening for its latest exhibition,  featuring the work of artists Anne McCaddon, Rachel Warkentin, and Hea-Sook Yoo. The ARSG is located on the lower-level of the Bing Center. The artwork is for sale (if you’re a member, you have the option to rent), and proceeds from ARSG sales support museum programs and exhibitions. It’s a great way to build your own collection and support local artists and the museum. The opening starts at 6:30 pm.

Rachel Warkentin, Insourcing

At 7:30 pm just upstairs from the ARSG, our 20th Anniversary Tribute to the Film Foundation continues with Bonjour Tristesse,  directed by Otto Preminger and staring Deborah Kerr, David Niven, and Jean Seberg, followed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa,  starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. Here’s a trailer for the latter:

The series continues tomorrow night with the noir classic (shot in color!), Leave Her to Heaven, followed by Luchino Visconti’s period drama Senso, which will be introduced by Martin Donovan, who collaborated with Visconti on a number of projects.

Also happening on Saturday night is a great event for any wine enthusiasts out there: The Art of Wine: Celebrate the Senses!  The event will kick off with a guided tour of the Resnick Pavilion’s exhibitions, including the many French paintings in Eye for the Sensual, followed by a wine tasting with a wine historian. Tickets are $65–$70 and include wine, appetizers, and parking. The event is very close to selling out so call to make your reservations: 323 857-6010.

Finally, on Sunday night our tribute to Robert Schumann’s centennial continues with soprano Jacquelynne Fontaine performing Schumann’s Frauenlieben und Leben at our free Sundays Live concert in the Bing. Fontaine’s is a voice to behold—check out the videos of some of her performances at her website  to get an idea of what you’re in store for on Sunday.

Scott Tennent

Fashioning Mannequins

October 14, 2010

In the years, months, and days that led up to the opening of Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700 – 1915,  there was a steady increase of activity in the Costume and Textiles Department as we prepared nearly 100 historic garments for exhibition.

The process of dressing historic garments on mannequins is exacting and time-consuming. Not only must the final presentation accurately portray the fashionable silhouette of the period, the art object must be safely supported for the duration of the exhibition. In doing so, the costume cannot be altered to fit the mannequin; rather it is the mannequin which is padded out to the shape of the garment.

A row of mannequins queue up to be dressed for the exhibition.

This detailed process begins with the curatorial team researching the date of each piece. Next, the fashionable silhouette for that era is determined and an appropriate mannequin assigned. I say “appropriate mannequin” because we have male and female mannequins that were built to represent each dramatic change in the fashionable silhouette from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. For women, corsets, crinolines, and bustles dictated not only idealized waist-to-hip ratios, but also posture and whether “fat” was pushed up, down, in, or out. Period paintings, fashion plates, and photographs were also examined and continually referenced throughout the dressing process.

An example of how period paintings helped us create historically accurate mannequin ensembles. Robert-Jacques Lefèvre, Portrait of a Woman Holding a Pencil and a Drawing Book, c. 1808, gift of Joan Palevsky

Dress, probably India for the Western market, c. 1800, with Shawl, Kashmir, India, c. 1810, Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Collection

Before the initial “fitting,” a series of measurements were taken from the garment to determine the positioning of the torso, hips, and legs of the mannequin. The dresser then cuts out concentric shapes of batting to slowly build out the mannequin to the shape of the garment. Control-top pantyhose were placed on both the torso and lower portion of the mannequin to hold the pieces of batting in place while providing a smooth safe surface for the object to rest upon. If necessary, prop undergarments were made to complete the silhouette. This part of prepping the mannequin can take several days.

A female Victorian mannequin is selected to be dressed

Side view of the mannequin with its torso covered and padded to the shape of a Victorian dress bodice. Rolls of batting are sewn around the hips to create support for the beginnings of a crinoline-shaped understructure

Back view of the mannequin as tulle is added around the hips to build out a crinoline-shape

Installation assistant Sophia Gan makes finishing touches to the padded torso . . .

. . . and to the tiers of tulle completing the crinoline-shape skirt

Finally, the costume was carefully placed on its specially prepared mannequin and, after a few minor adjustments, one can step back to enjoy the gratifying moment when the historic garment comes to life.

Sophia carefully slides the skirt over the mannequin

The dress bodice is dressed onto the torso

Period accessories and a paper wig finish the look of a mannequin, now ready for display. Dress, France, c. 1855, with Collar, Europe, 1845–50, and Pair of Undersleeves, Europe or United States, c. 1855

Clarissa Esguerra, Curatorial Assistant, Costume and Textiles


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,090 other followers

%d bloggers like this: