Why John Galliano Loves This Vest

November 17, 2010

Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

One of the garments receiving a lot of attention in Fashioning Fashion is this vest, and one of its many admirers is designer John Galliano. He’s chronicled his vest love in the preface to the exhibition catalogue—a snippet of which we thought we’d share with you here.

Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

I was particularly taken with a gentleman’s vest; it is simply charmant (charming), to quote the coquettish collar. The piece dates back to the eighteenth century and the time of the French Revolution, an era I have always found to be a rich source of inspiration. You can spend hours studying this vest. It gives many clues about the turbulent time, weaving style with politics, rebellion, and the tricolore. Here fashion speaks its owner’s mind through intricate needlework and beauty rather than through the violence of the day. As well as the collar, other clues can be found on the pockets. One is the phrase. “L’HABIT NE FAIT PAS LE MOINE” (“The habit does not make the monk”), a caution to never judge a book by its cover or, indeed, take things, such as fashion, and its wearer, on face value alone. The other pocket reads, ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE,” a motto I recognized from the English Order of the Garter, which originally comes from the Old French saying, “Shame upon him who thinks evil of it.” Powerful messages to carry on your person! It is genius. I love the hidden messages and use of heroic symbolism and dandy analogy to, quite literally, wear your loyalties on your chest. For me fashion is there to empower, but you can also play with it, and use it to disguise and conceal. This vest is a brilliant example of all this. It also serves as a strong visual reminder to always look past the frosting and seek the person within.

So, why don’t you look even closer at the vest? There are still many clues to unravel. Through its design and embroidery it tells how the wealthy once dressed like caterpillars by day, ostentatious butterflies by night, but then had to remember their loyalty to the state, to the blue, white, and red. This wearer is, as the collar hints, a bit of a charmer and seems to play it safe and profess both loyalties. Take the tiny lapels: they are embroidered, one with a shorn caterpillar, the other with a butterfly with its wings cut. Does this mean the wearer’s wings have been cut? Ort is he glad that the rich, with their decadent ways, have been stopped? Well, this he can debate whichever way the company prefers…

I wish I had been commissioned to design this vest; it is a masterpiece of fashion and function as well as showing sadness, sympathy, beauty, and wit. The vest is both a political and a fashion statement that captures the mood at the beginning of a new era. It also shows how style reacted, like a fickle mirror, and instantly rejected the gaudy finery so beloved before…

For more on the Fashioning Fashion catalogue, or to purchase your own copy, visit LACMA’s online store.

Brooke Fruchtman


A Consistent if Insatiable Appetite

November 15, 2010

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

—William Butler Yeats

Francois Boucher, Leda and the Swan, 1742, Collection of Lynda and Stewart Resnick

Francois Boucher’s Leda and the Swan, on display in Eye for the Sensual, is a bit of well-rendered dream. The Swan’s foot is perfectly webbed, scaled, and highlighted. The sweep of the neck, in paint and varnish, catches light in one beautiful motion.

It can be said about Jupiter, in disguise or not, that he certainly has his eyes on a certain “type” of woman. The two women in this painting could be sisters. He seems determined to be around their nudity. Jupiter’s wife, Juno (a Rembrandt work also residing in Los Angeles) bares quite a similar countenance. The three ladies’ bosoms are ample, their eyes are made lustily for the bedroom, and their cheeks are full and ruddy. Why, with only a squint they might be interchangeable.

So while I may question Jupiter’s motivations and tactics, I can at least appreciate his consistency.

Laura Cherry


This Weekend at LACMA: Hard Boiled Hong Kong

November 12, 2010

In addition to the many exhibitions currently on view, the weekend at LACMA is bookended, as usual, by two free concerts—tonight, the Littleton Brothers perform for Jazz at LACMA, and on Sunday pianist Gonzalo Farias will take the stage in our Sundays Live series.

In between, bring your bulletproof vest to the Bing Theater for the start of our latest film series, Hard Boiled Hong Kong, unfolding over the next three weekends. The series looks at four pillars of the gangster genre in Hong Kong—John Woo, Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, and Wong Kar-wai—and includes their classic sagas as well as the LA premiere, later this month, of Woo’s newest epic, Red Cliff.

The series begins with four classics of the genre. Tonight, John Woo’s breakout 1988 film The Killer, starring Chow Yun-fat, followed by Wong Kar-wai’s 1988 film As Tears Go By. Tomorrow, Johnnie To’s The Mission will screen at the special time of 5:30 pm, for the special price of just $5, followed by Woo’s other classic collaboration with Chow Yun-fat, Hard Boiled. Check out the trailers for each of these films—though I should warn you that they’re all pretty violent.

Scott Tennent


Challenges of Conservation: The Mysore Album Cover Project

November 11, 2010

This late-nineteenth-century album cover, intricately carved in India, was crafted from fragrant sandalwood. When acquired, the outer section of the front edge was missing. This visual distraction kept most viewers’ eyes from being fully engaged in the artistry worked into the wooden cover.
My challenge was to make the album cover look more unified with a carved replacement for the missing section. On a “restoration difficulty” scale of 1 to 10, this was a 10!

Before conservation treatment. The entire outer section of the front edge, on right, was missing.

Challenge #1: Finding the Right Material
I hoped to use a plank of sandalwood for the replacement, but after an intense search, came up empty. Sandalwood was a very desirable wood in past centuries but is now very, very scarce. Instead I experimented with several hardwoods, finally selecting Koa wood from Hawai’i for its similar color, grain pattern, and ease of carving.

Challenge #2: Making the Template
Work began by carefully making cardstock templates. Using calipers to measure for each row and design series, I drew reference points and pattern lines to ultimately replicate the original designs of the existing album cover on the template. The designs were stretched or shrunk to fit the template and, finally, on the Koa wood itself.

During treatment. Calipers were used to compare the sandalwood original with the Koa wood replacement for accuracy.

Challenge #3: Tiny Tools for a Tiny Job
Next, I tried to purchase tools small enough to reproduce the tiny carvings, but was unsuccessful. I resorted to altering a few tools, including a mini scalpel blade, 1.5mm u-gouge, paring chisel, and 3mm gouge with skew chisel edge. I used a 7X magnification loupe as I worked row by row.

During treatment. The Koa wood replacement was carved with modified miniature tools.

Challenge #4: Finishing the Project
When the carving was complete, the Koa wood was cut to length with precision angles, and mortises to lock into the album cover. The next step was to apply a thin layer of shellac to seal the Koa wood surface. After drying, I applied a chestnut-toned water-base natural dye and watercolors onto the shellacked surface, toning to blend with the original album cover

After treatment. The carved Koa wood replacement was fit in place with mortises and toned to match.

Jean Neeman, Senior Conservation Technician


In the Land of Snow Lions, Phoenixes and Dragons

November 10, 2010

Tibet still harbors some portion of Shangri La in the imagination, sitting as it does in the high plateau north of the Himalayas where the peaks of its sacred, snowy mounts dissolve into the mist above. The land’s sheer vastness and grandeur form the backdrop to the amazing collection found in the exhibition In the Service of the Buddha: Tibetan Furniture from the Hayward Family Collection. Chests and tables, cabinets and bookstands, trunks and offering tables—bright and jewel-like in the softly lit, ashen brown, tent-like space of the gallery.

Installation view, In the Service of the Buddha: Tibetan Furniture from the Hayward Family Collection, Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

Tibet is a world of extraordinary diversity and beauty where great rippling sand dunes are edged by giant green forest, extended treeless plains of feather and quack grass where nomadic tribes live in black yak-wool tents. And then there are the flattop stone dwellings covered in multi-colored pray flags and their monasteries dotted throughout the land, all in the worship of the Buddha.

Installation view, In the Service of the Buddha: Tibetan Furniture from the Hayward Family Collection, Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

Installation view, In the Service of the Buddha: Tibetan Furniture from the Hayward Family Collection, Photo © LACMA/Museum Associates

Acquired last year, the Hayward Collection covers 1,100 years, from the ninth to the twentieth century, of Buddhist life and worship. Each piece speaks to its genealogy, whether from a monastery, a merchant, or a fold-up piece made for a nomad. This is charmed furniture of exquisite craftsmanship; strikingly, the wooden furniture with its individual images in gold cartouches of auspicious deities, snow lions, dragons and phoenixes, and ritual tantric offerings that protect the contents or bring luck, have a certain humble appeal that the metal sculptures of the same origin don’t achieve. Even the marvelous thangkas, with their sometime inscrutable intricacy, can put the viewer at a distance. But the wood is familiar, and the tactile nature of the objects are known entities, merely made to hold something precious. The wood’s uneven and lived-in surface, its gorged and pitted grain, its visible rivulets mark its time in that service. But in their new, other life as luminous art objects, the furniture crosses cultural borders and addresses its beauty to us.

Hylan Booker


Let Them Eat LACMA…and they did

November 8, 2010

Yesterday we marked the end of a year-long project, EATLACMA curated by Fallen Fruit (David Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young) with José Luis Blondet. About 7500 visitors came to see more than fifty artists, musicians, and performance groups who took over the museum for a one-day event, Let Them Eat LACMA. The goal was to expand our perception of art, food, and the museum. Below, a few video snippets from the day’s events.

Inside the exhibition The Fruits of LACMA, curated by Fallen Fruit, Ms. Pacman Eats LACMA, presented by Fallen Fruit with Eva Posey and Katie Newcom.

An excerpt from We Are the World’s performance, Consumed.

Watch our Screening Room later this week for more video of the event—we captured everything from a parasite opera to a tomato fight, a watermelon-eating contest, an Electric Melon Drum Circle, and psychedelic aerobics.

Amy Heibel


This Weekend at LACMA: Let Them EATLACMA, Eggleston & Film, and More

November 5, 2010

Let Them EATLACMA!

Our year-long EATLACMA exhibition comes to a close this weekend, and it’s going out with a bang. All day Sunday, more than fifty artists and performers will take over the entire museum for Let Them EATLACMA.  There will be an electrified melon drum circle, a recreation of Josephine Baker’s “Banana Dance,” a synchronized chorus of bubblegum popping, a tomato fight in the BP Grand Entrance, and much more. Check out the full program of events [pdf].  

True Stories (1986), directed by David Byrne, photo courtesy Warner Bros./Photofest, © Warner Bros.

We’re also continuing to celebrate the William Eggleston exhibition that opened last week with a three-day film series in tribute to the photographer. It began yesterday with Hitchcock’s North by Northwest—which Eggleston claims as an influence—and continues tonight with a double-feature of two films influenced by Eggleston, Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 classic Mystery Train and David Byrne’s one and only feature film, True Stories. The series concludes on Saturday evening with a  panel discussion  including cinematographers Harris Savides (Somewhere, Zodiac, Elephant, American Gangster) and Ed Lachman (Far From Heaven, The Virgin Suicides, Howl), filmmaker Michael Almereyda (Hamlet, Nadja, William Eggleston in the Real World), LACMA’s curator and head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, Britt Salvesen, and other special guests. The discussion will be followed by a screening of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, which was inspired by Eggleston’s 1973–74 video work Stranded in Canton.

That’s not all that’s happening this weekend. Tonight, Jazz at LACMA continues with the Theo Saunders Quartet.  You can hear samples of his music at his website.  

On Saturday afternoon, Bernard Jazzar, curator of Lynda and Stewart Resnick’s collection and co-curator of Eye for the Sensual, discusses the collection and the exhibition in a free lecture in the Bing Theater.  

Finally, the weekend closes out with the latest in our free Sundays Live concert series, with a performance by the Capitol Ensemble of works by Dvorak.

Scott Tennent


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