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


Fallen Fruit’s Public Fruit Theater

November 4, 2010

I’ve been working with the guys of Fallen Fruit at LACMA, getting ready for this Sunday’s big event, Let Them EATLACMA. Among the 50 different artist-created performances and events will be Fallen Fruit’s Public Fruit Theater. (Download the full program, which includes a tomato fight, a watermelon eating contest, and psychedelic aerobics, among other things. ) Taking a break from all the preparation, I asked Fallen Fruit about the project.

The Public Fruit Theater under construction, at the northeast corner of the LACMA campus.

During our proofreading sessions for the brochure I came across a term I wasn’t familiar with: “urbanite.” The brochure describes the Public Fruit Theater as being constructed by urbanite—what exactly is urbanite?
Urbanite is a recycled “green” building material. It’s basically reclaimed city sidewalks and roads, and absolutely perfect as structural material for the Public Fruit Theater. We decided to use urbanite because it’s another way to talk about public space and the role of not just the natural world, but also sustainable permaculture. It highlights new possibilities for repurposing materials that would otherwise be thrown away. We’re excited to be working with La Loma Development Company on the design and construction of the theater—they pride themselves on creating eco-friendly landscapes, so it’s a perfect match!

So the theater is constructed of public material—is that what makes it a Public Fruit Theater?
Yes, and… the land is public (i.e. municipal); admission is free to the public; the fruit that the tree bears is for the public… We chose an orange tree because the entire neighborhood was once a citrus grove. It’s a few steps to the intersection of Fairfax and Orange Street. The tree itself is almost on the invisible line of where Orange Grove Avenue would have been.

This single fruit tree is in the center of the theater. Would you call this a solo performance?
It’s not just about the lone tree. This piece is a garden and an installation, but also addresses ideas about theater and performance. Everyone’s performing. When you’re sitting there, you’re looking at others who are looking either at the tree or back at you. The circular space keeps your attention coming back to the social. We want bring attention to the role and the presence (or more often, the absence) of fruit trees in our lives, but also to who else is paying attention.

It’s similar to how we see our Public Fruit Jams. The jams are lovely, charming, even delicious…

Very delicious.
Yes! But for us, the real point of the events are the connections we make with strangers and the conversations about fruit, neighborhoods, and family. The jams are a playful device.

When would you say was the best time to see the “performance”?
Late afternoon, toward dusk. The city slows down and people come home. The light is nice and contemplative. It illuminates the city in such a way that everything seems to appear a little more clearly. Your mind slows down, free to wander, and you think about what it means to live here and how we chose to live our lives. As the tree grows, so does the city around us, and so do we.

Chloë Flores, Volunteer


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