Conservation in Action: Saving a Rare Buddhist Scroll

December 13, 2010

An extraordinary project is now underway in the Korean Art galleries: a team of conservators is restoring a large eighteenth-century Korean Buddhist painting, in public view.

Professor Park and her team of five conservators traveled from Korea to work on this project at LACMA for a year.

Professor Chi Sun Park, who teaches in the Department of Conservation of Cultural Properties at Yong-In University in Seoul, is supervising the work with help from our Conservation Center. Professor Park says that initially she had concerns about working in a public area. Now that the team is installed at LACMA, she appreciates the interest and respect demonstrated by visitors who come to watch her and her team go about their painstaking process.

When LACMA acquired the scroll, it was in such fragile condition that we couldn’t display it. So far, the team has managed to reintegrate the torn and damaged sections of the painting. They are replacing the lining, cleaning the surface of the painting, and stabilizing areas of flaking paint. The Friends of Heritage Preservation helped bring Professor Park to LACMA to save this rare masterpiece.

Buddha Seokgamoni (Shakyamuni) Preaching to the Assembly on Vulture Peak depicts Seokgamoni (Sanskrit: Shakyamuni), the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism, seated on a lotus pedestal, preaching to a large assembly. It is the earliest known painting from Gangwon province to survive the devastation of the Korean War.

You can see the restoration of the scroll in the Korean Galleries in the Hammer Building at LACMA through August 2011.

Amy Heibel

Start Your Art Collection at LA Print: Edition 1

December 9, 2010

As a print curator, I am often asked “what’s the difference between a print and a poster?” “A lot!,” I proclaim and launch into a diatribe on the distinctions. For the purposes of this blog (designed to be brief), I will refrain from explanation of the numerous print media—such as woodcut, etching, lithography—all of which have centuries-long histories and traditions of their own, and comment only on the basic differences. Posters are, generally speaking, reproductions of other works of art (such as a painting) and often intended as a form of advertisement or as decoration. For this reason, posters are often printed in the thousands using off-set presses or digital means. Prints, however, are original works of art in that they are conceived of and realized as prints by the artist, often with the assistance of a master printer. The making of a fine art print is a time-consuming and collaborative process that results in original works of art (not reproductions) that are limited in number. (Edition sizes can vary but usually range from 25-100.)

Lynn Hanson, "Standard, " 2010, edition of 20, printed by Hamilton Press

Because fine art prints run in editions, they are less expensive than paintings or drawings by an artist, making them a great way to start an art collection. And you may be surprised to learn that an original art print may often cost the same or less than a framed poster purchased in a museum shop or at! As a means to encourage the collecting of prints, and to provide a learning experience about how prints are made and why artists make them, the Prints and Drawings Council of LACMA and LACMA Muse have organized LA Print: Edition 1, which debuts this Saturday. LA Print highlights printmaking in LA, featuring local print shops and artists that have made the city one of the most vital printmaking centers in the world. There will be print demonstrations and an impressive lineup of artists discussing their prints and appreciation of the print medium. (Not to mention an After Party!)

Don’t miss this great opportunity to learn about the LA printmaking scene and maybe even start an art collection!

Leslie Jones, associate curator, Prints and Drawings

Searching for the Artist in the Art, and Vice Versa

December 8, 2010

It would seem the images of William Eggleston are a form of blank poetry, sensual but not sexy, somewhere in the ether of documentation and artistic wonder where we find him trolling. But who the artist was, I didn’t really know until I met him during the installation of the current retrospective. Were you ever totally off base about someone? I certainly was.

Can the art tell you who the artist is? Based only on Eggleston’s photographs, I guess I really wanted to see him as a hipster channeling country blues or Memphis Slim, for the pictures had that earthy delight, that swell of down-home ready. He seems to possess an idiosyncratic vision that offers a graphic sort of purity; in other words, an image devoid of contextual meaning yet delivering a seductive charge of beauty. His rapacious lens seems to find a sort of theatricality of hyper-country glamour of Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley with a potpourri of hauntingly everyday eye candy, compositional gems caught in casual glances. As for the images, if there are stories, you will have to tell them to yourself. It’s an eye for the ordinary made extraordinary, at times by mere focus. There’s a kind of haphazard, enchanted, social realism, a junk beauty cast aside, around the bend, in the back seat, up the creek, on the lawn, behind the wheel, overhead, alongside, around the corner, outside the door.

William Eggleston, "Untitled (Memphis, Tennessee)," c. 1972, from "14 Pictures," 1974, collection of Adam Bartos, © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

I first saw the enigmatic William Eggleston sitting elegantly in beautiful black suit in a tan fold-out chair in the middle of 2nd floor of BCAM, in front of the giant red elevator in which Barbara Kruger’s black and white and red words climb up the wall of the shaft; his grey hair parted to the side; one long leg crossed over the other with his shining aubergine-colored classic shoes blending perfectly and contrasting with his starch white shirt opened at the neck; a loose and untied green and cream bowtie slightly slung to the side. The look spoke volumes!

And when he spoke in a slow, somewhat thoughtful searching manner which reminded me of the British playwright Harold Pinter (“the master of the pregnant pause”), there was a ground shift. It was the moment for which the lilt in his voice was more the tone and charm of a southern aristocrat—Tennessee Williams without the drama. From time to time with his long elegant fingers he would wave them through the air in his halting speech as if they too were language.

William Eggleston, "Greenwood, Mississippi," 1973, collection of Adam Bartos, © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

This was a native son, the gentle sophisticated product of Memphis who saw it with a stranger’s eye. A lover of Bach! Yes, he was one native who uniquely saw everything in dreamy, saturated, crazy color and silently worshipped it all. And in doing so, sometimes the images he captured acted upon one or achieved the state that an abstract painting delivers: colliding or converging patterns of color exploding into mere sensation but held down by a not so surreal awareness that it’s a ceiling, or a vague sense of knowing that a powerful lusty color can so easily foster the attraction. And underneath, bizarrely, there’s a silence about the images, a hush, hush, an ironic stillness over and above the physical state the photo presents. So that here was the tough-minded enchanter, William Eggleston, or so it would seem.

Hylan Booker

Q&A with Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio

December 7, 2010

For the last few years LACMA has been collaborating with Charles White Elementary School in creating interactive exhibitions in their on-site art gallery. The latest exhibition is LA Icons: Urban Light and Watts Towers, in which students responded to these two monuments through drawings, photographs, and poetry.  Architects Ball-Nogues Studio were invited to create their own monument specially for this exhibition. We asked Benjamin Ball about their result, Double Back to Basics. The exhibition is on view at Charles White and is open to the public Monday–Friday, 2–5 pm

Ball-Nogues Studio, Double Back to Basics, 2010

What was your inspiration for this work?
The process of production was inspirational; it determined the conceptual content of the project. During the past year, we developed techniques for making three-dimensional structures from pulped paper. We imagined that paper, a lightweight material associated with disposability, would create tension if used to make monumental form. It enabled us to consider monuments as disposable. Double Back to Basics is not a discrete object, it is a process: after six months in the gallery the monumental shape will be dissembled to become dozens of living gardens for the kids of the Charles White School.

We have also been exploring how we can “informalize” structure—how to reduce the level of control necessary to conduct a building process. This inspired us. Piles and heaps are structures that can be made without exerting much control and precision. There are only a few choices to make when making a pile – what kind of material do we use, where do we put the pile, how high do we make it? The installation suggests a heap or pile as much as it suggests a monumental arch made with traditional bricks or stones stacked in a controlled and orderly manner. We liked that double reading. When viewed from the entry, it is a quirky vertical wall of letters doubling as bricks. When viewed from within the gallery it is a primitive heap fashioned to be a monumental arch; it suggests a ruin.

Side view

What was the process for Double Back to Basics’ assembly?
There were two phases of construction. The first was the fabrication of individual letters and numbers. We developed a technique for spraying paper pulp over Mylar balloons, which act as formwork. The result is hollow, lightweight structural “shells” (the installation weighs about twenty-five pounds, the same as a few bags of groceries) that are very strong.  The process was laborious, spraying a coat of pulp on each balloon, then allowing it to dry for twenty-four hours in a kind of oven/wind tunnel. The colors are integrated with the paper—we didn’t use paint. We utilized different colors of paper for each coat and then splattered the final coats to yield a painterly, almost impressionist quality. The colors and texture sometimes suggest “natural” lichen, and sometimes powdery candy or donuts. We infused the pulp with wildflower seeds. These will sprout and become gardens after the kids disassemble the installation. 

Mylar formwork

Spraying the pulp onto the balloons

In the second phase, we transported the shells to the gallery, where we assembled the “monument.” We see the letters and numbers as akin to bricks, but being lightweight and hollow, they are inversions of the solid, heavy bricks used to make traditional buildings. In our usual approach to assembly, each component has a predetermined location within the whole.  For LACMA, the method was different; it was informal. The awkwardly shaped letters conjoin with a casual logic; the procedure required intuition rather than rigid predetermination and precision. Control was necessary, but we employed it in a way unlike most of previous projects.

Assembling the arch

How did the notion of monuments impact this piece?
Letters and numbers are elemental building blocks of language, but here they are also the physical building blocks of the installation itself. They represent fundamental origins; they suggest potential. Origins are tied up with the notion of progress: we always move forward from a point of origin. The work lays this out for contemplation.

Monuments are attempts to preserve collective memory, and as a consequence, they are associated with permanence. Monuments help us look back into history, but history is always being made anew. We were interested in this paradox. If Double Back to Basics is to be understood as a monument, what can it mean if it is slated to disappear in six months, when the exhibition closes?  What does it memorialize? If monuments are attempts to preserve memories or ideology, what might be preserved here, if anything? This is why we infused the paper with seeds, so the monument will live on as gardens to be planted by the kids. The timeline of the project is tied to an educational process where the kids witness the transformation of material from installation in a gallery to living things. This transforms the child through learning. The metamorphosis of material and form mirrors and celebrates the growth of individuals while the growth of individuals is inexorably linked to the metamorphosis.

What, if any, design philosophy does the Ball-Nogues Studio pass on to this project?
Design philosophies make us a little uncomfortable, but we do bring certain principles to the work. In essence, Double Back to Basics explores the design of disappearance. Monuments are considered permanent and unchanging. An installation in a gallery has a relatively brief lifespan. It is designed to assume a shape for a given amount of time, but then it can become something else when the installation is taken down. Perhaps this kind of thinking could be passed on to permanent structures. Perhaps buildings and monuments can have expiration dates.

How do you envision the student’s interaction with your piece? What do you hope they will take away from their experience of your work?
The installation suggests a monumental arch, scaled to the size of a child. Kids can pass through it, touch it, and have their photos taken standing in front of it. They can relate to it in ways people physically relate to monuments. By way of that interaction, the kids might think differently about the meaning of the letters and bricks. They might invent their own meanings.

The students will be involved in dismantling the installation. We will encourage them to take pieces of it home rather than throwing them in the trash. The paper is non-toxic and when properly cared for, it will sprout a garden. Through an educational process, the kids will facilitate an entropic process and a process that generates life. The monumental shape breaks down, but the project literally lives on, becoming a living thing. We want kids to witness this transformation and to think about how it might relate to other processes in their world. It invites them to relate to the physical world as a work in progress.

Andre Chambers, Development Intern

Photos by Tyler Crain, courtesy Ball-Nogues Studio

Installing India’s Fabled City

December 6, 2010

India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow opens to the public this Sunday (Thursday if you’re a member), and we’ve gotten a sneak peek into the installation of this massive show. The exhibition features roughly 200 objects–paintings, costumes, jewelry, weapons, decorative arts, glassware, and more–made in this artistic capital during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The sheer number and diversity of objects means that our curators, conservators, registrars, and installation staff had their hands full. Here’s a slice of all they’ve been doing for the past couple of weeks.

Activity in the Lucknow gallery

Co-curator Stephen Markel examines a jewel destined for a display case

Checking it off the list

Out of their crates and into the vitrine

Exhibition designer Victoria Behner consults with co-curator Tushara Bindu Gude


A 360-degree photo of Lucknow, 180 degrees complete

A machine does the heavy lifting

Examining an ornate necklace

Conservators unpack some costumes

...LuckNOW we're ready

Scott Tennent

Photos by Yosi Pozeilov


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