This Weekend at LACMA: Eggleston and Palermo Closing, Road Movies Film Series, and More

January 14, 2011

This is your last chance to see two excellent exhibitions occupying BCAM’s second level—William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008 and Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977 This is the last stop on a long tour for the Eggleston exhibition, and the first stop for Palermo, which is heading to the Hirshhorn Museum next, followed by a run at Dia: Beacon in the summer.

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

Blinky Palermo, Coney Island II, 1975, Collection Ströher, Darmstadt, Germany, photo: Jens Ziehe, Berli

This weekend our latest film series, True Grit: The Golden Age of Road Movies,  continues with some classics as well as some underrated gems. Tonight’s double-feature kicks off with Bonnie and Clyde, followed by a Clint Eastwood/Jeff Bridges road trip from Utah to Montana in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Saturday night sees two personal appearances accompanying the screenings. Screenwriter Robert Boris will introduce Electra Glide in Blue; followed by a screening of Scarecrow, with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond on hand. Zsigmond is one of the greats—along with Scarecrow he was the cinematographer or director of photography for iconic films like Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Deer Hunter.

Saturday at LACMA sees a day-long symposium, Fashioning a Collection, held in conjunction with our exhibition Fashioning Fashion.  This symposium is sold out, though a standby line will open starting at 9 am (the event begins at 10 am).

Also of note on Saturday morning—though not at LACMA—is the 19th annual Empowerment Congress Summit at USC. Brooke Anderson, LACMA’s deputy director of curatorial planning, will be on hand for an this engaging summit hosted by Council Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. The morning-long event will include lively and educational workshops on a variety of topics including community economic development, social justice and the arts, urban planning, green technology, and youth empowerment. More info can be found at the Empowerment Congress website.

Bring your kids or grandkids on Sunday for our regular Andell Family Sunday programming, including art-making activities and free admission for families. All month long the activities are based around the current exhibition India’s Fabled City.

The weekend closes out with our free Sundays Live concert series, in which pianist Inyoung Huh will perform works by Debussy, Schumann, and Ravel. Also, don’t forget that Monday is a holiday, and that means the museum will be free all day, thanks to support from Target. We’ll have family programming all day as well as a performance from the Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra.

Scott Tennent

A Painting To Rest My Head Upon

January 14, 2011

While perusing my usual blogs the other morning I stumbled across this post on Remodelista. Cleverly titled “Off the Wall and Onto the Sofa,” designers John and Linda Meyers took inspiration from abstract expressionist painters Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock and re-imagined them into pillows; John doing the painting, and Linda sewing them by hand. You can always come to LACMA to see the real thing—we’ve got paintings by all four artists in our modern galleries—but now there’s a way to have your own piece of “modern” art in your living room too.

Left: pillow inspired by De Kooning. Right: Willem De Kooning, Montauk Highway, 1958, gift from the Michael and Dorothy Blankfort Collection in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary, © The Willem De Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Left: pillow inspired by Kline. Right: Franz Kline, Study for Initial, 1959, gift of Robert H. Halff through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council

Left: pillow inspired by Pollock. Right: Jackson Pollock, No. 15, 1950, Museum Associates Purchase Award, © Pollock-Krassner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Left: pillow inspired by Motherwell. Right: Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the Spanish Republic 100 (detail), 1963–1975, purchased with funds provided by the Art Museum Council and gift of the Dedalus Foundation

Meghan Moran

Two Powerful Works by John Biggers

January 13, 2011

Imagine my amazement when my colleague Franklin Sirmans, curator of contemporary art, asked me if I would be interested in displaying a major painting by John Biggers (1924–2001), one of the most important African American artists of the twentieth century.

John Biggers, Shotguns, 1987, courtesy of William O. Perkins III

Biggers’s masterpiece, Shotguns, Franklin told me, was available for long-term loan. Needless to say, I was very excited about the prospect and jumped at the opportunity. Not only is Shotguns widely considered one of Biggers’s most important achievements, but also the loan would offer us a chance to display—in context—the first (and only) John Biggers in LACMA’s collection: the monumental Cotton Pickers, an extraordinarily powerful drawing from 1947 that we acquired in 2007.

John Biggers, Cotton Pickers, 1947, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Crawford, Jr., and the Black Art Acquisition Fund

In the 1940s, Biggers created large drawings of extreme pathos like Cotton Pickers, in which four workers are isolated from any landscape setting and grouped together as if a monumental bronze sculpture memorializing their labors. Forty years later, Biggers’s heightened realist style had evolved into more symbolic vision of African American community life in which he emphasized its foundations in African culture. In Shotguns, a dense pattern of quilt swatches extends into an accumulation of the rooftops of shotgun houses, an African-influenced form of architecture prevalent in the American South. Five caryatid-like women, contained inside their porches, each hold a model house and stand next to traditional evil-catching cast-iron pots. Those with features resembling African sculpture (left) block their doorways, while the two grandmotherly figures (right), who allow views inside their homes, are transformed into modern-day cultural guardians.

gallery installation at LACMA

The power of these works, now on view along with a painting in LACMA’s collection by Biggers’s mentor, artist Charles White, cannot be underestimated. (This is the same Charles White whose name graces the elementary school where our exhibition LA Icons: Urban Light and Watts Towers is now on view.)

Charles White, Lovers, 1942, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie

To underscore the significance of Biggers’s art and the inaugural presentation of these works at LACMA, we have organized a panel discussion about Biggers on Tuesday, January 18 including artists and scholars who knew Biggers at different stages in his career. Biggers’s art will also be featured in family programming scheduled for LACMA’s next Target Free Holiday Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week.

Austen Bailly

Decorative Arts from the Gilbert Collection Return to LACMA

January 12, 2011

Now open in the Ahmanson Building are two newly reinstalled European art galleries displaying a number of LACMA’s decorative arts that have long been in storage, plus a representation of extraordinary works that are part of the Gilbert Collection. Through the generosity of The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation and Lady Marjorie Gilbert, and with collegial support from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the installation presents fifty outstanding works of silver and gold, Italian mosaics, and gold boxes interspersed among our permanent collection of European paintings and sculpture.

A collection of decorative arts now housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London may seem to have little to do with the city of Los Angeles, but it is here that the collection was formed. Although Arthur Gilbert and his wife, Rosalinde, had planned to retire when they moved to Los Angeles in 1949, Gilbert was attracted to the city’s burgeoning real-estate business and quickly proved to be a savvy developer. His professional successes and artistic passions formed the basis of what would become one of the largest collections of decorative arts amassed by an individual. The collection now comprises more than eight hundred extraordinary works acquired over the course of forty years, beginning in the 1960s. Gilbert was a LACMA trustee for many years, and a number of treasures from his collection were on view at the museum. Seeing these objects on long-term loan from the collection—plus a number of generous gifts and promised gifts from Gilbert’s second wife, Lady Marjorie Gilbert, who lives in Los Angeles—brings the Gilbert Collection’s journey full circle.

Thomas Pitts, Epergne, 1763–64, long-term loan from the Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Gilbert first started collecting British eighteenth and nineteenth-century British silver. Similar to the composition of the collection as a whole, the Gilbert works of silver and gold displayed at LACMA are mainly of British origin, but Arthur’s interest in Continental silver is also evident, specifically in objects from France, Italy, and Russia. The British pieces in the collection on view at LACMA were fashioned mainly for domestic use and span the late seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries, such as the Thomas Pitts epergne, which would have been filled with exotic fruits and sweets and placed in the center of the table during the dessert course.

Clementi Ciuli (micromosaic) and Adrien-Jean-Maximilien Vachette (gold box), Snuffbox with Head of Bacchus, 1804 (micromosaic), 1809–19 (gold box), gift from Lady Marjorie W. Gilbert in honor of Sir Arthur Gilbert

Upon first glance, the designs on this gold box may appear to be painted or enamels. A closer look reveals that the head of Bacchus is composed of thousands of tiny pieces of glass in myriad hues, called tesserae. Known as micromosaics—a term coined by Sir Arthur Gilbert—this technique derives from ancient Roman and Byzantine mosaics. The invention of micromosaics dates to 1775, and the finest examples can contain more than 5,000 tesserae per square inch. The Bacchus gold box is one of two micromosaics from the Gilbert Collection believed to have been selected by sculptor Antonio Canova (1757–1822) for presentation to Napoleon from Pope Pius VII during his attendance at Napoleon’s coronation in 1804. A generous gift to LACMA from Sir Arthur’s second wife, Lady Marjorie Gilbert, it was the first of its kind purchased by Gilbert and was one of his favorite pieces.

Bacchus Bonniere (detail)

Grand Ducal Workshops (Galleria dei Lavori), manufacturer, Cabinet, c. 1650–75, Long-term loan from the Arthur and Rosalinde Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Arthur Gilbert’s discovery of micromosaics, works made mainly in Rome from small pieces of glass, led to his interest in pietre dure (hard stones), decorative designs formed with semiprecious stones that fit together so tightly, the seams are barely visible to the eye. Although Florence was the seventeenth-century center of production for pietre dure pieces, the art form descended from ancient Roman floor and wall mosaics. Gilbert pursued both forms of Italian mosaics in tandem, ultimately amassing a collection of more than three hundred micromosaics and pietre dure pieces, including secular and ecclesiastical plaques, jewelry, gold boxes and furniture, such as the seventeenth-century cabinet from Florence.

Moulinié, Bautte et Moynier (gold box) and Jean-Baptiste Isabey (portrait miniature), Snuffbox with Napoleon Bonaparte I, c. 1812, long-term loan from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

By taking a pinch of snuff from a gold box, wealthy aristocrats could signify their taste, status and wealth in a single gesture. The display of a gold box also showcased the talents of the designers and various craftsmen who were commissioned to create these magnificent status symbols. These small treasures are masterful examples of the luxury arts that goldsmiths, jewelers, and miniature portrait painters of the era produced. While gold is the main component of the boxes, the examples exhibited at LACMA incorporate an array of exotic and precious materials from around the world, including rock crystal; precious stones; Japanese lacquer panels; enamelwork; and glazed figural, landscape, and portrait paintings.

The miniature portrait gold box of Napoleon Bonaparte I is a stunning combination of an exquisitely rendered portrait by French painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey, and a tour de force of goldsmithing. Napoleon is depicted as an official icon, shown in the coronation regalia he wore when he crowned himself Emperor Napoleon I. The blue pendant with an “N” that Napoleon wears relates to the golden “N” set on a ground of blue enamel on the base of the box, and radiating trophées d’armes composed of three tones of gold encircle the base.

Snuffbox, back side

Elizabeth Williams, the Marylin B. and Calvin B. Gross Associate Curator of Decorative Arts and Design

Fashion Your Own Fashion

January 11, 2011

Today we have two announcements, both pertaining to Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. First—the show has been extended! It will now remain open in the Resnick Pavilion through March 27.

Second, we just posted an exciting new resource for costumers: patterns that may be used to approximate the design of these garments from our collection.

Thomas John Bernard and curatorial assistant Clarissa Esguerra at work pulling patterns from an 18th century waistcoat.

We talked with Thomas John Bernard, a theatrical costume designer and professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who worked with the exhibition curators to create the patterns.

What was it like to work with these garments?

It was exciting because a lot of them are very unique and they are in amazing condition for their age.

When you look at the insides of these pieces, you discover things you don’t really expect. You get to do detective work forensics to try to figure out what the garment was like, how it was made and perhaps remade.

When you are a costume designer, you read plays set at different times in history, and you make clothes for people to represent the time and place. I do a lot of patternmaking for Utah Shakespeare Festival and other theatres around the country; knowing how historical garments were made during the period helps me be a better craftsperson.

Man's Waistcoat, China for the Western market, c. 1740 Purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein and Michael and Ellen Michelson, with additional funding from the Costume Council, the Edgerton Foundation, Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore and Richard Wayne M.2007.211.811, photo © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA

Can someone actually make a garment he or she could wear using one of these patterns?

These are pieces of art. These historic garments most likely would not fit a person today. These patterns are an historical representation. As a patternmaker, I can take measurements from people today and make the pattern fit by drafting it up using the same lines taken from the original piece. To make a garment that fits based on one of these patterns, you need to know something about patternmaking, and be able to modify the size of the garment in that way.

What did you learn about how the original garments were constructed?

A lot of the clothes were all sewn by hand. The stitches are smaller than what a sewing machine would make today; you can see the incredibly small, beautiful stitches made by expert tailors. When we did a pattern of a boy’s frock we discovered it may have been made by a talented home seamstress; the pieces did not line up exactly, and sometimes the fabric is slightly off-grain. So you look at the pattern, and it’s not exactly square. But we wanted to have an actual historical representation of that piece, so we left it that way and didn’t fix it as I would if I were going to actually sew the garment. If I were going to make the garment I would square the elements so that they hang better.

A famous designer would not take one of these patterns and try to make it in exactly the same way the original garment was created. They would take the original garment as inspiration, and construct something using present-day techniques.

I think patternmaking is a combination of sculpture and engineering. One has to work on the body, but the garment also has to look beautiful and flow around the body. Every human body is different; making each person look his or her best is a challenge that involves many decisions about how a garment is cut and constructed.

Amy Heibel


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