This Weekend: Larry Fink Opens, Jane Fonda Film Series, and More

February 11, 2011

Consider this “Celebrity Weekend” at LACMA. In addition to yesterday’s sold-out visit by Steve Martin, we’ve got a star-studded few days ahead of us. First, a new exhibition opens—Larry Fink: Hollywood, 2000–2009.  The show, on view starting Sunday in the Resnick Pavilion, features photographs Fink took while documenting the annual Vanity Fair Oscar party over the last decade. As the images make clear, the photographs are not remotely the work of a paparazzo, nor of a photojournalist or portraitist.  

Larry Fink, Natalia Vodianova, 2007, collection of the artist, © Larry Fink

Speaking of celebrities, our tribute to Jane Fonda also begins this weekend. Tonight the series kicks off with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and the nuclear paranoia of The China Syndrome. The series continues on Saturday with the cult classic Barbarella followed by the Vietnam drama Coming Home. (On Monday, Jane Fonda will be here in person preceding a screening of Klute; the event is sold out, but there will be a standby line so you can take your chances—no guarantees—if you like.)  

We have a couple of talks worth your while this weekend: Saturday afternoon author Bram Djikstra will give a free lecture on the topic of his latest book, Naked: The Nude in America. On Sunday, artist Alexandra Grant and actor Keanu Reeves will be at Art Catalogues to talk about their collaboration which inspired the book Ode to Happiness.  Both events are free.

Finally, Sunday evening concludes with a performance by the UCLA Virtuosi, performing works by Zeisll and Brahms as part of our free Sundays Live concert series.

Scott Tennent

Now Online: 10 Books on European Art

February 10, 2011

One of the pleasures of working in the Publications department at LACMA is the amazing range of subjects we become involved with. Our most recent production is a sumptuous catalogue  for the current exhibition India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow.  In April we’ll publish a book documenting an exhibition of the sculpture and photography of David Smith.  The remainder of the year holds in store three more substantial catalogues, each accompanying a major exhibition at LACMA.

In the meantime, though, we haven’t forgotten the museum’s long-standing and deep involvement with European art, the subject of the latest group of facsimiles in our Reading Room (joining ten books on Southern California art of the 1960s and ’70s and eight books on German Expressionism). I believe this is the richest gathering so far and feel certain that both its broad scope and its specificity will surprise you.

The work included in these ten books ranges from the mid-fourteenth century to 1975. There are monographs on single artists—Georges RouaultChaim Soutine,  and Edvard Munch.

Edvard Munch, Man's Head in Woman's Hair, 1896, private collection; from "Edvard Munch: Lithographs, Etchings, Woodcuts" (1969)

You’ll find a catalogue of the extraordinary Carter Collection of Dutch masterworks and a book featuring the Ahmanson Foundation’s munificent gifts to LACMA (plans to update both of these are in the works). There’s a volume highlighting the great mannerist prints in the Mary Stansbury Ruiz Collection, and a facsimile of A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, the catalogue of one of the earliest “blockbuster” exhibitions at the museum. Alongside this is the curious little Dressed for the Country: 1860–1900, pairing photographs with lovely pen-and-ink drawings by Charles Dana Gibson.

Claude Monet, Bathing at La Grenouillere, 1869, the Trustees of the National Gallery, London; from "A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape" (1990, 2nd ed.)

Italian Panel Painting of the Early Renaissance has a scholarly depth befitting its subject and an elegance that will make you want to hold the physical book. In a nook of its own is the innovative European Painting in the Seventies (1975), a boxed set of eighteen brochures documenting the first U.S. survey exhibition of contemporary European artists in more than twenty years.

European Painting in the Seventies

We welcome your comments and hope you enjoy perusing this new shelf of books we’ve added to the Reading Room.

Thomas Frick, Editor in Chief

Preserving a Monument: LACMA and Watts Towers

February 9, 2011

In late 2010 LACMA partnered with the City of Los Angeles’s Department of Cultural Affairs to address the long-term preservation of the Watts Towers. To learn more about this project, I spoke with the two people at LACMA who are spearheading the project—Brooke Davis Anderson, Deputy Director of Curatorial Planning, and Mark Gilberg, the Suzanne D. Booth and David G. Booth Conservation Center Director.

UPDATE: We are pleased to announce that the James Irvine Foundation has awarded a $500,000 grant toward the preservation of the Watts Towers. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

Photo: Jo Farb Hernández, courtesy of SPACES—Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments

How did LACMA come to be involved with Watts Towers?

Brooke Davis Anderson: LACMA became involved with Watts Towers and the cultural activities on 107th street when the city approached us about our expertise in conservation, fundraising, and marketing to build an audience for Watts Towers. The city has been the caretaker of the Watts Towers for some time now (it’s actually still owned by the state), but it’s a project that’s so comprehensive that it really needs as many partners as possible so we can be successful in preserving this monument for Los Angeles.

You’re fairly new to LACMA, and new to Los Angeles. What’s your experience been in getting to know the community members and organizations in Watts?

BDA: I’m new to Los Angeles, I’m new to LACMA, but I’m not new at all to art like Watts Towers or artists like Simon Rodia. For the last twenty-five years I’ve been specializing in self-taught artists and their work. So I knew of Watts Towers and visited the Watts Towers long before I, frankly, knew of LACMA. That was my destination when I came to L.A. I love it down on 107th street. This is perhaps one of the most important works of art produced in Los Angeles and one of the most important examples of vernacular architecture in America, and it’s certainly up there with Nek Chand Rock Garden in India, the Palais Idéal in France, and a few other very stellar examples of this kind of artistic experience. I find it a complete privilege to be collaborating on the towers.

Also, the cultural experience and our partners, the Watts Towers Arts Center and the Watts House Project, are not unfamiliar to LACMA, so we already have a foundation from which we plan to build richer connections and deeper ties with both of those organizations as well as the neighbors who live there, in addition to collaborating strongly with the city. That is my responsibility, to make sure all lines of communication are open and clear between all the various partners. Whereas Mark is really charged with the very awesome task of coming up with a conservation plan.

Yes, the bulk of what we’re tasked with doing in this first year with Watts Towers is really conservation-oriented. Mark, can you tell me a little about what our goals are, or what we’re trying to achieve in the next twelve months?

Mark Gilberg: Essentially the city sub-contracted us to revise the conservation handbook and to undertake the day-to-day maintenance of the towers. I believe the last edition of the handbook was published in 1998, and it requires extensive revision. The city also asked us to undertake periodic site inspections and to undertake any restorations and minor repairs to the towers that may be needed.

You both took me to the towers last month, and the thing that I got out of that tour and talking with others is that the artwork and the community are indelibly intertwined. To talk about the community is to talk about the towers, and vice versa.

BDA: I think that’s because there is still a direct link between the maker and the community. We still have members of the community who will tell you that when they were children they would climb the towers (even though we wouldn’t allow this now) and treat it as the local jungle gym. Older members of the community remember being asked by Simon Rodia to collect broken bits of glass and miscellany, and they were paid for that activity.

For the many different constituencies down there it tends to be a meeting place. That for me illustrates the power of art, creating a neutral space where we can come together and negotiate whatever is going on with our community socially, culturally, economically, politically, etc.

Photo: Jo Farb Hernández, courtesy of SPACES—Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments

They are really kind of awe-inspiring—like a beacon or a campanile within the city.

BDA: One of my favorite stories from the recent conference at UCLA about the Watts Towers was when the artist Betye Saar said that as a little girl she lived in Watts with her grandmother for a year. So she was in Watts as a kind of a temporary resident. Walking to school and back, she would always see the towers “over there,” so she would always try to walk home in a different way to find it—but she never could. She never got to the towers until she was a mother herself, taking her two daughters (the artists Alison and Lezley Saar) to see them. But that whole idea of them always being there, always offering a moment of discovery for people, leads to so many folks taking ownership of the towers.

Speaking of the towers as a source of inspiration for other artists, James Turrell has said his memories of seeing Watts Towers taught him that a single artwork could be a decades-long project.

BDA: One thing I’m interested in as we move forward promoting Simon Rodia and the Watts Towers is really trying to honor the seriousness of the object and Rodia as a working artist—not an idiosyncratic person, not a solitary person, but working at a craft in the same manner that John Baldessari or Betye Saar or James Turrell or any other practicing artist engages. Simon Rodia created something that is begging for interaction with community, yearning for acknowledgement from neighbors and the neighborhood, and really wanting to stand out in celebration of place and creativity and art-making.

Balancing the respect for what the artist intended is something that in conservation, Mark, you’re attuned to on every project you do, no?

MG: The artist’s intent is something that must always be taken into consideration when undertaking any conservation project. In this case it’s extremely difficult to define what the artist’s intent was. It wasn’t built in one year; it was built over a very long period of time. Rodia changed his mind along the way and made alterations. In fact, he was the first restorer and was constantly making repairs as he was building the towers.

Beyond inventorying the current records, how to you begin to assess the conservation needs for a project this huge, and how do you then go forward?

MG: You have to have some point of reference. One of the tasks we’re considering is redoing the original photographic record begun in 1986 by Marvin Rand and completed in 1992. The 4×4-foot grid system used for this photography formed the basis for all subsequent conservation work and photographic documentation of the towers. It’s the bible for this entire conservation project. Redoing this photographic survey will give us the means to determine exactly how much original material has been lost over the years and to some extent how much restoration has taken place.

My goal this year is to really collect and synthesize all the background information there is on the towers and organize it into a format that is easily assessable and that can be used to make intelligent, informed decisions regarding its future treatment.

Learn more about the Watts Towers, including a newly restored 1957 short film about the towers and Simon Rodia.

Scott Tennent

Mapplethorpe’s Obsessions

February 7, 2011

 The news has just gone out that LACMA and the Getty have jointly acquired Robert Mapplethorpe’s art and archival material, including more than 2,000 works by the artist. Over at the Getty’s blog, the Iris, curator Frances Terpak discusses how the acquisition came together. Here, our own curator, Britt Salvesen, writes about what an archive of this magnitude can reveal about the artist.

In Just Kids, her moving account of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith states that she knew from the first moment of meeting him in 1967 that he had artistic genius and ambition. At the time of their meeting, both Mapplethorpe and Smith were primarily making drawings—a practical medium, given their lack of funds for art supplies. Smith would go on to achieve renown as a writer and singer, Mapplethorpe as a photographer.

Among the many things an archive can reveal is the artist’s thematic obsessions—their origins and persistence over time. Beginning with his early drawings, jewelry designs, and sculptural assemblages, Mapplethorpe demonstrated a fascination with Catholic iconography, embodied sexuality, and symbolic geometric motifs. He challenged himself to forge an individual style using found materials: advertisements, packaging, rabbit’s feet, even lobster claws from the restaurant next door to the Chelsea Hotel.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled, c. 1971, promised gift of the Robert Mapplethrope Foundation. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

In photography, Mapplethorpe discovered a medium in which to depict all his thematic obsessions with total visual consistency. After experimenting freely with a Polaroid camera in the early 1970s, he acquired more sophisticated equipment that allowed him greater control over light and tone. In Calla Lily (1988), he creates an extreme contrast between the white flower and the black background. In Tulip (1984), he uses a filtered light to establish a range of grays.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Calla Lily, 1988, jointly acquired by LACMA and The J. Paul Getty Trust. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds from The David Geffen Foundation and The J. Paul Getty Trust. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Tulip, 1984, jointly acquired by LACMA and The J. Paul Getty Trust. Partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds from The David Geffen Foundation and The J. Paul Getty Trust. © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Despite the rather wild reputation he fostered, ultimately Mapplethorpe was an extremely disciplined artist and a hardworking perfectionist. Without those traits, one cannot produce a body of work comprising nearly 2,000 editions in a period of only around two decades. Once he hit his stride as a fine-art photographer and began to run a studio, Mapplethorpe was rigorous in terms of quality control and documentation. With its binders of contact sheets and folders of correspondence, the archive preserves in great detail Mapplethorpe’s rise to prominence as a photographer. For those like Patti Smith who knew him when he had nothing, Mapplethorpe’s success as an artist was only a matter of time.

Britt Salvesen, Curator and Department Head, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department

I Pledge Allegiance to Jasper Johns

February 7, 2011

What does Jasper Johns have in common with Lucille Ball, Warren Buffett, Estee Lauder, Colin Powell, and John Wooden?  They are all recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be bestowed on a civilian in the United States, honoring those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”  It is awarded annually to individuals chosen by the President; Obama will bestow the medal on Johns in Washington later this month. 

It seems very fitting for Johns to be honored in this way, as he is particularly known for his images of the American flag as well as of the United States map. (He is also famous for his images of numbers, targets, and other “ordinary” subjects.)  Johns—along with Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Andy Warhol, and others—was among the first artists to use these everyday subjects in his art, creating what became known as Pop Art.  However, the heavily worked surfaces of Johns’ early paintings such as Figure 7, in LACMA’s collection, still connect him to the Abstract Expressionist painters who preceded him.

Jasper Johns, Figure 7, 1955, gift of Robert H. Halff through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, © Jasper Johns / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Johns often chose to depict two-dimensional objects (maps, targets, flags, numbers, letters) so that the flatness of the object depicted and the flatness of the painting itself were coincident.

LACMA owns forty-seven works by Johns and presented the exhibition Jasper Johns: Numbers in 2004.  We are proud to salute this modern master as he is honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Who knows, perhaps Johns’ next subject will be the medal itself!


Carol S. Eliel, Curator of Modern Art


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