Installing Nauman

March 10, 2011

During the past few weeks the second floor of BCAM has been undergoing the installation of the exhibition Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection, opening this Sunday (and on view now for members).

The exhibition takes its name from Bruce Nauman’s neon art piece Human Nature/Life Death/Know Doesn’t Know, which is included in the show. A major effort on the part of our conservators, art installers and electrician has made it possible to put this large neon puzzle back on view after a hiatus of about ten years. Here’s how they did it:

A diagram of the complicated combination of words was drawn to serve as a guide for installation. The bottom layer of words is placed in a circular pattern, the middle layer forms an X, and the top layer is a Y configuration.

Conservators Don Menveg and Natasha Cochran (pictured) cleaned, maintained, and tested each one of the neon tubes that are the words which comprise this elaborate piece.

Posts made of glass will support the delicate neon tubes.

An instrumental part of the installation was the involvement of our very experienced electrician Roosevelt Simpson, who installed twenty-three transformers and tweaked the timer box that controls the cycling in which the words are lit in their original sequential cycle.

The first layer of words is installed.

Installing the top layer of words.

Testing to be sure the tubes light up and the cycles run correctly.

The finished artwork. Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know, 1983, Modern and Contemporary Art Council Fund


Yosi Pozeilov, Senior Conservation Photographer

Making a Movie in the Midst of War

March 9, 2011

Described as “a modern portrait of Afghanistan that captures the current plight and resilience of its people,” The Black Tulip—screening at LACMA tomorrow—tells a story through the eyes of an everyday family from Kabul, who remains hopeful despite constant struggle and tragedy.

The film was shot on location in Kabul, Afghanistan, by American director Sonia Nassery Cole, herself an Afghan expatriate. Filming in the middle of country ravaged by war was not easy. (By contrast, The Kite Runner, which also takes place in Afghanistan, was actually filmed in China.) After the screening tomorrow Cole will join film critic Todd McCarthy in conversation about her experiences. To say it was difficult would be an understatement

Cole fled Afghanistan as a teenager in 1979 but has long been a voice for Afghan relief efforts. She is also founder and CEO of the Afghanistan World Foundation. This is her first feature-length film. It had its world premiere in September 2010 in Kabul and was subsequently Afghanistan’s official submission for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards. Tomorrow’s screening is a great opportunity to see this film, which has not yet had a wide release, and as well to hear straight from the director about the unique and daunting challenges of making the film.

Miranda Carroll

How the Hatter Went Mad

March 7, 2011

In LACMA’s current exhibition, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915 (closing March 27), one distinctive accessory for the well dressed gentleman is the top hat.

Smith and Company, Man's Top Hat, c. 1840–1860, Costume Council Fund

The manufacture of top hats is a labor-intensive and hazardous process. In the eighteenth century, the best hats were made from the fine underfur of the beaver. Other top quality furs were camel and vicuña. By the mid-nineteenth century, the beaver population had declined and a 100% beaver fur hat was rare; most were a blend of furs, incorporating rabbit, hare, or otter.

One key component in top hat manufacture is the felting of the fur, a long process of moistening, heating, and pressing the fur fibers into a dense mat. One way to speed up felting—and production—was carrotting, where fur pelts were soaked in a solution containing mercury salts. The chemical bath causes the scales to lift up, causing more fiber entanglements and making it easier to separate the fur fibers from the skin.  One recipe called for three pounds of nitric acid, three ounces of mercury and seven and a half pounds of water. After the fur dried, it was shaved from the pelt. Whether working with the “fluff” dry or moist, the hat-making workshops were an environmental disaster filled with moist mercury-laden air and dry mercury-contaminated dust.

Hat-makers dip felt hats into nitrate of mercury solution. From W. Gilman Thompson, MD, "The Occupational Diseases," D. Appleton and Company, 1914

As far back as the eighteenth century, the harm that mercury-containing compounds could do to hat makers was well known. Afflictions included tremors (called “hatters’ shakes”), tooth loss and blackened gums, excessive drooling, muscle twitching, and a lurching manner of walking. So bad were the symptoms that it drove many a hat maker to drink. It’s no wonder that the phrase “mad as a hatter,” came to be. By the late nineteenth century, scientists and doctors began publishing their observations and suggesting workplace improvements such as increased ventilation, shortened exposure times, and the use of protective gloves and clothing. In the twentieth century, newer hat making processes replaced those that used mercury but by then the popularity of hats was in decline.

Peck and Company, Man's Top Hat, c. 1832, Costume Council Curatorial Discretionary Fund

S. Tuttle Hat & Cap Manufacturer, Man's Top Hat, 1840–1860, 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

Catherine McLean and Charlotte Eng, Conservation Center

This Weekend at LACMA: Catherine Deneuve Series, Young Directors Night, Terry Allen, and More

March 4, 2011

We’ve got some great film happenings this weekend. Tonight, our latest weekend film series kicks off: Beautiful Dreamer: The Early Films of Catherine Deneuve. Tonight is the double-feature of two essentials, Luis Buñuel’s strange and sexy and shocking Belle de jour, followed by Roman Polanski’s psychologically intense Repulsion. (While we’re talking about Deneuve, be sure to come to LACMA this Tuesday, March 8–Deneuve will be here in person for a conversation and screening of her latest film, Potiche.)

On Saturday, as we mentioned earlier this week, LACMA Muse will hold its tenth annual Young Directors Night (click the link to see trailers for nearly all the films). Tickets for the event include admission to the screenings as well as to the reception afterward, including complimentary drinks and dessert.

Bring your kids on Sunday for our ongoing free Andell Family Sundays. With a new month comes a new theme for the activities: this time you and your family are invited on a “Tour of Europe”–a good opportunity to check out our European galleries, just recently renovated and reinstalled.

Terry Allen, Pinto to Paradise, 1970, Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions

Should you prefer something more adult-oriented, pop into the Art Catalogues bookstore for a conversation between artist Terry Allen and Dave Hickey (who is making his second appearance at LACMA in a month). The two will discuss Allen’s newly published book; the event is free.

Finally, the weekend closes out with a free performance from the US Army Chorus, part of our celebrated Sundays Live series.  You can hear some of the chorus’ music at their website

Scott Tennent

California Design Mysteries

March 2, 2011

The Decorative Arts and Design Department has been working for the last four and a half years on California Design 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way”, a comprehensive exhibition about modern California design that will open this October as part of Pacific Standard Time. With over 350 objects, this is an ambitious and thoroughly researched exhibition. We have traveled around the state and the country, met many designers and craftspeople, and visited dozens of museums, libraries, and archives. However, there are a few details that have eluded us, and we thought that you, worldly and knowledgeable readers of Unframed, might help us answer some vexing questions. If you have answers or leads to information, please post them in the comments below. 

Mystery #1: The Case of Cressey’s Columns

David Cressey for Architectural Pottery, Glyph screen wall, c. 1963

LACMA recently acquired six monumental and magnificent columns made by David Cressey for the company Architectural Pottery. Cressey studied ceramics in the 1950s with legends Vivika Heino at USC and Laura Andreson at UCLA. In the early 1960s he joined the firm Architectural Pottery as its first artist-in-residence and the designer of its Pro/Artisan collection, a group of cast ceramic planters, sculptures, and architectural elements made of textured stoneware.

Each column was made of individuals “glyphs.” The glyphs could be arranged in any configuration—from a low barrier of three glyphs high to a towering thirteen-glyph wall like this one. We know that the Cressey columns in LACMA’s collection came from a state government office building on P Street in Sacramento nicknamed the “Brown Towers” because they were built under the tenure of governor Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, who served from 1959–1967. But we don’t know exactly which building it was. If you remember seeing these columns in a Sacramento office building, let us know the name, address, or government agency that occupied that building.

Mystery # 2: The Case of the Table that Won’t Talk

Jock Peters, Table from Bullock’s Wilshire department store, Los Angeles, c. 1929, Decorative Arts and Design Council Fund in honor of Rose Tarlow receiving the 2010 Design Leadership Award, Michael and Jane Eisner, Bobby Kotick, Ann and Jerry Moss, Jane and Terry Semel, The David Geffen Foundation, Margie and Jerry Perenchio, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Eli and Edythe Broad, Selim K. Zilkha and Mary Hayley, David Bohnett and Tom Gregory, The Judy and Bernard Briskin Fund, Mimi and Peter Haas Fund, Holly Hunt, Jena and Michael King, Kevin Kolanowski, Alexandra and Michael Misczynksi, Frank Pollaro and Jennifer Dubose, Maggie Russell, Susan and Peter Strauss, Luanne Wells, John M. and Judith Hart Angelo, Douglas S. Cramer and Hugh Bush, Suzanne Kayne, Kelly and Ron Meyer, Susan Smalley, Deborah and David Trainer, Design Alliance LA, Thomas A. Kligerman, Kenneth and Louise Litwack, Elaine Lotwin, Carol and Michael Palladino, Janet Dreisen Rappaport , Patti and Bruce Springsteen, and Lars Stensland Jr. and Kim Baer

We recently acquired a stunning inlaid table designed by German émigré designer Jock Peters for the interior of the Bullock’s Wilshire department store, which opened in 1929. The table was located in the sportswear department of Bullock’s Wilshire, near the famous Gjura Stojano “Spirit of Sports” mural.

Detail of tabletop

Sportswear department, Bullock’s Wilshire, 1929

The early history of this table is well-documented, as it stood in Bullock’s Wilshire for decades, witness to the comings and goings of starlets and society matrons. But what we don’t know is the table’s more recent history. In the early 1990s, this table and many other furnishings were dispersed at auction. (However, the interiors have been preserved and the building is now the library of Southwestern Law School. It is no longer open to the public, but one day a year you can take a tour and have tea there.) If you remember this historic auction, and know when or where it happened, or if you have the sale catalogue, let us know!

Mystery #3: The Case of the Curious Clockmakers

Lawson Time, Zephyr clock, c. 1938

This streamlined Art Deco Zephyr clock has long been attributed to German émigré architect and industrial designer Kem Weber, who came to California in 1914 and was responsible for such important buildings as the 1939 Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank and many models of custom and mass-produced furniture.

This clock was presumably attributed to Weber because he designed other models for the Lawson Time Company and because he owned a clock like this one. However, a Lawson Time brochure turned up on eBay several years ago that attributes the design of all the clocks (including the Zephyr) to a previously unknown firm called Ferher and Adomatis. Searches in city directories and the Los Angeles Times have not turned up any information about this mysterious firm. If you know anything about the Lawson Time Company or Ferher and Adomatis, let us know!

Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design


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