Art and Its Afterlife

May 23, 2011

Upon first seeing Bruce Nauman’s neon sculpture Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn’t Know—on view in the current exhibition Human Nature—I attempted to count the nineteen (dare I say) somewhat “apocryphal” words as a collective while they flashed dizzyingly before me. I suddenly had this thought that the only words missing were “sin” and “devil” and I could have heard these on any given Sunday from a Baptist preacher. Of course, this is the absurd universe that art lives in: what could have been said, what should have been said, and what one wished was said, all leading back to the piece itself.

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

For Nauman, a sort of Pop Existentialist with a Conceptualist’s heart of gold, this was the game! Words and meanings, anagrams, palindromes, puns, and the humorous hide and seek—Nauman had a passionate attraction to the paradox of language. That is not to say he was a romantic, as on most levels he was a consummate realist, but he thought “art ought to have a moral value,” to quote Joseph Ketner II’s essay “Elusive Signs.” It was the 1980s: it may have been “Morning in America,” but it was politically dark in South Africa and Africa in general, and Nauman took this to heart. And yet, here’s a guy who fed on the intriguing ideas of Ludwig Wittgenstein in which meaning was not shared by an object and its name; and Vladimir Nabokov of Lolita fame, a novel of dastardly exquisiteness; and also Samuel Beckett, the master of the haunting otherness. Language had to be this, metaphorically speaking, convertible ‘mercury vapor’ driving through the heart of the American dream, prepared to ignite confusion and sow tension.

Thus his neon art, a commercial appropriation, would slip through the harness of the consumer’s earnest trite and in its bright glowing attempt to lay some profundities at the unexpected feet. Nauman’s devilish instinct of melding whimsy and danger while lacing lascivious undertow fills his art with misdirection. Aesopian edicts in decadent clothing! It had that burst of the social shock awareness of graffiti, the New York City subway’s epidemic. It spoke on the same level, hyper, imposing, a sort of in-your-face grandeur. But legible! And although it is said that he made grander sculptures than Human Nature, none quite capture its quintessential completeness. Its zany romp, a radiant moronic heartbeat chaotically circulating its speedy reminders of the human condition, and yet perversely it could be an algorithm away from being a video game. Words leaping out of ashen shadow tubes as flares in day-glo flashes, “life-love-hate-death-pleasure-pain,” winking in circular stop motion, and layered, star-like with, “matters-animal-nature-human-matter,” imposing blazingly with verbs of “knows-cares-doesn’t know-care,” and for an exhilarating second, all are lit at once. Nauman, highly self-conscious, knew the risk of these semiotic wonders. Human Nature could be a street sign rant, first cousin to “The End is Near,” though in his carnival glitz, it is somehow comical and redundant, like a beer ad in his first studio or those cafes at roadside truck stops, all racy hues and tart glamour. And for all of Human Nature’s faults, and maybe a defeat of its message, it remains exquisitely beautiful.

But in its afterlife, the year 2011, in the 140-character twitterverse living in the six-second attention span world of “it’s cool,” “it made me dizzy,” “it was so psychedelic,” Bruce Nauman’s Human Nature, still, begs to please in its vaudevillian neon that nature in its infinite jest is entertainment and where the product of human folly never quite fails to be a laughing matter.

Hylan Booker

This Weekend at LACMA: The Clock Returns, Zen Paintings by Hakuin Opens, Mourners Dance, and More

May 20, 2011

If you missed our twenty-four-hour screening of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, don’t fret: starting today it will be on view in the galleries—right next door to The Mourners—during regular museum hours.

Christian Marclay, The Clock (still), 2010, purchased with funds provided by Steve Tisch through the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

In addition to these and more exhibitions, we’ve got some great programs happening tonight and the rest of the weekend. Stop by the museum after work and catch the Jon Mayer Trio performing for free in front of Urban Light for our weekly Jazz at LACMA series. To give you a taste, here’s the trio playing “On Green Dolphin Street” at the Estoril Jazz Festival in 2009:

On the other side of campus, tonight is the conclusion of our Terrence Malick film series, and it’s a special one: the extended director’s cut of The New World.  This version of the film has never before been screened in theaters, so you don’t want to miss it. Also on hand will be Jacqueline West, the film’s Oscar-nominated costume designer.

If you’ve been to our Korean art galleries in the last few months, you’ve seen conservators working in the galleries on the restoration of an eighteenth-century Korean Buddhist painting, Buddha Shakyamiuni Preaching to the Assembly on Vulture Peak. On Saturday morning we’ll be holding a free one-day symposium on their work, including talks by conservation scientists from LACMA and scholars from Dongguk University and Yong-In University, both in Korea.  

Saturday is also a great day to see our recently opened exhibition The Mourners.  At 2 pm the Jamal Dance Art Theater will give a free performance inspired by the exhibition, “Mourners Are Dancing Too.”

Jamal Dance Art Theater: Mourners Are Dancing Too

Saturday night in the Bing is the uplifting Gospel documentary Rejoice & Shout, tracing the musical genre’s evolution from spirituals and hymns to contemporary R&B-infused songs.

Sunday sees the opening of a brand-new exhibition in the Pavilion for Japanese Art: The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin.  Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) is one of the most influential Zen masters of the last 500 years—he’s the man who asked “What is the sound of one hand?” But in addition to his influential teachings, he was also an incredibly significant artist. The Sound of One Hand is the first exhibition in the West devoted to Hakuin’s scrolls.

Hakuin Ekaku, "Kotobuki," Gubutsu-an Collection

Bring your kids on Sunday for our weekly free activities during Andell Family Sundays, where you can build your own mini-furniture!  

As the day wears on, head to the Art Catalogues bookstore to hear critic David Antin discuss his latest book, Radical Coherency: Selected Essays, 1966–2005.

In the evening, the Crossroads Orchestra (Alexander Treger, conductor) will perform works by Tchaikovsky, Mahler, and Vivaldi for our ongoing free Sundays Live concert series.  

Scott Tennent

Burton-inspired pics from the public

May 18, 2011

In anticipation of Tim Burton, opening May 29th, we invited the public to show us their “Burton-esque” photos. We have 97 so far. This one comes from our own Erin Sorensen:

A Burton-inspired vision by Erin Sorensen.

Check out the Flickr group here.

garydeo333 submitted this image of Edward Scissorhands, with other Burton characters on the tip of his left hand. “My tribute to the films of Tim Burton,” he says.

ammcnelis submitted several pics of the ultimate Tim Burton (wedding?) cake.

sally’smom1 submitted some pretty cute pics of someone small in dressed as (who else?) Sally, from Nightmare Before Christmas.

Miki has some gorgeous contributions including a photo of a sculpture of Jack Skellington carved from foam.

Some contributors looked at nature through a Burton-inspired lens – like this image of a woodpecker, camouflaged against a tree.

There’s more: tattoos, high school fashions, haircuts, gardens, and…a selection of things from under the sea.

Submit your Burton-esque images here.

Amy Heibel

Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass is Coming to LACMA

May 17, 2011

As you may have read in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, we’ve got a new major artwork on its way to LACMA—Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass. We are beginning prep work for its installation this month and it will make its official debut on campus in November.

So, what is it? The short if incomplete answer is it’s a 340-ton, 21’-6” high boulder that Heizer discovered in a quarry in Riverside some years back. (In terms of height, the boulder is roughly as tall as the Resnick Pavilion. It’s big.)

The boulder in its quarry

But that’s not all it is—the boulder is just the most prominent feature of Heizer’s latest earthwork. It will be installed above a 456-foot-long trench that stretches behind the Resnick Pavilion. You’ll walk the length of the trench, which eventually descends to fifteen feet underneath the boulder before rising back to ground level on the other side. It promises to be quite an experience. “Awesome” is the word that springs to mind. To give you an idea of the experience, you can see in this aerial view of the campus a path that already exists behind the Resnick Pavilion—this is roughly the length of the trench we’ll begin cutting into the earth this month.

Aerial view of LACMA

Last month our own Michael Govan went out to visit the boulder—in the video below he gives you an idea of what you can expect.

Scott Tennent

Marclay Marathon: 24 Hours of The Clock–Today!

May 16, 2011

Christian Marclay, The Clock (still), 2010, purchased with funds provided by Steve Tisch through the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Today’s the day: starting at 11 am, we’ll be screening Christian Marclay’s 24-hour film collage The Clock for its full duration, for free in the Bing Theater (co-presented by KCRW). This will be your best chance to see the work in a theater setting, so we hope you’ll find an opportunity to see it today, this evening, tonight, in the small hours, and/or tomorrow morning.

If you’re committing for the long haul, you might like to know that the Plaza Cafe (right next door to the Bing Theater) will be open all night long. Ray’s will also be open extra late tonight–until 2 am–just for you Clock-watchers. Ray’s has a great Monday dinner special, by the way: $10 entrees. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the new restaurant (or if you have), tonight might be the night if you need a break from your art-viewing marathon.

Follow us on twitter today, where we’ll be checking in on The Clock throughout the day. If you’re tweeting, make sure to tag us (@LACMA) or use hashtag #theclock so we can see your tweets!

Scott Tennent


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