What’s Your Sign? Installation of Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac Heads

August 18, 2011

The twelve monumental bronze sculptures from Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads arrived at LACMA earlier this week. LACMA’s art preparation and installation teams have been working hard to unpack and wake these sleeping giants–some of which weigh nearly a ton.

The animals arrived two by two...

Unfastening the first of the sculptures--the ram.

Four installers plus one crane slowly lift the ram.

Repeat x 12

Ta-da!

Next step is to unwrap and place the sculptures into position.

The dragon, snake, and horse stand tall next to the Resnick Pavilion, awaiting the arrival of their zodiac counterparts.

Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads opens this Saturday at LACMA. A general admission ticket is not needed to see the work, so come by, take a picture in front of your zodiac sign, and enjoy the magnitude of these brilliant sculptures.

Alex Capriotti

Photos by Yosi Pozeilov


Being a High School Intern at LACMA: Q&A with Joana Choi

August 17, 2011

Joana Choi is a high school intern at LACMA working with the Education department. Joana started as an intern in September of 2010 and has worked on projects from the opening of the Resnick Pavillion to After Dark. She has also had a big hand in helping with teen programs. We talked to Joana about being an intern at LACMA, future career plans, and more.

Joana Choi, High School Intern at LACMA

Tell us about your first experience as an intern at LACMA.

The first big event that I took part in was the public opening of the Resnick Pavilion. It was really great. I loved wearing that red LACMA STAFF t-shirt, and being the one that people would rely on for information. I loved seeing all the excited kids having a great time with the workshops, hearing from the parents that the new building was great, taking lots of pictures in the photobooth with other interns—it was all such great fun! I really couldn’t ask for a better first experience!

Do you have a favorite work of art in the museum?

I like them all, but one of my favorites would be one from the Latin American Gallery. It’s from the Art of the Ancient Americas. I’m not sure of the title of the work, but it’s a small figurine that is an ancient action figure. What I like about it is what it teaches me about ancient cultures and how they used to be. It’s so fascinating how, regardless of the time, some things just don’t change.

What is the most memorable thing you have been involved in at LACMA?

I’d have to say EatLACMA because it was such a fascinating event composed of such bizarre stations. The idea in itself of art and food is interesting, since food is such a vital yet disregarded part of our lives. I loved the doughnut mural, the fresh fish tacos, the potato garden, the free plates, the tomato fight—everything about it was interesting. I think it really was an event that, although fun, made one think about the big role of food in our lives.

One of the big programs you have helped with is After Dark: Teen Night. What is your role with that program? Are you looking forward to the next Teen Night on August 20?

My role is to survey the attendees in line, pass out wristbands, keep the line moving, and help with the clean up. Our event in June turned out much bigger than expected, so with a long line that went to the end of Wilshire, it was quite a workout having to walk up and down to tell the attendants to take out their IDs, keep moving, etc. The event was such a success that I can’t wait to see how Teen Night this weekend will go. Teens will get to go though the Tim Burton exhibition after the museum closes, eat specially-created Burton food items from the Kogi truck (blood sausage tacos and Jack Skellington eyeball lollipops), dance to a DJ, and more. It’s going to be a great event.

Has interning at LACMA helped to shape your career path?

Definitely. Through LACMA and the experiences it has awarded me, I was able to become more passionate. I used to be a person who really let doubts hold me back from doing what I wanted. I always loved fashion, but since I had never taken any art classes, I wasn’t sure about following my passion. But through the internship, I was able to meet with the Mulleavy sisters (Rodarte) and Kate gave me an advice that allowed me to take a big leap. That was a defining factor, but the internship as a whole let me be passionate and more impulsive, and now, I am following a career path that I genuinely enjoy. Just think—two years ago I was thinking of pre-med or law, and now I’m an aspiring designer working on her portfolio!


Weston’s Modernism

August 16, 2011

Nestled in an intimate room in the Art of the Americas Buildings is a small installation of twenty-five images by Edward Weston that explore tensions between subject/form and light/shadow. The organic spontaneity of the different connections and comparisons in the show encourage engagement beyond the four walls of the exhibition space.

Edward Weston, Legs, 1934, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Edward Weston, Shells, 1927, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Indeed, Weston’s articulation of the painterly, the sculptural, and the architectural through the camera points to both the uniqueness of the photographic medium and the infinite possibilities contained in vacant shells, eroded boulders, and smooth expanses of uncovered skin. Weston’s Modernism stands out as an exhibition that is as much about the artist’s personal connection to his work as it is about the viewer’s experience. Not unlike Tim Burton, Weston’s intense focus, immersion into his practice, and aesthetic ethics make for work that is sensitive, personal, and inspiring.

Edward Weston, Eroded Rock – Monterey Coast, 1931, anonymous gift

While helping to finish the installation of the show, several pieces especially exemplified modernist perspectives. In particular, I was drawn to Eroded Rock. The weary lines on the surface, merging, crossing, and diverging evokes the passage of time, the endurance of nature, and most compellingly, the beautiful quietude of pure form. Eroded Rock and many more like it in the show are a must-see in their undefinable capacity for contemplation and appreciation. Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass and Eroded Rock, though different in their dimensionality, share a perfect timelessness through their stolid yet fluid presentation.

The 340-ton boulder which will be a part of Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass

With many new projects coming up on LACMA’s campus, such as Levitated Mass’ arrival this fall, there will be many new things to see.  But to see what has always been around us in new ways continually revives and enriches Los Angeles’ diverse and vibrant art scene.

Kelly C. Tang, Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


Magnificent Octahedrons Get Dusty Too

August 15, 2011

Passing through the Ahmanson Building atrium the other day, I came across senior conservator John Hirx in his lab coat. He was slinging what, from afar, looked like Buddhist prayer flags over Tony Smith’s monumental Smoke. The multicolored pieces of cloth dangled from the 8-sided modules that make up the sculpture, which rises 24 feet into the air. John explained that he was dusting the piece.

Conservator John Hirx at work.

Conservation technology at LACMA is state-of-the-art science; one prominent project (Watts Towers) includes a method utilizing “a 10% solution of Paraloid B72 in Toluene”, and it’s not unusual for conservators to speak this kind of Vulcan. But John got his materials at Pep Boys auto parts shop. He was proud to let me know that all three types of cloth included in his homegrown dusting apparatus came in a single jumbo pack for just $3.99. He attached them using a sewing machine in the conservation storage lab, and intended to wash them afterwards in the lab’s own washer/dryer.

Mark Gilberg, director of the conservation center, hastened to point out that the three types of cleaning cloth included in the Pep Boys jumbo pack do have just the right unique physical qualities required to dust the monumental work of art: a smooth chamois, a soft terry of medium texture, and a shaggy number with long fibers.  This combination of textures designed for washing your car just happens to be perfect for cleaning the painted aluminum surfaces of Smith’s masterpiece.

Amy Heibel


This Weekend at LACMA: Zen Paintings Exhibition Closes, Free Outdoor Film, Concerts, and More

August 12, 2011

This weekend is your last chance to see The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin, on view in our Pavilion for Japanese Art. Born in 1685, Hakuin Ekaku is considered the most influential Zen Buddhist master of the last 500 years—as well as one of the most influential Zen artists of the Edo period. His ink-on-paper paintings and calligraphy were spontaneous and expressive, and The Sound of One Hand is the first exhibition in the West devoted to his work.

Hakuin Ekaku, Oyakoko: Love for One’s Parents, 18th century

If you’re looking for free concerts this weekend, we’ve got you covered every single day. Tonight, the Tall & Small Band, an 11-piece jazz band featuring tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb (who boasts 20 years as part of the Tonight Show Band during the Johnny Carson era) and trombonist Linda Small hits the stage for Friday Night Jazz. Saturday evening you can catch a free performance of Rogelio Mitchell’s blend of calypso, reggae, and jazz during the outdoor Latin Sounds concert. And on Sunday, the Lyris String Quartet performs Mendelssoh’s Quartet in A minor, Opus 80 during the free Sundays Live concert in the Bing Theater. 

As with every Friday in August, we’re screening a free Tim Burton film in Hancock Park. Tonight, bring your family and a picnic to see James and the Giant Peach, produced by Burton and directed by Henry Selick.

Inside the museum, our “Once Upon a Time in the Middle East” film series continues with The White Meadows, by Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, and Climates, starring and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The trailers for both are below, but if you need further convincing on Climates, consider this recommendation from the Coen Brothers and Josh Brolin. The series continues tomorrow night with the 1940 film The Thief of Baghdad (screening early, at 5 pm), followed by the 1979 film Alexandria, Why?

And there is still yet more film happening at LACMA this weekend! Our Monster Matinee series—free for members, $5 for everyone else—features the irrepressible Mothra, in breathtaking Toho-Scope!

Scott Tennent


Artist Interpretations in Gifts of the Sultan, Part III: Q&A with Shahzia Sikander

August 10, 2011

On view through September 5, Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courtsexplores Islamic art through the universal tradition of gift giving. The exhibition features more than 200 works of art from three different continents and spanning the eighth through nineteenth centuries. The exhibition also features the work of three contemporary artists, all with roots in the Islamic world—Sadegh Tirafkan, Ahmed Mater, and Shahzia Sikander—commissioned to interpret the art of gift-giving in Islam. Exclusively on Unframed this week, arts writer and founder of Art Middle East Nazy Nazhand interviews each of these artists about their contributions to the exhibition. Read previous interviews with Sadegh Tirafkan and Ahmed Mater.

Shahzia Sikander, Faiz’s Gift, 2011, courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Part III: Shahzia Sikander

Shahzia Sikander trained in the traditional art of Indo-Persian miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, and went on to receive an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Representing a fusion of East and West, this piece evokes the art of miniature painting but in an entirely original manner. For example, Sikander plays with scale applying color and text to a large panel to suggest the facing pages of a book. The text inscribed in gold quotes from the opening lines of a verse by the renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz: “Why talk about the day when the heart will splinter into a thousand pieces, and all sorrows will be ended, when everything we achieved will be lost, when everything we were denied will be granted?” Here, following tradition, the poem is the gift, one both personal and partisan.

How does your work relate to the Islamic artistic tradition represented in Gifts of the Sultan? How has traditional art influenced your practice?

From the very beginning of my artistic practice, my intension was to create a dialogue as well as to explore the viability of an interaction with a traditional genre, and many aspects of my work are the outcome of examining the traditional Indo-Persian miniature paintings. 

In 1986, as a student at the National College of Arts in Lahore, I realized that there was an open opportunity in the Miniature Painting Department in that no one was exploring these paintings as a vehicle for contemporary expression, and thus my choice of examining the tradition of book illustration within the context of Indo-Persian miniatures. Because many students were not interested in pursuing this, it became possible for me to explore a new path. Working with the inherent complexities of  “traditional art” was a paradox of choice, allowing me to create an intellectual debate and a new way of asking questions.

What are your thoughts on museum exhibitions like Gifts of the Sultan that juxtapose historical and contemporary artworks?

I would like to see an exhibition where such juxtapositions are the main crux of the show. 

Where are you currently based? One of the major themes in Gifts of the Sultan is that of cross-cultural interaction and exchange; what are your thoughts on this theme and how does the geographical location of where you work influence your perspective?

I am based in New York. I also spend several months each year outside of the US working from many other locations. In the recent 4–5 years I have worked in Germany, Italy, Laos, and Pakistan. 

The theme of the show is a great parallel to the mobility that many contemporary artists enjoy as well as seek for production of their work.

For me the location from where I work is not necessarily a place of influence. It can be of course, but at times it need not be. The idea explored in the work is what casts the influence or direction.

Describe your creative process; what are you currently inspired by? What are you currently working on?

My recent work is an animation titled The Last Post and a related video titled Gossamer. It was inspired by my ongoing interest in the colonial history of the sub-continent as well as by an opportunity to collaborate with the musician and composer, DuYun, who is also a performance artist.

Nazy Nazhand is the founder of Art Middle East, a series of programs and cultural events during Armory Arts Week in New York City and Art Platfom – Los Angeles. She’s a contributing writer covering art from the Middle East. She has written for Artnet, Modern Painters, Artinfo, Whitewall, and T Magazine. Follow her: http://blogs.artinfo.com/vanguardism/ and http://twitter.com/#!/NazyNazhand. Additional reporting by Kimia Shahi.


Artist Interpretations in Gifts of the Sultan, Part II: Q&A with Ahmed Mater

August 9, 2011

On view through September 5, Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts explores Islamic art through the universal tradition of gift giving. The exhibition features more than 200 works of art from three different continents and spanning the eighth through nineteenth centuries. The exhibition also features the work of three contemporary artists, all with roots in the Islamic world—Sadegh Tirafkan, Ahmed Mater, and Shahzia Sikander—commissioned to interpret the art of gift-giving in Islam. Exclusively on Unframed this week, arts writer and founder of Art Middle East Nazy Nazhand interviews each of these artists about their contributions to the exhibition. Read yesterday’s interview with Sadegh Tirafkan here.

Ahmed Mater, Illumination Diptych (Ottoman Waqf), 2010, gift of the artist and Edge of Arabia

Part II: Ahmed Mater 

Ahmed Mater, from Abha, Saudi Arabia, is both an artist and a practicing physician. In his Illumination series, to which this beautiful diptych belongs, Mater draws inspiration from the Islamic arts of the book, in particular manuscripts of the Qur’an, whose pages were decorated with illuminated borders, headings, and verse markers. At the top and bottom of each panel, he inscribes the word waqf, a notation often found in manuscripts of the Qur’an, which designates a charitable donation. Mater radically magnifies his illuminated page, generally a small scale and intimate art form, creating instead a new sense of intimacy by using his pages to frame human X-rays.

How does your work relate to the Islamic artistic tradition represented in Gifts of the Sultan? How has traditional art influenced your practice?

I am from Saudi Arabia, the country that is the custodian of the two holy cities in Islam, Makkah and Medinah, and so I have grown up amongst very strong faith and spirituality. One of my earliest and well-known bodies of work was the Illuminations series where I combined my modern life as a doctor with a strong sense of objectivity, and my spiritual and subjective atmosphere, resulting in what appears to be traditional Islamic manuscripts with X-Rays in the middle. The way I have treated the paper and the decorative illuminated borders and calligraphy are part of a traditional Islamic art practice which has always influenced my work. 

What are your thoughts on museum exhibitions like Gifts of the Sultan that juxtapose historical and contemporary artworks?

I think it is brilliant. I love that historical works can relate to contemporary ideas. It shows how much we can learn and develop from our cultural heritage and apply that in a cutting-edge and contemporary way that is accessible to an international world. 

Where are you currently based? One of the major themes in Gifts of the Sultan is that of cross-cultural interaction and exchange; what are your thoughts on this theme and how does the geographical location of where you work influence your perspective?

I am based in Abha, the capital of Aseer. I have lived in Saudi all my life. Most of my ideas are rooted in my cultural influences and living in Saudi has such a big effect on my work. I am much more connected to what I am producing being based here. However, I want my work to be accessible for an international audience and have them learn something new about a culture that they probably know very little about. I capture art from the story of my life, I don’t know any other way.  

Describe your creative process; what are you currently inspired by? What are you currently working on?

I do not have one set creative process. I am often thinking about an idea, a story or several at the same time. I will think about them for a long time, sometimes years before they materialize into a work of art I will present. I have thought for years about the Cowboy Code, which is one of my most recent bodies of work that I exhibited during this year’s Venice Biennale.

The cowboy was a symbol of freedom and adventure to me as a child, an ideology from the West. I challenge anyone who reads the code not to be impressed. It speaks a universal truth. But in recent times we have forgotten the code in favor of the brand of the ideology. The cowboy code is a set of values, the actual content like a religion. The cowboy of my childhood has been abused, also like a religion, ten commandments or the sharia or the five pillars.

Like my generation, I took a lot from the Western side—our food, our clothes, and our language. And so I wanted to present this code as a way to almost steal it back. It’s a strong side and I want to reclaim it from the politics, or the films, or the media… to give it back to the people. This is what I am currently working on. 

Nazy Nazhand is the founder of Art Middle East, a series of programs and cultural events during Armory Arts Week in New York City and Art Platfom – Los Angeles. She’s a contributing writer covering art from the Middle East. She has written for Artnet, Modern Painters, Artinfo, Whitewall, and T Magazine. Follow her: http://blogs.artinfo.com/vanguardism/ and http://twitter.com/#!/NazyNazhand. Additional reporting by Kimia Shahi.


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