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.


Artist Interpretations in Gifts of the Sultan: Q&A with Sadegh Tirafkan

August 8, 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.

Sadegh Tirafkan, Always in Our Thoughts, 2011, courtesy of the artist and Assar Gallery, Tehran

Part I: Sadegh Tirafkan

Deported from Iraq to Iran at the age of six and a member of the youth militia in the Iran-Iraq war as a teenager, Sadegh Tirafkan experienced loss at an early age. In this remarkable piece, he remembers those lost to him by referencing the hijla, an Iranian tradition of erecting temporary shrines to commemorate the dead. Tirafkan characterizes it as a gift from the living to the deceased. The commemorative structure is suggested here by, among other things, the use of colorful strips of cloth, which allude to bits of fabric tied by visitors to the hijla in remembrance of the loved one.

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

For me, Islamic art is too broad a label. I’m more influenced by Iranian traditions and history, and the Iranian interpretation of Islamic artistic traditions. But more specifically, with the idea of gift-giving, I wanted to approach it from a spiritual point of view, the idea of people donating something without wanting anything in return. Having no expectations. To be able to live in this world is a gift.

With Hijla, I wanted to present a gift from the living to the deceased in their honor, but to also celebrate life. The word actually means marriage, and traditionally it’s an image of a deceased man, but I wanted to break the taboos and use pictures of living people and also women and include mirrors, so that the viewer can share in the celebration.

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

It should continue to be done this way and I hope more museums do it. Contemporary art gives new perspective to historical works and vice versa, transferring between past influences and present references.

Sadegh Tirafkan, Always in Our Thoughts, 2011, courtesy of the artist and Assar Gallery, Tehran

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’m Iranian and my art is influenced by Iranian history and culture. But I never want to be categorized by a singular place or category. Names like Orientalism, I don’t understand. My work is about roots and identity. As artists, we should do our job first and not worry about the clichés.

So much has been changed with globalization and the amount of information available to us. Now when you go to galleries in cosmopolitan cities, you see art from all over the world, not just Western art. People want to see something different and to learn about these cultures and the idea of Western and Eastern cultures inspiring each other. I’m based in Tehran and come to North America once a year and travel to Europe and rest of the Middle East throughout the year. For me the constant travel allows for a broader perspective and to absorb the similarities and differences in people and cultures.

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

I started working as an artist in Iran about twenty years ago and I had my first New York exhibit about ten years ago. In the years since, I’ve worked both inside and outside Iran and I want to continue to do that. I have a desire to be part of the world.

My work has always been organized in three parts; self-portraits, masculinity in Iran, and how my society, my culture and people around me relate to their culture and their heritage. I try to address this step by step—first myself, then my gender, and then people in general. Because if you want to talk about other people, you have to know yourself. I’m not satisfied with just photography any more. I want to explore these themes through a new concept and continue to experiment in multimedia.

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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