Hacking the Museum

November 30, 2011

Recently I attended a conference titled “Hacking the Museum: Innovation, Agility and Collaboration.” My friend Tim Svenonius of SFMOMA and I spoke to a group of museum technologists about mobile content, and how we create conversations about art that are portable and invite sharing.

In the last couple years, like a lot of museums, LACMA has been pretty busy in this regard. We’re about to launch version 2 of our mobile website (mobile.lacma.org), and we’re rolling out other exhibition-specific apps like the one we just debuted for the California Design show. We’ve just partnered with the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC to explore emerging technologies, thanks to the generous support of LACMA trustee David Bohnett and the David Bohnett Foundation. The collaboration came about after a series of conversations with Professor Anne Balsamo, who writes about the sociology of technology and its impact on culture, and her students.

The museum has also gotten involved in open source development, rebuilding our website in Drupal with the help of our partners at Urban Insight. Working in Drupal, we can adapt, customize and contribute code to a shared community (including other museums) interested in new web technologies.

Just recently, we received a generous grant from the Getty Foundation as participants in an online scholarly publishing initiative. The idea is to go beyond the usual approach to presenting information about our collection online, creating a deeper experience that reflects and informs ongoing scholarship, which is a big part of what the museum is about. We’re developing our open source approach in collaboration with IMA Labs at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. We’re also enhancing our core Collections Online presentation, with the help of artist Jody Zellen, to create a more inviting, interactive way for you to experience the wealth of our collections beyond what’s on view in the galleries on any given day.

As someone said at the conference, these days everything is in beta, and that means we welcome your feedback and we need your input to fuel the iterative process. If you’re interested in what museums are doing online and want to help, please consider becoming an e-volunteer. We’re looking for a small dedicated crew of digerati with a little time to give online. We’re offering free memberships to our core e-volunteers who contribute 40 hours or more. Email for more information.

Amy Heibel


Seeing Myself in Glenn Ligon’s America

November 29, 2011

I was first introduced to Glenn Ligon’s work last year when LACMA acquired one of his recent neon reliefs—Rückenfigur (2009). I instantly felt a connection to the work that spelled out “America,” in what felt to me bright, optimistic neon letters (that optimism undercut by the fact that the letters are turned away from from the viewer). Ligon’s work resonated more deeply though when placed in context of his retrospective currently on view at the museum.

Installation view, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Glenn Ligon, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Whitney Museum curator Scott Rothkopf, who organized the exhibition, noted that Ligon’s work “speaks more broadly, not just to African-Americans or gay Americans but to all Americans,” hence the title of the show: Glenn Ligon: AMERICA. As a second-generation Korean-American—or American-Korean as I’d rather say—I couldn’t agree more. Although I was born and raised in Southern California, I grew up identifying myself as simply “Korean” or “Asian” whether on college applications or a consumer survey trying to bring a new Target store into downtown LA. When asked where I’m from, I usually go through two rounds of answers—(1) my hometown and (2) my parents’ hometown. While I’ve certainly retained a great deal of my ethnic heritage in values and customs, I identify most strongly with the American spirit and voice that has been instilled in me.

Viewing Ligon’s retrospective, I feel that he captures and expresses that individual spirit in a distinct but also relatable way. Though complex in background and meaning, many of his works don’t necessarily need an explanation for a viewer to grasp his ongoing exploration of American history and culture. As someone also unwilling to be categorized, I find Ligon’s work a great expression of the often multi-layered American identity.

Glenn Ligon, Hands, 1996, collection of Eileen Harris Norton, courtesy of the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles, © Glenn Ligon, photograph by Fredrik Nilsen

 Christine Choi, Communications Manager


Mid-Century Design at Mid-Century Prices

November 28, 2011

One of the most frequent questions that I’ve gotten from visitors to the California Design exhibition is “where did you find all this stuff?” In addition to the chairs, tables, textiles, and ceramics that you’d expect to see in a design exhibition, you’ll also find some rather offbeat things—a 1930s ice gun, his-and-hers lobster swimsuits, and a roadside barricade light used in countless highway construction sites.

Opco Company, Ice Gun, c. 1935, Decorative Arts and Design Acquisition Fund and Decorative Arts and Design Council Fund, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Mary Ann DeWeese for Catalina Sportswear, California Lobster Bikini, Man’s Shirt and Trunks, 1949, collection of Esther Ginsberg/Golyester Antiques, © 2011 The Warnaco Group, Inc., all rights reserved, for Authentic Fitness Corp., Catalina Sportswear, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Henry C. Keck for Keck-Craig Associates, Roadside barricade light, c. 1963, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

The answer to the baffling question of how we located all the objects is that we looked pretty much everywhere. Many were already in LACMA’s permanent collection. To find the rest, we visited dozens of private collectors, dealers, and auctioneers and asked our colleagues in museums across the country about what they had in their galleries and tucked away in storage. But some of our proudest (and most affordable) finds came from visits to antique stores and that virtual shopping wonderland, eBay.

We found the Burroughs Manufacturing Corporation plastic pitcher at a Dallas antique mall ($7.27). The company’s proprietor Clarence Burroughs patented the design in 1948 and put it into production along with a wide array of handy molded plastic objects such as salt and pepper shakers, bread boxes, and wastepaper baskets.

Charles M. Burroughs for Burroughs Manufacturing Corporation, pitcher, c. 1948, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

We found pristine orange crate labels in a flea market in San Juan Capistrano (2 for $26). The imagery of agricultural bounty was as characteristic of California as the brightly colored, dynamic designs.

Dario de Julio for Western Lithography Company, Red Circle orange-crate label for McDermont Fruit Company, c. 1938, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Ponca orange-crate label for Vandalia Packing Association, c. 1930s, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

And the Henry Dreyfuss Swinger Polaroid camera was an eBay victory at $9.99 for the camera and its original box and instruction booklet (we could have gotten the camera alone for a mere penny, but we’re suckers for vintage packaging).

Henry Dreyfuss and James M. Conner for Polaroid Corporation, The Swinger, Land camera model 20, 1965, Decorative Arts and Design Council Fund

We’re not bragging about our bargain finds just to make you jealous. The real message here is that collecting design is not reserved for the rarefied few. While many areas are of art out of reach except to the phenomenally rich, it’s possible to enter the collecting field at nearly any level. Find something that fascinates you, learn by looking closely, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to pass on a piece that doesn’t meet your rigorous standards.

With this behind-the-scenes glimpse, go forth into this shopping season and seek out your own California design treasures. When you find something that resembles what you saw in the show (or if you can’t make it to the show, check out highlights in the free mobile app), post it to the California Design Flickr feed and share it with us.

Remember, go green and buy antiques!

Bobbye Tigerman. Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design


This Weekend at LACMA: Miyazaki Films, Member Shopping Days, and More

November 26, 2011

Now that we’ve all awoken from our tryptophan-induced comas and recovered from the chaos of Black Friday, it’s time to get out. LACMA is a perfect destination if you’ve got family in town and you’re looking for a way to spend the day. We have nine special exhibitions on view, from ancient American and Spanish Colonial art, to masterpieces by Monet, to contemporary surveys of Glenn Ligon and Asco, to mid-century California design, and much more. You can also craft your own kid-friendly tour of the museum by letting the little ones take in big works like Chris Burden’s Urban Light, Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Richard Serra’s Band, Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, or Jésus Rafael Soto’s Pentrible.

Jesús Rafael Soto, Penetrabile, 1990, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros

Saturday afternoon we are offering two films spotlighting the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, the studio founded by Miyazaki and producer Toshio Suzuki that has released some of the greatest animated films of all time. The double-feature starts at 4:30 with a 25th Anniversary screening of Castle in the Sky, followed at 7:30 by the 2001 Academy Award-winning Spirited Away. Seeing either on the big screen (in new 35mm prints, no less), is a treat not to be missed.

Members, this is a great weekend to come to the museum and get some holiday shopping done. We’re offering up to 30% off on store items during Member Shopping Days (up from the standard 10% discount), through Sunday only. (Not a member? It’s easy to join.) We gave you some shopping ideas the other day, though there’s even more to choose from.

On Sunday you can close out the long weekend with a free performance from pianist Maria Demina and violinist Mitchell Newman, who will be offering works by Gubaidulina, Medtner, and Prokofiev as part of our free Sundays Live concert series.


Holiday Shopping at LACMA

November 23, 2011

LACMA is a great place to buy gifts for the holidays. I know because it’s always my go-to spot (last year, my holiday gifts were mostly our plastic travel cups and leather journals). Our shops have great ideas for holiday gift giving for everyone on your list.

One of the best times to do your holiday shopping is this weekend during our Member Shopping Days (if you aren’t a member, you can join today to get the discounts). As a special thank you, all members get up to 30% off purchases, free gift wrapping, and more throughout the weekend.

One of the most common things I hear when people come out of our exhibition California Design, 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way is “I want to buy everything.” We have lots of beautiful items for sale in conjunction with the exhibition—perfect for any mid-century modern design lover.

Strand Scarf, 2011 is a limited edition work of 150 based on an original textile design by Bernard Kester.

Andrea Bernstein from Millworks created graphic textiles and totes that are available exclusively at LACMA during California Design. Andrea’s products are created entirely in California and some of the prints are also available as stretched art.

Many Arts & Architecture magazine covers can be seen throughout the California Design exhibition. We have quite a few available as prints in our shop including a special Gerald Ratto limited-edition signed print. These look great as a series or on their own.

For kids or kids at heart, we have the very first Barbie® doll from 1959 which was recreated in loving detail to commemorate California Design—down to the foot holes made for the original doll stand. As was said in a previous post on the iconic doll’s association with the exhibition, “Barbie embodies the carefree confidence and utter versatility that characterized postwar California.”

Make sure to check out our Art Catalogues shop which features great current and out-of-print catalogues and books on contemporary art. You can view a selection in the online shop or spend time browsing the shelves onsite.

LACMA always has numerous options for stocking stuffers, including watercolor pencils, magnets, erasers, cards, and more. Happy shopping!

Alex Capriotti


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