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


Installing the Aztec Eagle Warrior in Contested Visions

November 22, 2011

At the opening of Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World stands the majestic sculpture known as the Eagle Warrior, from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City. This incredible example of Aztec imperial sculpture was discovered in the House of Eagles at the north end of the Templo Mayor archaeological site in 1980. The House of Eagles was used by the Aztec elite for meditation, prayer, and autosacrifice—an act performed to propitiate the deities of the earth and maintain cosmic order. This sculpture was one of two that flanked the main door of the temple that were perched atop banquettes bearing images of warriors in procession marching toward a zacatapayolli, or grass ball into which the instruments of autosacrifice were inserted.

The sculpture portrays a man wearing a helmet in the form of an eagle head, and a costume with stylized wings and talons. It is composed of five hollow ceramic clay parts: the two lower legs below the knees, the thighs and midsection, the winged arms and torso, and the head, which is enclosed in the bird mask. Supported by an internal structure, the sculpture stands just larger than lifesize.

For the installation of this fragile piece, LACMA’s team of art preparators and conservators worked alongside the archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and the chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

View of the current archaeological site of the Templo Mayor with the Cathedral of Mexico City to the west in the background. The Eagle Warrior was discovered on the northern perimeter of the Templo Mayor site within a structure known as the House of the Eagles. After the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521, the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor was razed and, as seen here in this photograph, the colonial city was built atop its ruins. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

LACMA conservators Natasha Cochran and Siska Genbrugge condition report the legs of the Eagle Warrior. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

Archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo Templo Mayor check the stability of the piece before continuing with the installation of the sculpture. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

Carrizosa Montfort secures the torso of the Eagle Warrior to the sculptures’ mid-section.

Barajas Rocha and Carrizosa Montfort carefully secure the head of the Eagle Warrior before moving it into the galleries.

LACMA’s team of art preparators, led by Jeff Haskin (right), carefully lead the Eagle Warrior into the exhibition space.

The sculpture is placed atop the pedestal.

Final installation view of the Eagle Warrior as it majestically greets visitors into the galleries.

Sofía Sanabrais, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art

Unless otherwise noted, all photos © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA by Yosi Pozeilov


Cast by Kienholz: An Interview with Keith Berwick

November 21, 2011

In 1971, television host Keith Berwick interviewed Edward Kienholz at the artist’s studio during the making of Five Car Stud. During the interview, Kienholz made a plaster cast of Berwick’s body to be used as one of the figures in the artwork. I recently I had the chance to talk with Berwick to learn more about his experience.

Keith Berwick while interviewing Edward Kienholz for "Speculation: The World of Ed Kienholz" (1971), Photograph included in Documentation for "Five Car Stud Tableau and The Sawdy Edition," 1971 © Kienholz, photographs by John Romeyn, Bob Bucknam, Malcolm Lublinder, and Adam Avila

LACMA’s installation of Five Car Stud includes an introductory gallery putting the work in context. You figure into that preamble—a clip of your talk show with Edward Kienholz is prominently displayed.
That’s a great honor, I think! I remember the occasion quite vividly, although it was a long time ago.

How did your interview with Kienholz come about?
The [talk] show that I did at that time was called Speculation, on channel 28. One of the episodes was a program with Claes Oldenburg and Ed Kienholz. Ed was in a very surly mood during that program. He was an old friend of mine—I knew him and Lyn [Kienholz’s wife at the time] quite well—but he had come to the show and was very grumpy. He was not happy with the show. He said, “Look, if you really want to do a program with me, you should come to my studio and see the way I work and do something that’s natural, rather than this, which is very unnatural.” Price Hicks, who was my producer at the time, thought it would be a good thing to do.

We got up [to Ed’s place] very early in the morning and had a whole crew there. We spent the day doing what turned into a one-hour special. We did setups around his studio, and we went out to where he was working on Five Car Stud. By pre-arrangement with my producer, Ed prompted me to offer myself as one of the models. I was totally unaware that that was going to happen. It was a total surprise. I think it contributed to the energy of the occasion and the spontaneity. He had a robe for me; I stripped down and then came out, and he started lubricating me and putting on all this stuff. I was trying, through that impediment, to carry on a coherent interview with him!

Keith Berwick while interviewing Edward Kienholz for "Speculation: The World of Ed Kienholz" (1971), Photograph included in Documentation for "Five Car Stud Tableau and The Sawdy Edition," 1971 © Kienholz, photographs by John Romeyn, Bob Bucknam, Malcolm Lublinder, and Adam Avila

Were you apprehensive when he proposed casting you in his artwork?
My initial reaction was to think that this was a great joke at my expense. I was not accustomed to standing around in my underwear in public! So there was a level of apprehension to it. But on the other hand, I very well understood that this was what we were going to do. I certainly recognized that it was going to be fun to do and that it might even make good television.

What was the nature of interview? Was it about Five Car Stud or was it intended to be more broad?
It was an attempt to allow people to become acquainted with Ed Kienholz as a commentator on the human condition through his craft and through his pack-rat tendencies and bargaining—to reveal the whole repertoire of Ed Kienholz’s idiosyncrasies that made him such a significant force. This was an attempt to simply give him the opportunity to be Ed Kienholz and to reveal himself as fully as he would be willing to do. And if revealing myself in the way that I was doing would help that, I was perfectly willing to do it.

Was Five Car Stud far enough along that you understood what the piece was going to be?
Ed didn’t go in for subtlety. He may have incorporated a lot of nuance, but that piece, like all of his others, was in your face. There wasn’t any doubt about what was being portrayed and what the significance of it was. It was as graphic in its way, and for that message, as Back Seat Dodge ’38 was. Ed was engaging questions of the ugliness of race and racism in ways that others were not at that time.

Edward Kienholz, “Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited,” Installation view (detail), photography by Tom Vinetz, © Kienholz, collection of Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan, courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York

What was your feeling, after having been a participant in the making of an artwork, when you saw the finished product?
Let me just tell you that I was very much dismayed that he had added fifty to seventy-five pounds to the [cast of the] figure that I had portrayed. That was sort of a nasty trick. I didn’t at all mind that my head had been replaced by one his masks, but vanity caused me some dismay over seeing the added weight [laughs].

More to the spirit of your question: I find it a horrific piece, and a very sobering piece. I persist in thinking that it was one of those prods to the conscience that Ed was so gifted at creating, which made him a significant force.

Knowing Ed and his work so well, what is your feeling on the fact that forty years later the artwork is finally being presented to the American public?
I think in one sense that it’s long overdue, which is obvious. But in another sense, I think that it’s peculiarly apposite to the time that we’re in because I believe there is an ugly undertow of racism in society today, which has been particularly evident in the political sphere since the Obama campaign in 2008, and is revealing itself in a lot of ways that makes me acutely uncomfortable. Under the guise of political ideology and a concern for economics, racism is manifesting itself in very ugly ways. I think that the more that can be done to confront us with this and cause us to recognize it and reflect upon it, particularly those people who may be conscious of what you might call “unconscious racism”—people who do not regard themselves as racist but who, in any reasonable determination, are racist. And that includes lots of people who think of themselves as extremely enlightened in these matters.

To be very candid about it, I think that the mission of LACMA is precisely to explore these matters of vital concern to the larger community. I hope that one of the effects of that is to bring to LACMA many people who would not otherwise come.

Scott Tennent


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