The Dashing Second Lieutenant

November 14, 2011

The viewing of art is, in most cases, a deeply private adventure, and so it was for me upon my first time really seeing Baron Antoine-Jean Gros’ Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand. I first viewed the painting not in its majestic place on the third level of the Ahmanson Building but in a small book about Romanticism by Norbert Wolf that I picked up after leaving a wonderful exhibition featuring English Romantic-era painters at the Tate Britain. Not only was Romanticism the most elusive and diffuse of all the art movements, but the word itself fell into a vast no-man’s land. Magically, this is where my adventure began—with the Romantic movement and Baron Gros’ masterpiece.

Antoine-Jean Gros, Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand, c. 1810, gift of California Charities Foundation

Romanticism is the movement that was principally sustained by the belief that unbounded nature and human imagination—and not reason—are the sources of harmony, running contrary to traditional Greco-Roman antiquity. I was somewhat amazed that the Romantic ideals were looking back to the late medieval Gothic fantasies and Renaissance Judeo-Christian themes of love and terror, re-creating an emotional resonance out of a utopian ambition for this harmony. Their strident proclamation for individual creativity as the path to freedom and a reunion with nature was—or should be—humanity’s primary goal. Sometimes referred to as “the Counter-Enlightenment,” Romanticism seemed to become an artistic undercurrent to intellectual and progressive scientific thinking, therefore forging a new visual emotional language.

For me, there was an evocatively haunting presence in the poetry of the time, in the narrative arts that would be the voice behind the paintings, and in the mood that would capture the somewhat subversive glamour that made Romanticism such an engaging and magnetic force. It was the time of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and of course so many more. So, I would return to LACMA and Baron Gros’ Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand with new eyes. Perhaps art only surrenders illusions, vague escaping spirits that we animate. Nevertheless, the second lieutenant’s whole persona was given up to poetic allusions—an elegiac muse—for he had not the steely eyes of a warrior but the gentle countenance of a Byronic poet looking elsewhere, having been on his ultimate “grand tour.” His warrior’s metallic chest plate serves to counterbalance the fleshy pink globe of his head and the blond wispy shag of his hair. As though lingering, untried youth reflects back through his soft paleness and the pout of his lips. His dark blue eyes betray another, more melancholic, time in his life. But more interesting, Gros catches the swagger and dash of a hero, propping himself on one leg casually against the hindquarter of his steed, with all the heft his gold suede clenched fist could suggest—while his actual death is merely a footnote to the eternity in oil that Baron Gros would bequeath him. As with all depictions of Romantic heroes, nature is situated in its vastness as a great blue distant sky, as snowcapped mountains, as foreign castles and running falls—as the backdrop to a man’s momentary drama. Lord Byron said it best:

So, we’ll go no more a-roving
     So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
     And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
     And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
     And love itself have rest.

Hylan Booker


This Weekend at LACMA: Pacific Standard Time Focus Weekend, California Design Symposium, and More

November 11, 2011

As mentioned earlier in the week on Unframed, tonight is a fantastic event on the influence of cinema on Asco, including a discussion of their No Movies and a screening of French New Wave director Agnes Varda’s 1981 documentary Mur Murs, about murals is Los Angeles and featuring Asco.

If you haven’t yet experienced some of the many Pacific Standard Time exhibitions at LACMA or nearby, this is a great weekend to do it. We and our Hollywood/Wilshire neighbors are holding a “focus weekend,” with events happening here and elsewhere, including free admission at some institutions (check this pdf for details).

Saturday focuses on architecture and design, with events at exhibitions at the A+D Museum and Craft and Folk Art Museum (both across the street from LACMA), as well as the Fowler Museum, Hammer Museum, LACE, and MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House. The big event at LACMA, in conjunction with California Design, 1935-1960 and as mentioned yesterday, is an all-day program in the Bing: The Legacy of the California Design Exhibitions, which looks at the series of California Design exhibitions held at the Pasadena Art Museum in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Installation view of California Design, 1930-165: "Living in a Modern Way". oreground: Wallace "Wally" M. Byam, Clipper, 1936, Auburn Trailer Collection

Sunday hones in on artists in L.A. who engaged with social and political causes. Here at LACMA that includes Edward Kienholz’s Five Car Stud as well as Asco: Elite of the Obscure and Mural Remix: Sandra de la Loza. Sandra de la Loza herself will be here on Sunday for a free talk in the Bing Theater. She’ll be joined by  Louie Perez of Los Lobos and Tomas Carrasco of the political satire group Chicano Secret Service for a discussion of Chicanos and the counter-culture. Other events happening nearby on this day include a a curator- and artist-led talk at the Fowler Museum for their Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement, a discussion about Watts Towers at the Hammer Museum, and a screening at LACE documenting performance art in L.A. in the 1970s.

Sandra de la Loza and Joseph Santarromana, Action Portraits (installation view), 2011, © Sandra de la Loza, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Of course it’s not all about Pacific Standard Time at LACMA. We also have many other exhibitions on view, including the just-opened Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, and Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals. On Sunday we also offer our free Andell Family Sunday activities—the perfect time to bring the kids.

Installation view of Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World

As usual, the weekend is bookended with free concerts: tonight, the Ark Sano Trio performs during Jazz at LACMA, while on Sunday the trio of Movses Pogossian (violin), Michele Zukovsky (clarinet), and Antoinette Perry (piano) perform works by Beethoven, Messiaen, and Bartok during Sundays Live.

Scott Tennent


From California Design (1954) to California Design (2011)

November 10, 2011

This Saturday, LACMA will host the symposium The Legacy of the California Design Exhibitions about the important exhibition series organized by the Pasadena Art Museum between 1954 and 1976. Over the last few years, as we formulated our own California Design exhibition, on view now, we returned again and again to this earlier project, which proved to be a bellwether of the state of design and craft in its time.

Exhibition catalogue from the first California Design, 1954

The first of the twelve exhibitions, held in 1954, surveyed the innovative goods produced in the state with a strong emphasis on Los Angeles County. Reflecting the era’s fluid ideas about making that were exemplified in California’s creative environment, the earliest installments freely mixed unique hand-produced crafts with industrially produced designs. The series’s first curator, Clifford Nelson, noted that all of these goods were functional housewares and urged Californians to purchase the best of what the state had to offer.

Sam Maloof, Executive office chair, c. 1962, from California Design 8 (Pasadena: Pasadena Art Museum, 1962), photograph by Richard Gross

Over the run of the series, the landscape of design and craft changed drastically. Curator Eudorah Moore took the helm in 1962 with California Design 8, and quickly revamped the exhibitions to accommodate these changes, boosting the prestige and impact of the shows in the process. She instituted juries of prominent local designers and craftspeople and began to produce beautifully illustrated catalogues. 

In these catalogues, virtuoso examples of man-made goods are elegantly displayed within California’s dramatic natural landscapes. Flipping through these books, we were able to see first-hand how design and craft, which had been so inextricably linked in the 1950s, diverged as craftspeople began to explore more individualistic expressions. Moore’s prescient selections made these distinctions clear, documenting and promoting the changing attitudes around her.  Decades later, as we revisited these themes in our own show, these invaluable sources introduced us to new designers and helped us examine how their work shifted over this critical time period.

Organized with Craft in America, Saturday’s symposium delves deeper into this story. We will bring together Moore and several key collaborators, including Lois Boardman, Bernard Kester, and Richard Amend. A second panel will feature several designers and craftspeople whose work appeared in the original California Design series to discuss how the shows impacted their own careers. 

Staci Steinberger, curatorial assistant, Decorative Arts and Design


Asco’s No Movies

November 9, 2011

Chismearte: What is a No-Movie?
Gamboa: It is perceiving life within a cinemagraphic context.
Gronk: It is thinking of life before the advent of a view finder. It is projecting the real by rejecting the reel.
—“Interview: Gronk and Gamboa,” originally published in Chismearte 1, no 1 (Fall 1976), reprinted in the exhibition catalogue for Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective 1972-1987

As we usher in the last month of the exhibition Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective 1972-1987, two of our upcoming exhibition-related public programs will focus on the role of movies—and “No Movies”—in Asco’s oeuvre. This Friday I will be joined by filmmaker and scholar Jesse Lerner for Asco: Chicano Cinema and Agnes Varda’s Mur Murs. The program is part of Filmforum’s Pacific Standard Time contribution, Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles 1945-1980, an incredible research project that has resulted in a vast archive of oral histories with Southern Californian filmmakers and artists as well as many film programs over the course of the next few months. (The second Asco event this month will be a conversation between Gronk and Marisela Norte on Asco & Cinema.)

Asco, Á La Mode, 1976, photograph by Harry Gamboa Jr., courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) Library, from the collection of Patssi Valdez, © 1976 Asco/Photograph Harry Gamboa Jr.

Asco blurred the lines of various media, merging performance, photography, muralism, and film. As was the case for many of the filmmakers presented in Alternative Projections, Asco lived in the shadow of Hollywood, feeding off of its productions but also striving to create a counter-vision out of their own lived realities. Asco’s invention of No Movies, or film stills for non-existent films, allowed the group to appropriate the spectacle of Hollywood even as they critiqued the absence of Chicanos in the mass media. The group did use film occasionally when they had access to Super 8 and 16 millimeter cameras, but their engagement with media was greatly enhanced with the advent of public access media and portable video equipment.

Also part of Friday’s program is a screening of Agnes Varda’s 1981 film Mur Murs. Varda came to Los Angeles to work a film essay that meditates on how muralism allowed the walls of Los Angeles’ barrios and working-class neighborhoods to speak and assert their identities. At Varda’s invitation, Asco created an ephemeral mural and took part in it simultaneous birthing and destruction ultimately realizing the group’s dreams of interjecting themselves into the glamorous and cool aesthetics of French New Wave.

Rita Gonzalez, associate curator, contemporary art


Pacific Standard Time: Historic Publications Now Online

November 8, 2011

We just released a new set of books, free for your perusal, in our online Reading Room. This is a particularly gorgeous set chosen for their connection to Pacific Standard Time. We added them to an earlier group of books about Southern California artists in the 1960s and 70s.

From the Craftsmanship catalogues documenting juried shows of decorative arts in the 1950s and 60s, through the groundbreaking Art and Technology (1971), to the influential catalogue for the massive campus-wide exhibition Made in California (2001), these publications record the history of the museum, art and artmaking in California in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Guide to Architecture in Southern California, 1965, is a field guide to what were deemed the best examples “before they are destroyed by a rapidly expanding megalopolis”; it includes numerous photographs by Julius Shulman. The set also includes the catalogue for Los Four: Almaraz / de la Rocha / Luján / Romero, 1974, the first major museum show of Chicano art. LACMA created a sixteen-panel accordion-fold brochure, printed in multicolored inks. Chicanismo en el Arte, 1975, is the catalogue of a juried exhibition of thirty-one young Chicano artists representing twelve art schools and the Asco group.

Two publications in particular connect with our California Design exhibition: Six More, and New York School: The First Generation, Paintings of the 1940s and 1950s. Both were published in conjunction with exhibitions at LACMA, in 1963 and 1965, respectively. Six More was designed by Deborah Sussmann, who trained in the Eames Office, working closely with Charles and Ray. She recalls that experience in a video we created for California Design.

New York School was designed by Lou Danziger, who still teaches at the Art Center College of Design. He talked about moving from New York to Los Angeles, and the art and design scene here at the time.

All of the new publications in the Reading Room were published by LACMA, unless otherwise noted. We are especially grateful to University of California Press.

Amy Heibel


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