Ellsworth Kelly: An Appreciation from Los Angeles

January 24, 2012

While Los Angeles may not figure directly in his work, Ellsworth Kelly has made a distinct impression on the city—from the close working relationships and friendships he has formed, through the collections that preserve his work, to the artists he continues to inspire. His latest exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings, is now on view at LACMA.

In the 1960s, when his career was just beginning to gain traction in the competitive New York City art scene, Kelly had his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles at the Ferus Gallery (1965), and a number of L.A. patrons began to acquire his works. He would continue to exhibit regularly at Ferus and later at Irving Blum’s gallery until 1973. One of his early supporters in L.A. was Betty Asher, who worked in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s modern art department between 1966 and 1979, at which point she launched the Asher/Faure Gallery in West Hollywood and continued to distinguish herself as an astute collector.

The 1960s also saw the establishment on Melrose Avenue of the now-legendary print workshop Gemini G.E.L. by Ken Tyler, Sidney Felsen, and Stanley Grinstein. In their hope to attract the leading artists of the day, they first invited Kelly to make prints with them in 1968. After meeting with Tyler, Felsen, and Grinstein in New York, and taking into consideration the strong recommendation of Frank Stella and Barbara Rose, Kelly accepted the offer. He came to Gemini for the first time in January 1970, initiating what would become a forty-year working relationship.

Ellsworth Kelly, Red-Orange Yellow Blue, 1970, lithograph on special Arjomari paper, collection of Jordan D. Schnitzer, © Ellsworth Kelly and Gemini G.E.L. Los Angeles

In Kelly’s prints, although each edition proceeds according to its own requirements, the element of collaboration is always paramount, and the standards always stretch the limits of perfection. In large part, Kelly’s dedication to Gemini rests on two factors: his utmost trust in the workshop’s directors and master printers, and his preference for direct lithography from metal plates. Many presses, then and now, favor offset, which eliminates the problem of image reversal. But Kelly—who engages with printmaking intellectually as well as aesthetically—had learned to love the direct process early on, with Marcel Durassier at Imprimerie Maeght in Paris. The hydraulic lithographic presses Tyler had designed and installed for Gemini were doubtless an inducement to give the new workshop a try. Working with Gemini’s printers to devise means of transferring drawings and hand-cut plastic negatives to the plate, Kelly has turned the technical challenges of direct lithography into conceptual triumphs.

In all media, Kelly achieves surface purity, essential form, and harmonious scale, according to his unerring personal sense of these elusive qualities. Printmaking in particular has served as a platform of sorts, on which all the variables can be placed and replaced. In requesting what must sometimes have seemed beyond the scope of the medium, Kelly has ended up expanding it.

Kelly’s work has always appeared to advantage within the context of encyclopedic museums such as LACMA. It has utter integrity in the true spirit of Modernism, and it connects to the span of art history and visual culture. With his profound admiration of the traditions of other times and places, Kelly not only draws inspiration for his compositions, he leads us to discover archetypes of our own. We are privileged to premiere a comprehensive exhibition of Kelly’s prints on the occasion of the artist’s eighty-ninth year.

Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings co-curators Stephanie Barron and Britt Salvesen

The Dragon Is Coming!

January 23, 2012

If you have ever dined at a Chinese restaurant, you have probably seen something printed with the signs of twelve animals—rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar—known as the zodiac animals. The Chinese use these signs to mark years, a system that follows the lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar used in the West. The first day of a lunar year is the most important holiday, celebrated in many countries in Asia, such as China, Korea, and Vietnam.

January 23, 2012, is the first day of the year of the dragon. To celebrate this special occasion, we have installed a gallery with dragon related works from LACMA’s permanent collection. The dragon is the only mythical animal among the twelve zodiac animals, bringing special auspices to the year of the dragon. In addition, the dragon is believed to possess supernatural powers such as controlling the rain. As a result, it is one of the most popular themes for Asian artists.

Vase with Everted Fluted Lip and Raised Dragon Décor, Japan, nineteenth century, gift of Allan and Maxine Kurtzman

Jar with Dragon and Clouds, Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), nineteenth century, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jae Min Chang and The Korea Times

In the gallery, you will see ceramics from China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Although the objects are different shapes and sizes and were made at different times in different regions, each piece has a dragon (or a pair of dragons) as its decorative motif. The earliest piece displayed in the gallery is a bronze mirror made in China circa 200 BC, where the interlaced bodies of the dragons emphasize the animal’s long and curvilinear body.

Mirror (Jing) with Interlaced Dragons, China, probably Anhui Province, the Phil Berg Collection

In ancient China, the dragon was seen as the embodiment of the emperor, who claimed himself as a “son of heaven.” In the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368–1911), only the imperial family was allowed to use dragons to decorate their homes, furniture, and clothes. The embroidered image of a dragon on display in this special installation is a rank badge, probably worn by a prince in the seventeenth century.

Badge (Lizi) of the Imperial Prince with Dragon, China, late Ming dynasty (1368-1644), mid-seventeenth century, gift of Miss Carlotta Mabury

The dragon emerges from a background of waves and clouds. The waves symbolize the yin element of the ocean, and the clouds the yang element of the sky. Here the dragon resides within the perfect harmony of yin and yang, which can also be seen as the imperial house’s supreme power over the universe. Other works included in the gallery, such as a Japanese ink painting of a dragon and a jade belt buckle in the shape of a dragon, testify to the popularity of the dragon in Asia.

Christina Yu Yu, Assistant Curator, Chinese and Korean Art

This Weekend at LACMA: Ellsworth Kelly Opens, Glenn Ligon and Mural Remix Close, Contested Visions Film Series, and More

January 20, 2012

There is a lot of exhibition activity happening this weekend, especially in BCAM, where Glenn Ligon: AMERICA ends its run and Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings begins. The Kelly show gathers 100 examples of Kelly’s prints, organized thematically (grids, curves, and contrast), as well as paintings and one sculpture from LACMA’s collection. The exhibition is on the second level of BCAM, just across the way from the Glenn Ligon show. In case you missed them, here’s a look at some of the blog posts we’ve done over the course of Glenn Ligon’s run:

  • Glenn Ligon talked to us twice—first in a quick Q&A, then in a splendid video interview
  • A lot of contributors had unique, personal responses to the exhibition, in particular over issues of identity—see entries from Unframed contributors Christine Choi and Hylan Booker, and from our high school interns, who responded to Ligon’s work by making their own art.

    Glenn Ligon, Rückenfigur, 2009, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the 2010 Collectors Committee, © Glenn Ligon, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Also closing this weekend is Mural Remix: Sandra de la Loza, one of our Pacific Standard Time exhibitions. De la Loza created a visual “mashup” by creating original works from details of East L.A. murals painted in the 1970s. Previously on Unframed, curator Chon Noriega interviewed de la Loza about the exhibition. (FYI, Saturday’s “Mural Remix Tour,” which includes stops at LACMA, the Fowler Museum, and the site of artist Willie Herrón’s newest mural, is sold out.)

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

One last exhibition note: Metropolis II is up and running for its second weekend, now on its regular schedule. The artwork is operational only on Fridays through Sundays, at the following times:

  • Fridays: 12:30–1:30 pm; 2:30–3:30 pm; 4:30–5:30 pm; 6:30–7:30 pm
  • Weekends: 11:30 am–12:30 pm; 1:30–2:30 pm; 3:30–4:30 pm; 5:30–6:30 pm

In addition to exhibitions, there are also plenty of films to see this weekend. Tonight we hold a special, members-only screening of Oren Moverman’s new film Rampart, starring Woody Harrelson, Ice Cube, Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, and more.  The screening, co-presented with the New York Times, is an exclusive benefit for LACMA members and members of LACMA Film Club, Film Independent, and the New York Times Film Club. If you want access to screenings like this one, or priority ticketing for popular events like our Live Reads (February’s is already sold out!), join the Film Club.  

Saturday and Sunday we’re offering a free film series, open to all: Contested Visions in Latin America through Film, in conjunction with the current exhibition Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, which closes next weekend. See yesterday’s Unframed post for a full rundown of the films, including trailers.

Sunday is a great day to enjoy lots of free activities, including the Contested Visions films, art-making activities during Andell Family Sunday—inspired by the upcoming Chinese New Year !—and a free concert by the Chamber Ensembles from the Crossroads School perform Beethoven, Ravel, and Brahms. (These events are free but admission to the galleries is still regular price.)

Scott Tennent

Free Latin American Film Series this Weekend

January 19, 2012

This weekend we celebrate the final weeks of our beautiful exhibition Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World with a free two-day film series. The seven films in this series explore themes from the exhibition–from the lasting impacts of colonialism to the many hardships of Latin American people to guerrilla uprisings against oppressive rulers.

Saturday’s program includes a fascinating selection of feature films. The series kicks off at 1 pm with Academy Award nominated Peruvian film La teta asustada (The Milk of Sorrow).

Mexican film El Violin (The Violin) follows with the story of a family leading a double life as humble musicians and also supporters of the campesino peasant guerrilla movement against the oppressive government. Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth, called the film “one of the most amazing Mexican films in many a year.”

Saturday’s films end with the Bolivian film El regalo de la Pachamama (The Gift of the Pachamama) which follows a father and son along the “Salt Trail” trade route for months. Through this excursion, the young boy discovers what his grandmother meant by “The Gift of Pachamama.”

Sunday’s films include compelling shorts and documentaries. The day starts with Mexican documentary Teshuinada, Semana Santa Tarahumara (Teshuinada, Holy Week at the Tarahumara) which was made in the Holy Week of 1979 in Munérachi, a town in Batopilas, Chihuahua. The film explores ritual and the coming together of pre-Hispanic and Christian worldviews.

Following is Solo un cargador (Porter), a beautiful documentary about the hard life of the cargadores who trek through the mountains and jungles of Peru with baggage on their backs. The film has won numerous awards for best short, including from the American Institute Film Festival and the Festival International du film d’Aubagne.

Another Peruvian documentary–El puente dorado (The Golden Bridge)–looks at the fascinating Qeswachaka hanging bridge of Cuzco which is hand-woven every year from local grass.

The series finishes with Mexican documentary film La pequeña semilla en el asfalto (The Little Seed in the Asphalt). The film looks at the lives of four youths from Chiapas who move to the city to study and pursue their dreams.

This weekend’s series is not to be missed. Saturday’s program will be followed by a roundtable discussion with some of the directors and actors (the roundtable discussion starts at 6:45 pm, after the last film of the day). And make sure to give yourself time to stop by Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World one last time before the exhibition closes on January 29.

All films in this series are free but reservations are required. Reserve your tickets online or by calling 323 857-6010.

Alex Capriotti

LACMA’s Collection of Ancient Indian Art Travels South

January 17, 2012

While we were reinstalling our South Asian Sculpture Gallery late last year, objects from our permanent collection traveled internationally for the first ever exhibition of ancient Indian art in Mexico. The special exhibition, Ancient Art of India: Masterworks of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was presented at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas in Mexico City. In March, an expanded and renamed version of the exhibition continues its journey, heading even farther south to the Centro Cultural Palacio de la Moneda  in Santiago, Chile, where it will once again break new ground by being the first major international exhibition of premodern Indian art in Chile.

Installation view of “Ancient Art of India” at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas, Mexico City

Featuring 150 objects from LACMA’s permanent collection, India’s Universe: Masterworks of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art explores the elaborate cosmologies of ancient India’s three man indigenous religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Ancient India’s religious mythology and associated artistic imagery were among the most highly developed of all world cultures. Each of these religions constructed systems of the universe with multiple realms, which were populated by a diverse range of real and imaginary inhabitants. Divinities, demigods, demons, mortals, and animals all interacted in a grand theater of life, the afterlife, and the endless cycle of time and rebirth. Numerous traumatic conflicts and heroic exploits were imagined in prose and poem and portrayed in a sophisticated tradition of sculpture, painting, and the decorative arts.

Installation view of “Ancient Art of India” at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas, Mexico City

The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections that explore the myriad inhabitants of India’s perceived universe:

  • deities—Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain gods and goddesses;
  • demigods—protective nature and fertility spirits associated with the earth and various celestial nymphs, musicians, and supernatural beings;
  • demons—revered leaders and guardian figures with demonic powers and generic hordes of demonic warriors;
  • humans—archetypical rulers who uphold virtue and preserve order by triumphing over evil, religious ascetics who conquer the temptations of the spirit and gain magical powers, and individuals typifying the plethora of life’s activities and occupations;
  • animals—the full spectrum of the animal kingdom, from powerful elephants to noble lions and cunning tigers to mischievous monkeys.

    Installation view of “Ancient Art of India” at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas, Mexico City


LACMA is proud to help promote greater understanding and appreciation of Indian culture in Chile by sharing these extraordinary works of art from its renowned holdings.

Stephen Markel, the Harry and Yvonne Lenart Curator and Department Head, South and Southeast Asian Art


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