The Place I Lived

March 13, 2012

When I first saw the photos in the retrospective Robert Adams: The Place We Live, in particular, Longmont, Colorado (1979), which is a black-and-white photo that depicts the Boulder County Fairgrounds at night, I felt an uncomfortable sense of pride and a strange sense of resilience. My memories of the Boulder County Fair burn bright. I won innumerable goldfish there, stuffed myself with countless reams of cotton candy, and chickened out of riding nearly every single ride.

Adams’s photo out of context is stunning. One lit-up ride rises up into blackened clouds like an electrified jellyfish in the darkest depths of the ocean. Lights of other rides set the bottom half of the photograph ablaze. In the background, you can make out the faint silhouette of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains—a majestic backdrop that is omnipresent in my childhood memories.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1979, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

As a child, I believed that there were only two notable landmarks in my hometown: the turkey factory and the Boulder County Fairgrounds. The turkey factory, called Longmont Foods at the time, was located, appropriately, on Main Street of Longmont, Colorado, just a couple of miles down the road from the farming equipment company that my father owned (and still does). Railroad tracks lined the south side of the factory; its cars thundered by three to four times a day, causing the closest thing to a traffic jam my town will ever see. At certain times in the morning and the evening, the turkey factory produced the unmistakable—and nauseating—scent of death and not-right hotdogs, which blanketed the area within a half-mile radius for a good hour or so. Tractor trailers mounted with cage after cage of plump, protesting turkeys shed clouds of white feathers through town as they made their way to slaughter.

Just across the street from the factory was a tiny building that must have, once upon a time, acted as a real-life train depot. During my childhood, however, it was a Domino’s Pizza, a bail bond agent, a real estate company, a bodega, a Mexican restaurant . . .  What it is now—if anything—I have no idea. Nothing ever stayed there—nothing ever could. The conditions were that unbearable.

In fact, as a teenager, this was a perfect metaphor for my feelings about my hometown. Longmont was the turkey factory, and I was the little train depot grasping desperately for an identity that allowed me to survive in that place.

Robert Adams, Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1969, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Though I feel a personal connection to some of Adams’s photos because I grew up in a region that he photographed, I don’t think you have to be from the area to derive the stark tension—even the irony—inherent in his subjects as he pits man against nature time and again. For instance, in the photo above, the gas station sign in the foreground marks the “frontier” of technology, of man’s impingement on the actual, natural frontier in the background. Likewise, in Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, Colorado, a lone street sign, “Darwin Pl,” ironically, and I think cruelly, marks the place of the skeleton of a cookie-cutter-house-in-the-making, as the mountains dissolve into the background.

Robert Adams, Frame for a Tract House, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1969, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Though I don’t often return to my hometown, the place I once lived is always with me and most likely always will be.

Jenny Miyasaki

Watts Towers Q&A with Artist Dominique Moody

March 12, 2012

Last year, LACMA began a partnership with the City of Los Angeles’s Department of Cultural Affairs to work toward the long-term preservation of Watts Towers. Lucas Casso, an intern with LACMA’s Department of Curatorial Planning has been conducting interviews with artists and others who have been involved in or influenced by the Towers.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I traveled to Watts to interview assemblage artist Dominique Moody. Dominique is currently the R Cloud Artist in Residence and works on East 107th Street, only a stone’s throw from the Watts Towers. Moody’s work was recently featured in a yearlong solo exhibition at the Watts Towers Art Center and can be seen on her website.

Moody and I first walked around the property on which she lives and works, including the installation version of her NOMAD project, the final product of which will give her a traveling studio and living space. After seeing some of her works, we sat down to talk about the Watts Towers.

Dominique Moody

Lucas Casso:  From what I understand, you have moved around and lived many places in your life. When was your first encounter with the Watts Towers?

Dominique Moody: Back in the early 1980s or late 1970s, I moved to California with a few members of my family from the East Coast. We took the train down to L.A. and the two things we wanted to see were the Towers and Olvera Street. The Towers—because I come from a creative family—were this wonderful, unusual environment. At the time there were no fences around it and you could literally just walk into them. It was this very magical place. It was so different too because it was sitting smack in the middle of a neighborhood. As a creative person, I felt in awe of the idea that it was not just public art that was commissioned and created and sanctioned, but it was a work that came out of being in a place—not only by a single person but then also with the response of the community.

That really touched me, and I didn’t really understand it in terms of putting it into words at the time, but it really tapped into me artistically as something I had not found as an experience through my arts education. We didn’t go into exploring that kind of art, but I had experienced it going through places like the South, where you would see things that people expressed. It wasn’t even often called “art” or the individuals called “artists,” but they just did it because they needed to do it.

LC: What do you think is the role of the Towers in the arts community?

DM: Within the arts community, I think it is certainly multilayered. I think the arts community itself is multi-layered, now more than ever. There is the institutional arts community, then there are the people who create, and then there are the people who appreciate the art, support it, and collect it. Not all of them have the same perspective on a piece of work.

I marveled at Rodia’s tenacity. His focus to keep up on a piece of work like that for so long . . . Today, for most artists, if you haven’t done your thing in two or three years you’re almost washed up!  The raw essence of the Towers is that they were created by a man out of his creative genius. And he gave it to a community, so the community then ends up playing a role that is unusual in art. Even though it was created by an individual, the community had this relationship with him in order for it to happen—they could have chased him out.

One of the reasons I came here is that if you take an unusual idea and you try to create that idea in an environment that is not accepting, it’s not going to happen. You are constantly going to butt up against people who won’t tolerate it. And I wanted to be in a neighborhood that would be excited and tolerate my creative passion. And I couldn’t have chosen a better place.

Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, 1921–1954, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

LC: You work—almost literally—in the shadows of Watts Towers. Has your perspective on them changed, being so close day after day?

DM: My perspective has actually grown, especially being this close. If you come by and you’re just visiting for one day and you’re seeing it in that one moment, it could be incredibly memorable, just that singular moment. But when you’re here in the early morning, at night, in the rain, you’re here during events and tours, you’re here when there are problems, it becomes a living thing. It becomes much more alive to you. I have grown to appreciate being able to see it in all of those forms. It gives it so much more depth.

Seeing that genius and living so close to it, I almost feel that there is an energy that gets pulled to this area because of it. And that energy sometimes has been both very productive and sometimes has kind of been an energy that’s not controllable. So living here, I sense it even more so. And it has felt like a real privilege to live in the neighborhood, with the neighbors and the history, with that kind of genius.

LC: As an assemblage artist, do you draw inspiration from the Towers, or have they shaped your work in any way?

DM: Yes, and even in the very beginning, in the 1980s, I had always been intrigued by certain types of mediums. Mosaic was one of them. But because of the fact that it can be so heavy, I moved around too much to initially think that I could do mosaic. But then seeing Simon Rodia use this stuff he found along the railroad track and had dug up in the yard and hauled home from his work, I realized there is a whole world of materials that are literally just littered everywhere that could be tremendous resources for me. I learned things in terms of the aesthetics of how these strange, unrelated materials could be so beautiful together. It still informs my work even when I’m not working in mosaic—his way of taking the color and the shape of the material that articulate where it’s going to go next.

Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, 1921–1954, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

LC: How do you think Rodia felt when he left the Towers? What do you think the process was in leaving it and in deciding that it was finished?

DM: It would be an interesting time just to have been there—not necessarily to have asked him a question, but to have been there to watch him in the process of letting it go. For me it has never been hard to let the pieces go because the work has been so personally narrative that I have lived those experiences. So when it’s time for the pieces to go, I don’t feel disconnected to the experience.

He’s an interesting person because I think his answer would not have been formalized. I feel that even if he only said a couple words that the authenticity of those words would have been phenomenal. I think the bottom line is: You’re ready, it’s ready, and that’s it. Then you’re done.

If I had been a kid at that time, I probably would have been the kid that bugged him the most because I would have always been there, and I would have asked him everything about what he was doing. But they would not have been questions about “why” because I would have accepted all of it. I tend to think that sometimes adults will ask the “why” of it rather than just accepting that this is magic happening.

Lucas Casso, LACMA Intern for Department of Curatorial Planning

This Weekend at LACMA: Levitated Mass Arrives, Robert Adams Opens, Charles White Family Day, and More

March 9, 2012

It’s a heavy weekend here at LACMA—about 340 tons, to be exact. For details about the arrival of the megalith for Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass on Friday night/early Saturday morning, we’ve put together a guide that will help you navigate the route and get the best views.

Megalith slated to become part of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, en route to La Mirada, during transport to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, March 5, 2012, © Michael Heizer, photo by Tom Vinetz

Tonight, Jean Renoir’s legendary comedy, Rules of the Game, and Jacques Becker’s Casque d’or  round out our exhibition film series, “Ellsworth Kelly Selects.” Before you head over to the Bing Theater for the double feature, swing by Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings, a retrospective of Kelly’s prints, on view through April 22.

Just below Ellsworth Kelly: Prints in Paintings in BCAM, Metropolis II is running—be sure to check the hours of operation before planning your visit.

On Saturday, after you’ve watched the boulder roll down Wilshire to LACMA (and have gone home to take a nap), you and your family should head to Family Day at Charles White Elementary School from 11 am to 1 pm.  It is a great opportunity to see A is for Zebra, a playful, imaginative, kid-centric exhibition curated as part of Art Programs with the Community: LACMA On-siteA is for Zebra closes for good on March 30.

Photo by Christine Choi

A spotlight is on the Bing Theater on Saturday evening, where the eleventh annual LACMA Muse Young Directors Night will take place. One part competition, one part mentoring by a panel of industry luminaries, Young Directors Night is an annual showcase of short films by emerging filmmakers in Los Angeles, with one crowned “best in show” by the audience and the panel.

This year’s event is sold out, but there will be a standby line forming at 6 pm on Saturday night near the Hammer Building Ticket Office. As a Muse member, however, you’ll get advance notice of ticket sales (and discounts) for next year’s event (not to mention countless other fun events throughout the year, including Muse Art Walk and Costume Ball).

Opening Sunday in BCAM is Robert Adams: The Place We Live, a major retrospective of Robert Adams’s seminal photographs. Selected and sequenced by the photographer himself, The Place We Live features nearly three hundred photographs spanning a career that is more than four decades long. Robert Adams is renowned for his chronicling of the transforming landscape of the American West. Members get a sneak preview today and tomorrow before the exhibition opens to the public.

Robert Adams, Interstate 25, Eden, Colorado, 1968, printed 2006, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Also Sunday, LACMA is hosting a conversation at 2 pm about artist Leonora Carrington, who is featured in the exhibition In Wonderland, between Teri Geis, research assistant on the exhibition, and Gloria Orenstein, longtime personal friend of Carrington. After the discussion, check out some of Orenstein’s personal correspondence with Carrington, along with nearly two hundred other works by female surrealist artists, in the exhibition.

Leonora Carrington, Green Tea (La dame ovale), 1942, collection of Hector Fanghanel, © 2011 Estate of Leonora Carrington/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA by Jorge Perez de Lara

Sunday brings Bridget Cooks to LACMA from her post at UC Irvine to discuss her new book, Exhibiting Blackness, which turns a critical eye on how American museums exhibit African American art. Andell Family Sundays are also in full swing—the theme this week is “Stitch It,” with a focus on our small exhibition of global textiles Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping. Finally, Sundays Live tops off the weekend with a free concert in the Bing Theater featuring pianist Abbey Simon.

We hope to see you this weekend!

Jenny Miyasaki

Levitated Mass: Planning for the Final Leg of the Journey

March 8, 2012

For those of you following the journey of the megalith that is to be part of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, Friday night is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Starting around 10–11 pm, the transporter will leave its last stop—on Figueroa Street just north of Florence Avenue—and will travel its final leg to LACMA.

Megalith slated to become part of Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass, during transport to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Michael Heizer, photo by Tom Vinetz

The transporter will travel north on Figueroa, going right past Exposition Park and the USC campus. It will turn left onto West Adams Boulevard and will cross Hoover, Vermont, and Normandie before turning right onto Western Avenue. From Western it will hang a left on Wilshire for the home stretch! (See the entire route the transporter has traveled.)

The big question, of course, is when all of this will happen. Unfortunately we can’t be very specific as the journey itself is complicated and it’s impossible to say how quickly or slowly the transporter will make each turn, get through each intersection, etc. For now, we are estimating that the transporter will arrive at the museum between 2–6 am.

The best way to keep tabs on the transporter’s whereabouts will be to follow @LACMA on Twitter. We will be in the truck, traveling the whole route with the boulder and keeping you up to date all night long. If you’re out there tweeting too, use hashtag #LevitatedMass so we can see what you’re saying and retweet to our audience. No matter where you are along the route, you’ll know when to expect the boulder to go by if you follow our Twitter updates.

You’ll have opportunities all along the route to see the transporter go by. Road closures along the route will occur as it moves, so plan accordingly. Our best advice is to travel on streets parallel to the transporter in order to drive unimpeded.

If you want to see it actually arrive at LACMA, here’s some more helpful info:

  • The museum itself will be closed, but the action is on Wilshire Boulevard.
  • Parking will be available in LACMA’s lot at the corner of Wilshire and Spaulding Avenue (free). Our underground Sixth Street lot will be closed.
  • Parking at the Petersen Museum, located on Wilshire and Fairfax, will also be available ($10, enter from Fairfax). You can try to find street parking too, but please read all signs in the area before parking.
  • There will be bathrooms available at Ogden and Wilshire, directly across the street from Urban Light.
  • Note that Stark Bar will be open regular hours—closing at 11 pm. We will have a coffee cart next to Urban Light starting at 11 pm.
  • Food trucks will be parked at Ogden and Wilshire—No Tomatoes and Waffles de Liege.

When the transporter finally gets to the museum, it will turn from Wilshire onto Fairfax and then enter the museum from behind LACMA West. It will pull up right next to the slot that is the other major component of the work. For Saturday and Sunday only, we’ll remove part of the construction fencing so you can get a good look at the transporter before it is disassembled. Starting Monday, everything goes under wraps—as much as you can put a 340-ton boulder under wraps. The next time you’ll get a chance to see it up close, it will be a finished artwork. As of now we are expecting to open Levitated Mass to the public in the early summer. Keep your eyes on Unframed or the Levitated Mass page for updates on an opening date.

Scott Tennent

Matt Ritter on the Trees of Robert Adams: The Place We Live

March 8, 2012

[Find continuing updates on the transport of the boulder for Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass here.] In other news: Opening this Sunday, March 11, Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs presents the artistic legacy of photographer Robert Adams (b. 1937) and his longstanding engagement with the changing landscape of the American West and the lives of its inhabitants. With a timely opening during California’s Arbor Day celebration (March 7–14), the exhibition reveals Robert Adams’s eloquent preoccupation with the presence of trees, featured in series dedicated to the Los Angeles region, cottonwood trees in Colorado, and poplars, alders, and firs growing in Oregon. Edward Robinson, associate curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, talks to Dr. Matt Ritter, a botany professor at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and California trees expert, about the flora of Robert Adams’s photographs. Dr. Ritter will lead a gallery talk  about the exhibition on Thursday evening, March 22.

Dr. Matt Ritter

Edward Robinson: Adams began photographing the Southern California region in the late 1950s and early 1960s, returning many times to describe the citrus groves, eucalyptus, and palm trees that flourish in the area. Looking at Robert Adams’s series, “Los Angeles Spring” (1979–83), what do the many different kinds of trees featured suggest about the region’s horticultural history and changing land use over time?

Matt Ritter: At different times in Southern California’s history, certain plants have been more or less horticulturally popular. An example is the Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) featured in Robert Adams’s Edge of San Timoteo Canyon. Although young Canary Island Date Palms are rarely planted anymore, they were very popular around homesteads at the turn of the last century.  When the homesteads and agricultural fields were abandoned, destroyed, or developed, these palms, which can live for centuries, remain as reminders of the activities, cultural history, and interests of early Californians.

Not all plants were utilitarian; a large Canary Island Date Palm would have stood proudly as a symbol of status and stateliness in the yard of a farmhouse. On the other hand, Red Gum eucalypts (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), the sole species in Abandoned windbreak, were entirely utilitarian and favored by early agriculturalists in Southern California. These trees, which seem to thrive on neglect, offer shade, protection, and wood, and were often the only trees in otherwise desolate and hostile landscapes.

Robert Adams, Edge of San Timoteo Canyon, looking toward Los Angeles, Redlands, California, 1978, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Robert Adams, Abandoned windbreak, West of Fontana, California, 1982, printed 1996, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

ER:  Other series on view describe the cottonwoods in Colorado, where Robert Adams lived for much of his career. Adams writes that “Cottonwoods have been our friends for a long while. The Arapaho believed that the stars came from cottonwoods, from the glistening sap at the joints of twigs. Immigrant wagon trains followed along from one grove to the next, with cottonwoods serving as landmarks, shelter, and fuel.” What is distinctive about cottonwoods as a species of trees and an element today of the inhabited west?

MR: It is not surprising that cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) caught Adams’s eye. They are like few other trees in the American West, with their twisted, wide-branching forms, corrugated, gray-skinned trunks, and leaves that ripple in the wind. They are the patriarchs of the landscape—survivors in a place of drought, heat, and shattering cold. Inhabitants of the American West have always known cottonwoods to be indicators of precious resources. They grow where water is available, in fertile alluvial bottomlands.  Cottonwoods in the distance are a promise of arable land, water, food, shade, and better times.

Robert Adams, Untitled, from the series Along Some Rivers, 1985–87, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

ER: For the last fifteen years or so, Adams has lived in Oregon. His series “Turning Back” is dedicated to the subject of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest. One of Robert Adams’s photographs features his wife, Kerstin, standing beside a large stump, a remnant of an ancient wood where trees once commonly grew to be five hundred or more years old; others depict the “harvest” of newer forests. What is your sense of the future of the rainforests in the region?

MR: I grew up in a rural part of Mendocino County in Northern California, where logging the remnant coastal redwood forests was one of the main industries in the area, and I witnessed those logging activities change greatly in a relatively short period of time as the trees disappeared. In my part of Northern California and the parts of Oregon depicted in Robert Adams’s photographs, there is so little of the original, virgin, old-growth forests remaining (less than 4 percent).

The wholesale plunder of California and Oregon conifers that took place in the early part of the twentieth century is over, but the scars remain. These scars take form in the infrastructure: abandoned towns, mills, railroads lines, and logging roads, and the human-modified ecosystems of Adams’s photographs: half-rotted, massive old stumps, second-growth forests, and slowly recovering waterways and fisheries. Fortunately, most old-growth rainforests of the Northwest are protected in perpetuity, and logging practices have improved greatly, with many companies finding new ways to sustainably harvest timber.

Robert Adams, Sitka spruce, Cape Blanco State Park, Curry County, Oregon, 1999–2000, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Robert Adams, Kerstin, Next to an Old-Growth Stump, Coos County, Oregon, 1999–2003, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from the Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

ER: Robert Adams writes, “Art should finally be encouraging. That’s the promise that brings people to museums. And since lies are finally discouraging, that means art should be truthful. Truthful and affirmative, presumably even about what has happened to most of the landscape.” Amid LACMA’s twenty-acre campus, visitors can also experience firsthand artist Robert Irwin’s Palm Garden, an installation of some one hundred palm trees, designed with landscaper Paul Comstock. Bringing together more than thirty varieties of palm trees and other specimens, Irwin has noted that certain cycads for the site are among the first plants on earth. As the author of A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us (Heyday Books, 2012), and thinking about the importance of trees to local and worldwide communities, what do you think some of the most exciting and rare plantings to look for are when visiting LACMA?

Robert Irwin, Palm Garden, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

MR: Robert Irwin’s Palm Garden is a truly impressive collection of trees. Not only does it have one of the greatest diversities of palms in any collection in California, it also houses a number of rare cycads.  Cycads, although ostensibly like palms, are actually distantly related ancient plants that evolved during the time of the dinosaurs and have changed very little in the last 250 million years. They have declined in abundance in the places where they occur to a point now where all three hundred species of cycads in the world are rare and endangered in the wild.

Robert Irwin, Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis), Palm Garden, 2010, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

A particularly awesome individual in the palm collection is the Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis) planted in a submerged position near the elevator to the Pritzker Parking Garage. Individuals of this species are the widest palms in the world. If its massive trunk is cut, a sugary sap will flow from it for a long time—hundreds of gallons of syrup can be harvested. In Chile, where the palms are now protected and rarely cut down, this syrup was fermented into a sweet wine. Chilean wine palm fruits are also edible and similar in appearance and taste to small coconuts (called coquitos in Chile). Riding the LACMA’s plaza elevator and observing this massive tree is a special treat during a visit to the museum and palm collection, and you may even get to eat a coquito.

Robert Adams: The Place We Live, A Retrospective Selection of Photographs opens March 11. Members get a sneak preview today, Friday, and Saturday.

Edward Robinson, Associate Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


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