This is a Film About John Baldessari

May 16, 2012

Last fall LACMA held its first annual Art + Film Gala, honoring Clint Eastwood and John Baldessari. For those who were there, one of the big highlights of the night turned out to be a short film about Baldessari (narrated by Tom Waits!), made by filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, aka Supermarché. Just yesterday we received the green light to share it with you. So, here you go: everything you ever wanted to know about John Baldessari, including his wi-fi password. Enjoy!

Scott Tennent

The Art of Codices in Children of the Plumed Serpent

May 15, 2012

People don’t usually connect the words cool and codices, but go see the painted manuscripts in Children of the Plumed Serpent and you just might change your vocabulary.  A codex is a series of deerhide “pages” sewn together and folded like an accordion. The pages are then covered in gesso and painted with figures in bright colors.  The three codices in the exhibition—the Codex Zouche-Nuttall, the Codex Selden, and the Codex Becker II—tell histories of particular Mixtec communities in Mexico.

Part of what makes these codices so special is that the corpus of extant pre-Columbian painted manuscripts numbers only twelve, of which the Codex Zouche-Nuttall is one.  Many of the codices were destroyed in the first decades following the arrival of Hernán Cortés. Spanish conquistadors and Christian missionaries considered these painted works “diabolical” because of their images of idolatry, human sacrifice, and divination.  The Codex Zouche-Nuttall’s survival is remarkable and may be due to its unusual history. It’s very likely that it first left Mexico as part of a shipment from Cortés to the king of Spain, Carlos V.  This is the first time it has returned to the Americas in almost five hundred years.

Even after the conquest, native artists continued to produce painted codices.  The codices Selden and Becker are among those from the colonial period, but most scholars consider them to be continuations of an indigenous tradition.

Codex Zouche-Nuttall:

Codex Nuttall, Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 15th–16th c., The British Museum Library, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

The Codex Zouche-Nuttall presents genealogical histories of the Mixtec dynasties of Tilantongo, Teozacoalco, and Cuilapan. Its pages are painted on both sides in bold blues, reds, and gold.  The side on view illustrates the life of Lord 8 Deer, the founder of the Mixtec people, his family history, his travels, conquests, and eventual ascent to power.

The codex includes scenes leading up to and of 8 Deer’s grand nose-piercing ceremony. The nose ornament he wears is an important symbol of his new status as tecuhtli, or dynastic head, and legitimates his right to the Tilantongo throne.

Codex Nuttall, Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 15th–16th c., The British Museum Library, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

Also impressive are scenes of Lord 8 Deer’s journey to meet the sun god, from whom he receives precious gifts to present at the sacred ball court.  If you look closely at the pages on display, you’ll see the I-shaped court, where Lord 8 Deer offers a gold and feather object.

Codex Nuttall, Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 15th–16th c., The British Museum Library, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

Codex Selden:

Codex Selden (detail), Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 1556–1560, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, photo © The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Codex Selden (detail), Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 1556–1560, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, photo © The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Unlike other Mixtec codices, the Codex Selden is laid out vertically: it reads from bottom to top in a boustrophedon, or winding pattern. In an earthy palette of brown, gold, red, and orange, beautifully detailed illustrations outline native dynastic genealogies of the town of Jaltepec.

The pages on view in Gallery 4 show the life of the female ruler, Lady 6 Monkey, a rival of Lord 8 Deer (from the Codex Zouche-Nuttall).  They illustrate, among other important events, 6 Monkey’s marriage to 11 Wind and the costumes and rituals associated with betrothal.  In the case just in front of the codex in the exhibition, you’ll see examples of jewels and ritual regalia worn or gifted during marriage ceremonies.

Lady 6 Monkey and Lord 8 Deer vied for power in Tilantongo.  It’s worth knowing that 8 Deer appears in the Selden and 6 Monkey in the Zouche-Nuttall. For example, in this scene from the Zouche-Nuttall, the rivals are in the top center, identified by their name glyphs.

Codex Nuttall, Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 15th–16th c., The British Museum Library, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

This cross-referencing of important figures in the different codices highlights the geographical, historical, and mythological connections shared by the Mixtec communities of Oaxaca.

At some point after 1556, three-quarters of the Codex Selden was “erased” and painted over. What we see today is a revised version of the earlier story.  Some scholars believe that the codex was repainted for use in a legal dispute between the towns Jaltepec and Yanhuitlán over possession of a third town, Zahuatlán.  Unique features of the codex—its orientation, its narrow focus on one particular town, and its detailed genealogies—suggest it was made for an audience of outsiders, possibly the courts, rather than  native nobility.

Codex Becker II:

Codex Becker II (detail), Mexico, Oaxaca, Nochistlan, 1200–1521, Museum für Völkerkunde, Wein, photo © Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna

As in the codices Zouche-Nuttall and Selden, connecting the stories told in the manuscripts with specific towns and places in Oaxaca has made them easier to read. The Codex Becker II cannot be linked to a distinct town or community and the people represented have not yet been identified, putting into question the purpose for its creation.  What’s more, there is no narrative to the codex, but we can see that the artist wanted to show dynastic genealogies, beginning with the first ancestral couple emerging from a mythical place of origin and continuing through several generations of historical rulers.

The codices on view are impressive examples of ways that the ancient Mexicans recorded and thought about history.  Reunited with other contemporary material objects in the exhibition, they help to present a fuller picture of Mexico’s past.

To explore more pages of these fascinating codices, visit the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. database:

Laura Leaper

Curatorial Research Assistant, Latin American Art

New Installations at LACMA

May 14, 2012

While some of our major exhibitions have closed or are preparing to close this spring and early summer, we have mounted a handful of new installations that consider works from our permanent collection in new ways.

The German Woodcut: Renaissance and Expressionist Revival is located in the Robert Gore Rifkind Gallery for German Expressionism on the second level of the Ahmanson Building. The installation features approximately fifty woodcuts from the Renaissance and from the early twentieth century.

Hans Baldung Grien, Stallion and Kicking Mare with Wild Horses, 1534, Los Angeles County Fund

Russian Avant-Garde is a small but mighty exhibition tucked into The David Murdock Family Gallery also on the second level of the Ahmanson Building, just to the right of René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The installation includes some objects that LACMA acquired after organizing the exhibition The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910–1930: New Perspectives, in 1980, the first large-scale exhibition of the movement in the United States.

Wassily Kandinsky, Orange, 1923, Los Angeles County Fund

In the Art of the Americas Building, Whistler’s Etchings: An Art of Suggestion includes a selection of approximately twenty-five etchings and drypoints by Whistler, a key figure in the so-called “etching revival” of the latter half of the nineteenth century, is located on the third floor, toward the back of the American art galleries, through the David Geffen Gallery and to the left.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Street at Saverne, 1858, The Julius L. and Anita Zelman Collection

Also in the Art of the Americas Building but on the fourth floor in the Latin American galleries is Stitching Worlds: Mola Art of the Kuna, an in-depth look into the tradition of the mola—a textile created by Kuna women that is constructed from layers of cloth that are cut and stitched into colorful and intricate motifs.

Textile Panel (Mola), Panama, San Blas, Kuna people, last quarter of 20th century, gift of Lindy and Ellen Narver in memory of Grace Narver

Remember, members can see these installations and all of our permanent collection and special exhibitions for free all year round.

Jenny Miyasaki

This Weekend at LACMA: Mother’s Day Activities, Member Appreciation, Japanese Film Series, Teen Night, and More

May 11, 2012

Happy Mother’s Day Weekend! As usual there is plenty to do at LACMA this weekend, plus a little extra for Mom—and for members. First: today through Sunday is Members Appreciation Weekend. Show your membership card and you’ll receive 20% off in the California Design gift store and select items in the Art Catalogues store, plus 10% off food and drink in the Plaza Café, adjacent to the Bing Theater. For Mother’s Day, treat Mom to a special brunch at Ray’s (reservations recommended) and then give her a tour through the galleries. We’ve got free drop-in tours, plus the usual free Andell Family Sunday activities. You can also treat your mom to a concert by the Crossroads Chamber Orchestra, performing works by Shostakovich and Schubert—conveniently priced at $0.  (By the way—are you following us on Pinterest? We’ve got a whole board of works from our collection that celebrate Mom.)

Mary Cassatt, Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child, 1880, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest. On view in the American Art Galleries.

Of course, Mother’s Day isn’t until Sunday and the weekend has only just begun. For tonight’s free Jazz at LACMA concert, Grammy Award-winning pianist and composer Ruslan Sirota takes the stage.  

In conjunction with Fracture: Daido Moriyama, we present the film series High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White, featuring films depicting urban Japan after World War II. The series is split into two weekends—today and tomorrow, and then again in June. Tonight, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1966 The Face of Another is followed by Susumu Hani’s 1968 Nanami: The Inferno of First Love. Saturday night we present a double feature of Nagisa Oshima’s Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and Akira Kurusawa’s Stray Dog.

Attention teens! Saturday night at 7 pm you’re invited to After Dark—see Children of the Plumed Serpent for free and dance to DJ Knockstudy. Tell your parents to stay home—they’re not invited. This is a teens-only event. Check out the event page for more information.  

Skull with Turquoise Mosaic, Mexico, Western Oaxaca or Puebla, 1400-1521, gift of Constance McCormick Fearing

All this and much more is happening at LACMA this weekend. Maria Nordman FILMROOM: SMOKE, 1967–Present is entering its final week, while Robert Adams and California Design will both be gone in the first week of June. Get here soon if you haven’t seen them yet. We’ve also recently opened a number of smaller installations highlighting our permanent collection, from the Russian Avant-Garde to German woodcuts  to Japanese paintings to Panamanian textiles. Check out the full list of installations for even more.

Scott Tennent

Postwar Worlds in Fracture: Daido Moryiama and California Design, 1930–1965

May 10, 2012

I am often surprised by the subtle connections that can be drawn between LACMA’s exhibitions. Just yesterday I headed to the Pavilion for Japanese Art to see Fracture: Daido Moriyama, the first museum exhibition in Los Angeles devoted solely to the Japanese photographer best known for his gritty depictions of Japanese city life. The exhibition features black-and-white photos from early in Moriyama’s career, as well as some of his more recent color photographs.

Having travelled to Japan a couple of years ago, I was curious to compare my own memories of Tokyo and Shinjuku with Moriyama’s images. To me, while chaotic, most of Tokyo is the pinnacle of order, efficiency, and cleanliness. Where I visited, there was barely a single piece of trash on the street and not a single person coughed in public without attempting to cover his or her mouth. As I mentioned, certain areas were certainly chaotic—Shibuya, in particular (think those gigantic crosswalks where hundreds of pedestrians swarm into the intersection from every direction)—but even that frenzy is reined in by an impulse toward order (red hand means stop and they stop).

Street, Tokyo, Japan, 1981, the Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser Collection of Photographs, courtesy Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

I ended up having a much more visceral response than I expected to Moriyama’s images. The textures in his photos—the fuzz of a young boy’s buzz cut, water splashing off of the scales of fish that are systematically being pulled from the water by an industrial fishing line—left an existential grit on my skin, in my mouth. I could taste the saltiness of the tears of post–World War II Japan; I could feel the smog in my lungs, the grease on my fingers of defiant and rapid industrialization/westernization of a country determined to bounce back.

Daido Moriyama, Beauty Parlor, Tokyo, c. 1975, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

Truthfully, it almost became too much for me to bear . . . until I came across two photos. The first is one called Beauty Parlor, Tokyo (c. 1975). The photo appears to be a close-up of a beauty parlor advertisement: a radiant Japanese woman—skin and blouse blazing white—set against a dark, dirty street, the black-dusted sky crisscrossed by low-hanging power lines. While, in theory, this is the ultimate cynical statement about the westernization of Japan—the  emphasis on production and economic growth veiled only slightly by the western ideal of beauty—I still found this photo to be oddly stimulating. That girl looks fun. She looks like she would appear in a Haruki Murakami novel hanging out in a jazz club with a talking cat.

Beach Boys, Zushi, Japan, 1967, printed 2009, the Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser Collection of Photographs, courtesy Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

The second photo that lifted my spirits is called Beach Boys, Zushi, Japan (1967). I was immediately drawn to this photo. For one, it’s fairly large—hard to miss. But the composition of the photo is also alluring. The men’s bodies are reclined at the same angle on the beach, each body glistening. It’s almost as if their bodies have been lapped up onto the beach by waves—handsome fish beached on the shore. I also like this photo because these guys remind me of the Japanese men in my life—my father, my grandfather who passed away last week, and my father-in-law. All three of them were good-looking chaps during that era, if not in a Japanese-boy-band kind of way.

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

As I pondered these Japanese men in their fashionable swim trunks, another LACMA exhibition came to mind: California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way.” With Moriyama’s postwar psychological burden placed firmly on my shoulders, I walked over to the Resnick Pavilion for some levity. Maybe in my mind I thought I could make a connection between these sunbathers in the land of the rising sun and the Catalina Sportswear bathing suits that are featured in the exhibition.

Installation view, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” October 1, 2011–June 3, 2012, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

The exhibition itself is light, airy, and colorful, with the clean lines of mid-century design and a mix of wood, metal, and textiles (it closes June 3 btw!). My first, if not misguided, thought was, “Wow, this is how the winners prospered!” What I meant by that is that postwar America—in this case California—seemed to really embrace the hope that the defeat of Germany and Japan in World War II brought. It was an extraordinary time in the history of California art and design. People took advantage of the ramped-up domestic economy and industry to create some astonishing things—to create a distinct style and lifestyle that they exported (Japan imported its fair share, no doubt). Obviously other things were going on that made this era so lush with creativity in California. However, to me, juxtaposing the two exhibitions helps to contextualize the time and place of the artists in each.

None of this is to say that Japan was all gloom and doom. The Japanese created some extraordinary art during that time—I think that it just germinated from a different philosophical seed than that of California artists. But don’t take my word for it: Check out Fracture: Daido Moriyama for yourself, which is on view through July 31. Also, LACMA is presenting a film series, High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White, along with the Fracture, starting tomorrow night through Saturday, and then it picks up again June 8–9.

Jenny Miyasaki


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