This Weekend at LACMA: 1/2 Off Admission All Weekend, Art-Making Activities, and More

September 28, 2012

As all Angelenos know by now, this weekend is another Carmageddon weekend, in which a ten-mile stretch of the 405 will be closed, thus sending our car-obsessed culture into a spiraling depression. Okay, maybe it won’t be that bad—but what better weekend to leave your car at home and embrace alternative modes of transportation? For extra incentive, we are offering half off general admission all day Saturday and Sunday to anyone who comes to the museum on foot or via mass transit, bike, skateboard, tricycle, or shopping cart.

An anonymously placed shopping cart has joined the anonymously placed tricycle outside our staff entrance.

Among your options this weekend, in addition to our collection galleries, are five featured exhibitions—Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Ed Ruscha: Standard, Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: Caligari and Metropolis, The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White, and Michael Heizer: Actual Size. In addition to that we’ve got nearly a dozen other smaller exhibitions and rotations from various areas of our collection.

Installation view, Michael Heizer: Actual Size

As noted earlier this week on Unframed, artist Alia Syed will be on hand Saturday afternoon for a free screening of her 16mm films, in conjunction with the exhibition Eating Grass, on view now in the Ahmanson Building.

Sunday is the perfect day to delve deep into the art-making process, for kids and adults. As usual, families are invited to free Andell Family Sunday activities, which include free art-making activities. There’s also the Boone Children’s Gallery in the Hammer Building, adjacent to our Chinese and Korean art galleries. On the adult end of the spectrum, check out a free demonstration of traditional Korean Najeon lacquer making in the Korean galleries with artist Lee Hyeong-man, on Sunday afternoon. Take some time to step into the Pavilion for Japanese Art too, where artist Ohie Toshio will be present in the galleries for his exhibition Ohie Toshio and the Perfection of the Japanese Book, available to chat and answer questions about the art of book design.

Ohie Toshio, Anthology of Poetry by Aizu Yaichi, 2010, published by Chūō Kōronsha, collection of Yamamura Mitsuhisa

Once again the weekend at LACMA begins and ends with free concerts. Friday night, vocalist Janis Mann performs at our weekly Jazz at LACMA. Sunday evening catch the Mojave Trio, performing works by Schubert and Piazolla during our free Sundays Live concert series.

Scott Tennent


Katy Grannan: The Art and Paradox of Beauty

September 27, 2012

“Your face, my thane, is as a book where men may read strange matters”

—from Macbeth

The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White provocatively sets us squarely in the great art arena of beauty, style, glamour, cultural norms, self-representation, and the great bugaboo: identity. In this vat of self-referential soup, art’s proverbial task seems to be to keep the question of beauty constantly before us. What is it? Who has it? What does it truly look like? And the less visible queries are: Am I to be judged by it? Is this true?

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2009/printed 2011, © 2012 Katy Grannan, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Salon 94, New York

In Katy Grannan’s portraits, it is surely about glamour—that giant satellite that inspires ideas about beauty—but the condition itself could be a bridge too far. A person I much admired said that they—the portraits—were like documents, which on some level could hardly be denied. And a very fine artist himself, Abraham Agonafir, also a guard, found himself thinking of Norman Rockwell’s art, and that this was a modern-day version of a type of American. My first thoughts were of Caravaggio’s urchins and street people as models for Christ’s disciples and Madonnas.  Also the indelible black-and-white portrait of the aged Leni Riefenstahl in the 2000 Vanity Fair by Helmut Newton came to mind, where the last vestiges of glamour were searched for in Riefenstahl’s shiny compact.

But even with all that in mind, Grannan photographs splice the nature of the elusive quality—glamour playing on colors as a fashion magazine shoot with those movie-star-telling details, where tools of glamour address an idealized identity. Since the nature of photography is at least two degrees of voyeurism, I found that Grannan burnishes a different illusion, intentionally remaining indecisive, never quite losing that louche quality of gaming the viewer with a parodic fantasy.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008/printed 2009, © 2012 Katy Grannan, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Salon 94, New York

And for all the apparent realism, it has this unshakable quality of a postmodern Dickensian fashion show where we slip helplessly from fascination with “by the grace of god go I,” that haunting existential dread that lies in the hallucinatory whiteness glowing all around them. These somewhat romanticized images with their hard honesty and crisp exactness, define themselves not so much by their raw-boned body language, but rather by an imposing ego—character and neurosis melded into the architecture of worn faces, wiry bodies, expressive hair, and eyes that betray everything and nothing, a self-construct  whose presence bristles with stylish vanity and arrogance. The photographs ruthlessly portray the cult of the individual, the truly American dreamer’s dream. Here the grand airs, in spite of the “anonymous” label, hint at decadence, a whiff of spent sexuality, and Eros’s ghostly presence as in the thin palette of rouge lightly dappled on the small surfaces above the delicate creases of the faces.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, San Francisco, 2008/printed 2009, © 2012 Katy Grannan, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Salon 94, New York

At another level of this gloriously magnetic array of photos, there’s intimacy, in the most social-realist sense of the word.  Grannan’s regal style assumes ironic majesty against something we thought we knew about her cast of characters. Possibly we have all felt similar. But I certainly have ignored them, brushed aside, pitied them and possibly been made curious by them. Identity is not without spillage and being far more mercurial a subject than its idea may suggest, I came to believe in Grannan’s lens. The tattooed guy, the bunny man, and even the time-traveled faux Marilyn—video and all—plus many more, engendered a strong sense of pathos and a measure of one’s own wariness. Katy Grannan’s keen eye has retooled narcissism, refocused and repositioned it. It is no longer just for self-adoration, but for self-defense. And if there’s an unvarnished truth, this is surely the varnished truth.

Hylan Booker


Eating Grass: Q&A with Filmmaker Alia Syed

September 26, 2012

On Saturday, September 29, LACMA is presenting a special screening of selected works by artist Alia Syed in their original 16mm format, in conjunction with her exhibition Eating Grass, which can currently be seen in the Ahmanson Building. In between screenings, Elvis Mitchell, Film Independent at LACMA curator, will join Syed to discuss her work. We talked to Syed about the stories and inspiration behind Eating Grass. 

Alia Syed, still from Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm film, transferred to HD DVD, sound, 22:56 min., photos courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi, © 2012 Alia Syed

In what ways does Eating Grass reflect your ongoing interest in storytelling and language?

My stories develop out of lots of different things, but oral culture is very important to me. It is something that I grew up with. I am also interested in fairy tales, myth, and folklore as they are part of our shared experience.

I am interested in language; we construct ourselves through language; it creates the space where we define ourselves. Film can be a mirror—it can throw things back at us in a way that makes us question the ideas we have about ourselves and through this each other. What drove me to make Eating Grass in the way that I did was that I was interested in what happens when you hold more than one “culture” within you at any given time. It is a film about Diaspora.

Alia Syed, still from Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm film, transferred to HD DVD, sound, 22:56 min., photos courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi, © 2012 Alia Syed

Why did you choose to organize Eating Grass around the Muslim tradition of the five daily prayers?

I had been spending long periods of time in Karachi all through the 1990s. On this particular occasion I travelled via Dubai and was woken up by the Azaan, the call to prayer. It was very beautiful and spiritual. A couple of days later I found myself in Karachi and was again woken up by the call to prayer, but this time it was not pleasant. It took me a while to decipher what was going on, but I eventually came to the conclusion that what I was listening to was not an actual recital by the muezzin but a tape recording, and the tape was becoming stretched, distorting the sound. I wrote a short story that used this idea as its central image:

[Excerpt from Eating Grass (2003) by Alia Syed]

Don’t speak. Listen

Even the birds are rejoicing

How can the Muezzin climb so many stairs when they are so fat?

The generals are forcing the Maulvies to eat platefuls of luddoo’s and if they can’t eat them they make the Muezzin eat them.

After prayer, back to sleep, perhaps the angels will send you dreams to guide you through the day”.

The muezzin hasn’t ascended the staircase

They have forgotten to renew the tape recorders and the people are either too fat or too thin to have noticed.”

I then decided to write four more stories that related to the four remaining times of prayer. The stories are allegorical, based on a combination of family stories/sayings, newspaper articles, and daily observations about how people carried out there domestic routines. I was influenced by people like Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Salman Rushdie’s early work. In any Muslim country the times of prayer punctuate the day; they become axis points for reminiscing, governing secular and spiritual modes of being. I was interested in problematizing simplistic perceptions of these times.

Alia Syed, still from Eating Grass, 2003, 16mm film, transferred to HD DVD, sound, 22:56 min., photos courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi, © 2012 Alia Syed

The title of your film, Eating Grass, refers to the famous remark made by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in regard to the nuclear arms race with India: “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own. We have no other choice.” How does the title relate to the content of the film?

Eating Grass questions the implications of Bhutto’s statement on both personal and political levels.  More than anything, I wanted intimate that when two countries with a shared history exist in such proximity yet are continually pitting themselves one against the other, there will eventually be nothing left except to “eat grass.”

Eating Grass is a poetic capturing of the emotional rhythms created by the passing of sunlight; it follows previous work taking the form of a palimpsest, layers of voiceovers, written and aural forms where words are often treated as  visual phenomenon while visual images are offered as script to be deciphered. The title is another part of this layer—it embodies a multitude of meanings and associations.

Julie Romain, Assistant Curator, South and Southeast Asian Art


Preserving a Small Piece of Damascus

September 25, 2012

When a curator decides to pursue an acquisition, in discussion with the director and subject to the approval of the board of trustees, the preparation often includes a complete immersion process. This was certainly the case in the fall and early winter of 2011–12, as I prepared to present for acquisition a period room from eighteenth-century Damascus, Syria. As arcane as the subject might sound, there is quite a bit written on daily life in this time and place that gives a good idea of how Damascenes lived: what they ate, what they wore, and how their homes were laid out, organized, and furnished.

Photographs and maps from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also help in reimaging the architecture and urban setting. But my preoccupation with eighteenth-century Damascus took on a somewhat surreal quality as the current upheaval in Syria slowly transformed into a full-blown civil war and the boundaries between past and present began to blur. The Damascus room came to signify more than the unique opportunity to acquire a rare work of art that would become a destination for museum visitors but the very embodiment of what LACMA is as an encyclopedic art museum. Although the room was removed from Syria nearly thirty-five years ago, the notion that we would be helping to preserve a small part of the cultural history of one of the world’s oldest, continuously occupied cities, intensified my interest in bringing the room to Los Angeles so that its story can be told and appreciated in this twenty-first-century city.

Fountain, from a reception room in a Damascus house, Damascus, Syria, room dated 1180 AH/1766–67, carved and painted limestone, and marble

Unlike fashionable residences in early modern Europe, the homes of the well-to-do in eighteenth-century Damascus had very plain exteriors, hidden within which were elaborately decorated rooms that faced onto courtyards. Vintage photographs show the ornate stone courtyards replete with citrus trees and fountains, which provided a cooler living space during the hottest times of the year. The lavishly decorated reception rooms opening on to the courtyards would have been used primarily in the winter months. In 1900, nearly 17,000 such courtyard homes still survived. With the modernization and growth of Damascus, most such historic homes were demolished but occasionally their sumptuous rooms were spared. Several have found their way into museums not only in Damascus but in Europe and the United States.

LACMA’s acquisition-in-progress is a reception room dated 1766–67 and measuring 15’ x 20’. As is typical, the room has colorful inlaid marble floors; painted and carved wood walls, doors and storage niches; a spectacular stone arch that serves to divide the upper and lower sections of the room, which are separated by a single high step; and an intricately inlaid stone wall fountain with a carved and painted limestone hood, which we have recently installed in the Islamic galleries (Ahmanson Building, fourth floor). Though the rest of the room is currently dismantled, it is in wonderful condition and is primarily in need of extensive cleaning and some restoration. Once we formally acquire the room, our goal in reassembling it, a two-year project, will be to create an armature to make it self-supporting so that it can be installed in an already-existing space or reinstalled elsewhere. My colleagues and I hope to keep you posted as this exciting project progresses.

Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head, Art of the Middle East


What’s It Like Inside a Ken Price Sculpture?

September 23, 2012

Recently, we spoke with Stephanie Barron, curator of Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective. She touched on the friendship between Price and architect Frank Gehry, who oversaw the exhibition design as a labor of love. Gehry happens to own some of the Price sculptures in the show, including this one:

Ken Price, 100% Pure, 2005. © Ken Price, Photo © Fredrik Nilsen

…curious to envision what it would be like be inside the piece, he commissioned this scan that models what the interior would look like:

In the video below, Stephanie talks about the design of exhibition as she and Price conceived it:

Amy Heibel


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