This Weekend at LACMA: Photography & Panamanian Textiles Close, Grannan/White in Person, The Complete Metropolis, and More!

October 12, 2012

There are perhaps no better three days to visit LACMA than this weekend starting tonight. We start things off at 6 pm with a free Jazz at LACMA concert featuring Venezuelan jazz pianist Otmaro Ruiz.

Over in the Bing Theater, the first films in our Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema film series (in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name now on view in the Ahmanson Building) get underway, starting at 7:30 with Robert Wiene’s iconic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, followed by the fantastic and strange Waxworks, directed by Paul Leni, which also features a live music accompaniment by Robert Israel.

Unknown German Artist, Untitled (The somnambulist Cesare [Conrad Veidt]), 1919, set photograph from the film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The cabinet of Dr. Caligari), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

The series bounds headlong into Saturday with Faust, F. W. Murnau’s epic interpretation of the German folk legend, and The Complete Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s dystopian masterpiece that remains one of the most influential films of all time. This version incorporates twenty-five minutes of footage was presumed lost for eighty-five years.

There are three exhibitions closing this weekend, including Stitching Worlds: Mola Art of the Kuna (last day is Saturday), which displays several examples of molas, colorful Panamanian garments made and worn by the Kuna women of Panama.

San Blas, Kuna People, Felix the Cat, Panama, last quarter of 20th century

This weekend is also your last chance to see two contemporary photography exhibitions in BCAM before they close on Sunday: The Sun and Other Stars: Katy Grannan and Charlie White and Figure and Form in Contemporary Photography. The perfect send off for these exhibitions is a conversation with the artists themselves. Katy Grannan and Charlie White will be on hand on Saturday (2 pm) to discuss their work with Britt Salvesen, LACMA curator and department head of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department.

Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Los Angeles, 2008/printed 2009, courtesy of the artist; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco; Salon 94, New York

Another artist conversation takes place on Sunday in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, where Ohie Toshio will chat with visitors about the art of decorative bookbinding. Also on Sunday, Dr. Martin Polkinghorne, director of the University of Sydney Robert Christie Research Centre, discusses new research that offers new insight into the creation of the Gods of Angkor.

We have many, many exhibitions on view. Walter De Maria’s seminal The 2000 Sculpture is in the center of the Resnick Pavilion, right next to Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, which continues to garner rave reviews. While you’re on that side of campus, head over to BCAM to see iconic works by Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha and Michael Heizer’s Actual Size, which will be closing at the end of this month.

Ken Price, 100% Pure, fired and painted clay, collection of Frank and Berta Gehry, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Form, function, and beauty unite in Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection. With more than 130 pieces on view, Daily Pleasures highlights some of the finest pieces of French Faience and soft-paste porcelain on the West Coast.

Bring the kids to Andell Family Sundays, starting at 12:30 pm, to explore the art of glass and to create your own studio glass–inspired art. Finally, the weekend wraps up with a free Sundays Live concert featuring violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Eric Le Van.

Have a great weekend!

Jenny Miyasaki

Metropolis, Dr. Caligari, and the Aesthetics of Expressionist Cinema

October 11, 2012

The restoration of Fritz Lang’s seminal expressionist film Metropolis (1927) recently got some of some of us thinking: how might this spectacular film and the equally iconic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (directed by Robert Wiene, released in 1920) relate to LACMA’s collection? These films defined respectively the genres of science fiction and horror, later brought to perfection in Los Angeles—along with  film noir, which these films also influenced—but where did they come from?

Horst von Harbou, Untitled (robot Maria dancing in night club), 1926, film still from Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis, purchased with funds provided by the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation, Beverly Hills, CA

Working as a team of two curators (Britt Salvesen and myself), a curatorial fellow (Sienna Brown), and a curatorial assistant (Frauke Josenhans), we began combing through the thousands of works found together in the Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, Prints and Drawings Department and Photography Department and quickly found a myriad of connections as well as some surprises among works of art portraying madness, the experience of the city, the conditions of workers, attitudes toward women, and the role of orators in inciting social change, whether for good or evil. It was exciting for us to bring these objects together in the same room with projections of excerpts from these two great films in the exhibition Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: Caligari and Metropolis. (This weekend the films will screen in full in the Bing Theater, along with Paul Leni’s Waxworks and F. W. Murnau’s Faust.)

The Expressionists are known for exploring the “inner” mind, its complex feelings and psychological states. Yet they often conveyed this through setting and ambience. To do this they relied, in their paintings and graphics—as well as in the stage designs of the Expressionist theater—on the distortion of space and strong contrasts, whether in bold painted colors or starkly black-and-white graphics. This is what transforms a work like Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s The Murder (1914) into a scene of pure horror. Printed in blood red and black, this huge lithograph portrays a disturbingly claustrophobic room closing in on railroad engineer Jacques Lantier, who suffers from hereditary madness and has just killed his lover Séverine, in a scene from Émile Zola’s La Bête Humaine. Dropping the knife, he falls back in horror.

Dr. Caligari set designer Hermann Warm understood films in a similar way, as “drawings brought to life.” He worked with two painters, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig (who would also work on F. W. Murnau’s Faust, 1927), to craft a disorienting world of jagged forms, misshapen windows, tilting walls, and illogical shadows which were then lighted with extreme contrasts of light and shadow—in short, symbolic diagrams of psychological states through which actors move in entirely unconventional ways. All of this can be seen in amazing detail in several vintage Caligari set shots in our exhibition, in which the actors assume their roles in exaggerated poses. These photographs extend beyond the cropping of the actual film so you can actually see how the sets were built and painted.

Unknown German Artist, Untitled (The somnambulist Cesare [Conrad Veidt]), 1919, set photograph from the film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The cabinet of Dr. Caligari), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

In one of these images we see Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist Cesare in Dr. Caligari creeping along the wall, more like a dancer than conventional actor, his knife hidden from our view, intending to commit his next murder. This acting style comes right out of the Expressionist theater, which rejected verisimilitude and relied on exaggerated emotions and gestures that were more operatic than natural. Veidt, who also starred in Paul Leni’s 1924 Waxworks, was certainly indebted to the first and greatest expressionist stage actor, Ernst Deutsch, who was hugely successful in the first full-length Expressionist play, Walter Hasenclever’s The Son, as portrayed in a lithograph by Rochus Gleise, who would be Art Director for Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), Production Designer for Paul Wegener’s The Golem, and Assistant Director for Caligari. And here we have some of the talent that made film noir possible later on in Hollywood—Deutsch playing Baron Kurtz in The Third Man (1949)and Veidt playing Major Heinrich Strasser in Casablanca(1942).

Rochus Gliese, “Der Sohn” von Walter Hasenclever 1 (“The son” by Walter Hasenclever 1), 1918, from the portfolio Das junge Deutschland: Phantasien über Aufführungen des Jahrs 1917/18 (The Young Germany: Fantasies about shows of the years 1917–1918), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

It is perhaps film noir that comes to mind when we see the decadent nightlife portrayed in Metropolis (remembering that Fritz Lang would direct The Big Heat in 1953). In one scene, the screen fills with hands and then close-ups of dozens of eyes conveying the intense male gaze in a nightclub where the robot Maria dances as a femme fatale. We find a parallel in Otto Lange’s Vision, a color woodcut from around 1919, only here an overpowered female figure covers her face and crouches on a chair at the center of the composition, the intensely staring eyes being part of her own hallucinatory vision.

Otto Lange, Vision, probably after 1919, The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

But the most stunning aspect of Metropolis is its set designs by Erich Kettelhut, inspired by Lang’s first glimpse of New York City’s skyline, suggested in our exhibition in photographs by William Rittase and Karl Struss from the teens and twenties. The film presents two worlds: the workers’ oppressive underground realm of machines and tenements, and the futuristic paradise above of skyscrapers, parks, and sports arenas for the leisure classes. Two etchings from Franz Maria Jansen’s 1921 portfolio Industry capture a dehumanizing urban landscape of factories billowing smoke and cavernous rows of machines through which workers trudge mechanically, very much as they are portrayed returning from work in Metropolis.

Franz Maria Jansen, Untitled, 1921, from the portfolio Industrie (Industry), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

The bustling metropolis from the future portrayed in the film was certainly based in part on Berlin, one of the fastest-growing and most modern cities in Europe at the time. Fleeting impressions of buildings, advertising signs, elevated railways, traffic, and noise are all captured in Otto Möller’s Berlin Expression, a lithograph from around 1920. But perhaps the most inspiring icon for artists of the time was the cathedral, whether conveyed in crystalline light, as in Max Thalmann’s woodcut, or conflated with urban skyscrapers, as seen in New York’s Metropolitan Life Tower photographed by Karl Struss and in William Rittase’s So This is New York, or as a unifying symbol of the future, exemplified in Lyonel Feininger’s woodcut, Cathedral, accompanying Walter Gropius’ founding Bauhaus manifesto of 1919. All these symbols come together—crystalline light, soaring towers, elevated bridges, and an ominous vision of the future—in Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s stunning gold-hued poster for Metropolis. By this you will be convinced that the film is worth the price of admission!

William Rittase, So This is New York, c. 1927, Los Angeles County Fund

Timothy Benson, Curator, Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

The Controversial Act of Taking Pictures of Children

October 11, 2012

In July 1989, the American Family Association (AFA) issued a press release condemning NEA funding of so-called “pornographic” exhibitions, including the Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective, The Perfect Moment. After announcing Mapplethorpe’s recent death from AIDS-related causes and describing the homoerotic nature of much of his photography, the press release commented on that exhibition, “For pedophile homosexuals, there [is] a shot of a nude little boy, about eight, proudly displaying his penis.” The photograph in question was Jesse McBride which, along with a portrait by Mapplethorpe of a young girl staring into the camera with her genitals incidentally exposed, were central to the AFA’s and Senator Jesse Helms’s opposition to government funding of the arts.

Mapplethorpe’s photographs of children were, in the context of the ensuing Culture Wars, just as objectionable as his explicitly homosexual imagery. The AFA’s press release not only conflated homosexuality with pedophilia (a tenacious homophobic trope), it equated nudity with sexuality in Mapplethorpe’s portraits, which were in fact taken with the permission and in the presence of their parents. The sexualization of children in art is a deeply charged issue for people along the political spectrum and constitutes one of the art world’s last remaining taboos, as seen in the response to objects included in the Saatchi Sensation exhibition in the late 1990s and more recently the seizure of work by Bill Henson by government officials.

The anxiety associated with viewing images of naked children within the context of an art museum seems to clash with the fact that photographs of children, clothed or not, are some of the most ubiquitous in our social and familial lives. Any brief perusal of Facebook, Flickr, or an old-fashioned photo album reveals the naïve nudity of children to be common in our quotidian visual environment. Yet the public circulation of such images is under increasing regulation in Western societies: for example, many European countries ban the mass media from publishing images of celebrities’ children. Art historian Anne Higonnet, who has examined the history of depicting children in art and visual culture, argues that our active repression of images of child nudity has helped redefine childhood itself, putting a new emphasis on the purity and untouched innocence of youth, with consequences yet to be fully understood.

Claire Henze, Nico, hand on back, 1981, gift of the Estate of Claire Henze

This preoccupation with the appropriateness of photographing children is the subject of the current rotation Young, on display through December 2, comprised of works culled from LACMA’s extensive photographic collection. Children have been the subjects of photographic art since the origin of the medium, from Lewis Carroll and Julia Margaret Cameron to Jock Sturges, Jan Saudek, and Loretta Lux. A selection of twenty prints spanning nearly the entire history of photography, the installation illustrates how photographs of children can both preserve and erode the image of childhood as a moment of pristine innocence. The rotation asks the viewer what—if anything—is wrong with viewing children as the objects of visual interest and visual pleasure.

Lewis Carroll, “Xie” Kitchin with Bucket and Spade, circa 1873, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Loretta Lux, Study of a Boy 3, 2001, Ralph M. Parsons Fund

These questions have particular relevance to photography. While no one objects to the multitudes of naked putti in a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, photographs of nude children regularly stoke controversy—in part because they document interactions that actually took place between artist and subject, and moreover might evince an imbalanced or exploitative relationship. Concerns about this unevenness of power arise even when the person behind the camera is the parent of the child in front of it, as is the case with Sally Mann, or with the provocative series by Claire Henze (above), who photographed her children in various states of undress from infancy to young adulthood. Examples of work by both of those artists are on display in the show.

Today, our culture is pulling in opposing directions on this issue—both increasing the avenues for the sexualization of children and making vigilant attempts to limit the possibilities of sexual exploitation. At times, artists who seek to comment on this paradox find themselves caught within it. Charlie White, whose work is currently on display through Sunday in The Sun and Other Stars: Katie Grannan and Charlie White, focuses on society’s obsession with youth and beauty. As an adult male who frequently portrays adolescent girls, White has triggered some of the same questions as Mapplethorpe’s photographs of children, and he responds as follows: “Looking at young people is critical to a society’s understanding of itself, and the recording of generations of adolescents is perhaps one of the most viable means of doing this.” [from his essay “Minor Threat,” in Words without Pictures (LACMA), pp. 185-86] White’s interest in this subject is conceptual and self-aware—too intellectual an exercise to ever venture into the dubious territory that wary viewers might project upon it. His work reminds us that these young girls voluntarily (and with parental encouragement) enter into a system meant to exploit their physical appearance and attractiveness for mass consumption.

Charlie White, Portrait from Casting Call, 2010, purchased with funds from the Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © Charlie White

It seems that society has set a trap for photographers who represent the potential for eros among pre-pubescents. This is the cultural condition that Young interrogates. Without providing a definitive answer or satisfactory conclusion, the installation asks viewers: what is it about photographs of children, especially if they are exhibited as aesthetic objects in an art museum, that makes people uncomfortable? Can such images ever be as innocent as they seem?

Ryan Linkof, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department

Irrational Agencies: Expressionism, Animation, and Collage

October 10, 2012

Throughout October, LACMA’s Exhibition Film Series will span nearly a century of cinema and a surfeit of styles.

The bleak deliriums of German Expressionist cinema will be on full display as we screen a (quite) abridged selection of its baleful marvels: Robert Wiene’s scene setting, madly distorted The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari kicks off our four-film sampler followed by: Waxworks, Paul Leni’s treasure chest of horrors and hallucinations; Faust, F.W. Murnau’s lyrical Old World frieze; and Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s bustling futureworld panorama. Of course, German Expressionist cinema also offered other pleasures such as operatic medieval epics (Lang), downcast proto-noirs and melodramas (Pabst, May, Murnau, Lang), sumptuous comedies (Lubitsch), and razzle-dazzle adventures (nearly all of the above). Coursing with primal urges and set within awesome, artificial expanses, these films plumb the depths of the human soul while delighting the naked eye with an overabundance of visual intrigue.

Faust, 1926

Metropolis, 1927

From the thunderous tragedies, vertical sprawl, and raw-nerve performances of German Expressionism, LACMA will turn to works largely created in two dimensions. The three programs under the “Surreal Screen” banner explore the mechanics of the mind as registered through drawing and collage.

“Animating the Subconscious” will present cel animated cartoons from the studio system in the 1930s to the 1950s that explore imagination’s more outlandish perimeters: we’re not just talking about Dali’s posthumously completed Disney fantasia (Destino, which will be screened), but also the Fleischer Studios’ inky, musical black-and-white wonderlands starring Betty Boop and her sidekick Bimbo; Chuck Jones’s crazed and colorful eccentricities with Daffy Duck; and much more—all presented by animation historian Jerry Beck.

Lullaby Land, 1933

Moving out beyond the mainstream to the solitary experiments of moving image alchemists working with all manner of found materials to produce films that blend the innate dramaturgy of montage with the surrealists’ maelstrom of associations, “Collage in Motion” will offer works spanning nearly fifty-five years: Robert Breer’s random machine-gun blasts of refuse (Recreation, 1956), Stan Vanderbeek’s transfixing time-lapse exquisite corpse (See, Saw, Seems, 1959), Lawrence Jordan’s cosmic cutouts (Our Lady of the Sphere, 1968), Frank and Caroline Mouris’ wellspring of mass culture minutia (Frank Film, 1973), Martha Colburn’s dynamite pocket epics (Triumph of the Wild, 2000), Jodie Mack’s feast of optical patterns (Unsubscribe #1: Special Offer Inside, 2010), and more.

Recreation, 1956

Triumph of the Wild, 2000

After surveying artists across five decades and at least two continents, we’ll settle down with a filmmaker presently working in our own backyard: Lewis Klahr. Drawing from modernity’s discarded riches—comics, cutlery, snapshots, film soundtracks, telegraphs, advertisements, stationery—Klahr renders the liminal space between dream, memory, and vision. His protagonists—many scissored from the rainbow colored, Ben-Day-dotted pages of comic books—become imbued with psychodramas, desires, and fates that transcend their one-dimensional origins. Klahr transforms the screen into a composite paradise of analog splendors. His films are made by hand and more or less works in miniature, but these artisanal roots hardly prepare the viewer for the films’ retinal pleasures and sensorial resonances. We’ll present the Los Angeles premiere of his feature debut, The Pettifogger, a crime film sui generis that warrants a new genre designation (ephemera noir?). On top of that, we’ll delve into Klahr’s abundant back catalog to revisit some of his prior excursions through the society of the spectacle’s eternal ruins. A vast selection of Klahr’s work will also be available for viewing on the Stark Bar monitors starting this month.

Prolix Satori, 2012

Prolix Satori, 2012

Bernardo Rondeau, Assistant Curator, Film Programs

The Fusion of Beauty and Function: 17th and 18th Century French Ceramics

October 8, 2012

Although it can be vigorously debated at what point an object transcends a mere utilitarian purpose to achieve recognition as a work of art, decorative arts—aesthetically appealing pieces capable of bringing significant pleasure to daily activities—can successfully satisfy both criteria. Myriad vessels and wares serve practical needs, yet a dinner service displaying a coat of arms also proudly conveys a family’s heritage, a chinoiserie cup and saucer can transport the imagination of the imbiber to foreign ports teeming with exotic goods, and a mustard pot decorated with a cadre of frolicking monkeys can delight diners. The ideal fusion of the useful and the beautiful that is found in French faïence, soft- and hard-paste porcelain, is the essence of what inspired MaryLou Boone to assemble her outstanding collection of more than 130 pieces, now on view in the exhibition Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection, which opened this weekend. The selection of pieces in the collection attests to MaryLou’s discriminating, sophisticated eye, but what she values most about them is the simple fact that people used and enjoyed these ceramics on a daily basis.

Caster, Plate Mustard Pot and Ewer; 1700–1730, Rouen, France, earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (grand feu faïence)

This exhibition and accompanying catalogue not only bring together years of MaryLou Boone’s discerning acquisitions but also recognize a substantial gift to the two institutions that Mrs. Boone and her late husband, Dr. George Boone, have generously supported and passionately championed: LACMA and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The Boones established a longstanding relationship at LACMA, where Dr. Boone served as a life trustee and the couple endowed the popular Boone Children’s Gallery. Similarly, the Boones have been benefactors of the Huntington for decades and are the namesakes of its special exhibitions gallery. There, MaryLou served as a trustee (now a trustee emeritus) and assiduously promoted the museum’s collection of French art as one of the institution’s true strengths. In 2010, MaryLou gave approximately twenty-five pieces from her collection to each museum, significantly enhancing their holdings and bringing new life to their permanent collection galleries. The gifts feature outstanding works ranging from the 1640s through the 1860s, made by the foremost manufacturers of French faïence and soft-paste porcelain, which were successive attempts to mimic hard-paste porcelain imported into Europe from Asia.

Cup and Saucer, and Sugar Box, c. 1746–1748, Vincennes Porcelain Manufactory, France, 1740–1756, soft-paste porcelain with glaze and enamel

Earthenware with an opaque tin glaze was introduced to France in the mid-sixteenth century from Italy, where it had been made for several centuries. Called maiolica there, it became known as faïence in France, as the Italian city Faenza was a center for maiolica production. The French had already embraced the imported Italian wares, so when Italian émigré ceramists bearing the secrets of tin-glazed earthenware production journeyed up the Rhône valley and settled in France, native manufactories flourished. Mrs. Boone’s collection of faïence contains both grand feu (high fire) faïence and petit feu (low fire) faïence. Named for the high temperatures at which it is fired, grand feu faïence allowed ceramists a viable means for creating detailed decoration, but the high firing temperatures limited the color palette to blue, green, yellow, purple and iron red, since other hues could not withstand the heat. Introduced in France in the mid eighteenth century, petit feu faïence featured a much broader color palette by employing a second firing at a lower temperature. This technique preserved the vividness of the more instable hues and enabled both translucent and opaque colors to be produced, which included a much wider range of pinks, greens, blues and violets

Oval Dish, c. 1770, Joseph-Gaspard Robert Manufactory, Marseilles, France, c. 1750–1800, earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (petit feu faïence)

Endeavoring to uncover a successful technique for producing hard-paste porcelain, French ceramic manufactories experimented with different ways to achieve the translucency and strength of Asian wares. As they had not yet discovered kaolin clay, the vital ingredient for hard-paste porcelain, they used ingredients such as ground glass and fine clay which necessitated a lower firing temperature. This type of porcelain is less resilient than hard-paste, and is known as soft-paste porcelain, or pâte tendre. The Boone Collection includes significant works from the most important French soft-paste porcelain manufactories, including Saint-Cloud, Chantilly, Mennecy, Sceaux, and Vincennes, which later became Sèvres, producers of the first French hard-paste porcelain, examples of which are also represented in the collection. These burgeoning technological breakthroughs allowed for the production of a diverse array of forms, decorations, and color palettes, all of which were put to use in daily context.

Saltcellar, Hors d’Oeuvres Dish, Pepper Box and Trembleuse Cup and Saucer; c. 1700–1750, Saint-Cloud Manufactory, France, c. 1693–1766, soft-paste porcelain with underglaze blue and glaze

Dining wares, drinking vessels, and serving pieces accommodated expanding menus created from a variety of new foods, prepared in novel ways. Faïence and porcelain were also the media called upon by pharmacists and caregivers in which to prepare and administer mixtures that comforted in times of sickness, and by fashionable men and women in which to store the many powders and toiletries necessary for a stylish appearance. The air was perfumed by fragrant floral blends emanating from ceramic potpourris, the ritual of taking snuff featured fanciful boxes dramatically drawn from one’s pocket, and the routine tasks of penning letters or drafting documents were made pleasurable through cleverly conceived writing sets. After the 1768 discovery of kaolin, the French were able to produce hard-paste porcelain, and faïence and soft-paste porcelain gradually declined. Even so, faïence and soft-paste porcelain ultimately became distinctive and sought-after ceramics in their own right. Inextricably intertwined with everyday human duties and diversions, these objects continue to bring pleasure to daily life.

Elizabeth Williams, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design


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