This Week at LACMA

December 24, 2012

If your family is in town, if you have a couple of extra days off work, or if you are just looking for something great to do this week, LACMA is a perfect place to visit. Note that the museum is closed on Christmas day and on Wednesdays.

Our galleries are full this month—currently there are eleven special exhibitions on view. Closing January 6 are two acclaimed shows—Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective and Drawing Surrealism.

Installation view, “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Also on view are blockbuster exhibitions Stanley Kubrick and Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy. Reserve your tickets in advance online or by calling 323 857-6010. Both Ken Price and Caravaggio and His Legacy made Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight’s list of the top exhibitions of the year in Southern California.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, c. 1595, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, photo © 2012 Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy, c. 1595, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund, photo © 2012 Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

LACMA’s NexGen program offers free general admission for anyone 17 and under as well as one accompanying adult. NexGen members also receive one ticket to Stanley Kubrick and Caravaggio and His Legacy. There’s a lot for families to do at LACMA every day. The Boone Children’s Gallery gives adults and kids alike the chance to learn about and experience brush painting and art from China and Korea. Every Monday and Friday at 2 pm, families can join educators in the Korean galleries for Story Time.

Boone Children's Gallery

Boone Children’s Gallery

Enjoy the final days of 2012!

Alex Capriotti


This Weekend at LACMA: New American Art Galleries, Balinese Paintings, Last Minute Shopping, and More

December 21, 2012

The Christmas holidays are imminent, which means one of four things: 1) you are frantically trying to buy last-minute gifts; 2) far-flung family members have descended on your household; 3) you don’t celebrate Christmas and you are looking for something else to do; 4) you are on a plane, train, or automobile, high-tailing it out of L.A. In every case, LACMA has something for you. Let’s take it step by step.

For the last-minute gift-buyer, look no further than the LACMA Store and Art Catalogues: new and out-of-print art books (including signed copies), Robert Mapplethorpe-inspired plates and ceramics, exclusive clothing and accessories designed especially for LACMA by Johnson Hartig of Libertine and Gregory Parkinson, a car from Metropolis II designed by Chris Burden, plus kids’ stuff, posters , and much more. Members save 10% on all purchases!

Johnson Hartig for Libertine, Arthur Atherly Tote

Johnson Hartig for Libertine, Arthur Atherly Tote

For those of you with family in town or are otherwise looking for something to do with your free time, there is plenty to see right now. Opening this weekend is Compass for Surveyors: Nineteenth-Century American Landscapes from LACMA’s Painting and Photography Collections, a dramatic reinstallation of our permanent galleries for American art.

Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55, gift of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary

Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55, gift of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary

Also opening this weekend is The Temptation of Arjuna: A Tale of Spiritual Triumph, on view in the South and Southeast Asian galleries on the top floor of the Ahmanson Building. The exhibition highlights the recent acquisition of a rare Balinese painting depicting an episode from the eleventh-century epic poem Arjuna-Wiwaha. Along with this new installation, these galleries are rich with great exhibitions: be sure to check out Unveiling Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography; an installation of Tibetan thangkas (religious scroll paintings); Tibetan silver; and the experimental films of Alia Syed.

The Temptation of Arjuna: A Tale of Spiritual Triumph (detail), Indonesia, Bali, possibly Kamasan, early 20th

The Temptation of Arjuna: A Tale of Spiritual Triumph (detail), Indonesia, Bali, possibly Kamasan, early 20th Century, purchased with funds provided by the Southern Asian Art Council Fund, the Ethnic Art Council, Paula Fouce, Linda Jayne in memory of Allen Jayne, Mark Johnson in memory of Jo Jean Johnson, Arline Lloyd in memory of David Lloyd, Lisa Gimmy, and the South and Southeast Asian Art Deaccession Fund

In addition to those new shows, Caravaggio and His Legacy and Stanley Kubrick continue to attract crowds and lots of rave reviews. Both are ticketed exhibitions, so make sure to reserve your tickets in advance. (Members get two free tickets to each show!)

Hendrick ter Brugghen, The Gamblers, 1623, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesoate, the William Hood Dunwoody Fund, photo © Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Hendrick ter Brugghen, The Gamblers, 1623, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesoate, the William Hood Dunwoody Fund, photo © Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Even more is on view, including a few shows in their final weeks—Ken Price Sculpture and Drawing Surrealism close on January 6 while Ed Ruscha: Standard and The Prints of John McLaughlin close January 21. And there’s still more! Check out our list of exhibitions to find the right shows for you.

Oh, and if you fall into that fourth category of folks who aren’t in L.A. for the holidays? We’ve still got something for you: download the free Stanley Kubrick app for your iPhone or iPad to hear an interview with Kubrick himself, plus video interviews with many of his collaborators.

Stanley Kubrick App for iPhone/iPad

Stanley Kubrick App for iPhone/iPad

Happy holidays from LACMA!

Scott Tennent


The Mysterious Maya, Not So Mysterious

December 20, 2012

As the Mayanist-in-residence here at the museum, I was asked to write up a few thoughts on the dreaded date, December 21, 2012.  The Maya are very much en vogue these days as media outlets across the country play out doomsday scenarios “as predicted by the ancient Maya.” Apparently, according to a recent New York Times article, Russians are frantically stock-piling dry goods and duct tape as well as sculpting Maya pyramids out of ice. As the local expert with my finger on the pulse of Maya scholarship, I can reassure you that scholars around the world agree: the sun will rise on December 22, 2012—which is good, because The Ancient Maya World has only been on view for a couple of weeks so far. But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am neither an epigrapher nor a calendrical expert (nor very good at math); therefore, for a much more detailed explanation of the complexities of Maya time-keeping, I refer you to Dr. David Stuart’s blog.

Mayanists suddenly find themselves in a rare historical moment as a sought-after commodity. A colleague and I even considered setting up a 1-800 number to address public fears: 1-800-baktuns at your service! Press 1 for why the world will not end. But as I field questions regarding the supposed apocalypse and the precision of the Maya calendar, I find myself asking why, forty years after the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing, which gave voice to an ancient people, do we persist in our fascination with the “mysterious Maya?” Frederick Catherwood’s nineteenth-century watercolors of ruins swallowed by a tangle of jungle vines and palm trees gave rise to this conceit of a mysterious people lost to history.

 Frederick Catherwood, the main temple at Tulum, from “Views of Ancient Monuments,”  1844, via Wikipedia Commons

Frederick Catherwood, the main temple at Tulum, from “Views of Ancient Monuments,” 1844, via Wikipedia Commons

Hollywood continues to popularize this image. Films such as the 1963 Kings of the Sun, starring a young Yul Brynner as an upcoming Maya king, the 2006 Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain about the Maya Tree of Life and its life-saving properties, and the apocalyptic 2012, all employ Maya culture as a trope, a signifier for the exotic and the mystical Other. Since the 1960s, scholars have deciphered thousands of inscriptions decorating the facades of buildings, stone sculptures, painted vessels, and even personal items of jewelry (these last ones belong to what we might refer to as the “summer camp literary genre,”e.g., I belong to K’inich Yax K’uk Mo. If lost, please return to Copan).

Vessel with Supernatural Profile, Belize, Uxbenka region, Maya, AD 650-900, purchased with funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost

Vessel with Supernatural Profile, Belize, Uxbenka region, Maya, AD 650-900, purchased with funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost

Detail of the inscription, which reads "Here is the dedication of that which is written on the vessell for maize-tree chocolate belonging to Tut K'in Chahk, youth, B'uk lord, five lands, five lands, three years."

Detail of the inscription, which reads “Here is the dedication of that which is written on the vessel for maize-tree chocolate belonging to Tut K’in Chahk, youth, B’uk lord, five lands, five lands, three years.”

These texts enable us to dispel the mysterious mists and fill in the outlines of the ancient Maya world: we have compiled extensive political histories for city-states across the region; we understand who married whom and why; and even what people ate, drank, and consumed recreationally. But still the television outlets ask, “Who built the pyramids?” Well, the Maya did. With stone and forced labor. Another frequently asked question concerns the fate of the Maya, “Where did they go?” The ancient Maya, originators of the complex calendars and misty cities, thrived from 200 to 900 CE across an area corresponding to the present-day countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. In approximately 900, drought, deforestation, and vicious in-fighting among rival states contributed to a devastating societal collapse that forced the ancient Maya to abandon their urban centers and regroup in the hinterlands. However, Maya culture did not disappear. The modern Maya continue to inhabit the region; over thirty different Maya languages are spoken today. In fact, a number of Yucatec Maya have migrated to northern California and you can sometimes catch the tonal syncopations of Yucatec Maya in Bay Area kitchens.

The Maya captivated my imagination the first time I climbed Tikal Temple V, and I have spent more years than I’d like to admit studying their writings and their painted narratives in order to reconstruct the details of this vibrant, ancient culture whose poetry and time-keeping rival Homer and Archimedes. On December 21, pull back the curtain and see the Maya for who they were and who they continue to be.

Victoria Lyall, Associate Curator, Art of the Ancient Americas


The Wonders of Zizi and Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective

December 19, 2012

Shamefully, I must confess that I hadn’t known about Ken Price or his work except upon entering the Ahmanson Building one day and finding, to my surprise and utter delight, Zizi. I had never seen a sculpture quite like it.  It seemed utterly unique and was both large and small at the same time, as its curvaceous forms reached up and settled but also somehow stayed in motion. Its color seemed to emerge from the sea itself.

Ken Price, Zizi, 2011, purchased with funds provided by the Modern and Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Matthew Marks, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsen

Ken Price, Zizi, 2011, purchased with funds provided by the Modern and Contemporary Art Acquisition Fund and gift of Matthew Marks, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsen

The pleasure of discovery was rewarding, and the disgust of not having known of such a talent was appeased by the opening of the simply marvelous retrospective Ken Price’s Sculpture: A Retrospective, organized by senior curator and department head of modern art, Stephanie Barron, and designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry.

Having spent the spring in London in the presence of Henry Moore’s Large Forms at the Gagosian Gallery, with their weighty shadow of World War II somehow invested into the lugubrious patina of dark beauties of caramel bronze or copper alloy green, it was a shock to come upon a form, not totally at odds with Moore but ever so different. Zizi was a revelation. To quote Robert Irwin, “The art is what has happened to the viewer.”

Installation view, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Ken Price’s worldview that I sense in this one piece seems to stem from unrelenting optimism, or maybe it was his Ferus generation of artists, or his joy in the sheer tactile touch of his chosen material—clay—and treating that material as if it held secrets. He was, it seems to me, remaking the world in some primal matter, or at least reconsidering its possibilities. From Moore’s black-and-white era to Price’s bright Technicolor modernism, the world is positioned within a different future/present—a wisdom that’s a lot like jazz, improvisational and unexpected.

The exhibition starts at the end, for want of a better phrase. His last forms, like the top of a mountain, become our adventure.  And in that sense it goes backward through art history itself—abstraction and freedom through a portal of discovery.  We observe each extraordinary piece as moments of beauty and investigation. Some are as if they fell from a great height and were petrified and colored by the gods, while others seem to have oozed from a molten underworld.

Installation view, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

Installation view, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, September 16, 2012–January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © 2012 Fredrik Nilsen

But in truth, in Ken Price’s hands they are as the very nature of the clay itself: open to infinite states of being. You see the work blossom like flowers in ecstatic profusion of some bright eternal spring.  With years of refining the colorations toward perfection, a palette so varied that I choose not to name and that we only sense as somehow inevitably perfect.  And yet it’s playful! But not without mystery.

He’s certainly having fun as the shapes and the colors zing and zap their flashy forms as moments of surprise. Price seems to be prepared to make us puzzle over the outside and be amused by the geometry on the inside, and yet in the black orifices there could be a sinister eye or a mouth or some mysterious window. Color, like some devious insect—a decoy?

Ken Price, L. Red, 1963, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund Purchase; 82.155, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsen

Ken Price, L. Red, 1963, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund Purchase; 82.155, © 2012 Ken Price, photo © Fredrik Nilsen

As we walk backward through the history of his clay, we enter architectural, hard-edged pieces, smaller in scale but no less dreamy in their otherness, in the cleverest sense. And then we are presented the eggs, whimsically colored, always cracked and revealing stranger forms inside oblique orifices, ruptures, and gashes, where their beauty resides in attraction and repulsion. Only in the giant bronze pieces, Ordell and Yogi, is Ken Price’s humor overwhelmed by the surrender to the grandeur and seduction of form itself. Restless, he seems to be on another journey.

And finally we find ourselves in Taos, New Mexico, with cups, bowls, plates, and other curios. And yet on close examination what we really sense is an artist lovingly honing exquisite skills with the quirky realism that so beautifully characterizes his later and larger works. So clearly, he never lessens his joyous palette or the ironic fun that the clay offers at each slippery touch and at every vague impression foretelling at each moment its own future.

Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective is on view through January 6, when it will close and head to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, followed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Hylan Booker


L.A. Artist Sandow Birk on Caravaggio’s Lasting Legacy

December 17, 2012

An overarching premise of the exhibition Bodies and Shadow: Caravaggio and His Legacy is the artist’s legacy as it echoed across decades and even centuries of European painting. But an artist working in Long Beach right now has a surprisingly direct connection to the 16th century master.

Sandow Birk is candid in recalling that when he first encountered Caravaggio’s work as a student studying abroad, he was just a kid from L.A. who knew little about the art of painting. Struck by the dramatic poses, strong lighting and emotional impact that he saw in Caravaggio, Birk knew that he wanted to paint like that. Just as Caravaggio often took his models from the streets of Rome, Birk painted what he saw around him–street scenes of 1990s Los Angeles, populated by kids in hooded sweatshirts in urban landscapes marked by street graffiti. He arranged the figures in compositions directly traceable to Caravaggio.

We interviewed Birk in his Long Beach studio recently. Excerpts from that video are part of the multimedia tour of the exhibition, available to rent on site. The tour covers more than two dozen highlights of the exhibition, including not only work by Caravaggio, but also one of Birk’s other favorites, the Magdalen with the Smoking Flame by Georges de la Tour, from LACMA’s collection. Birk’s love of painting is palpable in the video, as is his process of learning through close observation of the work of Caravaggio and other artists in this exhibition.

Amy Heibel


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