Expressionist Films and the German Trauma

December 10, 2012

When I look at the harsh dark shadows, the distorted angles, and the magnified expressions on people’s faces in the exhibition Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: Caligari and Metropolis, I feel at home. What might be disturbing to other viewers seems to be ingrained as a nostalgic memory in me, as part of the German collective subconscious.

Franz Maria Jansen, Untitled, 1921, from the portfolio Industrie 1920 (Industry 1920), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

Franz Maria Jansen, Untitled, 1921, from the portfolio Industrie 1920 (Industry 1920), The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

At the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the role of man (and woman) changed radically with industrialization. Life became more self-determined, structuring powers like the church and the monarchy were gone. But with self-determination came not only freedom but also fear. Accomplishments of modern life were celebrated: electricity, speed, machines, automobiles, and weapons—but at the same time there was fear, which was exponentiated by the outbreak of World War I. The lost war left Germans traumatized. While psychological trauma stayed mostly hidden, the ruins and crippled war veterans were out in the streets for anyone to see.

German boxing legend Max Schmeling and other athletes in “Der Querschnitt” (Zeitgeist magazine published by art gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim, LACMA Rifkind archive)

German boxing legend Max Schmeling and other athletes in “Der Querschnitt” (Zeitgeist magazine published by art gallery owner Alfred Flechtheim, LACMA Rifkind archive)

Artistic response to the trauma was split between focusing on the body versus mind; on glorification versus accounts on fear. One artistic stream was to glorify the strength of the wholesome athletic body, the exact opposite to the crippled war veterans in the streets. The idea of the man-machine, made popular by industrialization, was fortified. Artists and intellectuals of the Weimar Republic became fascinated with sports in general, and with boxing in particular—a metaphor for life-or-death struggle. Playwright Berthold Brecht and painter George Grosz paid court to German boxing legend Max Schmeling. Later, under Nazi rule, the idolized athletic body transformed into the soldier’s body. What stood for trauma healing between the wars turned into aggression and new destruction in World War II.

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

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

Another artistic stream centered on the psychological trauma and the unconsciousness. Madness, insanity, and betrayal are topics expressionist films and art explore. The disenfranchised and the troubled souls are portrayed, their fears and pains screaming out loud. Ordinary people lead lives devoid of meaning and damaged by modernity. Their inner worlds are made visible by non-realistic, geometrically absurd cityscapes, by bold contrast of light and shadow, by expressive make-up and acting.

In the films Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari a man-machine (the robot in Metropolis and Cesare in Dr. Caligari), programmed by a self-delusional man of power, brings torment and death to the enslaved and the vulnerable. Put on a pedestal at first, the man-machine is ultimately subdued. Both films reflect the trauma of World War I and may be read as foreshadowing what was to come. Expressionist art was later denounced as degenerate by the National Socialist Party.

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

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

Fritz Lang as well as many other German artists fled to the U.S. And the expressionist “baggage” they brought influenced American gangster and horror films. Highly stylized set decoration and exaggerated and dramatic lighting are some techniques employed by Orson Wells and Hitchcock to make emotional worlds visible—fear, horror, and pain.

Unknown German Artist, Untitled (Cesare [Conrad Veidt] Carrying Jane [Lil Dagover] across Rooftops), 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

Unknown German Artist, Untitled (Cesare [Conrad Veidt] Carrying Jane [Lil Dagover] across Rooftops), 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

Tim Burton, Untitled (Edward Scissorhands), 1990, private collection, Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox, © 2011 Tim Burton

Tim Burton, Untitled (Edward Scissorhands), 1990, private collection, Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox, © 2011 Tim Burton

Some of my favorite more recent movie examples are Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which borrows from Metropolis’s expressive set design with its modern and monumental buildings in a city where the wealthy literally live above the workers. A similar design concept distinguishes Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games. And in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, Edward, just like Cesare in Dr. Caligari, is an outsider with a strange condition. He’s not a villain, though look at Edward’s make-up and wardrobe. Look at his distorted Gothic castle high up on the hill within the darkest of shadows. Dr. Caligari could just as well be living there.

Alexa Schulz, Multimedia Producer


This Weekend at LACMA: Final Weeks Ken Price & Surrealism, Holiday Shopping, Foodprint L.A., More

December 8, 2012

This weekend at LACMA is filled with art, art, and more art. We have a record number of exhibitions on view at this moment—many of which have earned rave reviews from critics and visitors alike. Plus, LACMA is continuing its Stanley Kubrick film retrospective tonight and hosting Foodprint L.A. this Sunday.

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

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

Two major exhibitions are in their final weeks at LACMA before they travel to other museums around the country. Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective closes on January 6 and then heads to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas before continuing on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Looking for a holiday gift for the art lover in your family? The New York Times named the Ken Price Sculpture catalogue one of the best art books of the year, plus, we put together a handy LACMA holiday gift guide.)

Stephanie Barron, Ken Price Sculpture curator and department head of modern art, will be participating in the Glass House Conversations starting this Sunday at 5 pm. In an online public forum, she’ll be discussing the intersection of architecture and sculpture, including the work of Ken Price.

Jindrich Styrsky, Stehyovaci cabinet, 1934, collection of Annie Le Brun, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Jindrich Styrsky, Stehyovaci cabinet, 1934, collection of Annie Le Brun, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Also closing January 6 is Drawing Surrealism, a massive show that traces the use and influence of drawing in the surrealist movement. The exhibition features 250 works by artists from all over the world, including heavyweights such as Salvador Dali, Frida Kahlo, and Joan Miro and lesser-known artists. (The Drawing Surrealism catalogue was also named a best book for art lovers by the NYT.)

Steve, McQueen,Static (still), 2009, 35mm film transferred to HD video,gift of Steve Tisch, © 2012 Steve McQueen

Steve, McQueen,Static (still), 2009, 35mm film transferred to HD video,gift of Steve Tisch, © 2012 Steve McQueen

The rest of the lineup is just as spectacular. Reserve your tickets in advance for Stanley Kubrick and Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy, both of which are seeing long lines on the weekends in particular. We’ve got everything something on view for all tastes right now: Lost Line: Contemporary Art from the Collection, Ed Ruscha: Standard, Michael Heizer: Actual Size, Walter De Maria: The 2000 Sculpture, Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection, Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, and Masterpieces of Expressionist Cinema: Caligari and Metropolis. And this is to say nothing of the installations throughout the museum, including a brand new exhibition of ancient Maya ceramics on the fourth floor of the Art of the Americas Building.

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

Reminder: Members get free tickets to both Stanley Kubrick and Caravaggio and His Legacy, AND they get free general admission all year-round, among many other great benefits. Not a member? Join. Know someone who isn’t but should be? LACMA membership makes a perfect holiday gift, plus it comes with the chic yet utilitarian tote from BAGGU.

BAGGU_Biggers

Both films in our Stanley Kubrick film retrospective this weekend, A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon,are sold out. However, there will be a standby line to which any available tickets will be released on a first-come, first-served basis.

Lastly, cap off your weekend with the fourth in a series of international conversations about food and the city. At 12:30 pm on Sunday LACMA is hosting Foodprint L.A., which will explore the forces that have shaped the Angeleno foodscape—from taco trucks to the world’s largest Frito factory and the eviction of South Central Farm—and speculate on how to feed Los Angeles in the future. The event is free.

Stick around for LACMA’s free Sundays Live concert featuring the UCLA Camarades, and as usual there will be free tours throughout today and Sunday for visitors to explore LACMA’s collection.

Have a great weekend, and we’ll see you here!

Jenny Miyasaki


French Connection: Chinese Ceramics and the Boone Collection

December 6, 2012

When I recently visited the exhibition Daily Pleasures, I was delighted to see a resonance between the French ceramics and several Chinese porcelains in LACMA’s permanent collection. It is perhaps not a surprise that porcelain is sometimes informally referred to as “china” or “fine china,” as it was from China that the technique of porcelain making was first introduced to Europe. Many of the exquisitely executed French ceramics included in the exhibition take inspiration from exported Chinese pieces in two aspects—technique and design.

Pair of Turkish Figures, Mennecy, France, 1750-1777, gift of MaryLou and George Boone in honor of the museum's twenty-fifth anniversary, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Pair of Turkish Figures, Mennecy, France, 1750-1777, gift of MaryLou and George Boone in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Several figurative soft-paste ceramics have a monochromic white glaze, an imitation of a type of Chinese porcelain known in the West as blanc de chine (“white from china”). This type is called dehua in Chinese, named after the kiln sites in Fujian province in South China. Dehua ware is known for its pure and even white glaze, often with a warm ivory or milky tone. Most of ceramics production in China was devoted to vessels and utensils, but dehua ware is also praised by connoisseurs for sculptural, especially figurative, presentations. A small figure of the Buddhist deity Guanyin (Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) in LACMA’s collection exemplifies the quality of dehua ware production, with its iridescent white glaze and silky smooth surface.

Avalokitésvara (Guanyin), the Bodhisattva of Mercy, China, Fujian Province, Dehua Countyearly Qing dynasty, about 1644-1700, sculpture, porcelain; Dehua ware,m olded and modeled porcelain with incised decoration and cream glaze, gift of Carl Holmes, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Guanyin is a deity of compassion in Buddhism, and this small sculpture idealizes her with a round face, almond-shaped eyes, and elongated ears. The French figures, in contrast, show a great degree of sensibility to realism, emphasizing an individual’s hair and costume. Despite their differences in style, both Chinese and French examples show a pursuit of purity and perfection.

Blue-and-white porcelain (qinghua) first appeared in China during the Tang dynasty (618-907), but did not reach maturity until the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) when cobalt, the mineral for firing the color blue, became widely available through trade with Iran. Blue-and-white porcelain, such as cups, plates, jars, and vases, were exported to Portugal and the Netherlands, and were often depicted as luxury goods in paintings. The Meisen factory in Germany first started to imitate Chinese blue-and-white ceramics, followed by French and English factories.

Nicola van Houbraken, Still Life with Bottles and Oysters, circa 1700, gift of Mr. David M. Koetser, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

The center motif of a blue-and-white charger made in Nevers, France, shows a typical European outdoor scene, but its rim features Chinese-style birds, flowers, and foliage, comparable to a fourteenth-century Chinese plate at LACMA.

Charger, Nevers, France, c. 1660-1680, Earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (grand feau faïence), The MaryLou Boone Collection

Charger, Nevers, France, c. 1660-1680, Earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (grand feau faïence), The MaryLou Boone Collection

At the center of the Chinese dish are “eight treasures” in highly stylized forms. Eight treasures—originally Buddhist ritual objects—often appear on utilitarian objects such as dishes, costumes, and furniture for decorative and auspicious meanings.

Foliated Platter (Pan) with the Eight Buddhist Symbols (Bajixiang), Flowers, and Waves, China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, late Yuan dynasty, circa 1340-1368, ceramic, porcelain, molded porcelain with blue painted decoration under clear glaze, gift of the Francis E. Fowler, Jr., Foundation and the Los Angeles County Fund, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Foliated Platter (Pan) with the Eight Buddhist Symbols (Bajixiang), Flowers, and Waves, China, Jiangxi Province, Jingdezhen, late Yuan dynasty, circa 1340-1368, ceramic, porcelain, molded porcelain with blue painted decoration under clear glaze, gift of the Francis E. Fowler, Jr., Foundation and the Los Angeles County Fund, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

There is no doubt the makers of a French banette in the exhibition had direct access to such examples from China, and adopted their colorful decorative motifs of bronze vessel, incense burner, scroll holder, book, and musical instrument into the tray’s design.

Tray with Handles (Banette), Rouen, France, mid-18th c., grand feau faïence, The Huntington Art Collections, gift of MaryLou Boone, photo © 2012 Susan Einstein

Tray with Handles (Banette), Rouen, France, mid-18th c., grand feau faïence, The Huntington Art Collections, gift of MaryLou Boone, photo © 2012 Susan Einstein

In comparison to the banette, decorations on some other dishes are more imaginary and fanciful, exemplifying the chinoiserie aesthetics that fascinated Europe since the seventeenth century. Figures are depicted as dressed in long and fanciful robes, sit in imagined oriental landscapes, and are involved with what were thought of as unique Chinese activities, such as fishing by a river stream, smoking opium, and contemplating in a garden. On a plate produced in Varages, France, a standing figure is playing with a bird, while his friend is holding what is possibly a musical instrument.

Plate, Varages, France, c. 1780, Earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (grand feau faïence), The MaryLou Boone Collection

Plate, Varages, France, c. 1780, Earthenware with tin glaze and enamel (grand feau faïence), The MaryLou Boone Collection

Set in a landscape of fantastic rocks and exaggerated vegetation, the scene perhaps refers to gatherings of scholars in gardens, a popular motif in China, just as seen on a fourteenth-century red lacquer tray.

Oval Tray (Duoyuan Pan) with Pavilion on a Garden Terrace, China, Yuan dynasty, 1279-1368, lacquerware, carved red lacquer on wood, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Nessley, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Oval Tray (Duoyuan Pan) with Pavilion on a Garden Terrace, China, Yuan dynasty, 1279-1368, lacquerware, carved red lacquer on wood, gift of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Nessley, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Imitation and fascination with China in the West continued well into the twentieth century, and is by no means limited to the production of ceramics and other daily objects. In L.A., one of the best examples is no doubt the whimsical Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

Christina Yu Yu, Assistant Curator, Chinese and Korean Art


Holiday Shopping at LACMA

December 4, 2012

This holiday season, shop LACMA for unique gifts for your family, friends, and yourself! Shop the recently remodeled store onsite or online for gifts that reflect the museum including a thoughtfully curated selection of books, jewelry, one-of-a-kind Los Angeles-based designs, and items inspired by works in LACMA’s collection and exhibitions. LACMA members receive 10 percent off all products.

With the wide array of exhibitions that have been on view this year, the shop features a large selection of exhibition-related products. A great gift for anyone is a beautiful exhibition catalogue. Choose from a variety of options including California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way, Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy, Drawing Surrealism, In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, and many more.

catalogue

In conjunction with the exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, the shop offers a variety of products including candles and note cards featuring his delicate flower still life photographs.

mapple

Browse more exhibition-related products! Our online shop has special sections for California Design, Caravaggio and His Legacy, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Ken Price Sculpture.

The person who has everything does not yet have this limited edition multiple of one of Chris Burden’s cars from Metropolis II. The cars were made by Burden and produced by LACMA. Each car includes a stand composed from the same materials used in Metropolis II and is signed and numbered by the artist.

Burden_Custom_Car_Box.6_large

Tiles have been used in Southern California architecture since the mission days. Browse a wide selection of both old-school and modern tiles in a variety of price ranges.

tiles

The perfect gift for the culturally-inclined is a LACMA gift membership. Memberships can be used throughout the year to get free admission to LACMA, free tickets to this year’s specially ticketed exhibitions Stanley Kubrick and Caravaggio and His Legacy, discounts on programs, and more. Each gift membership comes with a very special LACMA tote from BAGGU.

BAGGU_Biggers

The LACMA Store is also a great place to look for stocking stuffers for adults and kids alike. Some of our favorites include Baldessari magnetic poetry, journals, fun drawing tools, note cards, and more.

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Make sure to check out our Art Catalogues shop, which features great current and out-of-print catalogues and books on contemporary art. You can view a selection in the online shop or spend time browsing the shelves onsite.

Happy shopping!

Alex Capriotti


Robert Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio and Los Angeles, 1978

December 3, 2012

Robert Mapplethorpe is indelibly a New York artist. His life and career are redolent of the history of New York City at a crucial moment in its art and cultural history—a context so eloquently drawn in Patti Smith’s 2010 bestseller Just Kids.  Yet here we are in Los Angeles, a city that Mapplethorpe avowedly disliked, where Mapplethorpe’s archive and much of his life’s work has come to rest—thanks to a joint acquisition by LACMA and the Getty. For all of his ties to the metropolis on the other side of the continent, L.A.’s claim to Mapplethorpe’s legacy is not quite the mismatch it might seem.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Cedric, N.Y.C. (X Portfolio), 1978, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Cedric, N.Y.C. (X Portfolio), 1978, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

It was in L.A. that one of the first exhibitions of the controversial X Portfolio, featured in the current LACMA exhibition Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, was shown at the now-defunct Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA) on Robertson Boulevard.  In August of 1978, almost immediately after the thirteen sadomasochistic homoerotic images had been printed and packaged as a portfolio, they were displayed in the small Entrance Gallery at LAICA for a large, diverse, and curious Los Angeles audience. I sat down with Britt Salvesen (curator of photography at LACMA and of the current Mapplethorpe exhibition), Charles Christopher Hill (curator of the LAICA exhibition), and Robert Smith (former director of LAICA) to discuss this historic exhibition. The conversation yielded more than a couple of surprises.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Alistair Butler, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio), 1980, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Alistair Butler, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio), 1980, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

The first surprise was that Hill and Smith had no idea what exactly they were going to be exhibiting when they agreed to do so. The LAICA exhibition of the X Portfolio owed itself largely to San Francisco gallerist Simon Lowinsky, who had exhibited works by Mapplethorpe the previous spring.  Hill, an artist in his own right whose work was shown at the Lowinsky Gallery, was offered a set of prints that “would really get a big crowd,” but had little information beyond that. In what is some indication of the quaintly ad hoc nature of curating contemporary art at the time, the prints arrived from the gallery pre-framed, bringing the total cost for LAICA to a jaw-droppingly low price of postage: “The whole exhibition came down, ready to put on the wall, bang, bang, bang.”

Robert Mapplethorpe, X Portfolio, 1978, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, partial purchase with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, X Portfolio, 1978, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, partial purchase with funds provided by The David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

A testament to the surprises involved in curating before digital image files could be sent conveniently via email, Hill and Smith cracked open the crates upon their arrival to get their first glance of the works they had agreed to exhibit. With telling pith, Hill recalled his response upon seeing the works: “Oh, this is going to be exciting.”

Given the descriptive title Bondage and Discipline, the exhibition ran for one month and attracted, according to Smith, “a different audience” from what typically came to the LAICA exhibitions. Conveniently located on one of the main thoroughfares in West Hollywood, the exhibition attracted a mix of contemporary art enthusiasts and gay sightseers, piqued by the sexual content of the images and the reputation of the artist. Although the curator and director recognized the controversial nature of the imagery, they felt no need (unimaginable in today’s arts institutions) to include warning signage, because at the time “nobody would do something like that.”

Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim, Sausalito (X Portfolio), 1977, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Jim, Sausalito (X Portfolio), 1977, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

In what would become a familiar story in the history of the X Portfolio, the exhibition stoked controversy and raised issues about funding for contemporary art at LAICA. The problem arose when Marcia Weisman, a longtime supporter of LAICA and an instrumental figure in its founding, came to the galleries accompanied by roughly fifteen students who were participating in her course on art collecting. Although the class passed the Mapplethorpe works on their way in unperturbed, a man who was able to take a closer look in transit to the bathrooms (the gallery was appropriately adjacent), returned to Weisman agitated and concerned.  Not one to shy away from contemporary art, Weisman asked the class to join her in a viewing of the works. Though she was generally “pretty much game for anything,” she found the works upsetting and called on Smith to answer for why he featured the portfolio at LAICA and in such a prominent location. Diplomatically stating that “we weren’t being proponents of the activity, that we saw them purely as aesthetic objects,” he soon lost his patience with the interrogation and made the case that a priggish objection to the work expressed an ignorance of human sexuality, even relating the activities taking place in the photographs to the sexual exploration common among teenagers.  This latter comment, probably because many of the people in the class had teenage children, “blew the top off of everything.” In response, Weisman took a step back from her involvement with LAICA—in the politic language of Smith, “she didn’t really call for quite a while after that.”

Robert Mapplethorpe, Leigh Lee, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio), 1980, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Robert Mapplethorpe, Leigh Lee, N.Y.C. (Z Portfolio), 1980, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, jointly acquired by the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, partial gift of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; partial purchase with funds provided by the David Geffen Foundation and the J. Paul Getty Trust, 2011, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

That would not be the end of Mapplethorpe at LAICA, however, and the artist’s work would be as much the solution as the cause of problems for the institution.  Smith organized a fundraiser at, of all places, the Hamilton High School gym, which featured two of Mapplethorpe’s film works, Still Moving and another rarely seen film, Robert Having His Nipple Pierced, directed by Sandy Daley. Hill laughingly recalled that the latter film was “beautifully photographed in color, and a lot of red blood was flowing.” Some sense of the audience at the fundraiser is provided by Smith: “I got up, and I made a statement that something might be shown that was objectionable, so if anybody was worried, I gave them the option to leave.  Of course, everybody clapped.” The fact that such a raucous fundraiser using such graphic Mapplethorpe imagery could take place in a public high school gym gives some indication of how far things were from the “Culture Wars” that erupted only a decade later.

The circumstances around this early exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s X Portfolio uncannily anticipated the kinds of responses that would follow the work as it reached a larger and larger audience as the photographer’s star rose.  Mapplethorpe’s early history in Los Angeles represents a microcosm of some of the tensions and excitement that his work inspired.  It might even be argued that Los Angeles shares much with Mapplethorpe in its progress and maturation. The L.A. art world was much like Mapplethorpe in 1978: inchoate, promising, and vast in its skills and resources but still struggling for acceptance within many sectors of the art establishment. It seems fitting, then, that Mapplethorpe comes to L.A., just at the moment when the city and the artist have established themselves as fixtures in the global art world.

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


This Weekend at LACMA: Lost Line, Kubrick, Wine & Caravaggio, Annual Japanese Art Lecture, and More

December 1, 2012

After a rainy few days here in L.A., the clouds will part this weekend for you to make your way to LACMA. There is so much incredible art—and so many great events—happening here that make this weekend one you don’t want to miss.

Now open in BCAM, Lost Line: Contemporary Art from the Collection presents works that complicate typical representations of landscape, the built environment, and the monumental, by such artists as Gabriel Orozco, Uta Barth, Buckminster Fuller, Steve McQueen, Ruben Ochoa, Robert Smithson, and many more.

Steve, McQueen,Static (still), 2009, 35mm film transferred to HD video,gift of Steve Tisch, © 2012 Steve McQueen

Steve, McQueen,Static (still), 2009, 35mm film transferred to HD video,gift of Steve Tisch, © 2012 Steve McQueen

Also in BCAM, check out Drawing Surrealism, Ed Ruscha: StandardMichael Heizer: Actual Size, and Chris Burden’s Metropolis II (be sure to check operating times to catch it in action).

Alfonso Ossorio, Untitled, 1944, gift of the Ossorio Foundation, © 2012 Alfonso Ossorio Estate, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Alfonso Ossorio, Untitled, 1944, gift of the Ossorio Foundation, © 2012 Alfonso Ossorio Estate, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

A trifecta of art trailblazers is presented in the Resnick Pavilion with Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Walter De Maria: The 2000 Sculpture, and Caravaggio and His Legacy.

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

Across campus, Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection, Robert Mapplethorpe: XYZ, and Masterpieces of Expressionist Cinema: Caligari and Metropolis are on view in the Ahmanson Building.

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

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

Be sure to reserve tickets in advance for both Caravaggio and His Legacy and Stanley Kubrick in order to beat the lines this weekend. LACMA members receive free tickets to these exhibitions (not to mention unlimited general admission all year-round and discounts on films, concerts, talks, and more—join?).

Saturday at 5 pm, the Art Rental and Sales Gallery is holding its winter exhibition opening night reception. Artists Sarajo Frieden and Barbara Kaleta are this season’s featured artists. Stop by to check out some great art by emerging artists and enjoy some refreshments.

If refreshments are definitely your thing, consider checking out LACMA’s Art of Wine event. We’ll be following Caravaggio’s journey from northern Italy to Rome—all while sampling wines along the way. LACMA educator Mary Lenihan weighs in on the art, while Barbara Baxter espouses the history of the wines.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Conversion of the Magdalen, c. 1598, Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of The Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford, photo © 2012 Detroit Institute of Arts, all rights reserved

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Conversion of the Magdalen, c. 1598, Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of The Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford, photo © 2012 Detroit Institute of Arts, all rights reserved

Also Saturday night, LACMA is screening Stanley Kubrick’s prescient sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. While the film is sold out, some standby tickets will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis. (Don’t have tickets? Join Film Club—you’ll hear about screenings first and get first dibs on buying tickets.)

On Sunday at 1 pm in the Bing Theater, Dr. Bruce Love, expert on Maya culture, discusses the myths and truths of the popular end-of-times myth of December 21, 2012. While all free tickets have already been reserved, there will be a standby line at 12 pm at the Hammer Building Ticket Office.

Also on Sunday Miwako Tezuka, director of the Japan Society Gallery in New York and co-founder of PoNJA-GenKon (Post-1945 Japanese Art Discussion Group), delivers the Twenty-Fifth Annual Michele Berton Memorial Lecture on Japanese Art. Her talk will trace the evolution of major contemporary Japanese artists, such as Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, and Mariko Mori, who flourished in the international art world from the 1990s to the 2000s.

The weekend rounds out with a free Sundays Live concert featuring cellist Ruslan Biryukov and pianist Armen Guzelimian in the Bing Theater.

As always, there are free tours of exhibitions and the collection throughout the weekend. We hope to see you here!

Jenny Miyasaki


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