Lost in Paris, Metaphorically Speaking

December 13, 2012

Rarely does an artwork get to be in two places at once, but it happened recently to a new favorite of mine that’s about to enter LACMA’s collection, a work by Amalia Pica entitled Sorry for the Metaphor #2 (2010).

Sorry for the Metaphor is by an artist interested in forms of communication (or lack of), who uses a variety of media (photography, sound, flags, sculpture, video) to comment on our many subtle and culturally differing levels of  interaction with each other, the landscape, and the monumental. As you might guess from the title, she also employs a bit of wit, and as you’ll see in my description of the involved installation, even more a bit of play.

Hour 1 at LACMA, hour 1 in Paris

Hour 1 in Paris, hour 1 at LACMA

The work originates as a photographic image that the artist blows up, purposely distorting it (playing with perception, memory, context), and then reproduces it  entirely as individual photocopied “tiles”—your basic mass-produced, DIY, and not-very-controlled Xerox copies. These, in turn, are wallpapered onto the wall and refitted as parts of a puzzle that is the original picture. Well, the original picture gone a bit wonky, as the copying stage is where the work (the message) is truly out of the artist’s hands. The final image shows Pica with her back to us, on a soapbox or pedestal, megaphone at rest in her hand, as she “speaks” to the vista–a meadow, forest, and sky before her–not us.

Paris, LACMA

Paris, LACMA

Paris, LACMA

Paris, LACMA

Disconnected from the functionality of the gesture depicted, she carries a message that is but a promise, and its unfinished yet transcendent qualities are wonderfully uncertain. It’s not literally the feeling evoked in the statement “If I yelled from a mountaintop, will someone hear me?” but it does contain the rush of knowing you just missed that yell, and you are embraced by the stillness that follows and its universality, pathos, and humor.

Finished!

Finished!

"Face to Face" exhibition, Paris Photo 2012, Amalia Pica completed 10 a.m. (Paris time), November 13.

“Face to Face” exhibition, Paris Photo 2012, Amalia Pica completed 10 a.m. (Paris time), November 13.

The copied sets of this conceptual work are what allow it to be included in both a LACMA-organized exhibition in Paris, Face to Face,  as well as in the exhibition back in Los Angeles, Lost Line: Contemporary Art from the Collection. The challenge was that neither team had ever installed the work, so between the desire of the curators and the art installers on each continent to be—and the inherent nature of the work being less so—we each had simultaneous but differing moments of Zen upon completion.

Eve Schillo, Curatorial Assistant, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department


Drawing Together in Drawing Surrealism

December 10, 2012

After exploring several galleries full of evocative work by an international array of artists, visitors to Drawing Surrealism are invited to make some art of their own using touchscreens for the purpose. Visitors have been sharing the results since the exhibition opened.

Drawing2

As you doodle, don’t be surprised if there appears to be a ghost in the machine; the drawing app is collaborative, such that the work of each individual participant appears on each of the drawing screens in real time. As you draw, someone else might be drawing right there along with you. The resulting sketch derives from a spontaneous, uncoordinated group process, in keeping with the automatic  and collaborative methods practiced by surrealist artists.

Drawing3

Watching visitors enter into the drawing experience is reminiscent of something André Breton wrote in his 1924 Manifesto du Surréalisme: “Pure psychic automatism, by which one seeks to express, be it verbally, in writing, or in any other manner, (is) the real working of the mind, dictated by the unconsciousness, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, and free from aesthetic or moral preoccupations.”

Drawing1

Leo Estevez of Small Green Door developed the web application that supports the experience, using an open source library called Meteor. During a visit to the exhibition, Leo noted a direct connection between cultural forces surrounding the early advent of surrealism and present times. “At the time of surrealism, there was a huge shift in technology going on, with the rise of industrialism,” he observed. “People were trying to find the limits of the machine and understand the parts of it that are human and the parts that are not human. A surrealist show is the perfect platform for emerging technology. You expect technology to do what you tell it to do, bu when you add another user’s input, you get unexpected results. It’s a performance. In surrealism, you see people trying to abstract the world that way together, too. It’s like the beginning of programming!”

Amy Heibel


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


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