New Acquisition: Contemporary Friends Group Acquires Nine Works

January 10, 2013

Unframed’s Jenny Miyasaki sat down with Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head of Contemporary Art, to discuss recent acquisitions made by the department and by the new acquisitions group, Contemporary Friends.

Jenny Miyasaki: We have a lot of acquisitions at the end of the year. How do you guys suss it out?

Franklin Sirmans: Our mandate at LACMA, as curators of contemporary art, includes art since 1968; we are always interested in testing those boundaries in terms of the scope of our curatorial interests. And as the collection evolves, different stories can be told and diverse styles come into play. Working closely with our colleagues across departments we (Rita Gonzalez, Christine Y. Kim and myself) have sought, with our director Michael Govan, Britt Salvesen, head of Photography and Prints and Drawings departments, Eve Schillo in the photography department, Leslie Jones in prints and drawings, and more recently, assistant curator Jarrett Gregory, to find connections between contemporary art and that of the different places and times represented in the encyclopedic museum. For instance, recently a large photograph of the ocean by Andreas Gursky was installed in our art of the Pacific galleries, which contain works largely from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During our installation of Ai Weiwei’s Zodiac sculptures, Christina Yu Yu and Stephen Little in the Chinese Art Department put out a small group of eighteenth-century jade sculptures depicting the same Zodiac that inspired Weiwei.

JM: What has been acquired recently?

FS: With that strategy in mind, we have been adding to the collection vigorously in the last few years and have created new acquisition groups and revised older ones to help us acquire more contemporary art in addition to providing more forums for the discussion of art, sharing mutual passions. Donations remain the most crucial way for us to add to existing holdings. Recent gifts of works by artists such as Stan Douglas, Zhang Huan, Jim Lambie, Paul Pfeiffer, Pablo Rasgado, Analia Saban, and Erin Shirreff, among others, by trustee Steve Tisch, Audrey Irmas, Sheridan Brown, Dean Valentine and Amy Adelson, Shannon and Peter Loughrey, Jennifer Hawks and Ramin Djawadi, Candace and Charles Nelson, and Said Saffari and Heidi Wettenhall-Saffari have gone straight into the galleries, helping us to more fully tell stories and round out installations. Additionally, through Art Here and Now, our longstanding initiative to collect Southern California artists, we have doubled the value of our annual acquisitions and recently acquired works by accomplished younger artists such as Mark Flores and Dianna Molzan.

Building on our shared interests in contemporary international art, we recently inaugurated the first meeting of the new acquisitions group, Contemporary Friends. Chaired and spearheaded by our trustee Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, Contemporary Friends recently had its first acquisitions meeting, which resulted in the acquisition of nine new works for LACMA. While our funds from membership dues made the purchase of four works easily possible, members added on individually in order to purchase the rest. Nearly all of the artists were acquired by the museum for the first time.

•Theaster Gates, Civil Tapestry (Dirty Blue), 2012, promised gift of Grazka Taylor through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Theaster Gates, Civil Tapestry (Dirty Blue), 2012, promised gift of Grazka Taylor

•Sergej Jensen, Untitled, 2012, purchased by funds provided by Contemporary Friends, 2012

Sergej Jensen, Untitled, 2012, purchased by funds provided by Contemporary Friends, 2012

•Jennie C. Jones, Semitone Bar and End of Measure, 2011, purchased with funds provided by Caroline DeWitt and Kenneth Burry, Ashley and Matthew Kline, Phil Mercado and Todd Quinn, Candace and Charles Nelson, and Sue Sun and Gene Doh through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Jennie C. Jones, Semitone Bar and End of Measure, 2011, purchased with funds provided by Caroline DeWitt and Kenneth Burry, Ashley and Matthew Kline, Phil Mercado and Todd Quinn, Candace and Charles Nelson, and Sue Sun and Gene Doh through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Pablo Rasgado, Paint Study #68, 2011, purchased with funds provided by Shannon and Peter Loughrey through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Pablo Rasgado, Paint Study #68, 2011, purchased with funds provided by Shannon and Peter Loughrey through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Among these recent acquisitions are paintings that test our perceptions of what exactly “painting” is and can be. Works by Theaster Gates, Sergej Jensen, Jennie C. Jones, and Pablo Rasgado all question the diversity of materials and the historical and symbolic power of different materials in the creation of the traditional framing device for making visual art—paintings. Gates employs found fire hose to make tapestries such as that in Civil Tapestry (Dirty Blue), 2012, referencing civil rights movements and textile paintings. Jensen sews together found fabrics to “paint without paint.” Jones’s long interest in American music, specifically the confluence of modernism and jazz, inspires her minimalist paintings made out of acoustic absorber and diffuser panels. Rasgado uses, or reuses, temporary walls removed from their original functionality and given new life with designs carved and cut by palette knives as the surface and support of his paintings.

Omer Fast, Her Face was Covered (Part I) and Her Face was Covered (Part II), 2011, purchased with funds provided by Viveca Paulin-Ferrell and Will Ferrell, and Sue Tsao through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Omer Fast, Her Face was Covered (Part I) and Her Face was Covered (Part II), 2011, purchased with funds provided by Viveca Paulin-Ferrell and Will Ferrell, and Sue Tsao through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Omer Fast, Her Face was Covered (Part I) and Her Face was Covered (Part II), 2011, purchased with funds provided by Viveca Paulin-Ferrell and Will Ferrell, and Sue Tsao through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Omer Fast, Her Face was Covered (Part I) and Her Face was Covered (Part II), 2011, purchased with funds provided by Viveca Paulin-Ferrell and Will Ferrell, and Sue Tsao through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Erin Shirreff, Roden Crater, 2009, purchased with funds provided by Said Saffari and Heidi Wettenhall-Saffari through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Erin Shirreff, Roden Crater, 2009, purchased with funds provided by Said Saffari and Heidi Wettenhall-Saffari through Contemporary Friends, 2012

An important aspect of our collections strategy over the last few years has been an attention to film and video art. Recognizing the medium’s preponderance and natural ability to frame twenty-first-century art, LACMA recently held its second annual Art+Film Gala, celebrating the work of twentieth-century masters Ed Ruscha and Stanley Kubrick. For it is not only about the medium as it pertains to visual art in galleries and museums but equally about how the medium is used by cinematic auteurs as well. We are particularly interested in works that test those boundaries on both sides. Works by Omer Fast, Hassan Khan, and Erin Shirreff are all quite different but all use the medium of video to create poignant art in the last few years. Fast, perhaps the closest to a traditional feature filmmaker, uses the medium to expose the complex nature of storytelling and memory with multiple shots and images. Khan focuses in on one scene—a combative looking dance between two men that exposes differences in class in Cairo with a soundtrack of Shaabi music—a mix of traditional instruments and new electronic music.

Hassan Khan, Jewel (still), 2010, Purchased with funds provided by Contemporary Friends and Sue Tsao, 2012

Hassan Khan, Jewel (still), 2010, Purchased with funds provided by Contemporary Friends and Sue Tsao, 2012

Gary Simmons, Untitled, 2008, purchased by funds provided by Contemporary Friends, 2012

Gary Simmons, Untitled, 2008, purchased by funds provided by Contemporary Friends, 2012

Lastly, the work of Gary Simmons has been on our mind, and we are happy to add this important artist to the collection. Simmons attended CalArts in the 1980s and studied with John Baldessari, and the acquired work takes its cues from Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Fire and his paintings of the Hollywood sign, except Simmons pictures the Hollywood sign on fire. In addition to Ruscha (whose work hangs nearby in the current installation Lost Line), Simmons was inspired by Conquest of the Planet Apes, widely considered to be a metaphor for late 1960s liberation movements.

JM: How did people react to the many different artists and media?

FS: We are fortunate in that we have great friends who are interested in a wide range of art and ideas!

Jenny Miyasaki


New Acquisition: 158 Couture Designs, 1880-2008

January 9, 2013

Right now in Paris, at Les Arts Décoratifs, you can see the LACMA-organized exhibition Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, which originally ran at LACMA in 2010. That show is centered around a major collection acquired by LACMA a few years ago; now, the museum has just made another major acquisition that picks up roughly where the last left off. We have just added 158 examples of couture objects dating from 1880 to 2008. Designers included in the acquisition include Cristobál Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Grès, Christian Lacroix, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Madeleine Vionnet, and many more. For the latter, we also acquired the Betty Kirke Pattern Archives of Madeleine Vionnet—patterns, photographs, research materials, and much more.

The objects are not yet on view, and won’t be right away. But in the meantime we just have to share a few fantastic highlights from the collection—just a scratch of the surface of this tremendous acquisition.

Cauët Sœurs, Woman’s Evening Dress, c. 1912, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Cauët Sœurs, Woman’s Evening Dress, c. 1912, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Cauët Sœurs, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Cauët Sœurs, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Madeleine Vionnet, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1925, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Madeleine Vionnet, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1925, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Jeanne Lanvin, Woman’s Evening Dress, c. 1935, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Jeanne Lanvin, Woman’s Evening Dress, c. 1935, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Jeanne Lanvin, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Jeanne Lanvin, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Jean Dessès, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1956, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Jean Dessès, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1956, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Jean Dessès, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Jean Dessès, Woman’s Evening Dress (detail)

Madame (Alix) Grès, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1987, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Madame (Alix) Grès, Woman’s Evening Dress, 1987, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Alexander McQueen, Woman’s Dress, Fall 2007, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Alexander McQueen, Woman’s Dress, Fall 2007, purchased with funds provided by Ellen A. Michelson, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA. All rights reserved

Scott Tennent


Surveying the American Landscape

January 7, 2013

Just before the holidays LACMA opened a dramatic new installation of the American art galleries, titled Compass for Surveyors: Nineteenth-Century American Landscapes. I spoke to curators Austen Bailly and José Luis Blondet about the new installation, which examines not only the history of American landscapes, but also the very nature of LACMA’s collections.

Thomas Hill, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, 1864, William Randolph Hearst Collection

Thomas Hill, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, 1864, William Randolph Hearst Collection

As LACMA is contributing a large number of paintings and decorative arts to a major American art exhibition in Korea, it necessitated a reinstallation of the American galleries. How did you approach the reorganization of the galleries?

Austen Bailly: It offered an opportunity to rethink not just simple replacements but how to do something really different.

José Luis, is that how you became involved? You’re not a curator of American art—nor, for that matter, of any single curatorial area.

José Luis Blondet: Something that I like about my title, associate curator of special initiatives, is that it’s open and flexible. That allows me to work in these intersections or “in betweens.” I sit in the Education Department but with the mandate of working across departments. [As part of a larger education team], we were having conversations about challenges presented by the museum, and Austen brought up this problem—how to rethink the collection now that [many of] the masterworks were in Korea. She started talking about masterworks and I said “hold on a second—what does it mean to have a ‘masterwork’? What are the other paintings? How can we make sense of each work as an object and as a group? Are there good paintings and bad paintings?” We tried to answer that question as a team but there were no easy answers. It was a passionate discussion, and Austen and I decided to carry it on outside the Education team.

AB: Which José Luis called “American Coffee.”

JLB: We started meeting every other Tuesday for American Coffee, researching the collection. Without a specific plan, we knew that we wanted to come up with an interesting and engaging way of reading the collection.

AB: We had a [shared] intellectual and creative enthusiasm for exploring a problem together.

JLB: We weren’t sure if the outcome of these meetings would be an exhibition though. It was an opportunity to look at the American art collection and see what kind of risks can we take in presenting it, how can we make a re-hanging that was focused, layered and inviting to the different audiences that visit LACMA. For me it was reassuring that Austen had the expertise in these objects, so in our American Coffee meetings, I had the freedom of saying whatever crazy idea I had, because I knew I was talking to someone with the deep knowledge of each object. It was a very effective partnership.

What sorts of conclusions did you come to through your conversations and research?

JLB: We realized that we should focus on landscape. And we realized that we have an overwhelming majority of paintings depicting the eastern landscape rather than the western landscape. We started thinking about that disparity, looking at the history of the collection and imagining alternative displays.

AB: In other words, what is there to be learned about place, about identity, through the works that have come into LACMA’s collection? If you isolate the holdings of American landscapes of the nineteenth century, you see the disparities and you think about where LACMA is physically as a museum. What does that show you? It actually teaches you that the traditions of landscape painting that were developed on the East Coast are very dominant. Even though many paintings were painted in the west, those weren’t really collected. It raises questions. Our hope is that the visitor will be able to see physically this kind of imbalance and learn something in a different way, rather than us putting up a didactic label that says “In traditional American art history canons, Thomas Cole is considered the father of the Hudson River school of landscape painting . . . ” That’s too boring.

Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55, gift of Jo Anne and Julian Ganz Jr., in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary

Fitz Henry Lane, Boston Harbor, Sunset, 1850–55, gift of Jo Anne and Julian Ganz Jr., in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary

How does this play out in the installation?

JLB: For this installation, we wanted to look at the collection as an inventory, not using traditional categories that define what is or is not a masterwork. We took advantage of different methodologies of display to tease out a variety of readings of the collection. We used a dense, almost salon-style installation for the majority of paintings, and on the opposite wall we lined up the five paintings of the western landscape. You look at these two clusters and many points of friction become evident. For us it was important not to “select” the paintings. Basically we are showing all of the landscape paintings from the nineteenth century [that are in LACMA’s collection], with the exception of the five on view in Korea.

Compass for Surveyors, installation view: east wall

Compass for Surveyors, installation view: east wall

Compass for Surveyors, installation view: west wall

Compass for Surveyors, installation view: west wall

What are some of the landscapes on display?

AB: We have a fairly liberal interpretation of landscape.

JLB: There are some paintings that you would think of as historical paintings. We’re also talking about the definition of a territory, a nation that is struggling to find an identity.

AB: For the East Coast, the key picture is Fitz Henry Lane’s Boston Harbor. It’s a foundational place in America; it’s one of our very best paintings in terms of quality. Next to it is a more historical example would be Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British. Those wheat fields are in upstate New York; her husband was a general in the American Revolution.

JLB: Mrs. Schuyler is literally about to destroy the landscape in such a theatrical gesture. And by doing so, she is inaugurating a new, political landscape. We wanted those contradictions and paradoxes in the exhibit.

Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British, 1852, bicentennial gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Schaaf, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker, and Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr.

Emmanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British, 1852, bicentennial gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Schaaf, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker, and Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr.

Is the disparity between Eastern and Western landscapes indicative of art history, or is it just a display of what LACMA has collected thus far?

AB: Art historically it is somewhat reflective of America’s westward expansion and the activities of artists that came west over time. Once you get to the twentieth century—and in a nearby gallery we are showcasing our California landscapes of the twentieth century—you have a proliferation of artists active here. But in the nineteenth century, artists active on the East Coast dominated the art market. Many East Coast artists are the ones who came west, showing their works in the east. American art history traditionally privileges east over west—and that gets reflected in collecting practices: LACMA is the largest museum west of Chicago, but western landscapes weren’t the [collecting] priority.

JLB: We started asking these questions—why do we have a majority of paintings from the East Coast? Does it have to do with the history of LACMA’s collection? The history of art? Then we started looking at the photography collection to see how this tension east-west played out there.

AB: We knew the inverse was going to be true for photography. You were asking whether it’s art historical or just our collection—it’s a little bit of both. Photography was invented in 1839, and was used extensively to document our expansion westward in what was called survey photography. Sure enough, when we started looking into the collections, our holdings reflected that. The collection has some nice examples of the east and major holdings of nineteenth-century western landscape photography; it wasn’t exactly the same proportions as the paintings, but roughly.

JLB: Perhaps this reflects how the west, more than a geographical category, it was an imaginary one, the shifting frontier.

Carleton Emmons Watkins, Eagle Creek, 1867, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Carleton Emmons Watkins, Eagle Creek, 1867, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Seneca Ray Stoddard, Glass Globe at Fort William Henry Hotel, New York, c. 1885, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

Seneca Ray Stoddard, Glass Globe at Fort William Henry Hotel, New York, c. 1885, the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection

That goes back centuries—so many people can’t experience the New World firsthand, so the artists communicate it back. By the time of westward expansion, there’s still a need to ask “what is the west like?” But now they could see photographic documentation.

JLB: I think this show illustrates the fact that landscapes are constructions. Landscapes are never a photocopy of the land. There are many compositional rules at play, many subjectivities interplaying with what is out there. This show wants to deal with that impulse. One of the biggest surprises for me, researching the photography collection, was that some of the topics that we saw in the photographs from the East Coast were related to decadence, decay, ruins, floods.

AB: And the western photographs were of railroads, buildings, and the grandeur of the landscape. So we tried to mirror the installation: we have a very limited selection of photographs of the East Coast, and a plethora of photographs from the West Coast. We’re hoping that people will be able to dive into the imagery while appreciating the imbalance. With all that said, there are a few artworks in the exhibition that are not landscapes. One is a compass, on loan from the Autry Museum, displayed in the center of the gallery.

AB: The compass is a surveyor’s compass, which is where we got the title of the show.

JLB: Something peculiar about this compass is that it’s a type of compass you have to readjust every time you use it, for the sake of accuracy. There is a technical explanation on the wooden box (also on view), but basically you have to reset the west every time you want to find out where you are.

AB: It’s very symbolic: we’re taking our location into consideration. [The position from which] we are surveying the collection informs the readings that we’re getting. You’re mapping certain territories but they’re contingent on your location.

The other very notable exception to your installation of landscapes is Thomas Eakins’s Wrestlers. How does this fit in with your themes?

JLB: It was going to be hard to relocate Wrestlers in any other gallery. At first we saw it as an obstacle, but then thought maybe we could use it to our advantage. We noticed that Wrestlers was made in 1899—that’s another important cue, the turn of the century. And the image of two bodies wrestling truly resonates with the idea of the tension between the east and the west, photography and painting, culture and nature . . .

AB: . . . tradition and modernity.

JLB: Yes. This show wants to address that tension. So we decided to use that painting as a prominent cardinal point. We have the big painting on the north wall. And we decided to keep the study for the painting [also in LACMA’s collection] on the opposite wall, centering everything, with the compass in the middle. So Wrestlers, which is certainly one of our masterworks, and was an obstacle for us, became crucial for the installation and the reorganization of this gallery. We didn’t want to use the painting as a metaphor for anything else—this painting is a great painting and that’s why it deserves to be here—but certainly the subject of that painting, although it is not a landscape, is truly close to the topic of the show.

Thomas Eakins, Wrestlers, 1899, gift of Cecile C. Bartman and the Cecile and Fred Bartman Foundation

Thomas Eakins, Wrestlers, 1899, gift of Cecile C. Bartman and the Cecile and Fred Bartman Foundation

The Eakins painting brings us back to that original question that started your American Coffee conversations: what is a masterwork? Have you learned more about that since asking the initial question?

JLB: We didn’t want to answer that question but to move away from it! The invitation is to look at the singularity of these objects and look again at the many landscapes layered in the collection.

AB: The installation allows the visitor to make comparisons. The qualities of the works should really stand out.

Scott Tennent


This Weekend at LACMA: Ken Price and Drawing Surrealism Close, Christopher Nolan in Person, Polanski’s Tess, and More

January 4, 2013

As the new year dawns, two great exhibitions come to a close: this weekend is your last chance to see Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective and Drawing Surrealism. The Ken Price show has been getting critical acclaim since opening back in September; most recently it was named one of the top exhibitions of the year by the L.A. Times and Modern Art Notes, and received a nice notice from the New Yorker, too. It will travel to the Nasher Sculpture Center in February, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this summer. Drawing Surrealism, which features works by Dalí, Breton, Magritte, Carrington, Ernst, and many more, will next travel to the Morgan Library in New York. Both shows close at LACMA on Sunday. (While you’re here: Ed Ruscha: Standard is also in its final weeks; it closes January 21.)

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

Esteban Francès, Untitled (Surreal Landscape), 1938, private collection, NY, © 2012 Esteban Francès Estate, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA by Michael Bodycomb

Esteban Francès, Untitled (Surreal Landscape), 1938, private collection, NY, © 2012 Esteban Francès Estate, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA by Michael Bodycomb

Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy is also nearing the end of its run—February 10, to be exact. Reserve your tickets in advance for this popular exhibition (and considering becoming a member for two free tickets!) Set aside some extra time on Sunday afternoon for a free Caravaggio lecture by Italian scholar Roberto Lapucci, who will discuss the artist’s working methods.

Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604-1605, The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Trust

Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, 1604-1605, The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, William Rockhill Nelson Trust

Film fans: tonight Christopher Nolan will be at LACMA in person for a conversation and screening of his first film, Following. Note: the event is sold out but there will be a standby line. More info here. Tomorrow night head to the Bing for a screening of Roman Polanski’s 1980 film Tess, an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles starring Nastassja Kinski. The film was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won three.

Attention families! Our free Andell Family Sunday art-making activities have a new theme for the month of January, inspired by Daily Pleasures: French Ceramics from the MaryLou Boone Collection, on view in the European galleries. Check out the beautiful—and functional—objects on view in the exhibition, then make functional art with your kids!

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

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

Finally, the weekend closes out with a free Sundays Live concert by pianist Peter Wittenberg and violinist Wonny Bae. The duo will perform Bach/Mendelssohn’s Chaconne and Schubert’s Fantasy in C major.

Scott Tennent


Origins and Influence of Surrealism in Japanese Art

January 3, 2013

Drawing Surrealism features 250 works from surrealist artists from around the world and is on view at LACMA through January 6, after which it travels to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. Hollis Goodall, curator of Japanese art, discusses the origins and influence of surrealism in Japan.

In my studies on Japanese art, either modern or pre-modern, I often find that the groundwork for a seemingly entirely foreign or new style was laid in past times. How did surrealism catch on in Japan and become such a dominant force, eventually involving nearly three thousand artists? Like Art Nouveau, which was popular earlier in urban Japan, having originated in Europe based upon imported Japanese Rinpa-style painting and decorative arts, surrealism may have had a familiar antecedent.

In Drawing Surrealism, works by Eikyū and Hirai Terushichi in particular show cutting and reassemblage of parts, in which newly juxtaposed fragments create a sense of strange disconnect and stimulate in the viewer a new level of perception. Montage and seemingly random juxtaposition were popular expressive manners in both Japanese film and advertisement of the 1920s and 1930s, and those methods were already familiar to the consumer to which they appealed through woodblock print composition of the preceding century.  Back in the 1840s through the 1860s, particularly, the artists Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), related only by school affiliation, often combined efforts in a print series by juxtaposing seemingly random images within a single print sheet. This form of play worked as a puzzle for the viewer, who had to use his or her knowledge of popular urban culture to figure out the connections. Though not speaking to the viewer on the psychological level of surrealism, the jarring disconnect of some of these images created a habit of looking that carried forward into the modern era.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Utagawa Hiroshige II, Hatchobori and Ichikawa Danzo, 1861, gift of Chuck Bowdlear, Ph.D., and John Borozan, M.A. (M.2003.67.7)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Utagawa Hiroshige II, Hatchobori and Ichikawa Danzo, 1861, gift of Chuck Bowdlear, Ph.D., and John Borozan, M.A. (M.2003.67.7)

Another member of the Utagawa school, Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862) created portraits consisting of a head assembled from bodies of nude men and also portrayed urbanites with the heads of fish, cats, or sparrows. These dream-like fantasies had a long history in Japanese pictorial art, but spoke to the subversive element in late Edo period (1615-1868) urban Japan.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Utagawa Hiroshige, The Restaurant Mankyu; The Role Hige no Ikyu, 1852, gift of Arthur and Fran Sherwood (M.2007.152.46)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Utagawa Hiroshige, The Restaurant Mankyu; The Role Hige no Ikyu, 1852, gift of Arthur and Fran Sherwood (M.2007.152.46)

It was certainly not with these thoughts in mind, though perhaps lying dormant in their subconscious, that artists developed the surrealist movement in Japan. Artists and writers revolted against the “academy” of government-sponsored art exhibitions, which had been displaying “fine art” of Japanese or European method in juried exhibitions since 1907. Avant-garde artists began to practice and disseminate Dadaist work through journals and exhibitions in 1924, a year after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake had obliterated much of Tokyo, killing more than 100,000 people and burning more than half a million residences. The era of reconstruction in Tokyo, which was increasing in population then and where now half of the Japanese populace lives, stimulated an authentic leap forward into modernism in art and literature.

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Kawanabe Kyosai, Utagawa Hiroshige II, Embankment by Kuichigai Moat in Asakusa; The Actor Kataoka Nizaemon VIII as Tamigaya Iemon, tenth month, 1863, gift of Arthur and Fran Sherwood (M.2007.152.50)

Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III), Kawanabe Kyosai, Utagawa Hiroshige II, Embankment by Kuichigai Moat in Asakusa; The Actor Kataoka Nizaemon VIII as Tamigaya Iemon, tenth month, 1863, gift of Arthur and Fran Sherwood (M.2007.152.50)

By 1927, the first surrealist poetic journal was edited and published by Kitasono Katue (1902-1978), and in 1928 and 1931 respectively the surrealist poet Nishiwaki Junzaburō returned from studying at Oxford and the painter Fukuzawa Ichirō came back to Tokyo from study in Paris, each becoming an informational nexus in their respective worlds. The surrealism that these artists brought with them from Europe, and that which had been conveyed  in preceding years to Japan through journals and exhibitions, was mixed through a filter of the absurdist Dada style along with Futurist painting manners. New, more authentically surrealist works from Europe were displayed in a major exhibition in 1931, which traveled around the country and brought a much larger group of artists into the surrealist orbit. In addition, a photography exhibition of more than 1100 images from Germany toured the country the same year, helping to engender a movement in New Photography, with adherents such as Yamamoto Kansuke and Hirai Terushichi, who, along with other photographers in Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya, practiced a much more subjective version of surrealist photography than had been seen in Tokyo. With these stimuli, mature surrealism developed throughout Japan in the 1930s becoming the dominant non-realistic European-derived artistic manner until the government’s “thought police” in 1941 began to arrest artists who they felt conveyed a message that ran counter to the interests of the nation.

Hollis Goodall, Curator of Japanese Art


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