Exhibition Film Series: Naked City: New York Noir and Neorealism

February 13, 2013

Kicking off last Friday, the series Naked City: New York Noir and Neorealism presents ten films, all of which were shot predominately on the streets and in the apartments of Kubrick’s native metropolis between the years 1945 and 1953. During the same period, Kubrick was documenting the changing face of the city, first in the pages of Look magazine and eventually on the screen with films such as Day of the Fight and Killer’s Kiss.

By working within such specific curatorial parameters, we had to exclude a number of notable film noirs because they either weren’t shot on location or they landed too late in the series’ time frame. As such, we were left with an intriguing cross-section of films. Many of them may not fully qualify as film noir by most people’s definition—although most people don’t have a definition of film noir as delightfully far-ranging as the late Raymond Durgnat, who finds noir to be the modern age’s answer to a “black” aesthetic dating back to Greek tragedy. Accordingly, we’ve broadened the series’ title to account for works filmed in the Big Apple that share the contours of film noir, particularly this sub-strand of films shot in situ, but lack its fatalistic DNA and gangland grit.

This Friday, the series enters its second weekend with Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, perhaps the purest noir in the lot due in part to the vertiginous decline of its trench-coat-clad anti-hero (Dana Andrews, all darting eyes and clenched jaw) as well as its claustrophobic, after-hours atmosphere. (Preminger’s film is also the most studio-bound effort in the series.)

One-upping Preminger’s austerity while subtracting Sidewalk’s hard-boiled patois, Russell Rouse’s The Thief is a nervous Cold War thriller about an esteemed nuclear scientist (Ray Milland, anxious) who is spying for an unnamed foreign enemy. Entirely devoid of dialogue and punctuated by the chiming refrain of unanswered telephones, The Thief offers a sparse, existentialist portrait of an increasingly desperate fugitive for whom New York is an ever-contracting, labyrinthine prison.

The film that rests most squarely in the neorealist camp also happens to follow a protagonist on the run: Morris Engel’s Little Fugitive has a threadbare plot-a little boy hides out in Coney Island over the course of a bustling summer day-but a surfeit of personality and local color.  This pint-sized drifter, roaming the boardwalk’s Carny wonderland and adjoining soda-bottle strewn beach, is Brooklyn’s precursor to The 400 Blows‘ Antoine Doinel.

Rounding out Saturday’s “kid noir” double-bill is The Window, in which Bobby Driscoll tries to prove that his upstairs tenement neighbors are murderers. Ted Tetzlaff‘s film is set in a pocket of New York at once overcrowded and vacant, an uninhabited wasteland that best resembles a city abandoned in haste after a catastrophe.

The series’ final weekend begins with two films set on the city’s periphery in which brothers betray one another in ruthless cons, and curiously both films have connections  to the Hollywood blacklist: Elia Kazan’s ripped-from-the-headlines urban opera On the Waterfront (“a film noir, given Brando’s negativsm and anguished playing,” pace Durgnat) and its spiritual precursor: Abraham Polonsky’s taut and tragic Force of Evil.

After these two portraits of internecine strife, the series closes with a curious duo of hot-footed journeys in and around Times Square on the heels of terse outliers: a heavy-hearted ex-boxer (Killer’s Kiss) and a war-traumatized stowaway (The Glass Wall). Without a darkly charismatic figure like Marlon Brando or John Garfield to anchor them, these films place the congested vastness of New York front and center, a city as unpredictable as any flesh and blood femme fatale.

Bernardo Rondeau, Assistant Curator, Film


Good Fortune: Okyo’s Cranes Now on View

February 11, 2013

In Japanese culture, the crane is a symbol of good fortune and longevity and has played an integral role in art and literature. Chances are you’ve seen cranes depicted in some form or other in popular Japanese art (if you’re anything like me, when you were young, you also may have read—and been slightly traumatized by—Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes). Those (non-origami) depictions were likely copied—or at the very least heavily influenced by—Maruyama Okyo (1733–95), a painter who revolutionized the practice and taught or influenced generations of Japanese painters.

Maruyama Okyo, Cranes (detail), 1772 (An’ei period, 1772-1780), gift of Camilla Chandler Frost in honor of Robert T. Singer

Maruyama Okyo, Cranes (detail), 1772 (An’ei period, 1772-1780), gift of Camilla Chandler Frost in honor of Robert T. Singer

Through the perseverance and diligence of Robert T. Singer, curator of Japanese art, LACMA recently acquired a pair of Japanese screens depicting cranes (read the Los Angeles Times article that explores the acquisition of Cranes in depth) by Okyo that has never before been displayed in the United States. In fact, the pair of screens, created in 1772, has almost never been shown in public anywhere. They were displayed in Japan twice, in 1996 and 2004, and even then only for a matter of weeks. Measuring five-and-a-half feet tall and twenty-two feet long, the screens are in immaculate condition and represent the highest achievement in Japanese painting.

Maruyama Okyo, Cranes (detail), 1772 (An’ei period, 1772-1780), gift of Camilla Chandler Frost in honor of Robert T. Singer

Maruyama Okyo, Cranes (detail), 1772 (An’ei period, 1772-1780), gift of Camilla Chandler Frost in honor of Robert T. Singer

Okyo’s screens are so rare and valuable, in fact, that the Japanese government has registered four out of the artist’s last five pairs of screens as National Treasures, making it impossible for them to leave Japan except for on loan.

And the fifth pair? Now at LACMA. After Singer’s two-year campaign to acquire the screens, LACMA was granted an official export license by the Ministry of Culture of Japan in honor of the museum’s concerted effort to strengthen and highlight its collection of Japanese art.

In addition to Cranes, LACMA’s has other paintings by Okyo, including the adorable Five Puppies.

Maruyama Okyo (attributed to), Five Puppies, 18th century, gift of Carl Holmes

Maruyama Okyo (attributed to), Five Puppies, 18th century, gift of Carl Holmes

The screens are on view now in the Pavilion for Japanese Art.

Jenny Miyasaki


This Weekend at LACMA: Caravaggio Closes, New York Noir Film Series, Shinique Smith at Charles White Elementary, and More

February 8, 2013

This is it, folks: Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy has entered its final weekend and Sunday is your last day to see this phenomenal show. Tickets for this exhibition are timed, so reserve yours in advance to ensure that you get to see the exhibition. (Plus, your Caravaggio ticket also gets you admission to Stanley Kubrick and the rest of the museum!) Call 323 857-6010 or click here to reserve your tickets.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Ecce Homo, 1605, Musei de Strada Nuova, Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, Italy, photo © Musei di Strada Nuova

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Ecce Homo, 1605, Musei de Strada Nuova, Palazzo Bianco, Genoa, Italy, photo © Musei di Strada Nuova

Speaking of Stanley Kubrick, Saturday sees a daylong symposium dedicated to the master filmmaker—Into the Archive: Re-Viewing Kubrick. Scholars from the University of the Arts London, Stanley Kubrick Archives, and Victoria & Albert Museum will give talks on Kubrick and his films—see the full schedule here. This event is sold out but there will be a standby line.

Sue Lyon as Dolores “Lolita” Haze, Lolita, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1960–62, GB/United States, © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., photo by Bert Stern

Sue Lyon as Dolores “Lolita” Haze, Lolita, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1960–62, GB/United States, © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., photo by Bert Stern

Partly inspired by Stanley Kubrick, tonight (Friday) we kick off our latest film series, New York Noir and Neorealism. All of the films we are screening in February feature New York of the late 1940s-early 1950s—the same period in which Kubrick was documenting the city through his photographs in Look magazine (which you can see in the exhibition) and in early film work like Day of the Fight and Killer’s Kiss (the latter will screen on February 23). The series begins tonight with Jules Dassin’s 1948 noir classic The Naked City, followed by the 1947 corker Kiss of Death.

Families—there are a lot of options for you this weekend, both on campus and off. As mentioned on Unframed earlier this week, artist Shinique Smith has opened Firsthand at Charles White Elementary School near MacArthur Park. (The school is formerly site of the original Otis campus, hence there is a fully functioning gallery space.)  The exhibition is a combination of original works by Smith, objects from LACMA’s Costume and Textiles collection, and works made by Charles White students. You can see the exhibition and enjoy family-friendly tours on Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm. There will be activities and chances to make art as well.

Shinique Smith, Swaying Beauty, 2007, gift of Schiff Fine Art, © 2013 Shinique Smith, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Shinique Smith, Swaying Beauty, 2007, gift of Schiff Fine Art, © 2013 Shinique Smith, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Alternatively, here at LACMA on Saturday we are offering family tours of the collection (in English and Spanish), with emphasis on artworks proven to be a hit with the little ones. Don’t forget, your children can sign up—for free!—to be NexGen members at the museum. One of their benefits as museum members is they get to lug one parent along with them, also for free. Even more family activities are available the next day, during Andell Family Sundays—including artist workshops and a chance to check out The Ancient Maya World.

The weekend closes out with a free Sundays Live performance from pianist Svetlana Smolina, performing pieces by Schubert, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Bolcom.

There is still more happening at the museum. Check the list of featured exhibitions on view, plus even more on view all over campus, including Lost LineWalter De Maria, and Robert Mapplethorpe. (On Mapplethorpe, have a listen to the latest Modern Art Notes Podcast, featuring LACMA curator Britt Salvesen and artist Catherine Opie talking about the exhibition and the artist.

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

Scott Tennent


Valentine’s at LACMA

February 7, 2013

Love has fueled many great works of art. From Picasso’s The Lovers to Renoir’s La Promenade to the very literal LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana, artists continue to harness the power of love in their work. But, as in life, it isn’t always romance and roses. In that spirit, LACMA has put together a Valentine’s evening for the lovers AND the lonely hearts.

On February 14, we will be keeping the Ahmanson building and Stanley Kubrick open from 6 to 9 pm. There are many options for how to spend your evening. For the lovelorn—(or, those just looking to have fun), we’ve created the Love Hurts tour—a 30-minute tour inspired by works in our collection portraying heartbreak, jealousy, affairs ending badly, and more.

See This Through © 2013 Mark Flores, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Steve Cohn.

See This Through © 2013 Mark Flores, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/ LACMA, by Steve Cohn.

We are also bringing back to popular RED pop-up dinner series. In conjunction with the Love Hurts tour, Chef Jason Fullilove has crafted a decadent and savory prix fixe menu. With communal tables, delicious food, and good company, who knows what you’ll fall in love with?

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 9.39.06 AM

Plus, Ray’s and Stark Bar and C + M (Coffee + Milk) have specials throughout the night.

Come to LACMA on Valentine’s Day. The only thing you need to love is art.

Learn more and buy tickets for the evening.

Alex Capriotti


Dynamic Display—Shinique Smith: Firsthand

February 6, 2013

We often regard exhibitions primarily as final products, the culmination of considerable work, research, and artistic output. In the case of LACMA’s upcoming exhibition at Charles White Elementary SchoolShinique Smith: Firsthand—the show is also a springboard for the artist and museum to further engage the students and community throughout its run.

Last February LACMA invited New York–based artist Shinique Smith to collaborate on a special initiative that involved her exploring the museum’s collection and spending time within the school and surrounding neighborhoods. Smith’s experiences inspired the creation of new work featured in the exhibition, along with objects she selected from LACMA’s costume and textiles collection as well as student art. This spring, Smith will return to Los Angeles and work with the community to further activate this unique space. Sarah Jesse, LACMA’s associate vice president of education, sat down with Smith to chat more about the process and thinking that led to this current stage of the project.

Sarah Jesse: What was it like meeting the students of Charles White?

Shinique Smith: It was refreshing for me to spend time with kids and listen to them defining what the word “inspiration” meant for them. One student said, “Inspiration is something that motivates you.” I thought this was pretty solid for a second grader. I agree that true inspiration motivates one to action. My hope is that the kids will find inspiration in their own work and that they will learn to trust and act on their inspirations.

Young artists at work at Charles White Elementary School

Young artists at work at Charles White Elementary School

SJ: How do you see your work in relation to your selections from LACMA’s costume and textile collection and the artwork students made?

SS: The show has three parts: my work, the kids’ work, and the work of fabulous designers from the collection. Seemingly these components have little in common, but I see the connection within the threads of inspiration from everyday life we have all culled. There were so many pieces in the costume collection to explore. I narrowed things down to process and forms that I felt drawn to aesthetically—garments that explore volume, collage, and pattern and that I felt were kindred to my work. Also, I chose a few designers that I was exposed to and inspired by as a child, like Geoffrey Beene and Bill Blass. The new work that I’m making for the show was influenced by the color of the Yves Saint Laurent piece and the energy I absorbed discovering MacArthur Park and browsing the shops and the fabric district. The area was vibrant with color and texture and sunshine, so I will try to incorporate some of these elements.

Young artists at work at Charles White Elementary School

Young artists at work at Charles White Elementary School

SJ: Tell us about some of your early influences.

SS: At an early age my mother began exposing me to art and things that would inspire my creativity: coloring in the park, going to museums and performances, going to the library, ballet classes, etc. When I was young, she was studying fashion and designing clothes, so we would explore fabric stores and look at W magazine together. The color and sculptural qualities of her designs were magical to me. She exposed me to Erte because he was one of her personal mentors when she was studying in Paris. They were good friends and she would share his work with me. He was the first artist I endeavored to copy when I was little.

My mother saw an inclination within me that she helped me to cultivate by gently nudging me in that direction. In urging me to go to The Baltimore School for the Arts, I began studying art more seriously and remain on that path. My grandparents’ home and my grandmother’s decorating sensibility were inspiring to me. She would mix florals and plaids and patterns that didn’t belong together, but they would harmonize. Her home was filled with Romare Bearden reproductions too, so there was collage on the wall and in the room they inhabited. My surroundings influenced me when I was a child, as they do now. I find magic in the relationships of objects and the people that surround me. Perhaps, being an only child is part of it. My play involved imagining worlds in the backyard or under the dining room table, and I guess I still do. I have empathy for us as a people, the lives we lead and what we fill our lives with as humans and I find beauty there.

Shinique Smith, Swaying Beauty, 2007, gift of Schiff Fine Art, © 2013 Shinique Smith, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Shinique Smith, Swaying Beauty, 2007, gift of Schiff Fine Art, © 2013 Shinique Smith, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

SJ: Where do you find all of the materials in your sculptures? 

SS: My materials come from multiple sources: my own shelves and closets, my family and friends, thrift stores, department stores, and dollar and fabric stores across the country. Once in a while, I get lucky and find a wonderful toy or object randomly in the world, like an Erkel doll just standing on the corner or a child’s drawing on the street. My work begins with observing and collecting. I am most inspired by bringing together bits and pieces of fabric, new items and those with a history of use, so there is a cross section of time, place, and meaning—conceptually and visually. In order to achieve this conglomeration of moments, I have to accumulate “things.” But, I am specific when I collect. I don’t just pick up anything or trash, as some may think. The materials I prefer to collect have a particular color or pattern, a relationship to a utopian ideal, something whimsical or relates to other materials in my collection. Currently, I’m really into seascapes, fabrics that incorporate sacred geometry, birds, butterfly wings, and rainbows.

Shinique Smith: Firsthand is on view from February 9 to July 16, 2013, at Charles White Elementary School.

 


The Drama of Hands: Caravaggio and Bruce Nauman’s “For Beginners”

February 5, 2013

“Out, damned spot! Out, I say! . . . Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! Oh! Oh!” —Macbeth

On view through Sunday, February 10, Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy beautifully illustrates the power of the gesture of hands. And in a contemporary sense, Bruce Nauman’s piece For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), on view now in BCAM, suggests just how differently the twenty-first century regards these human appendages.

Compared to the evocative heavenly hands by the glorious Michelangelo Buonarroti in the heaven of the Sistine Chapel,  you could almost say that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is the “man who fell to the earth,” where hands and feet reflect the gruff, austere reality of dirt and labor. Highly competitive and volatile, Caravaggio lived the intense life of the street, the very heart of his artistic vision. When we see these moments with real people in sort of real time and place, we sense the stark vision that was like no other. Here the compellingly theatrical came into focus. Lights! Action! (So to speak.)  A hyper reality is on display.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Martha and Mary Magdalene, 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, Martha and Mary Magdalene, c. 1598, Detroit Institute of Arts, gift of The Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford, photo © 2013 Detroit Institute of Arts, all rights reserved

Given the magnitude of their gestures—through yards of draping cloth—these common looking lascivious boys, haggard men, and mostly serene women occupy a space that was not unlike their natural places. They somehow mirror their world, bringing tales of the Bible and mythology up close and personal. The depth of chiaroscuro for Caravaggio is not merely a technique, inspired by Raphael. It animates the very image of fear and revelation, Heaven and Hell, as the hands grope out of its dark magic. Art momentarily leaves the heavens. For me, it’s sheer beauty on earth!

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Salome Receives the Head of St. John the Baptist, c. 1609–1610, National Gallery, London, England, photo © 2012 The National Gallery, London

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Salome Receives the Head of St. John the Baptist, c. 1609–1610, National Gallery, London, England, photo © 2013 The National Gallery, London

Caravaggio and his legacy of followers would cast us as voyeurs within the narrative melodrama of the street—the dungeon, the taverns, the urban rawness that filters through a naked vision of sensuous, earthbound, tactilely transformative spiritual mysteries. We can almost touch them. Faith, sex and glamour are seen in the grip of a staff in a darkened road; seduction in an open palm in a darkened street.  The hands tell of conversion, the business of butchery, the painful crucifixion, the pulling of a tooth, thievery, trickery, fierce negotiations. They hold the hair of the decapitated John the Baptist, the brooding chin, the tightened crown of thorns on Jesus’s head. Divine fingers thrust forward to point Matthew out. Within this background of blood lust and barbarism, the hands of disciples and Madonnas exact tenderness, mercy, and benevolence.

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Mocking of Christ, c. 1617–1620, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Mocking of Christ, c. 1617–1620, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Caravaggio’s tortured, powerfully emotional tension would have many followers. His exquisite skill gave us hands as the soft malleable reality that shapes the drama of life. They tell stories through the eye of a carnal Everyman in a time of religious fervor. Bruce Nauman’s For Beginners is, on the other hand, a video writ large done in true twenty-first-century mode.  One of the most body conscious contemporary artists of his generation—and working through many different mediums—he has a profound affinity with the human body. Of course, it is somewhat less about the nature of the moral spirit, and more about nature of perception itself, as it borders on ironic humor and farce.

Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), 2010, collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Artis, image courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York, © Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York,

Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), 2010, collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Artis, image courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York, © 2013 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York,

It’s as if the issues of reality that obsessed Caravaggio had long been settled, and in the intervening four hundred years, artistic concerns turned elsewhere.  Something more subtle and pointedly judicious would obsess Nauman: namely language, and the irony of signs and their bizarre intercourse. This is where he would fixate.  As raw materials, the hands in For Beginners are removed from emotion. Abstracted, the hands become conceptualist gesticulating gloves, independent of specific emotion— a kind of mime in a “cool hand Luke” world. With a sort of Warholian repetition—and on giant screen—Nauman names the digits of his hands in a dual sequence. As if devolving, the sound dissolves into something less than the meaning of his hands’ motion. It is a kind of beautiful minimalism that eats at attention and communication. In this sense, Nauman seems closer to ritual, mimicking something made nihilistic or fetishistic. It’s strangely funny yet hopelessly human.

Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), 2010, image courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York, © 2011 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), 2010, collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Artis, image courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York, © 2013 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As a guard, many have asked me, “What is he getting at?” Repetition can be a black hole where you are always puzzled at the beginning.  Are the hands merely gestures of playfulness? Of course, this has been one of Bruce Nauman’s consistent themes—the absurd conflagration of mathematics (like the nature of Pi) with the musical structure of a broken record. Mix the paradox of language with the desired meaning, and one is stranded in some kind of loop. There’s the sensuous dance of the fingers, the background that is sometimes black, white, or both, the hypnotic voices, and the hands’ dexterity. It’s all a sort of  “disconnect” engaged in an exhaustive exercise where surely we’ll smile at our own frustration. In this kind of dizzy choreography, the hands enter the theater of the absurd, and their sheer scale is sensational. Dazzled, we are caught stagnating on the edge of expectation. Maybe this is Bruce Nauman’s modern drama.

Hylan Booker

For Beginners is on view now in BCAM; Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy is on view through February 10. Become a member and see it, plus Stanley Kubrickfor free.


For the Love of Type

February 4, 2013

This past Sunday, we opened Jack Stauffacher: Typographic Experiments. In 1966, San Francisco printer Jack Stauffacher reopened The Greenwood Press, the imprint he had founded as a teenager, and moved his workshop to what was known as “The Printer’s Building” at 300 Broadway.  Shortly after moving, he received a gift of 66 pieces of late 19th-century wooden type from The Williams Printing Company, a recently shuttered commercial poster business that had operated downstairs.

Since then, Stauffacher has employed the wooden letters in a series of what he calls “typographic meditations,” arranging the familiar forms into unexpected configurations to create bold, abstract images. In the video interview below, he reflects on his experiments and on the inherent appeal of the letters, whose richly textured surfaces show evidence of their history.

You can see his prints and books at LACMA in Jack Stauffacher: Typographic Experiments, which opens in the Art of the Americas building on February 2.

Staci Steinberger, Curatorial Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design; video by Alexa Oona Schulz


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