A Walking Tour of MacArthur Park

April 10, 2013

My earliest memory of MacArthur Park is from the mid 1970s. My sister was taking a painting class for high school students at Otis College of Art and Design. I was allowed to hang out in the class even though I was only about six or seven. I remember painting the park from a second floor view out a window. The old Otis campus is now Charles White Elementary School. The LACMA art education exhibition Shinique Smith: Firsthand is now on view at the school and features works by the artist and objects from the LACMA’s Costume and Textiles collection. This weekend is a great time to visit the exhibition as we will be presenting a free family and community day on Saturday from 10am–2pm. Drop by for free family tours, art-making, and scavenger hunts before heading out to explore the art in the neighborhood.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 10.44.22 AM

MacArthur Park was originally called Westlake Park. At the time, it was the western terminus of Wilshire Boulevard. It was built in 1890 and was highly influenced by the Olmsted Brothers concept for urban park design. Through the early part of the twentieth century, the park was a vacation destination, with fancy hotels and glamourous visitors and inhabitants. In the 1920s, Wilshire Boulevard was rerouted through the park, dividing it in two. In recent decades, the neighborhood has become a vibrant hub for Central American immigrants.

The best way to get to the MacArthur Park/Westlake neighborhood is by Metro. I really recommend taking the train. (The Redline and Purpleline both stop at the Macarthur Park/Westlake station). Besides that it is fun to take the subway, there is no parking hassle, and you reduce your carbon footprint,  there is some amazing public art in the station.

When you get off the train, you’ll see glimpses of Francisco Letelier’s large tile murals El Sol and La Luna. Walk up to the next level for a better view. The murals flank the northern and southern walls of the station. Images of MacArthur Park community members, landmarks, and laborers are depicted in intense blues, reds, yellows, and oranges. See if you can find a woman sewing, the sun, a father and child, the metro tunnel, and the moon.

Francisco Letelier, El Sol and La Luna

Francisco Letelier

Now look for Sonia Romero’s artwork MacArthur Park: Urban Oasis, a series of porcelain mosaic murals installed at eye level, near the turnstiles on the northside of the station. Romero produced original linoleum cut prints that show scenes from the park and adjacent historical buildings. The prints were then translated into mosaic mural panels. Each panel tells a unique neighborhood story. Can you imagine yourself in one of these scenes? Playing soccer? Eating at Langer’s? Strolling by the water in 1902?

Romero-Tamale Cart

Sonia Romero

Romero-soccer

Romero-night view

Romero-1900s couple

Walk to the center of the station and look up. Into the Light by Therman Statom hangs in a yellow tile skylight. Look for five ordinary objects: house, ladder, leaf, cone, and diamond. Notice the shadow patterns on the floor below, and how the light changes as you move around and under.

Therman Statom

Therman Statom

So much art and we haven’t left the station yet. As you emerge from the station, the first view across the street is the southside of the park. Notice your surroundings. Street vendors selling fresh squeezed orange juice, pupusas, tamales, tortas, CDs. Brightly painted advertisements and signs. Can you find the Westlake Theatre sign? That sign, and others like it around Los Angeles were repaired and refurbished by the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Westlake sign 3

Throughout the park, there are a number of sculptures and murals dating back to 1920. The majority of the sculptures were installed in 1986 and 1987. Walk to the NW corner of Alvarado and Wilshire. Look east, and check out the huge mural of Jaime Escalante and Edward James by Olmos Hector Ponce, Los Angeles Teachers.

Olmos Hector Ponce

Olmos Hector Ponce

Turn around and enter the park. About a quarter of the way into the park, you’ll see a red sculpture elevated on a tall pedestal. You’ve found artist Franco Assetto’s The Big Candy.

Franco Assetto

Franco Assetto

Continue walking past the soccer field and the playground. You’ll see Judy Simonian’s Pyramids. Look for the light blue one and the figure of a man. The tile of his face is missing. What do you think he looks like?

Judy Simonian

Judy Simonian

Continue walking until you walk  out of the park. Look up and check out the entry arch designed by R.M. Fischer. You should be facing Charles White Elementary now. Go check out Firsthand! Before you leave the school campus, look for the Ken Twitchell mural that overlooks the basketball court and faces Carondelet Street. Lucky b-ball players!

Twitchell

Ken Twitchell

On your way back to the station, head in to the southside of the park, by the the lake. Look for George Hermes’ Clocktower-Monument to Unknown and Roger Noble Burnham’s MacArthur Monument. Think about how these artists pay tribute and commemorate.

George Hermes

George Hermes

Burnham

Roger Noble Burnham

As I was walking back to the station, after eating a delicious tamale at Mama’s Hot Tamales, I was thinking about how this neighborhood is so L.A, where we can transform and be anything. Where an art school has become an elementary school; and the kids at Charles White Elementary have their own artwork hanging in a gallery, reflecting the art in their neighborhood and the previous incarnation of their school.

Alicia Vogl Saenz, Senior education coordinator


A Scholarly Visit

April 8, 2013

In the exhibition Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum is a small handscroll titled Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, painted by the professional artist Jiang Song (act. late fifteenth through the early sixteenth centuries).

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Jiang Song, Carrying a Zither to Visit a Friend, Late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

The title of the painting summarizes its content:  a scholar, followed by a servant boy carrying a zither, on his way to visit a friend.  At the far left end of the scroll, the scholar walks slowly on a path along a river stream.  At the other end is a simple cottage, hidden in mountain cliffs and trees, housing a friend waiting for the visitor.  The meeting of the two friends is postponed by a long section of landscape that occupies most of the composition.  The handscroll’s theme is strikingly similar to a fourteenth-century lacquer tray on view in the adjacent Chinese gallery.

Unknown, Oval Tray (Duoyuan Pan) with Pavilion on a Garden Terrace, Yuan dynasty, 1279–1368, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Nessley

Unknown, Oval Tray (Duoyuan Pan) with Pavilion on a Garden Terrace, Yuan dynasty, 1279–1368, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Nessley

In a smaller scale and more stylized design, the lacquer tray also presents a scholar on the left, followed by a servant boy, and his friend resting in a studio in a garden on the right.  Subtle difference sets the painting and the tray apart.  In the former, the scholar is on his way to visit the friend, who is anxiously waiting inside the cottage.  The scholar in the lacquer tray, however, has just finished the visit and is returning home.  The friend, who must have enjoyed the visit very much, is drunk and has apparently fallen asleep.  The two pieces complement each other, and tell a lyrical story of scholar-friends gathering for music, art, and drinking.

In both pieces, the servant boy carries a zither, called qin in Chinese.  One of the oldest musical instrument, it is featured prominently in another painting in the exhibition, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley by Wu Wei (1459–1508).

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley, fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley, fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Musical cultivation was an essential part of a Confucian scholar’s education, equally important as literature and calligraphy.  Appreciated for its pure and lingering tones, qin is usually associated with the literati culture for its subtle and understated aesthetics.  It is said that the qin music directly reflects the player’s state of mind, with a harmonic melody suggesting the union between the musician, his music, and the universe.  This symbolic meaning is visually manifested in the hanging scroll, where a scholar plays a qin zither in nature on a quiet night.  Completely absorbed by the music, he looks into the distant mountain, and leads our gaze into the expansive background of void and tranquility.  With adept combination of light broad ink wash and jet black swift lines, Wu Wei created an image of harmony between music and painting, and between human and nature.

Music is also the metaphor of friendship in Chinese culture, particularly pertinent to the Jiang Song handscroll and the lacquer tray.  The legend goes that the famous musician Bo Ya was playing qin zither one day in the mountains.  A woodcutter Zhong Ziqi recognized from the sound the high-mindedness of its player.  The two immediately became close friends.  The story, repeatedly told in literature and depicted in paintings, is widely used to symbolize the profound friendship between two similar-minded friends.  We can imagine the two scholars in the painting and the lacquer tray playing the zither at their gathering, appreciating each other’s cultivation in music, and enjoying the company.

Scholars gathering in a garden is one of the most popular and enduring themes in Chinese art, a reflection of the dominant literati culture.  It was envisioned and idealized by many, no matter if by a hermit taking retreat in nature, a professional painter such as Jiang Song, or an affluent enjoying the luxury of a lacquer tray at home.

 

Christina Yu Yu, Assistant Curator, Chinese and Korean Art


This Weekend at LACMA: Stephen Prina Opens, a Double Dose of Sci-fi, and More

April 6, 2013

There’s always something new to discover at LACMA. This weekend is no exception. Debuting on Sunday is Stephen Prina: As He Remembered It. L.A.-based artist Stephen Prina’s installation consists of twenty-eight pieces of furniture painted pink (Pantone Honeysuckle 2011 Color of the Year, to be precise) and arranged to follow the lines of the room. Read more about our newest exhibition and its origins on Unframed. As always, LACMA members see it first—member previews are open right now.

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles CountyMuseum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and PetzelGallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and Petzel Gallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

This exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., a series of exhibitions and programs that celebrate the city’s modern architectural heritage. Other arts centers, like the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the J. Paul Getty Museum, are participating as well and have exhibitions on view through July. Check out the Pacific Standard Time website for details on the many other related exhibitions.

Our science-fiction film series, Beyond the Infinite: Science Fiction After Kubrick, concludes with a double-feature tonight. In Robert Altman’s Quintet, Paul Newman wanders through a snowy wasteland into the ruins of a frozen city where he ends up embroiled in a life-threatening game as one of the last members of the human race. The Man Who Fell to Earth caps off the evening with the big screen debut of David Bowie as a derelict extraterrestrial looking to save his home planet, while struggling to overcome the material indulgences of modern man. Originally cut by more than twenty minutes for its U.S. theatrical release, it has now been fully restored.

While you’re here enjoying Stephen Prina and the sci-fi film series, take the opportunity to explore some of our other wonderful exhibitions. For example, in the South and Southeast Asian Art galleries you can see The Temptation of Arjuna: A Tale of Spiritual Triumph, an exhibition that showcases the recent acquisition of a rare Balinese painting. These narrative paintings decorated palace pavilions during royal ceremonies and ritual festivities in the early twentieth century in Bali. Alongside this piece you’ll find a pair of batik garments from the north coast of Java from the same period.

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

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

This weekend at LACMA also has free family tours on Saturday, free guided tours Saturday and Sunday, free Andell Family Sundays, and a free classical music concert Sunday evening. Find the full schedule here. Did we mention they’re free?

One last thing: no one likes to think about Monday at this point, but—the international premiere of Takashi Murakami’s directorial debut, Jellyfish Eyes, will be held in the Bing Theater at 7:30 pm, followed by a Q&A with the director (thanks to our friends at Film Independent). It’s not “this weekend” but it’s pretty special, so mark your calendars.

Roberto Ayala


Think Pink

April 4, 2013

It’s 1980s Los Angeles. Nighttime. Stephen Prina and fellow artist Christopher Williams walk along La Brea Avenue—yes, people do walk in Los Angeles—and a pink shape in a glowing storefront display catches their attention.   Unable to identify the object, they approach the store and discover the puzzling unit is a desk designed by Austrian architect R.M. Schindler.  Something feels odd about the desk, and the artists soon learn it was once built-in to a Schindler house; but, having been removed from its original architectural context, the desk has been painted pink and is now presented, awkwardly, as a freestanding object.

Looking back on that noteworthy discovery nearly three decades later, Prina says of the desk, “it appeared to us as an amputated limb.” Thus the seed was planted for Prina’s installation As He Remembered It, opening as part of his solo exhibition in BCAM and in the Pavilion for Japanese Art. The exhibition is open to members starting today, and opens to the general public this Sunday, April 7.

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles CountyMuseum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and PetzelGallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and Petzel Gallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

In preparation to make the installation, Prina selected the Schindler-designed residences of Mrs. George (Rose) Harris and Hilaire Hiler, constructed in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Both homes have since been demolished.  Using surviving plans and photographs, the artist produced replicas of the built-in furniture, which were placed according to the lines of the room.  The resulting installation consists of twenty-eight objects that the artist first stained and then painted pink, more specifically Pantone Honeysuckle 2011 Color of the Year—a self-touted “brave new color, for a brave new world.”

The effect of As He Remembered It is ghostly.  Closets, sinks, vanities, couches, a piano, and a stairway to nowhere occupy the space; they are arranged neatly in a grid pattern, but their incongruous shapes and symptoms of wear and tear, what Prina refers to as “patina,” betray their tidy presentation.  The slipshod application of paint drips and thickly pools on some surfaces yet remains scarce on others, revealing hints of color that suggest the objects’ previous existence.

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles CountyMuseum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and PetzelGallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Installation view: Stephen Prina, As He Remembered It (detail), 2011, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Stephen Prina; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne, and Petzel Gallery, New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

If, as Prina says, the objects can be likened to amputated limbs, it’s easy if not natural to feel the phantom sensation of architectural absence.  Although the furniture is firmly rooted to the ground, each piece somehow feels suspended in space, in time, or perhaps in the artist’s memory. Yet, we must remind ourselves that as replicas, these objects were never built-ins and that phantom sensation likely represents our own projections of the objects as furniture rather than the objects as objects.  Ceci n’est pas un placard.

As He Remembered It was originally exhibited at the Secession in Vienna, the hometown of Schindler who later emigrated to the United States and ultimately settled in Los Angeles.  LACMA’s exhibition celebrates a homecoming of sorts for both Prina—based between Los Angeles and Cambridge, where he teaches at Harvard— and this major installation, inspired by Schindler’s Los Angeles-based designs.

This exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in Los Angeles, an initiative of the Getty and an offshoot of Pacific Standard Time (2011-2012), which united sixty organizations in celebrating the birth of LA’s art and design scene.  More modest in its scope, Pacific Standard Time Presents pays homage to the influential role Southern California played in shaping modernist architecture. Later this month, Prina will be at LACMA for a conversation with Michael Govan as part of the free Director’s Series.

Stephanie Sykes


Rediscovering American Landscapes

April 3, 2013

LACMA’s permanent collection installation, Compass for Surveyors: Nineteenth-Century American Landscapes, gives visitors a chance to see old favorites in a new context, and to see some paintings (and photographs) that either have not been seen before, or have not been on display for several years. LACMA’s Director of Adult Programs, Mary Lenihan, who trained originally as an American art historian, offers this commentary on the gallery, which will be featured in her Point-of-View gallery talk on Thursday, at 12:30 pm.

My first position at LACMA, in 1991, entailed assisting curator Ilene Susan Fort in the American Art curatorial department, so I had a great introduction to the paintings now on view, and many of the landscapes became my LACMA favorites. American photography has been an interest of mine, as well, since the medium, introduced to America in 1839, literally grew up with the nation. So the whole idea of Compass for Surveyors is fascinating.

October, George Inness, United States, 1882 or 1886, Paul Rodman Mabury Collection

October, George Inness,
United States, 1882 or 1886, Paul Rodman Mabury Collection

The George Inness painting, October, from the 1880s, is an example of how American landscape painters absorbed earlier approaches and then came to a singular mature style. Inness began early in his career in what was called the Hudson River School landscape tradition – named for the pre-Civil War painters, who were not formally organized, that painted the grandeur of the newly discovered American landscape with painstaking attention to detail. Inness later spent a great deal of time in Rome as well as in France, and developed from traditions he found there a preoccupation with painting outdoors, emphasizing light and atmosphere.  He combined those interests with his deep Swedenborgian faith, a theology that suggests nature’s correspondence with spiritual values. Inness’s later landscapes, including October, often include scenes of nature in twilight or in a soft focus that nearly de-materializes the setting.  We do not know the religious significance of such scenes, but the artist’s interest in spiritual concerns did not preclude careful planning. A close look at October reveals meticulous attention to composition, as the gap in the trees and its reflection in the pond are situated at the exact center of the canvas.

Autumn Morning on the Potomac, William Louis Sonntag, United States, circa 1860s, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Yolande B. Markson

Autumn Morning on the Potomac, William Louis Sonntag, United States, circa 1860s, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Yolande B. Markson

William Sonntag’s Autumn Morning on the Potomac has not been on view recently. We do not know much about the artist, nor much about the painting, for that matter. But it fits well into the Compass for Surveyors installation by reminding us of the geographic breadth of American landscape painters.  If the Hudson River painters were known for their work depicting the Hudson River Valley and New England scenes, some chose different parts of the country as subject matter. Sonntag, born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Cincinnati, and while he eventually settled in New York, he continued to visit the Ohio River valley and made many sketching trips. Among those was an 1860 trip to Virginia, which probably was the inspiration for this canvas. Painted with careful attention to detail, it seems to capture a specific scene.  The location and the date of the painting are of interest historically, as abolitionist John Brown’s famous raid on Harper’s Ferry, along the Potomac, would have just occurred, and the bitter sectionalism that would pitch the country into Civil War was already widespread. The painting shows no sign of this, however, instead celebrating the picturesque and rural American landscape.

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

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

Thomas Hill’s Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, from 1864, has often been on view, and in the context of Compass for Surveyors, is hung on a wall with only a few Western landscape paintings, facing the two dozen or so Eastern scenes on the opposite wall. This painting beautifully captures the spirit of LACMA’s relatively few paintings of Western scenes from the mid-19th century: a presentation of the awesome beauty of the mountains, complete with waterfall and snow-capped peaks, untouched by human domestication. This was the land of gold rushes, of infinite opportunity, and sublime natural wonders. Hill made his living in San Francisco, but he started as a painter in the Hudson River Landscape tradition in New Hampshire. His westward move thus paralleled the westward move of Easterners, and other artists, too. The figures to the left of the painting offer a perhaps startling note; the visitors are well dressed, likely preparing for a picnic as the woman seems to signal a companion in the boat to the right. These are tourists, out for a day trip to a scenic spot. As early as the 1860s, the West—and California—was already important as a tourist destination.

Oak Grove Near Pasadena, California, William Henry Jackson, United States, circa 1900, Ralph M. Parsons Fund

Oak Grove Near Pasadena, California, William Henry Jackson, United States, circa 1900, Ralph M. Parsons Fund

A photograph that is of local interest here in Los Angeles is William Henry Jackson’s Oak Grove Near Pasadena, California, from around 1900. Jackson was, by this time, a famous and celebrated photographer; he had accompanied some of the early surveying parties that roamed the American West following the Civil War, documenting such locations as the Grand Tetons and the area that later became Yellowstone National Park. This shot is notable for its universality; the location could be almost anywhere in the United States. The composition is clearly the work of a master, but for us here in Southern California, it is a reminder that until a bit later in the last century, our region was largely unsettled and rural. The horse-drawn wagon and unpaved road seem light years away from the freeways and densely settled neighborhoods of today.

Compass for Surveyors offers many opportunities for museum visitors to see something new, and to see something familiar presented in a new way. The compass in the middle of the gallery is a metaphor; just as it can point in any direction, viewers can find multiple viewpoints and meanings as they look around the room. Meet at 12:30 pm in the BP Grand Entrance, by the doors to the Ahmanson Building, on Thursday, April 4, if you are interested in hearing more about these and other works of art currently on display.


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