This Weekend at LACMA: Ming Masterpieces Closes, Kubrick & Co. Film Series, Eleanor Antin Book-Signing, and More

May 31, 2013

All things must come to an end, work weeks and elegant displays of ancient Chinese paintings included. The exhibition featuring ten early Ming dynasty (1368–1644) court painting masterpieces, Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum, has reached its conclusion. See this collection of Chinese paintings that the Los Angeles Times called “absorbing” and “a mark of distinction” before it leaves on Sunday. This type of art is rarely seen in the United States and this weekend is your last chance to experience this astonishing display of detail and grace.

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

Commemorating the final month of Stanley Kubrick (open through June 30), the film series Kubrick and Co. enters its second week of  choicely-paired flicks. Beginning on Friday night at 7:30 pm, we screen two films about the hunt for justice against all odds, Paths of Glory and Time Without Pity. On Saturday evening at 5 pm we switch gears and present Lord Loves a Duck and Lolita: the former a teensploitation epic, the latter a provocative classic about a middle-aged man and his obsession with a teenage girl. The Kubrick and Co. series continues every weekend in June, till the close of the exhibition. Check out this week’s LA Weekly for more on the series.

Families at LACMA will enjoy free Family Tours on Saturday at 11 am and Andell Family Sundays right after lunch on Sunday. Also on Sunday at 1 pm, Eleanor Antin will read from her darkly comic coming-of-age memoir, Conversations with Stalin. The free reading of this hilarious quest will be followed by a book signing in the Brown Auditorium.

Contemporary art is abundant on the west side of campus. In BCAM you’ll see Stephen Prina: As He Remembered It next to Ends and Exits and one part of James Turrell: A Retrospective. Next door in the Resnick Pavilion, you’ll find another showstopper, Hans Richter: Encounters. This exhibition of the prolific painter/filmmaker/writer/artist includes an interactive section with augmented reality projected through iPads. Take your time here, there’s quite a lot to see in this gallery! In the Pavilion for Japanese Art Japanese Prints: Hokusai at LACMA impresses with iconic works like the popularly known Red Fuji and The Great Wave.

Hans Richter, Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black, Gray, and White), 1943, private collection, © 2013 Hans Richter Estate, Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Hans Richter, Dragonfly (Counterpoint in Red, Black, Gray, and White), 1943, private collection, © 2013 Hans Richter Estate, Photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

Finally, live, free music is on tap all weekend at LACMA, per usual. Friday night’s Jazz at LACMA performance from emerging modern jazz vocalist Sandra Booker starts at 6 pm. Saturday evening’s performance by Téka, a renowned Brazilian singer/guitarist, graces Latin Sounds in Hancock Park (behind the museum) at 5 pm. And on Sunday evening the UCLA Camarades perform Schubert at Sundays Live in the Bing Theater at 6 pm.

One final note, beyond this weekend: mark your calendars for two can’t-miss talks next week. On Monday, LACMA Director Michael Govan will be in conversation with Peter Zumthor about the Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s proposal for a new building at LACMA. Then, on Wednesday, Govan returns to speak with Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the topic of “the future of the encyclopedic art museum.”

Roberto Ayala


Irma Boom: The Renaissance of the Book

May 28, 2013

While LACMA’s 2011 California Design exhibition circles the globe (it’s at the National Art Center, Tokyo for a few more weeks before it packs up and moves to the Auckland Art Gallery this summer, the Queensland Art Gallery in November, and finally ends at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. in Spring 2014), the Decorative Arts and Design department has been busily working on a companion book, A Handbook of California Design, 1930-1965: Craftspeople, Designers, Manufacturers. While organizing the exhibition, the research team turned up file cabinets full of new information about California designers and craftspeople. There was no way that we could squeeze it all into the exhibition catalogue, and we quickly realized that a second book was inevitable. I served as editor of the book, and in considering what form it would take, I immediately thought of the Dutch designer Irma Boom. Irma is an internationally renowned graphic designer–last year she received the Medal of Honor for Art and Science from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and she recently completed the new graphic identity and house style for the just re-opened Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I met Irma while working on the book Knoll Textiles and from that experience, knew that her conception of the ‘book as object’ made her the perfect designer for this project, which is all about objects of design. We spoke recently about the design process and why she chose to work on the Handbook of California Design.

Irma Boom will speak at LACMA on Thursday, May 30 about her career, the place of books in contemporary society, and her experience designing LACMA’s Handbook of California Design. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Bobbye Tigerman: Irma, your services are in very high demand and you can be selective about which projects you take. Why did you choose to design the Handbook of California Design?

Irma Boom: If I design a book, I do it because I want to learn from its content. I didn’t know that there were so many outstanding California designers working at mid-century. Of course I knew the very famous ones, like Saul Bass and Charles and Ray Eames, but I was interested to learn more about some of the more obscure designers. The text is also clear and beautifully written. Each entry is concise but very informative.

BT: What were your design inspirations for this book?

IB: The content was already developed, so it was not difficult to organize the information. A beautiful book about Comme des Garçons inspired the bright orange color and the texture of the edges.

BT: Were there any particular challenges that you faced with this book?

IB: There weren’t any major hurdles. The book has a very clear structure—each spread is devoted to one designer or craftsperson and has a brief biography and an image. It was important to me to emphasize the many connections between the designers so I created a diagram at the beginning of the book that visually demonstrated the networks and collaborations.

BT: What is your favorite aspect of the book?

IB: The clarity of the content and design.

BT: How does the book fit into your larger oeuvre?

IB: It has a clear structure—the content and design are one. And like many books I design, I conceive of it as a complete object, including the cover materials, the paper, the binding, the inks, the edges. It is a total experience.

BT: As we see the landscape of book design and production changing rapidly, you have been a strong proponent of the printed word. Why do you continue to design books, and why are they important?

IB: In this age of constant flux, the book becomes even more important than it was before. Information printed in black and white on physical paper is “frozen.” I find that printed text is much more thoroughly researched and proofed, as it cannot be changed instantly like text on the internet. I make books where the object—the three-dimensional, physical experience—is key. My books are not PDFs. Their materiality—their size, paper, and weight—are important ingredients and play a critical role in all the decisions I make. The book is a container of ideas and thoughts because of its intrinsic qualities. I believe in the renaissance of the book.

Bobbye Tigerman, Associate Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

 


Now on View: 10th-Century Seated Buddha

May 28, 2013

On display in the Korean art galleries is one our latest acquisitions, added to the collection at last month’s Collectors Committee event. It is a tenth-century Seated Buddha, made of cast iron and especially notable for its size—it is the largest example of Goryeo Buddhist sculpture outside of Asia.

Seated Buddha, Korea, Goryeo dynasty, 10th century, gift of the 2013 Collectors Committee

Seated Buddha, Korea, Goryeo dynasty, 10th century, gift of the 2013 Collectors Committee

Buddhism arrived in Korea with the arrival of monks from India and China in the fourth century AD. The foreign religion, which taught a means to transcend life’s inevitable suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth, quickly took hold and was soon supported by members of the royal courts of the Three Kingdoms Period (fourth through seventh centuries). Later, during the Unified Silla (668–935) and Goryeo (918–1392) dynasties, Buddhism enjoyed widespread patronage and flourished throughout the Korean peninsula. Buddhism was transmitted to Japan from Korea in the sixth century.

The Goryeo dynasty, which coincided with the European High Middle Ages, witnessed enthusiastic aristocratic and governmental support for Buddhism. Depicting the historical Buddha Shakyamuni’s Enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, in the modern state of Bihar in India, this magnificent iron sculpture projects a profound sense of meditative calm. Having fended off an attack by the forces of mara (illusion), at the moment of his Enlightenment the Buddha touched the earth with his right hand, thereby calling on the earth to witness his achievement. This sacred gesture is known in Sanskrit as bhumisparsa–mudra, or the “earth-touching gesture.”

Seldom seen in Chinese sculpture before the fifteenth century, and almost never seen in Japanese sculpture, cast iron was widely used in Korea for Buddhist sculpture from the eighth century onward. Examples of Goryeo iron sculpture are rare today—they were easily melted down—and none exist on this scale in any other American collection. This masterpiece of tenth-century Goryeo sculpture is a superb addition to LACMA’s collection of Korean art, particularly as a way to display the great achievements of Goryeo Buddhism to American audiences.

Stephen Little, curator and department head, Chinese and Korean Art


This Weekend at LACMA: James Turrell Opens, Latin Sounds 2013 Season Begins, and Free Admission on Memorial Day

May 24, 2013

The weekend we’ve been looking forward to has finally arrived! The long-awaited James Turrell: A Retrospective has opened for members and will be on view to the general public starting on Sunday. Though tickets for Sunday have sold out, a very limited amount of time slots are still available for viewing on Saturday (members only) and Monday (open to all). This exhibition requires only a few people in a gallery at a time, and sometimes as much as ten minutes with one work in order for your eyes to fully perceive what is happening. Expect to spend 60-90 minutes in the show, and make sure you reserve your tickets in advance. (The separately ticketed artwork, Light Reingfall, from Turrell’s Perceptual Cell series–which can only accommodate three people per hour–is sold out through July, but once you experience this astral show you’ll easily see what all the commotion is about.)

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

Beyond James Turrell, we’ve got plenty of other wonders to share. Case in point: the recently opened Hans Richter: Encounters. Tour through the mind of polymath, painter, filmmaker, and writer Hans Richter in this dazzling exhibition with nearly 150 artworks by the artist and his contemporaries.

Hans Richter, Dreams That Money Can Buy (still), 1944–47,© Hans Richter Estate

Hans Richter, Dreams That Money Can Buy (still), 1944–47,© Hans Richter Estate

On the east side of campus you’ll find the crowd-pleasing Stanley Kubrick, entering  its last month. (Heads up, we will be screening nearly all of his movies one more time throughout June, starting next weekend.) Next door, in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, you can still see Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum. See these ten masterpieces of early Ming dynasty court painting before they’re gone on June 2.

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

Li Zai, The Daoist Adept Qin Gao Riding a Carp, Ming dynasty, 15th century, Shanghai Museum

On a different note, music lovers and fans of warm evenings will be delighted to know that this weekend is the opening night of the 2013 season of Latin Sounds. This weekly, free music series presents world-renowned artists playing the latest sounds from all over Latin America. On Saturday night, BombaChante, an explosive nine piece ensemble known for tight rhythms and a screaming horn section, will kick off the summer right. Latin Sounds starts at 5 pm, is open to the public, and takes place behind LACMA in Hancock Park.

The music doesn’t stop there: Sundays Live, also free, features emerging artists from the Colburn School. Catch it in the Bing Theater Sunday evening at 6pm.

Lastly, Monday is Memorial Day and in celebration LACMA and Target are offering visitor of all ages a free day at the museum (does not include admission to Stanley Kubrick or James Turrell). Activities at Target Free Holiday Monday include bilingual tours, programs, art-making stations, and live music by the Music of China Ensemble at UCLA. You have to be here!

Roberto Ayala


The Radical Reality of James Turrell

May 22, 2013

Opening this Sunday is James Turrell: A Retrospective—a large-scale survey of Turrell’s career filling galleries in both BCAM and the Resnick Pavilion. Michael Govan, LACMA’s Wallis Annenberg Director, serves as co-curator of the exhibition along with contemporary art curator Christine Y. Kim. Below is an excerpt from Govan’s essay “Inner Light,” found in full in the accompanying exhibition catalogue co-published by LACMA and DelMonico Books/Prestel.

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, Cross Corner Projection, LACMA, partial gift of Marc and Andrea Glimcher in honor of the appointment of Michael Govan as CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director and purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo © 2013 Museum Associates LACMA

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, Cross Corner Projection, LACMA, partial gift of Marc and Andrea Glimcher in honor of the appointment of Michael Govan as CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director and purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo © 2013 Museum Associates LACMA

The theme of light has preoccupied artists for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci wrote volumes about the importance of light in rendering nature; Romantic artists described the sublime through light; and others, from Russian icon painters to modern artists, used abstract forms to account for a divine or inner light. No one, however, has so fully considered the “thingness” of light itself—as well as how the experience of light reflects the wondrous and complex nature of human perception—as James Turrell has more than four decades. As the artist himself explains of his work, “Light is not so much something that reveals as it is itself the revelation.”

During the 1960s, Turrell emerged as one of the most radical of a new generation of artists. At a moment when American art in particular was dealing with extremely simplified forms (which were the beginnings of Minimalism), Turrell applied this approach to nothing—no object, only light and perception. His earliest light projections and constructions conjure a material perception of the immaterial, and in his (still unfinished) magnum opus, Roden Crater, Turrell goes beyond even that. One of the most ambitious artworks ever conceived, representing forty years of ongoing work to convert an extinct volcanic crater in northern Arizona, Roden Crater—through light—conveys the vastness of the cosmos within the tangible space of human experience.

James Turrell, Roden Crater Project, view toward northeast, photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Roden Crater Project, view toward northeast, photo © Florian Holzherr

By devising means to hold light as an isolated and almost tactile substance, Turrell has created opportunities for us to experience it as a primary physical presence rather than as a tool through which to see or render other phenomena. Viewing his work, we are called upon not to consider what is being lit but instead to contemplate the nature of the light itself—its transparency or opacity, its volume, and its color, which is often perceived as changing, thus adding a temporal aspect to the experience. Turrell’s work is especially “modern” in this sense. So often it is presumed that the most revolutionary aspect of (Western) modern art is a tendency toward abstraction or intellectualization, accompanied by a distancing of emotion. But quite the opposite is true: as Cubism offers multiple points of view at once; as Color Field Painting and Hard Edge Abstraction isolate visual phenomena through distinct color and form; as Abstract Expressionism allows the materiality of paint or canvas to dominate composition or subject; as Surrealism excavates the unconscious and brings it to the surface; as Conceptualism can provide more direct access to the artist’s intentions; and as photography has often concerned itself with verisimilitude, much modern and contemporary art strives to heighten awareness of our own perception and understanding more than artworks based on conventional narrative, symbolic, or illustrative structures. Turrell’s Skyspaces—essentially rooms with apertures that open to the sky—afford the immediacy of pure color and light without the distractions of image or even paint, dramatizing the materialization of our own perception characteristic of modern art as they magically bring the sky we take for granted as being far away into our intimate physical space. There could be no better illustration of art’s capacity to put an otherwise distant truth directly in front of us than the heroic gesture of bringing the sky down to earth for our immediate consideration. Turrell closes the gap between the thing perceived and the perceiving being as he plays with the very act of seeing itself.

James Turrell, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, A James Turrell Skyspace, the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Rice University, Houston, TX, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Twilight Epiphany, 2012, A James Turrell Skyspace, the Suzanne Deal Booth Centennial Pavilion, Rice University, Houston, TX, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

Of course, removing the distance between the perceiver and the object perceived in order to see “truth” is an ongoing concern, if also an elusive concept. This “problem of objectivity” is one of the great themes of both modern art and twentieth-century philosophy. Even in the nascent Modernism of late nineteenth-century French painting—the often dimly lit but shocking realism of Gustave Courbet’s studio-based practice on one hand and the intense reality of pure color and light of the Impressionists’ plein air painting on the other—one senses those artists’ interests not only in what is seen but also in how it is seen, and in what context. Courbet’s realism stripped away the artifice of artistic description in search of the social and political truths of his day. The Impressionists, anticipating Turrell’s interests a century before, opened the door to understanding that our perception of “reality” is dependent on the medium of light, which is a reality in itself. Claude Monet’s huge water lily paintings paved the way for the American Abstract Expressionists’ efforts much later to disassociate the facts of paint, color, and light from any particular referent in the visible world in favor of a visceral formal coherence that often attempts to fill the entire field of one’s vision. More recently, installation art immerses the viewer entirely in its own visual context. “Removing the frame” from a picture or creating the entire “frame of reference” for a visual experience is evidence of artists’ growing awareness of the idea that what is seen depends on the context in which it is seen and the mechanism that facilitates vision.

James Turrell, Bridget’s Bardo, 2009, Ganzfeld, installation view at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany, 2009, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Bridget’s Bardo, 2009, Ganzfeld, installation view at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany, 2009, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

Today we understand that knowledge depends on perspective—that is, the circumstances through which it is attained—and that perception is not fixed. Historically, however, this was not always the case. Renaissance artists utilized color for its symbolism and to enhance the naturalism of their compositions, and in the seventeenth century, Sir Isaac Newton defined the optical spectrum of color in terms of absolute and universal wavelengths of visible light. A radical shift occurred when Johann Wolfgang von Goethe responded to Newton in the eighteenth century with a theory of color based on observation and the experienced (rather than the externally measurable) qualities of phenomena as they are received. In the early to mid-twentieth century, Josef Albers demonstrated in both his teaching and painting that our perception of color is entirely dependent on the context within which we see it. Turrell deploys that same principle in his Skyspaces to make the wide open sky appear to turn red or green or any other color he chooses. Visible form is subject to the same relativity. A particularly surprising moment in the experience of Roden Crater happens when visitors climb a tunnel several hundred feet long toward its open terminus, a circular disc of light; as a viewer approaches, he or she perceives the disc transform slowly into a highly elongated ellipse, not a circle at all, and may recall that an ellipse can easily be perceived as a perfect circle when viewed from a certain vantage point.

Turrell’s formal theatrics aim not to deceive but to reveal. Never do we see the world with entirely open and unbiased eyes; the preconditions of our seeing and understanding are an ever-present influence on our vision. The brilliant astronomer Copernicus was limited in trying to reconcile his experience of planetary motion into circular orbits due to assumptions dating back to the time of Aristotle that the universe is perfect and therefore would express itself in the perfect geometry of a circle. These assumptions were upended by Johannes Kepler, who understood that a circle is only a manifestation of an ellipse, which in turn defines planetary orbits. The circle is essentially a geometric subset, an ellipse with its two foci coexistent.

James Turrell, Raemar Pink White, 1969, Shallow Space, collection of Art & Research, Las Vegas, © James Turrell, photo by Robert Wedemeyer, courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

James Turrell, Raemar Pink White, 1969, Shallow Space, collection of Art & Research, Las Vegas, © James Turrell, photo by Robert Wedemeyer, courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

Turrell’s art does not illustrate these leaps in understanding but embodies them. The actual experience of light in Turrell’s constructions often defies our expectations—whether it is seeing a circle reveal itself as an ellipse or wondering how the world outside a Skyspace can seem from inside as if it has been painted a deep shade of blue or red or green. These experiences prompt us to consider the nature of our own perceptual apparatus as much as the thing we are perceiving. This is by design. In fact, the artist has said that perception is his true medium. The greatest revelations borne by Turrell’s art are a deeper understanding of what it is to be a perceiving being and an awareness of how much of our observation and experience is illuminated by the “inner light” of our own perception. Turrell often refers to the brilliance of color experienced in a lucid dream when the eyes are closed—or to the Quaker practices of his religious upbringing, which describe meditation as “going inside to greet the light.” The Quaker concept of “inner light,” which is shared in a collective silent-prayer meeting, is echoed in the experience of Turrell’s Skyspaces—in the collective silence, duration, and receptivity they induce.

Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director


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