Because You Asked

May 20, 2013

For too long, museum websites, like most other websites, have been a one-way street—a vehicle for us to share what we think you may want to know about art and events at LACMA. But since the debut of our new collections website, we don’t have to guess anymore; you can tell us exactly what you want to know, and some of you are doing just that.

Pompeo Batoni, Portrait of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull Wyndham, 1758-1759, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation.

Pompeo Batoni, Portrait of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull Wyndham, 1758-1759, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation.

For example, recently, a visitor (identified online here only as “Microbe”) wanted to know a lot about our Portrait of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull-Wyndham, currently on view on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building, but apparently better-known to Microbe by perusing our website (where this image, like 19,999 others, representing one-fourth of all of the works of art on the site, is regarded as public domain and made available for you to download and use as you see fit).

Microbe wrote:
The portrait is very familiar to a whole host of former children in care at The Caldecott Community school, which occupied for 50 years ‘Mersham-le-Hatch’ the ancestral Robert Adam-built mansion of the Knatchbull family, UK, where this elegant Batoni portrait was on display in its original dining room niche above an expansive decoratively carved marble fireplace. As one of those ‘former familiar children’ I note the painting has had a clean, since certain detail wasn’t nearly so apparent in my childhood when chancing to gaze up during every mealtime from ‘my porridge’ at the mannered Georgian stance of Sir Wyndham Knatchbull portrayed, I recall, against a much darkened backdrop of overlaid grime of enumerable decades.

Microbe is correct – museum records verified that indeed, the painting had hung in the historic home. And indeed, our conservation center had cleaned the painting, rendering it far more legible. Microbe’s question prompted my colleagues Robyn Sanford and Monique Abadilla in our registrar’s office to dig up and share this information:

The portrait was painted in 1757, when the young Sir Wyndham was in Rome on his Grand Tour. After his return to England, Sir Wyndham commissioned the design and building of Mersham Hatch, Kent, where the painting hung over the fireplace in the dining room until its sale in 1994. See, Arthur T. Bolton, “Mersham Hatch, Kent, the seat of Lord Brabourne,” Country Life, March 26, 1921, pp. 368-375, especially ills. p. 371 and 373.

The portrait sitter was not married and had no heir, so upon his death, his property went to his uncle. This was work purchased by the museum with funding provided by the Ahmanson Foundation in 1994 from Simon C. Dickinson, Ltd. Prior to 1994, the work was held within the Knatchbull family.

So you see, we really do pay attention to these comments and route them through the museum to try to find an answer to your questions. In fact, educator extraordinaire Mary Lenihan in our education department recently fielded another one: an online visitor, captivated by Salon des Cent, a 19th century French print (and another of the 20,000 images on our website available to download and use without restriction), wrote to ask:

Who is this woman? Why do you think she has a pencil and a book? Is she an artist observing the fine details and tonality of this plant for a drawing? Is she a poet about observing the existence of this plant to create metaphors for a poem? Is she a scientist observing the structure of the plant for a research paper?

Salon des Cent,  Eugène Samuel Grasset, France, 1894 Kurt J. Wagner, M.D., and C. Kathleen Wagner Collection

Salon des Cent,
Eugène Samuel Grasset, France, 1894
Kurt J. Wagner, M.D., and C. Kathleen Wagner Collection

Mary turned to her personal library, and to our museum information database, before writing back:

Most likely, the woman depicted here is based on a model and is not intended to depict a particular person. In some cases, the artist did design posters advertising theater productions, depicting specific actors or musicians. But in this case, this is a proof for a poster promoting a one-man exhibition honoring Grasset himself, and it is likely that he used a model whose name is not recorded. (He was taken aback at the honor – it was his first one-man exhibition, held at Salon des Cent in 1894.)

(Mary also commented to me, “It’s fascinating to hear questions and see what objects people find on our website!”)

So choose any record on the site and just beneath the main image, you’ll see a “Comment” option. Then add your own two cents (you’ll need to create a quick account requiring only a username and password). We’ll keep an eye out.

Amy Heibel


Dreaming Big with Stanley Kubrick

May 20, 2013

In the fall of 2007 I would often visit LACMA after school to see the exhibition Dalí & Film, which was on view at the time. I was mesmerized by the exhibition design, which led me on a surreal journey of still and moving pictures. I would sit in front of the animated film Destino as it looped, watching images of objects morph into one another. I fell in love with Salvador Dalí in an entirely different way. I saw how an artist can be multifaceted, translating ideas into art through a variety of media, including both drawing and technology. That exhibition was one of LACMA’s (and my) first major forays into the world of art and film.

Six years later, I was lucky to help coordinate a similar experience for high school students, this time around Stanley Kubrick (closing June 30). Over the course of two months, LACMA Teaching Artists (Sofia Mas, Mariah Garnett, Ismael De Anda, Rosanne Kleinerman and Chelsea Hogan) led over 400 students through the exhibition. They designed tours that focused on themes of literary adaptation, technological innovation, and the influence of art on Kubrick’s work. Many of the students were not familiar with Kubrick, and as I observed the tours I noticed they were experiencing the same feeling of excitement I had when I saw Dalí & Film.

2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1965-68; GB/United States). The astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) in the storage loft of the computer HAL. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick (1965-68; GB/United States). The astronaut Bowman (Keir Dullea) in the storage loft of the computer HAL. © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

When I asked each group about Kubrick’s influence, one student felt inspired to pursue acting while another said she was motivated to develop her talent in painting. Other teens mentioned that Kubrick had “set the bar for filmmaking” and that he viewed things with “a different perspective”. The obstacles he faced with the studios, technology, and financing showed the students that a true artist has “the drive to continue when it gets tough” and an ability to “force himself and audiences out of their comfort zone.” In all their responses the students noted the auteur’s passion, determination, and process as the main source of inspiration.

Students at HeArt Project Hollywood Media Arts Academy using vegetable oil and paint to create stop-motion animation inspired by the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Students at HeArt Project Hollywood Media Arts Academy using vegetable oil and paint to create stop-motion animation inspired by the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey

The students' Stargate abstraction

The students’ Stargate abstraction

To supplement their field trip, several of the classroom teachers asked their students to view movies, write reports, and make art inspired by their visit. A group at ArtLAB High School started a film club. Students at Hollywood High School made documentaries of their experience, while teens at the HeArt Project Hollywood Media Arts Academy created stop-motion animations inspired by the Star Gate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In addition, they created their own “visions of the future,” also inspired by the epic film.

Stephen Na, student at the HeArt Project Hollywood Media Arts Academy, working on re-imagining the future LA landscape, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stephen Na, student at the HeArt Project Hollywood Media Arts Academy, working on re-imagining the future LA landscape, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey

Stephen Na's watercolor

Stephen Na’s watercolor

Transportation of the future by a student at HeArt Project inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey

Transportation of the future by a student at HeArt Project inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey

As Stanley Kubrick comes to a close and I look back on the experiences of these students as well as my own, I’m reminded once again of the impact a great artist can have.

Valentina Mogilevskaya, Art+Film Education Coordinator


This Weekend at LACMA: Museum Day (and Night), Indian Dance, Gary Simmons, and More

May 17, 2013

Whether you come to LACMA Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, there is plenty of special events happening to enhance your visit to our galleries. Tonight and every Friday night through the fall, we’ve got the best way to kick off a weekend with Jazz at LACMA. Enjoy drinks at Stark Bar or a picnic on the grass as guitarist Wolfgang Schalk leads his quartet in a free concert.

Want to have the perfect date? Start early with jazz and dinner at Ray’s, then head over to the Bing Theater at 7:30 for a double feature of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, the romantic classics starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and directed by Richard Linklater. (PS: the perks of being a Film Club member—you’d have gotten an invite to next week’s sold-out preview screening of Before Midnight.)

Saturday is International Art Museum Day, and we’re celebrating by offering discounted general admission all day—just $10 admission (excluding Stanley Kubrick). Don’t forget: kids under 18 are always free, every day. There is a lot on view at the moment—from Ming Masterpieces to Hans Richter to Henri Matisse, and much more.

One exhibition to check out is Unveiling Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography on the top floor of the Ahmanson Building. The installation looks at the depiction of women in court paintings and photographs in India from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Gain some added perspective on the show Saturday night, when the Shakti Dance Company performs Devadasi: The Eternal Dancer in the Bing Theater. The dance, choreographed by Viji Prakash, was inspired by a photograph in the exhibition, as detailed on Unframed earlier this week.

William Willoughby Hooper. Hindoo Dancing Girls, India, 1870, from the collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

William Willoughby Hooper. Hindoo Dancing Girls, India, 1870, from the collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

Stay late on Saturday for International Museum Night. We’ll be keeping Stanley Kubrick open late–only a few weeks left before it goes away forever!–plus exhibitions on Henri Matisse, Hokusai, and more. Music will be supplied by KCRW DJ Marion Hodges, and we’re also offering talks on a variety of topics and special tasting stations created by Executive Chef Jason Fullilove, inspired by the art on view. More info and tickets.

2001: A Space Odyssey, set photo, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1965-68

2001: A Space Odyssey, set photo, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1965-68

On Sunday afternoon contemporary art fans will find much to enjoy, starting with a free screening of two episodes of the PBS series Art21. The first episode, “Place,” examines the work of Richard Serra, Sally Mann, Barry McGee, and more. The second episode, “Spirituality,” features James Turrell, among others. Turrell’s much-anticipated retrospective opens next week at LACMA. Advance tickets for the exhibition are on sale now.

James Turrell in front of Roden Crater Project at sunset, October 2001, photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell in front of Roden Crater Project at sunset, October 2001, photo © Florian Holzherr

At 4pm artist Gary Simmons, whose work was recently on view at LACMA in Lost Line, will be at Art Catalogues in conversation with curator Franklin Sirmans. The two will discuss Simmons’ new book, Paradise, as well as other topics like music, pop culture, and more. Finally, the evening at LACMA concludes with a concert in the Bing Theater by the Crossroads Orchestra, performing works by Dvorakm, Mozart, and Bartok for our free Sundays Live concert series.

Scott Tennent


International Museum Night: Food, Music, and Art

May 16, 2013

This Saturday night from 8–11 pm, LACMA Muse presents International Museum Night, an after-hours celebration of art from around the world. In addition to free talks and discussions throughout the evening and late-night gallery hours, LACMA Muse is partnering with Patina Restaurant Group Executive Chef Jason Fullilove and KCRW DJ Marion Hodges to bring global tastes and sounds to the event. I asked Fullilove and Hodges to share their histories, inspirations, and insights into their respective creative mediums―food and music―as they prepare to celebrate International Museum Night in their own unique way.

Chef Jason Fullilove, an Executive Chef with Patina Restaurant Group at LACMA since 2012, has been creating menus for LACMA’s pop-up RED dinners inspired by films, music, and more

Chef Jason Fullilove, an Executive Chef with Patina Restaurant Group at LACMA since 2012, has been creating menus for LACMA’s pop-up RED dinners inspired by films, music, and more

What was your beginning as a chef?
Jason Fullilove: I started out washing dishes in Amherst, Massachusetts 21 years ago and worked my way up to pantry cook in a few months. I was an Executive Chef at a boutique hotel in Ohio, a chef for a large fine dining restaurant company in New York City, and a chef for the Ritz Carlton in the Virgin Islands before relocating to California in 2009.

The menus you create for LACMA – especially the themed ones – are so creative. When did you start making “inspired” menus for events?
I’ve always been a creative chef. I’ve always been a curious chef. Oftentimes, I write menus with ideas I’ve never actually tried before, just to see if we can pull it off and make something delicious. We succeed more often than not! The themed menus at LACMA give me a chance to push this creative curiosity to the extreme―like when I’m asked to create food inspired by a 19th-century Japanese printmaker!

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, c. 1830–31, gift of the Frederick R. Weisman Company

Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, c. 1830–31, gift of the Frederick R. Weisman Company

That’s right! For International Museum Night, you’ve created two tasting stations―one inspired by Hokusai at LACMA and one by Henri Matisse: La Gerbe. How did you decide what to create?
I love Japanese food and I love French food. The Japanese are known for clean, crisp flavors and obviously a mastery of raw fish. The French are gods of cooking techniques and the farmer’s market. I wanted to create dishes that would celebrate that in one or two bites, but still with my personal twist on it.

In honor of International Museum Night, I have to ask―do you have a favorite place to eat outside of the United States?
Sogo’s by the ferry dock in Maho Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands. They have the best curried goat, Johnny Cakes, and lots of good rum.

DJ Marion Hodges, who recently celebrated her four-year anniversary with KCRW, will be spinning an eclectic mix of new and classic sounds that will include indie pop, soul, and gentle beats from points all around the world

DJ Marion Hodges, who recently celebrated her four-year anniversary with KCRW, will be spinning an eclectic mix of new and classic sounds that will include indie pop, soul, and gentle beats from points all around the world

What’s your favorite song from another point around the world?
Marion Hodges: That is really tough to pin down. I have so many favorites! I have to go with this feel-good Brazilian psych party jam “Bat Macumba” by Os Mutantes. Honorable mentions go to Spanish artist Sonya’s cover of the Rolling Stones “Get Off of My Cloud,” (she calls her version “En Mi Nube”), and another Brazilian track, also a cover―”It’s My Thing” by The Cry Babies. I’m planning to play all of these at International Museum Night!

What’s your favorite type of artwork?
Pop Art is my favorite type of art in general. I love that level of humor and self-awareness in pieces like Any Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can and Roy Liechtenstein’s comic strip-inspired work. (Editor’s note: artworks by both Warhol and Lichtenstein are on view in the Ahmanson Building during International Museum Night)

Roy Lichtenstein, Cold Shoulder, gift of Robert H. Halff through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council

Roy Lichtenstein, Cold Shoulder, gift of Robert H. Halff through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council

Do you have a favorite artwork at LACMA?
Lichtenstein―the artwork is shockingly vibrant and beautiful. I feel like I must have seen those images so many times before I knew who the artist was. I just remember thinking, every time I saw one, “Oh, this is for me. Everything about this is for me.”

Find out more about International Museum Night.

Meghan McCauley, LACMA Muse


Devadasi: The Eternal Dancer

May 15, 2013

This Saturday at LACMA the Shakti Dance Company will offer a transcendental journey into the far reaches of Indian performing arts with the premiere of Devadasi: The Eternal Dancer. Choreographed by artistic director Viji Prakash and accompanied by an orchestra of nine musicians, this dance drama is a tribute to the women dancers of the temple whose art form is the basis for modern Bharata Natyam, a classical South Indian dance style. You can get a sneak peek at Prakash’s preparations in this video:

The production is inspired by a photograph in LACMA’s current exhibition Unveiling Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography.

William Willoughby Hooper. Hindoo Dancing Girls, India, 1870, from the collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

William Willoughby Hooper. Hindoo Dancing Girls, India, 1870, from the collection of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck

Literally, devadasi means “female servant of god.” A devadasi was dedicated to the temple and married to the deity. Skilled in dance and music, she performed stories of the gods before the temple deities. Trained in the arts of painting, sculpture, music, and composition, she was equally learned in Sanskrit and the Vedic scriptures. The devadasi tradition is more than 1,500 years old.

The devadasi was a harbinger of good fortune because of her auspicious role as the wife of God. She was called nityasumangali, the evergreen bride. The consort of the Immortal, she therefore never could be tainted by widowhood. Compared to the women of her day, the highly educated devadasi enjoyed riches, power, and an elevated status unconstrained by the duties of married life.

Within the temple the devadasi had specific roles in the performance of the sacred rituals. She also participated in festivals and processions. The innermost sanctums of the temple were open to her. Weddings, births, and royal court functions required her auspicious presence and blessing. For her services, gifts of gold and jewels were lavished upon her by patrons. She received land, fame, title and prestige. Many became wealthy landholders. In return she donated much of these riches to the building of temple structures and gardens, financing temple processions and to the construction and funding of schools.

Photo by John Merrell

Photo by John Merrell

Quite commonly a prepubescent girl from the village would be dedicated to the deity as a devadasi. It was considered an act of supreme devotion. Others came from the ranks of the temple dancers themselves. The devadasi was permitted liaisons with men of proper status and her offspring found a place in society by becoming dancers and musicians in the temple. As long as dance was a hereditary profession the devadasi had a well-defined and important role in society.

In the last half of the nineteenth century this traditional role was threatened by a combination of forces. The British were robbing the royalty of their power and money, so they could no longer afford to support the local temples and be patrons of the arts. British missionaries also had issues with what they viewed as questionable behavior. Dance within a sacred space was seen as scandalous. The children of devadasis were considered illegitimate. The missionaries found it difficult to recognize these dancers as women of God. Their views converged with a national social reform movement that condemned the practice of dedicating young girls to the temples. For 65 years the argument was fought in official circles until the death knell was struck with the passage of the 1947 Madras Devadasi Prevention of Dedication Act. The devadasi era in the temples was drawing to a close

Photo by John Merrell

Photo by John Merrell

During this long debate, the devadasi was faced with a lack of support as patronage ebbed. The devadasi tradition went into a downward spiral taking with it the artists, musicians, sculptors, and scholars who were dependent upon it. The devadasi had to leave the temples and return to her ancestral villages with no means of support. She was without a defined role in a highly structured society.

Fortunately there was a group of revivalists who appreciated the wealth of material that these temple women possessed and took it upon themselves to save the dance tradition. Indians who were seeking a means of expression through western dance were encouraged by famous artists of the caliber of Anna Pavlova to delve into the rich dance tradition of their own country. Today we enjoy a dance tradition that has its roots in the 3000 year old text of the Natyashastra. It has not been lost. The performances have moved from the temple to a new audience in the theater, but the art of the devadasi will live eternally in the hearts of all those who love dance.

Kay Talwar, Southern Asian Art Council member


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