Revisiting the FiFo Russian Room in Augmented Reality

May 14, 2013

Midway through the exhibition Hans Richter: Encounters, visitors come across a table on which stand four iPads with moving images on screen. Pick one up and you’re suddenly looking at a complex art installation on screen, superimposed over the gallery space at LACMA. Move the iPad around and you find that the environment continues in every direction. Artists Will Pappenheimer and John Craig Freeman have re-imagined the so-called Russian Room of the  famous 1929 Film und Foto (“FiFo”) exhibition in Stuttgart for which Hans Richter served as film curator. According to LACMA curator Frauke Josenhans, the FiFo show was a landmark in modern art, associating film and photography for the first time, and giving film the attention it deserved as a new art form. The leading Russian Constructivist, El Lissitzky, and his wife, Sophie Lissitzky-Küppers, were commissioned to design the Russian Room, which was a totally unique environment created in order to display a selection of Russian photographs, film stills and film footage.

The Russian Room at the 1929 "FiFo" exhibition in Stuttgart.

The Russian Room at the 1929 “FiFo” exhibition in Stuttgart.

Using augmented reality, a technology that enables the creation of a 3-D visual environment within the field of vision of the camera, Will and John Craig have recreated and interpreted the extraordinary design of the Russian Room, with it’s scaffolding and surfaces at various heights juxtaposing photography and moving images. They’ve also added some creative elements of their own.

RichterAR

Augmented reality installation by John Craig Freeman and Will Pappenheimer. (Easter egg spoiler alert: Will and John Craig appear at lower right.)

If you want to see the piece in use in the gallery, watch this short video demonstration from John Craig.

This is Will and John Craig’s second stint at LACMA; last summer, they participated in our Artist’s Respond series with an augmented reality “intervention” called Project O-rator that you can still experience on our BP Pavilion. Curator Tim Benson saw that project during development and realized that augmented reality might bring to life the spirit of the FiFo Russian Room, documentation of which has largely been lost to history. And so our first in-gallery augmented reality experiment was born.

While Will and John Craig were installing the piece at the museum, we talked about the project. Here’s what they had to say:

John Craig: We’re interested in using emergent technology to invent new forms of public art. We’ve worked at museums before but ti was in an interventionist way – we’d go in without an invitation and people would show up with their cell phones without the museum knowing. But this project was a way for us to iron out the possiblilities within an exhibition, working with the curator. This is the first time a museum has been willing to take a risk on us like this.

Will: Hans Richter was working at a time when artists were embracing new technologies and engaging them within their work in order to explore what they signify. One of the things we really got into was the idea of expanded cinematic space, an idea that fascinated Richter and his contemporaries.

John Craig: We hope we’re demonstrating a continuous line of inquiry. The questions these artists were raising in the early 20th century are questions that aren’t by any means answered yet. For example, how do we invent a new visual language to respond to the emergent technology of our day? In the case of Sergei Eisenstein, the response to that question was to invent montage that eventually became the norm for how film constructs meaning. That same kind of inquiry needs to happen now with network communications and virtual forms of meaning and representation. What’s the new grammar of virtual space and social media?

Will: What will cinematic space be now? There is the idea of a collective space created by the internet that you move through at the same time as you move through the physical world. Whether or not it’s narrative is a discussion we should be having. Augmented reality can be very powerful if it has a narrative, but it doesn’t have to have a narrative, just as there is non-narrative film and video. It can be a spatial  narrative, too, instead of linear narrative, as you move from one thing to another.

Augmented reality allows you to juxtapose two realities: what’s in the world and what’s in the augmented reality experience. I like to think about resonance; the object we’re putting there isn’t necessarily forming a narrative, it’s forming a resonance with what is there in the environment already. And that resonance can be dissonance. Everything doesn’t have to work together in a harmonious way.

In talking to Tim Benson about his research on Hans Richter and his contemporaries, we learned how those artists went to great lengths to see if they could destabilize the viewer’s perception going into an exhibit. That’s what the FiFo Russian room is about – you’re not sure what’s where. They wanted to destabilize space and create an immersive experience of encountering art.

What we’re doing is it is immersive too; it’s all around you. When people first pick up the iPads, they wonder what they’re seeing. There is a confusion about what space it is, and what’s real.

John Craig: Being here in Los Angeles is special too. I took Will to the camera obscura in Santa Monica. It really impacted me as a kid and my need to engage with virtual reality. Painting is based on the camera obscura: representation requires a frame being made, and a point of view  and the artists choosing to leave something in the image or not. What we’re doing departs from that; although the iPad has a frame, the experience is starting to get loose of the frame. The point of view is handed over to the audience, because you can walk through the space. Augmented reality is destabilizing the way we construct representation.

Amy Heibel


This Weekend at LACMA: Ambulante Film Series, Teen Night, Mother’s Day, and More

May 10, 2013

As usual the weekend at LACMA is packed full with art, music, film, family activities, and much more. Start your weekend with pianist Greg Reitan, who brings his trio to Jazz at LACMA—bring a picnic and enjoy the park during this free concert.

Tonight and tomorrow we are proud to present Young Women Filmmakers from Mexico—a special series—free admission, by the way—co-organized with the nonprofit AMBULANTE and co-hosted with the Consulate General of Mexico. Friday screenings feature Natalia Almada’s El General and Yulene Olaizola’s Intimidades de Shakespeare y Víctor Hugo (Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies). Almada will be on hand for a Q&A following El General. On Saturday, watch Tatiana Huezo’s El Lugar Más Pequeño (The Tiniest Place) followed by Lucia Gaja’s Mi Vida Dentro (My Life Inside), the story of Rosa—an illegal immigrant charged with murder in 2003. Both films will include Q&A’s with their directors; Rosa’s attorney, Yuriria Marván, will also be here to say more about the case. Check out this week’s Unframed post for trailers from all four films.

This weekend at LACMA is also all about families—and especially all about Mom. Start your activities on Saturday either at LACMA with Family Tours of the collection, or at Charles White Elementary School for awesome family activities related to the exhibition on view there, Shinique Smith: Firsthand (see our Unframed post from this week for more about the show). On Saturday night, drop your teenagers off at After Dark—a TEENS-ONLY party that takes over all the exhibitions inside BCAM, including Ends and Exits, Stephen Prina: As He Remembered It, and Chris Burden’s Metropolis II. The party is free but tickets are required. There will be live bands and DJs, free food, and no parents. Moms and Dads, if you want to stick around on campus while your kids have a ball, treat yourselves to dinner at Ray’s, drinks at Stark Bar, or take in the free screenings in the Bing mentioned above. More info on Teen Night is here.

Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1988, The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, © Jack Goldstein Estate

Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1988, The Broad Art Foundation, Santa Monica, © Jack Goldstein Estate

Then of course there is Mother’s Day itself. Ray’s is offering a special Mother’s Day Brunch and Dinnercheck out the menu and make reservations at 323 857-6180. Pair your meal with a stroll through our galleries: may we suggest Henri Matisse: La Gerbe, Hokusai, or Hans Ricther: Encounters? We’ve also got free family art activities on the L.A. Times Central Court.

Henri Matisse, La Gerbe (The Sheaf), 1953, LACMA, gift of Frances L. Brody in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary, © 2012 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Henri Matisse, La Gerbe (The Sheaf), 1953, LACMA, gift of Frances L. Brody in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary, © 2012 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY

Fans of William Wegman, Kerry James Marshall, Maya Lin, Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, or William Kentridge will want to stop into the Brown Auditorium on Sunday afternoon for free back-to-back showings of the award-winning series Art21. The first explores the theme of “identity” in various artists’ works, while the second episode is fully dedicated to Kentridge’s creative process. (Nauman fans: find time for For Beginners in BCAM while you’re here.)

The weekend closes with a free performance from the Lyris Quartet. The foursome was just here earlier this week for a powerful rendition of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 and Different Trains. They return this weekend for more classical fare: works by Beethoven and Gerard Shurmann.

Scott Tennent


Maternal Instincts

May 9, 2013

Mother’s Day is Sunday, and LACMA will mark the day with a special Mother’s Day brunch and dinner, offered by the Patina Restaurant Group. Other activities will include a full slate of family-oriented NexGen art-making activities, beginning at 12:30 pm.  Galleries will be open starting at 10 am, and the museum’s permanent collection includes some wonderful mother-and-child paintings. We asked director of adult programs and art historian Mary Lenihan to discuss some of them.

A mere mention of the mother-and-child theme brings one artist’s name instantly to mind: Mary Cassatt. Her tender depictions of this theme have made her paintings among the most beloved in any museum collection.  LACMA has what might be her very first such treatment, Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child, from 1880. I feel almost remiss in mentioning it, since it currently is on tour with other museum objects in Korea and Australia, so visitors here can’t see it right now. But it is a museum favorite, and certainly a shining star of the collection, so I can’t omit it from this list.

Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child, Mary Cassatt, United States, 1880, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest

Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child, Mary Cassatt,
United States, 1880, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest

Notice the immediacy and the intimacy of the painting, hallmarks of the Impressionist movement, in which Cassatt played an important role. She cropped the scene, even cutting off the sides of the chair, so we feel as if we are right there with the mother as she affectionately holds her child. The painting is not at all static – the mother’s hand, poised with a wet washcloth, anticipates motion, while the child’s left arm, slightly blurred, seems to move. The colors—cream, pink and warm grays and blues—suggest  a Victorian-era nursery, as do the upholstery fabric and the wallpaper.

Cassatt, an American woman, was a full-fledged member of the French Impressionist circle starting in the 1870s in Paris.  A friend of Edgar Degas, she exhibited alongside the others in the group, and absorbed many of the elements that infused their work: a lightened palette, rich background patterns, unconventional perspective, and feathery brushstrokes. Because Cassatt tended to use conventional “feminine” subject matter, such as family scenes and women taking tea, her canvases were actually underappreciated during the decades following her death in 1926.  Around 1980, art historians began to re-examine her work, noting that while her subject matter might have been traditional, her technique was modern and daring. One does not need to know much about art history to appreciate her paintings; looking at LACMA’s canvas, we can simply revel in the gorgeous colors and convincing emotion, which Cassatt painted without succumbing to the obvious sentimentality that lesser artists might use with such a scene.

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

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

Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British by American artist Emanuel Leutze might seem an odd choice to include in this Mother’s Day blog, but it depicts a mother doing what most any mother would do: heroically protecting and defending her family.  This painting is currently on view on the third floor of the Art of the Americans Building, and is worth a long look.

Painted in 1852, the scene is actually one from the American Revolution, 75 years earlier.  Museum staff and docents use it frequently in gallery tours, and many school children who tour the collection have no trouble at all deciphering the theme; the fact that most of the figures are clad in red, white, or blue signals that it is a patriotic American story.  Without knowing the actual narrative, or even what era it dates from, children also outline the tale by looking closely at the figures’ dramatic body language and facial expressions.  They rightly surmise that the central woman is a mother surrounded by two similarly clad daughters, one of whom clings to her fearfully.  A stagecoach, packed and ready, stands nearby.  A helpful neighbor gestures to the distant hillside, while a servant kneels with a candle in the forefront.

This scene is based on a popular story that circulated in the nineteenth century, that of the heroic wife of General Philip Schuyler, leader of revolutionary forces.  He has sent word to his wife that the British army was marching down the Hudson River towards New York City.  The family farm lay right in its path.  The artist shows the moment when, after packing  family belongings, Mrs. Schuyler prepares to lead her children to safety.  First, though, she stops to torch her farm’s ripened wheat fields, so that the British will not be able to make bread for its soldiers.  The story, based on an account by Mrs. Schuyler’s youngest daughter, was anthologized in books popular in the 1840s and 50s.  Historians cannot confirm that this event actually took place, but it is an example, nevertheless, of the resolute strength of an American mother.

Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis, John Singer Sargent, United States, 1890, Frances and Armand Hammer Purchase Fund

Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis, John Singer Sargent, United States, 1890, Frances and Armand Hammer Purchase Fund

The third painting, Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis, from 1890, is an example of yet another way artists have depicted the mother-and-child theme.  The Cassatt painting is what we might call a “genre painting,” an everyday scene of modern life.  Scholars classify Leutze’s canvas a “history painting.”  John Singer Sargent’s painting is a portrait; he was hired to paint the likeness of Mrs. Davis and her son, who were part of an influential family in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Sargent, an American artist who spent much of his life in Europe, was from a wealthy expatriate family with strong connections to other affluent Americans living abroad.  He anchored a lively circle of European and American writers, intellectuals and aristocrats.  By 1890, many considered him the best portrait painter in London.  He made several extended visits to the United States, where he was promptly flooded with offers of portrait commissions.  He completed the Davis painting in two weeks, during one of these visits.

Just as the Cassatt painting is considered one of the artist’s best paintings of its type, the Sargent painting is considered by many to be one of Sargent’s best portraits.  Part of the museum’s collection since 1969, it is another favorite of museum visitors, and is on view on the third floor of the Art of the Americas Building.

Notice that the artist painted Mrs. Davis in a way that conveys her wealth and social importance, depicting her with a confident gaze, regal bearing, and fashionable dress.  Her maternal role is also evident; her arm protectively surrounds her son, with their hands intertwined.  Young Livingston, age 8 at the time, appears a bit shy, but his mother’s friendly, open facial expression communicates warmth and affection.  A double portrait challenges an artist, since one figure must not overshadow another.  In this case, Sargent succeed wonderfully; the poses, setting, and clothing combine to effectively capture each individual, but also signal Mrs. Davis’s fulfillment of one of the principal functions of a late-nineteenth century woman, the role of affectionate mother.

Visit LACMA on Sunday to see the Sargent and Leutze paintings, along with all the other wonderful art currently on display.  Enjoy the day with your family!

Mary Lenihan


James Turrell: Advance Tickets Now on Sale

May 8, 2013

Advance tickets are now on sale for the exhibition James Turrell: A Retrospective, which opens May 26 and explores the nearly fifty year career of the artist. Covering a full floor of BCAM and a third of the Resnick Pavilion, the exhibition features numerous immersive light installations that address our perception and how we see including projections and holograms; an entire section devoted to Turrell’s masterwork-in-progress, the Roden Crater project; Light Reignfall, a single-viewer experience from Turrell’s Perceptual Cell series; a 4,500+ square foot ganzfeld; and more.

James Turrell, Raemar Pink White, 1969, Shallow Space, Collection of Art & Research, Las Vegas, Installation view at Griffin Contemporary, Santa Monica, CA, 2004, © 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, Installation view at Griffin Contemporary, Santa Monica, CA, 2004, © James Turrell, photo by Robert Wedemeyer, courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

Due to the nature of the artwork, this exhibition has extremely limited capacity. Many pieces require solitude and time for the eyes to adjust and fully perceive the work. It is strongly recommended that visitors purchase tickets in advance as many time slots are already selling out.

Turrell’s Perceptual Cell is separately ticketed from the exhibition. Capacity is very limited (only three tickets are sold per hour) and certain months are already selling out. In the immersive work, a single viewer lies down in a spherical chamber for about twelve minutes to experience what Turrell calls “behind-the-eyes” seeing.

James Turrell, Light Reignfall, 2011, Gaswork, courtesy of James Turrell, Pace Gallery, and Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, installation view at Garage Center for Contempoaray Culture, 2011, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Light Reignfall, 2011, Gaswork, courtesy of James Turrell, Pace Gallery, and Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, Moscow, installation view at Garage Center for Contempoaray Culture, 2011, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

Visitors have two options for tickets: 

1.)   A James Turrell: A Retrospective exhibition ticket allows same-day access to the exhibition and all LACMA galleries including Stanley Kubrick (on view through June 30). This ticket does not include access to James Turrell’s Perceptual Cell.

Tickets: $25 general public; $20 groups of 10+; free for members and children under 18

Learn more about the exhibition and purchase tickets

2.)   A Perceptual Cell ticket allows same-day access to the full exhibition and all LACMA galleries including Stanley Kubrick (on view through June 30).

Tickets: $45 general public; $15 members; children under 17 not permitted

Learn more about Perceptual Cell and purchase tickets

 

Alex Capriotti


Sculpting with Socks

May 7, 2013

By now the students at Charles White Elementary School are well-versed in the work of Shinique Smith.  They are extremely articulate when describing her creative process too, namely how she transforms everyday materials to make art.  It makes sense; they’ve had unlimited access to her work through the Shinique Smith: Firsthand exhibition at LACMA’s satellite gallery within the school.  Shinique still threw the students for a loop though when she pitched them the idea of making a collaborative sculpture composed entirely of socks.

Installation view, Shinique Smith: Firsthand, Charles White Elementary School

Installation view, Shinique Smith: Firsthand, Charles White Elementary School

It’s not an object many of them gave much thought to previously, in general and especially as a material with which to make art!  But they were game and imaginatively cut, tied, rolled, and stuffed multi-colored socks to create miniature bundles.  Shinique then combined the students’ work into one large, hanging sculpture now on view in the space.  Click on the video below to learn more about the inspiration behind this collective project, and see the sculpture for yourself this Saturday at our monthly free Family Day at Charles White

Sarah Jesse, Associate Vice President of Education


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