This Weekend at LACMA: Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa Opens, The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema on the Silver Screen, The Altadena Art + Film Lab Continues, and More!

September 20, 2013

The beginning of fall marks a great opportunity to visit LACMA. The debut of the latest chapter from our Art + Film initiative takes place this Sunday with the unveiling of Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film. Centered on the prolific career of Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa (1907–1997), this exhibition highlights the distinctive and vivid visual style of one of the most important figures from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. The depth and scope of Figueroa’s work was exceptional. In fact, he was considered by many as the “Fourth Muralist” of Mexico, alongside Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco. The exhibition invites visitors to witness the emblematic and lasting image of Mexico as it was framed by Gabriel Figueroa. Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film opens on Sunday, September 22, to the public. Members see it first (with free admission) beginning Friday.

Gabriel Figueroa, Film still from Enemigos, directed by Chano Urueta, 1933, (c) Gabriel Figueroa Flores Archive

Gabriel Figueroa, film still from Enemigos, directed by Chano Urueta, 1933, © Gabriel Figueroa Flores Archive

In conjunction with this grand exhibition, LACMA presents The Golden Age of Cinema, featuring the enduring films of Gabriel Figueroa. The series opens with a double feature of Enamorada (A Woman in Love) and Flor Silvestre (Wild Flower), beginning on Friday at 7:30 pm. Enamorada (1946) tells the romantic story of a charming general and a passion piqued by the daughter of the richest man in town. Flor Silvestre (1943) is another collaboration from the famed director-cinematographer duo of Emilio Fernández and Gabriel Figueroa. In this story, a plantation heir falls for both the poor farmer’s daughter and the revolutionary movement. On Saturday, Salón México at 5 pm and Victimas del Pecado (Victims of Sin) at 7:30 pm illuminate the Bing Theater. Salón México (1948), a noir-tinged melodrama, follows the troubles of a working girl in this stylish look of Mexico’s urban landscape. Victimas del Pecado (1951) is another black-and-white noir by Figueroa, serving as a metaphor for modernity’s inevitability and reach. The film series continues each weekend through October 11.

The Altadena Art + Film Lab at Charles White Park will be busy all weekend long with free public programming, including two Oral History Drop-in sessions on Friday and Saturday, a Mini Docs Workshop at noon on Saturday, and a Composition Workshop at noon on Sunday. And at this go-around, we’ll be screening Jackie Chan’s Police Story in the outdoor big screen beginning at 8 pm on Saturday night. Don’t forget the blankets and popcorn.

If it’s free live music you need this weekend, LACMA has you covered. Jazz at LACMA hosts Grammy Award–nominated pianist and composer Alan Pasqua. Currently a professor of jazz studies at USC, Pasqua has previously worked with music legends like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Carlos Santana, to name a few. The show begins at 6 pm on Friday. Closing out the weekend, Sundays Live brings violinist Phillip Levy and pianist Peter Wittenberg to the Bing Theater, performing works from Edvard Grieg and Ludwig von Beethoven. The concert begins at 6 pm on Sunday.

Edward Steichen, Mrs. Paul Abbott, Vanity Fair, February , 1924, reproduced with permission of Joanna T. Steichen, gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander

Edward Steichen, Mrs. Paul Abbott, Vanity Fair, February 1924, reproduced with permission of Joanna T. Steichen, gift of Richard and Jackie Hollander

After visiting the new Gabriel Figueroa show, stop by a few of our favorite exhibitions currently on view. Talk of the Town: Portraits by Edward Steichen from the Hollander Collection features works from one of the most admired photographers of the 1920s and 1930s. Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet demonstrates how visual art and poetry intersect. And Little Boxes: Photography and the Suburbs documents and comments upon the architectural, environmental, and social impact of tract housing. Lastly, visit Andell Family Sundays, on Sunday at 12:30 pm, which continues its study of Pinaree Sanpitak: Hanging by a Threadwith textile art projects for the entire family. Fall could not have come at a better time.

Roberto Ayala


The Modern Golem

September 19, 2013

In his 1915 novel The Golem, Austrian novelist Gustav Meyrink wrote, “Who can say he knows anything about the Golem? . . . Always they treat it as a legend, ’til something happens and turns it into actuality again. After which it’s talked of for many a day.” Meyrink is speaking to the eternal nature of the golem myth. This timeless quality is evidenced in the use of the golem figure in contemporary art and pop culture.

Paul Wegener (director), Germany, 1874–1948, Carl Boese (director) Germany, 1887–1958, Film still from Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World), 1920, Written by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen, Produced by Paul Wegener, B&W, silent

Paul Wegener and Carl Boese (directors), film still from Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World), 1920, written by Paul Wegener and Henrik Galeen, produced by Paul Wegener

The most well-known golem narrative, which formed the basis for Paul Wegener’s 1920 film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World), is set in 16th-century Prague, where a cruel emperor persecutes Jewish residents. Rabbi Loew fashions the golem from riverbed clay and brings him to life with a mystical amulet; the creature then rampages through the city, crushing the enemies of the Jews. As the monster begins to experience glimmers of human emotion in the aftermath of destruction, he is disabled when a little girl removes the amulet. According to legend, the golem still lies dormant in Prague’s oldest synagogue, perhaps to be reanimated one day.

Dave Wachter (illustrator), United States, born 1975, Steve Niles (writer), United States, born 1965, Matt Santoro (writer), United Stated, born 1976, Page from Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, no. 2 (July 2013), Offset lithography, Private collection, Los Angeles © 2013 Steve Niles, Matt Santoro, & Dave Wachter.

Dave Wachter (artist), Steve Niles, and Matt Santoro (writers), page from Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem, no. 2 (July 2013), private collection, Los Angeles, © 2013 Steve Niles, Matt Santoro, & Dave Wachter

The idea of a magical creature with immense strength and power created to protect the innocent is at the heart of many superhero stories. It is no wonder then that the golem has been a character in numerous comic books. For instance, three 1974 issues of Marvel’s Strange Tales feature the golem. In this story, the golem, created and brought to life in the middle ages, was subsequently buried in sand and forgotten. The figure is then excavated by professor Abraham Adamson and reanimated as he dies to protect his family. Although the golem is dangerous, he is ultimately driven by the professor’s love for his family. In a 1977 issue of The Invaders, also published by Marvel, the golem comes to the heroes’ rescue when they are held by Nazi scientists. In this fiction, kabbalah scholar Jacob Goldstein, who lives in the Warsaw ghetto, is supernaturally merged with clay to become the golem to defeat the Nazis holding the Invaders, eventually destroying the walls of the ghetto. The transformation of Goldstein inspires him to lead a rebellion.

Comic book installation, Ahmanson Second floor

Comic-book installation in the exhibition Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and its Avatars, in the Ahmanson Building, Level 2, at LACMA

The use of the golem to protect Jewish communities from Nazi forces is beautifully depicted in the 2013 comic series Breath of Bones, illustrated by Dave Wachter and published by Dark Horse Comics. Here, in a departure from the Rabbi Loew myth, the children of the threatened village collect mud and form it into a huge human shape. After they flee, Noah, the protagonist, and his grandfather stay and pray over the golem. As Nazi troops roll into the village, Noah’s grandfather dies, but his life and their faith animates the figure and transforms him into the powerful golem. In these comic books, the legends of the golem are adapted, but the essence of it being a protective supernatural creature remains.

David Musgrave, England, born 1973, Untitled from Reverse Golem Portfolio, 2012, Etching, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum, purchased jointly with funds provided by the LACMA Art Museum Council, the LACMA Prints and Drawing Council, and the Grunwald Center Helga K. and Walter Oppenheimer Acquisition Fund TR.16296.1.5 © 2013 David Musgrave, photo courtesy Edition Jacob Samuel, Santa Monica

David Musgrave, Untitled from Reverse Golem Portfolio, 2012, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the UCLA Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts, Hammer Museum, purchased jointly with funds provided by the LACMA Art Museum Council, the LACMA Prints and Drawing Council, and the Grunwald Center Helga K. and Walter Oppenheimer Acquisition Fund, TR.16296.1.5,
© 2013 David Musgrave, photo courtesy Edition Jacob Samuel, Santa Monica

David Musgrave’s Reverse Golem Portfolio displays an interest in the creative act of making a golem rather than an emphasis on its mythical abilities. Musgrave is known for his trompe l’oeil depictions of crude stick figures. At first glance the humanlike figures look like they are made from scraps of paper. However, they are actually carefully rendered depictions of collage. Rather than draw the figures on the metal plates used to make these prints, Musgrave employs wide and narrow parallel lines to produce the illusion of a three-dimensional assemblage of paper. By using this labor-intensive technique and calling the figures golems, the artist emphasizes the generative act of creating. Like Rabbi Loew, Musgrave has made something vital and brimming with life out of inanimate and simple materials: clay in the case of the homunculus and lines in these prints.

These contemporary explorations of the golem myth and figure speak to the continued potency of the legend for artists.

Sienna Brown, curatorial assistant, Prints and Drawings


Students, the Public, and Turrell

September 17, 2013

In May, while the finishing touches were being made to James Turrell: A Retrospective, 13 students from local colleges and universities were studying Turrell’s work and learning about strategies for engaging with visitors to the exhibition. Over the course of 14 Saturdays, from June 1 through August 31, these students conversed with members of the public while exploring the exhibition. As their time working with the exhibition came to a close, we spoke with some of the students about what they have learned and observed over the summer, as well as tips they have for people who have not yet visited the exhibition. Here is part one of their reflections.

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, LED light into space, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, M.2013.1, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, LED light into space, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, M.2013.1, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

LACMA: What has been the most interesting thing you have learned about Turrell’s work this summer?

Aida Lugo (recent graduate, Otis College of Art and Design): The most interesting thing I learned about Turrell’s work was the inquisition this work creates in those who view it. After viewing a work the audience is full of wonder. It is interesting to me the questions Turrell frames for the viewer: how is art like science, archaeology, architecture, and psychology? What happens to our perception when we enter a space, light or complete darkness?

Kristen Laciste (senior, UCLA): What I found most interesting about James Turrell’s oeuvre is that his experiences (such as the notion of greeting the “inner light” associated with his Quaker upbringing and his childhood activity of poking holes in the window covers to see light shine through) influenced his fidelity to the exploration of light.

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 Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles, installation view at Griffin Contemporary, Santa Monica, California, 2004, © James Turrell, photo by Robert Wedemeyer, courtesy Kayne Griffin Corcoran, Los Angeles

Marissa Clifford (senior, UCLA): One memorable moment came when my colleague Emilie and I spoke with a family of Quakers who frequented contemporary-art exhibitions. For them, Turrell’s work truly fulfills their religious tenet of “being with the light.” Just as it was for Catholics in the Baroque period, contemporary art was a way for this Quaker family to enrich their religious practice. It was inspiring to meet international visitors, from all walks of life, all of whom were captivated by the exhibition.

Kristen: As an art/art history student, it is interesting for me to know about the experiences and inspiration behind an artist’s work. This exhibition made me think about the nature of light and its use and treatment by artists through history. In art history, light is usually used as a device that illuminates, highlights, and creates depth. Light is ubiquitous, yet most people do not pay much attention to it. Turrell’s works fascinate me because they focus on light, commanding viewers to see and think about its complexities: its ability to reveal yet blind, its objectness, its intangibility, its natural and artificial properties, and its ability to shape and be shaped by spaces.

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

Marissa: The idea that daily realities of our natural world that do not have tangible form could be shaped and molded into personal experience was energizing and novel to many visitors, as it is to me.

Aida: I see art as all encompassing. I feel that it is possible for an artist to have freedom from context. James Turrell dives into psychology, perception, public engagement, performance, engineering, and aviation in his work. He is a good example of an artist whose practice is based on different intellectual interests. Leading the discussions in the gallery, I found people attracted to the work, and the mysterious quality of the work was an interesting entry point for exploration. Turrell’s work succeeds in opening minds, allowing the opportunity to discover new things about our presence on Earth.

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

Elizabeth Gerber, Education and Public Programs


Conservation Pool Party: The Washing and Bleaching of a Robert Rauschenberg Print

September 16, 2013

One of the many great reasons to live in Los Angeles is its magnificent weather, which boasts year-round moderate temperatures, vernal breezes, and clear blue skies. Most importantly, though, are the dry and sunny summers. Incidentally, not only is it the perfect time of year for a pool party, but also for the outdoor treatment of very large works of art on paper, which, as it turns out, involves a pool of sorts.

Robert Rauschenberg’s “Booster” with the area of color discrepancy inset with red.

Robert Rauschenberg, Booster, from the series Booster and Seven Studies (edition 38 or 38), 1967, gift of the Times Mirror Company. The area of color discrepancy is inset with red.

As a pre-program conservation intern in the Paper Conservation Laboratory, I had the opportunity to help in the treatment of Robert Rauschenberg’s lithograph and screenprint, Booster, from the Booster and Seven Studies series. The print was discolored overall, with the exception of a small patch in the upper-right quadrant of the print. To reduce discoloration, the work of art was bleached by exposure to high-intensity light, a standard treatment protocol in paper conservation. This piece, however, was too large to be treated indoors. Insert the ideal conditions in Los Angeles. We took the treatment outside into the sunlight of this city.

Assistant Conservator, Erin Jue, taking notes in the Paper Conservation Department’s iPad.

Assistant conservator Erin Jue takes notes with the Paper Conservation Department’s iPad.

Associate Conservator, Soko Furuhata, humidifying the print with a Dahlia sprayer.

Associate conservator Soko Furuhata humidifies the print with a Dahlia sprayer.

The bleaching power of the sun has been known by many for centuries, and the use of light to bleach discoloration has become an accepted conservation practice. Tucked away in the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden, on a patch of well-groomed lawn, we set up for an afternoon of outdoor washing and bleaching. A wood frame, made by senior conservation technician Jean Neeman, was assembled, and over it laid a double layer of polyethylene sheeting. Next, 20 gallons of filtered water were poured in the temporary basin, and the pH of the bath was made slightly alkaline.

Head of Paper Conservation, Janice Schopfer, overseeing the transfer of the print into the bath.

Head of paper conservation Janice Schopfer oversees the transfer of the print into the bath.

Pre-program Intern, Jacklyn Chi, preparing the print for drying.

Pre-program intern Jacklyn Chi prepares the print for drying.

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Sunbathing with Booster

Just like diving into a pool of cool water, the work of art was lowered in to the inviting water in our portable “Doughboy pool.” For the rest of the afternoon, we monitored the progress of the bleaching while partaking in the popular Los Angeles pastime of working on our tans by the pool.

Jacklyn Chi, pre-program intern


This Weekend at LACMA: Last Chance for Peter Zumthor, L.A. Times’ Christopher Hawthorne in Conversation, Arrival of the Altadena Art + Film Lab, and More!

September 13, 2013

This weekend, provoke thought and find inspiration at LACMA. Consider The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA, which reaches its final day on view this Sunday in the Resnick Pavilion. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor contemplates and reweighs the purpose and use of the encyclopedic museum. The exhibition finds context in the history of the site and studies the possibility of a more permeable and organic structure as represented in exceptionally large models.

For further insight and understanding into this topic, join us on Sunday at 2 pm, when Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne leads a discussion on American architecture of the last half-century and its connection to the surrounding environment. Earlier in the week on Unframed, Hawthorne previewed his talk. Away, a ray, array: Architecture, Museums, and Nature, 1965 to the Present is free to all and reservations are not required.

Installation view, The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA

Installation view, The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA

Exercise your creative might at the debut of the Altadena Art + Film Lab in Charles White Park, the third site for the mobile LACMA9 Art + Film Lab. For five weekends, we invite the entire mountainside community to this free space of artistic exploration. Throughout its run, participants will be able to learn about filmmaking in hands-on workshops, share and record personal experiences in oral history drop-ins, and enjoy weekly outdoor film screenings. The event kicks off with Friday’s opening-night celebration at the lab, which includes a sneak peek at the Art + Film Lab, live music by jazz quartet Louis Van Taylor band, food, and a screening of the witty and hopeful Le Havre at 8 pm. The Altadena Art + Film Lab is open through October 13.

A man awaits the start of a film at San Bernardino Art + Film Lab. Photo by Duncan Cheng.

A man awaits the start of a film at San Bernardino Art + Film Lab. Photo by Duncan Cheng

On campus, Andell Family Sundays prompts children and parents to design their own textile art à la Pinaree Sanpitak: Hanging by a Thread, on Sunday beginning at 12:30 pm. And, in the galleries, be sure to ruminate the African figures and emblems from Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa; ponder portraits from Talk of the Town: Portraits by Edward Steichen from the Hollander Collection; and, if you haven’t already, question perception itself in James Turrell: A Retrospective. Ticket for this exhibition are available, but reservations in advance are highly recommended.

Bowl-Bearing Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba-Henba Peoples, 19th Century, Wood (Ricinodendron rautanenii), Royal Museum for Central Africa, RG 14358 (Collected between 1981 and 1912, gift of A.H. Bure), Photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

Bowl-Bearing Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba-Henba Peoples, 19th Century, Wood (Ricinodendron rautanenii), Royal Museum for Central Africa, RG 14358 (Collected between 1981 and 1912, gift of A.H. Bure), Photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

Lastly, Jazz at LACMA presents the stimulating blues and uptown bebop of the Michael Session Sextet on Friday at 6 pm in front of Urban Light. Saxophonist Session and crew pay tribute to famed pianist Horace Tapscott and Nate Morgan and will be accompanied onstage by vocalist and flutist Maia for select pieces. On Sunday at 6 pm, Sundays Live features Salastina Music Society performing works by Handel and Cavaterra, among others. Concerts are free and open to the public. How brilliant!

Roberto Ayala


Charles White: The Artist and the Park

September 12, 2013

Charles White (1918–1979) is known as much for being an influential artist as he was a teacher and community advocate. He used art as a tool to highlight dark realities that he personally experienced as a black man. White expertly handled the gritty subject matter of social injustice, discrimination, and poverty with impeccable craftsmanship and incongruous elegance. For the last 20 years of his life, White lived in Altadena with his wife and children, Ian and Jessica.

 Charles White, I Have a Dream, 1976, Graphic Arts Council Fund, © Charles White

Charles White, I Have a Dream, 1976, Graphic Arts Council Fund, © Charles White

Shortly after White’s death, the city of Altadena in 1980 named a park after its longtime resident. The only park in the United States named after an American-born artist, the site played host to the annual Art in the Park festivals through the 1990s, which celebrated and honored the work of the park’s namesake while supporting local artists. The event brought the community together to commemorate the legacy of the artist while encouraging the trailblazing spirit of White through art.

Charles White, The Embrace, 1942, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, © Charles White

Charles White, The Embrace, 1942, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, © Charles White

While the Art in the Park festivals are no longer taking place, Charles White Park continues to be an integral part of the community. Charles White’s connection to LACMA is strong. Numerous works by the artist are in our collection, and we have a long-term partnership with Charles White Elementary School in MacArthur Park. It is only fitting that LACMA extends its association with White with the Altadena Art+Film Lab, which kicks off tomorrow at Charles White Park in Altadena. Ian White, Charles White’s son, will be present to introduce the film Le Havre, which will be screened on Friday.

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Opening night dance party at San Bernardino

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Participant gathering ambient noise for Soundscape class in San Bernardino

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Participants editing video artworks in San Bernardino

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Still image from oral history participants in San Bernardino

The lab, which serves as a hub to collect oral histories and provide free workshops and outdoor screenings, will reside in the park for five weeks. Channeling the power of expression so evident in White’s work, LACMA is offering a suite of opportunities for participants to tell their story, from creating mini documentaries to recording oral history video portraits. Join us on Friday, September 13, to celebrate the opening of Altadena Art + Film Lab with live music, a screening, and snacks.

Sarah Jesse, associate vice president, Education and Public Programs
Linda Theung, editor


Q & A with Christopher Hawthorne

September 11, 2013

In advance of Christopher Hawthorne’s talk at LACMA on Sunday, September 15, Unframed asked the L.A. Times architecture critic about the topics he’ll cover in his lecture, his recent research interests, and his focus on American architecture.

Can you provide a brief overview of your talk?

I’ll be talking about the shifting relationship between American architecture and the natural world over the last 50 years, with a particular focus on how American museum design has changed over that time. The talk begins with a look at two high-profile projects that opened within a few weeks of each other in 1965: the Astrodome in Houston and the original LACMA campus by William Pereira. Both those designs, products of a highly optimistic and wealthy postwar American culture, suggested that the natural world could be controlled, sealed off, kept easily at bay. And in both cases, for different reasons, that confidence wound up being badly misplaced. At LACMA, tar and gas starting seeping into Pereira’s reflecting pools almost as soon as the museum opened.

Jet Lowe, Astrodome Looking East from Rooftof of Adjacent Reliant Stadium (New NFL/Rodeo Stadium)—Houston Astrodome, 8400 Kirby Drive, Houston, Harris County, TX, 2004,  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, HAER TX-108-1

Jet Lowe, Astrodome Looking East from Rooftof of Adjacent Reliant Stadium (New NFL/Rodeo Stadium)—Houston Astrodome, 8400 Kirby Drive, Houston, Harris County, Texas, 2004, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, HAER TX-108-1

William L. Pereira and Associates. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c. 1965. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA, photographic archives

William L. Pereira and Associates. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c. 1965, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA, photographic archives

What prompted your research into the relationship of American architecture of the last half-century to the natural world?

Almost a decade ago, I wrote a book (with Alanna Stang) on green residential architecture, and I’ve lately been interested in finding ways to expand the discussion about sustainable design beyond the quite limited checklist mentality promoted by LEED and other guidelines. The national conversation about food and food policy in this country has really grown richer, more nuanced, and more productive in recent years, thanks to Michael Pollan and other writers; I’m hoping we can broaden the discussion about architecture and the environment in a similar way. I’ve also become increasingly fascinated, even obsessed, by the design and history of the Astrodome.

Jet Lowe, Lamella Dome Framing Detail. Note Catwalk at 12 O'Clock and Suspended Pentagonal Light Right Gondola. Also Note Compression Ring at Crown of Dome.—Houston Astrodome, 8400 Kirby drive, Houston, Harris County, Texas, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HAER TX-108-15

Jet Lowe, Lamella Dome Framing Detail. Note Catwalk at 12 O’Clock and Suspended Pentagonal Light Right Gondola. Also Note Compression Ring at Crown of Dome—Houston Astrodome, 8400 Kirby Drive, Houston, Harris County, Texas, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HAER TX-108-15

I think you could make a pretty good case that it’s the most significant American building of the second half of the 20th century. The Astrodome’s debut was really the high pointand therefore the beginning of the endof a very American, very confident, and ultimately very naive idea about how buildings ought to treat nature. Both the Astrodome and the original LACMA suggested that we could pretend the natural world was merely a nuisancethat we could create hermetically sealed buildings that would keep nature at arm’s length. Now, facing increasingly dire predictions of sea-level rise and other environmental threats, we’ve given up on that idea almost entirely: especially after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, the symbolism of architecture’s relationship to nature is one of anxiety, uncertainty, and even catastrophe. Architectural imagery that used to belong squarely to the world of science fictionthe cover of J. G. Ballard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World, sayis now a staple of news coverage of our own cities. And the Astrodome itself is now empty and unused, in danger of being demolished to extend the parking lot of the much newer Reliant Stadium, where the Houston Texans play.

Carol M. Highsmith, Aerial of the Astrodome, Houston, Texas, c. 1980–2006, Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-HS503- 1426, LC-DIG-highsm-12687

Carol M. Highsmith, Aerial of the Astrodome, Houston, Texas, c. 1980–2006, Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-HS503- 1426, LC-DIG-highsm-12687

What are some buildings you will cite in your lecture that best respond to their landscape and natural environment?

Among museums and other buildings, what’s important now is a measure of flexibility, resilience and accommodation, a sense that it’s futile to pretend that we can exercise total dominion over nature. The fantastic and underrated Louisiana Museum just outside Copenhagen, by the Danish architects Vilhem Wohlert and Jorgen Bo, is one impressive example of that flexibility; another very different one is Kevin Roche’s Oakland Museum, finished in 1968.

Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, image courtesy of karlnorling, via Flickr

Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, designed by Vilhem Wohlert and Jorgen Bo, image courtesy of and © karlnorling, via Flickr

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Oakland Museum of California, designed by Kevin Roche, image courtesy of and © mark.hogan, via Flickr

You are familiar with Peter Zumthor’s proposed model for LACMA as well as his site-specific works in Europe. How do you feel his proposal would contribute to America’s architectural landscape?

Zumthor’s LACMA proposal is a work in progress, but at this early stage what interests me most is how it seems to celebrate the very slippery and unstable qualities of its site—the tar, especiallythat the 1965 design wanted to keep under wraps and invisible. His LACMA scheme is also very different from the two fairly rational art museums he’s designed in Europe; something about L.A. and this site along Wilshire has prompted from Zumthor a newly organic and fluid approach that for me is emblematic of some larger shifts in architecture.

Installation view of The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA, photo by Philipp Scholz Rittermann, © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA


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