Weight Watchers: The Myth of Man vs. Machine

October 17, 2013

Richard Serra’s Inverted House of Cards (1969) has been installed only once at LACMA, and it will be on display for only four hours on Saturday, October 19, as part of Liz Glynn’s The Myth of Man vs. Machine.

The installation and de-installation of this sculpture presents many challenges not because of its size or weight, but for its simple logic: four massive plates of steel are set to lean against each other, locking together only by their own weight and the effects of gravity. Installers have to position and hold the plates in place and, at a given moment, release them to let the weight act out its power. Timing, precision, and a feeling of the material are crucial to install the sculpture. Cranes or heavy lifting machinery, often used to install other monumental Serra sculptures such as Band (2006), on display at the ground floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM), cannot help or ameliorate the work of the installers.

At a certain point of the research for this performance, we considered asking the crew to install the Serra piece in front of the public. It was Jeff Haskin, the lead installer, who warned us that the presence of an audience could be distracting for the installers. “This is like NASCAR. Not every one goes to see the cars running, some just go to see them crash.”  Then he added importantly: “We are not performance artists.” These assertions served as an outright reminder of the focus of Glynn’s project.

More than the danger inherent in installing a massive sculpture, a subject often brought up in discussions about his work, Serra is researching the basic language of building, going back to millenary cultures: “I was interested in the possibility of building without a fixed joint. It doesn’t mean I was interested in the possibility of implosion or explosion—I have never been interested in that. . . . I’m interested in the Incas. I’m interested in Mycenaean culture. I’m interested in people who have dealt with weight, measure, and number. I’m not interested in the tendency to overturn. I never have been. I’m interested in the specification of what keeps the forms arrested when they are in balance. I’m interested in the nature of weight in a lot of different ways—adding to it or diminishing it.” (Interview with Robert C. Morgan, published in Richard Serra. Writings Interviews. The University of Chicago Press, 1994)

LG1

Liz Glynn’s performance of The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time at LACMA in April 2013. The piece featured a response to Alexander Calder’s outdoor sculpture at the museum.

For The Myth of Man vs. Machine, the performance has been structured in two parts. The first one entails the installation of Inverted House of Cards in BCAM, two floors above Band. For the second part, a truck containing sand matching the weight of one of ten sections of Band will be parked near BCAM. The public is invited to participate by carrying sandbags to the third floor and placing them in a gallery adjacent to Inverted House of Cards. Bags will be filled with whatever amount of sand each participant chooses to carry.

Liz Glynn's performance of The Myth of Singularity at LACMA in January 2013. The piece was based on a work by Auguste Rodin at the museum.

Liz Glynn’s performance of The Myth of Singularity at LACMA in January 2013. The piece was based on a work by Auguste Rodin at the museum.

The Myth of Man vs. Machine is the third performance of the cycle [de]-lusions of Grandeur, a five-part project in which Glynn considers the process of creating, moving, and erecting large-scale sculptures and the frequently Herculean human efforts necessary to do so. The project centers on works from LACMA’s collection and the relationship between human scale and monumental form. The first two performances of this cycle centered on works by August Rodin, The Myth of Singularity (January 2013) and Alexander Calder, The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time (April 2013). The last two performances will take place on December 14, 2013, and January 18, 2014.

José Luis Blondet, associate curator of special initiatives


Students, the Public, and Turrell (Part Two)

October 15, 2013

Last month we shared thoughts from college students who have spent the summer conversing with visitors to James Turrell: A Retrospective. Here is part two of the conversation:

LACMA: In what ways has this exhibition changed how you have thought about art? Museums?

Evangelyn Delacare (recent graduate, UCLA): My first day was a unique experience that can only be attributed to Turrell’s unique work. Each interaction I had was different; I had been learning about Turrell and his work through scholarly text and articles. But now, I was meeting people who had met Turrell, people who had visited Roden Crater, people who had been following his career since the beginning. No matter the amount of texts and articles I could have possibly read, I could only get certain stories through the public, through the people who were fans of Turrell’s work, through those who have traveled around the nation visiting all three Turrell retrospectives happening at once.

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, Texas, © James Turrell, photo © Florian Holzherr

Kristen Laciste (senior, UCLA): This exhibition has made me reflect on the limits of the museum space, particularly the spaces dedicated to Roden Crater. Turrell’s magnum opus certainly could not be transported nor fit in the museum, so it made me think about the challenges the curators and educators face in communicating information about the work to the public. I interacted the most with visitors in the Resnick Pavilion in the Roden Crater room, and I was asked questions regarding its location, size, opening date, and relationship to Turrell’s other works.

Erin Shirreff, Roden Crater, 2009, purchased with funds provided by Said Saffari and Heidi Wettenhall-Saffari through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Erin Shirreff, Roden Crater, 2009, purchased with funds provided by Said Saffari and Heidi Wettenhall-Saffari through Contemporary Friends, 2012

Aida Lugo (recent graduate, Otis College of Art and Design): The excitement surrounding the crater was incredible. Although it is not open to the public, the audience wanted to know how Turrell was excavating such a project. The model of the crater was just as interesting a conversation starter. The public wondered how it was created and how it represented the crater. I met a woman who visited the crater. She said she flew in with her family and was given a by Turrell. I told the public this story many times. I asked the woman if I could touch her, she was like a celebrity!

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

Evangelyn: These conversations didn’t just end at Turrell’s work. Turrell’s work had a special quality about it that allowed an encompassing connection through all the people experiencing it, much like how the Ganzfeld encompassed everyone inside. The second a group would exit the Ganzfeld, and excited chatter would break out over the shared experience. Initially, we would be discussing Turrell’s work, but then move on to other matters of our lives. Talk about Turrell simply turned into talk about life. Turrell’s work can never neatly fit into a category of art; he used science, optics, astronomy, and so many other elements to create these artworks. It’s only natural that conversations would wander into other paths as well.

Marissa Clifford (senior, UCLA): My time at LACMA gave me hope for contemporary art; while we may have exhausted the possibilities of traditional media in the modern sense, the public’s enthused response to Turrell’s work revealed that we have not exhausted the possibilities for art as a whole. The answer it seems, lies in connections, pairings, collaborations; within the collaboration between traditional art and psychology in Turrell’s work, between the exterior physical world and our own interior metaphysical ones, within the collaboration between artists and museum spaces, between art and the public, between those who study the art and those who observe it lies the essence of Turrell’s oeuvre, LACMA’s commitment to accessible art, and dare I say, the future of art itself.

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

LACMA: Has the exhibition and your time at LACMA impacted your own studies?

Marissa: After spending consecutive hours speaking with the public, Turrell’s concepts appeared universally intriguing and accessible. Throughout my time as a student educator at LACMA, I heard a variety of responses to his unusual work. As a student of art history, I am primarily interested in art (in the general sense) because I am interested in people. Engaging complete strangers in intellectual discussions about the nature of light and its role in shaping perception, reminded me that art is alive and evolving. Most people walked out from part one of the exhibition blinking their eyes and gently shaking their heads as they met the bright Los Angeles daylight.

Evangelyn: I’m so glad I was a part of this program; it really was a pleasure to go in every time and see Turrell’s work and others’ reactions.

Aida: I have always believed in art and its ability to educate, grow, empower and create communities and worlds, which is the reason I studied fine art and community art engagement in college. This internship showed me the true potential of ideas flourishing in a setting where it can be accessed by the public and used to entertain and amaze audiences. It made me so proud to be an artist and an educator. I wish to continue my education to be a museum educator, and a teaching artist.

Elizabeth Gerber, Education and Public Programs


“John Divola: As Far as I Could Get” (at LACMA and Beyond)

October 14, 2013

In the series 20×24 Polaroid, photographer John Divola created ersatz forms and backdrops from detritus and found materials, then photographed the carefully crafted scenes. The resulting images feature referents to familiar objects in the real world, such as the “rabbit” in Rabbit, 87RBA1.

The rabbit has the markings of a rabbit—indeed, namely its ears tell us so. The backdrop appears to be a night scene, with stars clustered and randomly spread throughout the dark sky. We perhaps assume some angle of moonlight reflects off the rabbit’s visage and large ears.

At this point, the illusion starts to break down. The shadows cast against the crumpled angles of the rabbit form confirms the deliberate artificiality of the constructed scene.

John Divola, Rabbit, 87RBA1, 1987–89, © John Divola

John Divola, Rabbit, 87RBA1, 1987–89, © John Divola

At LACMA, the exhibition John Divola: As Far as I Could Get, photographer John Divola works through questions such as the veracity of information as communicated via the camera lens, the history of photograph as examined through historical stereoscope photographs, and the photographer as performer and subject.

John Divola’s first solo museum exhibition is spread throughout three museums in the Southern California region. In addition to LACMA, John Divola: As Far as I Could Get is also being simultaneously presented at the Pomona College Museum of Art (September 3–December 22, 2013) and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (October 13, 2013–January 12, 2014).

Each of the exhibitions put on display different series from Divola’s extensive oeuvre, covering the photographer’s early work produced while still in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (the Santa Barbara Museum of Art presentation) to his latest work, which pushes the technical elements of the photographic process while exploring issues that have been at the forefront of Divola’s work in the past few decades.

John Divola, Artificial Nature (detail, 1 of 36), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013, © John Divola

John Divola, Artificial Nature (detail, 1 of 36), 2002, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013, © John Divola

Close looking will reveal a lot within each frame in Divola’s works in the LACMA exhibition. In the series Artificial Nature, scenes that appear like authentic, found landscapes turn out to be products of moviemaking’s sleight of hand.

In the image above, the clapperboard, an object essentially synonymous with filmmaking and video production, interrupts what we perceive as a sandy beach landscape. In fact, the scene before us is so convincing that we begin to ask about what came first: was the clapperboard placed on an actual beach, or is the beach only there to conform to the production needs as guided by the clapperboard?

1996.0009.18689 Not Known [Title not known], [Date not indicated] Keystone photo print 7.18 in. x 4.18 in. Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside Object Description: Two uniformed men on horseback surrounded by soldiers on foot with bayonets Artifact Inscription: A Bristling Forest of Bayonets, Russian Troops on Review.

Artist unknown, A Bristling Forest of Bayonets, Russian Troops on Review, date unknown, Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California, Riverside

In Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit, Divola looks back at stereoscopic images, which created a three-dimensional appearance by separating viewpoints from each eye and combining them into one complete scene. The medium was popular in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, during which they were used as forms of entertainment and document.

Divola examines at near microscopic detail the glass-plate negatives that were used to produce stereographs. He then magnifies a detail he finds in the negatives (birds, a rabbit) to a much-larger scale (20″ x 20″), printing the found details on linen. The resultant work, framed on wood and textural in its presentation, hints at the time during which these stereographs circulated.

John Divola, Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (detail), 1995, © John Divola

John Divola, Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (detail), 1995, © John Divola

Though likely captured by a camera in the 19th century, the songbird highlighted in this work appears dynamic and alive. The circular framing of the animal can almost be regarded as language between the photographer and the viewer. Divola tells us he spots the bird among the bigger stereograph, and he is bringing it to attention not only by frame and print, but also by contrast.

John Divola, As Far As I Could Get, (R02F33),10 Seconds, 1996–97, © John Divola

John Divola, As Far as I Could Get, (R02F33),10 Seconds, 1996–97, © John Divola

As Far as I Could Get, the titular series in LACMA’s presentation, offers Divola as (literally) a distant subject. In the work, the artist captures himself running away from the camera in a 10-second sprint: the amount of time he has set the exposure for each photograph. In many ways, this series reflects themes Divola explored in both Artificial Nature and Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit. The artist uses nature as stage of sorts, performing as an actor in his own work. The camera captures his form in miniature and in nature, similar to how the songbirds were most likely lost within larger scenes of foliage within the stereographs.

At the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Vandalism (1974), a series Divola created while still in graduate school, and Forced Entry (1975) offer deeper insight into the artist’s body of work, namely how it will be expressed in his Zuma series from 1977–78, 15 selections of which are on view at the Pomona College Museum of Art.

Similarly, Dogs Chasing My Car in the Desert (1995–98), a series made during a period when Divola was also working on As Far as I Could Get, shares with As Far . . . in its documentation of dynamic movement, the figure (silhouette, even) in a landscape, and a fundamental impulse in many living organisms.

These are just some of the strong connections that can be found throughout John Divola’s four decades–long practice of photography. Spread throughout three museums, the multiple series on view offer an opportunity to knit together a comprehensive study of Divola’s work.

Linda Theung, editor

 


This Weekend at LACMA: Mexican Cinema as Never Before, Altadena Art + Film Lab’s Final Days, Nicole Miller’s ‘Believing is Seeing’ Premiere, and More!

October 11, 2013

You cannot go wrong with a weekend at LACMA. The final installment of the exhibition film series The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema takes place this Friday with the double feature of Macario at 7:30 pm and Pedro Páramo at 9:10 pm. Macario’s eerie gleam and Pedro Páramo’s sweeping yet intimate panorama of rural Mexico will leave a lasting impression. Without a moment’s pause, we continue exploring the prolific and versatile nature of Gabriel Figueroa’s body of work in the film series Luis Buñuel and Gabriel Figueroa: A Surreal Alliance. Beginning on Saturday at 7:30 pm, Los Olvidados (The Young and the Damned) is the first collaboration between famed director and cinematographer and a landmark achievement in film history. Los Olvidados is a drama centered around the conflict and pains of a forgotten place and peoples.

At the Altadena Art+Film Lab we close out five weeks worth of free public programs with two more sessions of Oral History Drop-ins on Friday and Sunday, an Instant Film Workshop beginning at noon on Saturday, and the screening of Daughters of the Dust—a film heavy with poetic imagery, rich language, and use of song—at 8 pm on Friday evening. While the Art+Film Lab takes a well-deserved respite (returning in the new year to Monterey Park), this Sunday, members from the Redlands community that participated in the Art+Film Lab earlier in this year are invited for a free day at the museum. Filmmaker Agustin J. Jimenez explains the importance of this outreach initiative in a short video worth seeing.

At the museum, free public programming includes the premiere of Nicole Miller: Believing is Seeing and Burden of Dreams at 12:30 pm on Sunday. Commissioned by LACMA as part of the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab initiative, Nicole Miller explores the one-of-a-kind, yet oft-overlooked stories of individuals from communities that comprise the greater L.A. metro area. On Sunday from 12:30 to 3:30 pm the weekly Andell Family Sundays tinkers with concepts from art and film of Mexico. And a weekend at LACMA would not be complete without free music. Jazz at LACMA on Friday night features rhythmic stylings of Clayton Cameron Sextet and Sundays Live on Sunday evening presents virtuoso flare of Finnish pianist Teppo Koivisto.

Newsha Tavakolian, Untitled from The Day I Became a Woman series, 2009, purchased with funds provided by the Farhang Foundation, Fine Arts Council, and an anonymous donor, © Newsha Tavakolian

Newsha Tavakolian, Untitled from The Day I Became a Woman series, 2009, purchased with funds provided by the Farhang Foundation, Fine Arts Council, and an anonymous donor, © Newsha Tavakolian

And, of course, check out everything happening in our galleries, from contemporary photography in John Divola: As Far as I Could Get, to exquisite art from Africa in Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Dig deeper and you’ll find work of mythical proportions in Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and its Avatars and stark and intriguing portraits of the modern female in Newsha Tavakolian. Yes, this might be the best decision you make all weekend.

Roberto Ayala


Nicole Miller’s Believing Is Seeing

October 9, 2013

Something intangible yet unmistakable in Ndinda Spada’s oral history piqued the interest of artist Nicole Miller. Spada had visited the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab when it was in San Bernardino and recorded a personal story during the Lab’s drop-in oral history hours. It was a short video, just five minutes, but in it Spada spoke passionately about moving to California from Kenya, and how she found a surrogate family in her church.

LACMA commissioned Miller to mine interviews collected in the nine cities on the Lab’s tour in order to identify subjects for new artworks. Miller sensed an open and expressive quality in Spada, something that transmitted through the video recording. “It’s pretty clear when I meet someone whether or not they are interested in going through this journey with me. Everyone who came to the Lab to tell their story all had an air of wanting to share. I didn’t know Ndinda would be such a good performer, but I had a feeling.”

Still from Nicole Miller’s video series Believing is Seeing featuring Redlands resident Ndinda Spada

Nicole Miller, still from video series Believing is Seeing, featuring Redlands resident Ndinda Spada

The journey that Miller describes could be summed up as an exploration of self-representation. Miller is not a documentarian, and LACMA’s charge was not to create a series of photojournalistic biographies representing the sites that compose the LACMA9 initiative. Rather, Miller regularly uses documentary practice to “give people space to self-represent.” Some of the circumstances depicted in past work include a man recalling the amputation of his arm, young people dancing explicitly at a club, a conductor performing, and a yogi engaged in transcendental meditation.

Still from Nicole Miller, The Conductor, recently acquired by LACMA for the collection

Nicole Miller, still from The Conductor, recently acquired by LACMA

According to Miller, her videos document “individuals making a decision about how to represent themselves.” Miller posits that self-representation is mired, subconsciously or not, in tropes learned from outlets such as cinema. This history of representation has contributed to our collective understanding of how to present ourselves to the world. In this way, identity can be more akin to performing a character than revealing a truth.

At the same time, Miller’s work often captures what she refers to as “sublime subjectivity,” where her subjects seem to temporarily eschew this loaded history, the implication of the camera, and the forthcoming audience. By reliving trauma, executing physical acts, or engaging in forms of personal expression in front of the camera lens, Miller’s subjects seem to momentarily thwart the conventions of representation, attaining disarming veracity.

Still from Nicole Miller’s video series Believing is Seeing featuring Redlands residents Harold Hartwick and Diana Kriger

Nicole Miller, still from video series Believing Is Seeing, featuring Redlands residents Harold Hartwick and Diana Kriger

The artist further investigates this concept through the LACMA9 commission. After viewing the brief oral history that Spada recorded in the Lab, Miller conducted research and discovered that, in addition to Spada’s involvement with her church, she teaches hasyayoga, or laughter yoga. Miller contacted the Redlands resident to collaborate on a video artwork that would feature her at church and demonstrating hasyayoga techniques. “Usually when I tell people the concept behind the work, they start to see themselves in relationship to my ideas. We (Spada and I) met together knowing exactly what we were looking for. In this way it feels less like a documentary and more like a performance. What can one know about another based on one story besides that story, besides that one gesture?” The result is a compelling portrait that reflects on the display of identity through faith, therapy, and self-representation.

Still from Miller’s video series Believing is Seeing featuring Redlands residents Diana Kriger and Harold Hartwick

Nicole Miller, still from video series Believing Is Seeing, featuring Redlands residents Diana Kriger and Harold Hartwick

Miller’s video artwork featuring Spada and other Redlands community members is the first in an evolving series of works titled Believing is Seeing. “I stole the title from a book, which in a way I suppose is a gesture undercutting the validity of originality and subjectivity at the same time as pursuing it.” The Redlands component of Believing Is Seeing debuts in the Bing Theater on Sunday, October 13, looping from 12:30 to 2:30 pm, with Nicole Miller in attendance. The author also selected the documentary Burden of Dreams to directly follow the viewing.

Sarah Jesse, associate vice president, Education


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