Giving Tuesday + This Weekend

November 29, 2013

On Tuesday, December 3, LACMA is participating in what will hopefully become an annual holiday tradition: Giving Tuesday. The event presents an opportunity to give back to nonprofit organizations and offers an alternative to the retail-focused activities that take place on the days following Thanksgiving. Consider taking part in this event by contributing to the LACMA Fund. Your gift will support everything we do here—from community-outreach programs to film screenings to music events.

Today and tomorrow, LACMA’s Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion are opened until 10 pm during our extended holiday hours. On Friday and Saturday enjoy late-night access to special exhibitions at the museum, including James Turrell: A Retrospective and Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic (with specially timed tickets). Keep in mind, L.A. County residents receive free general admission on Fridays (and every weekday) after 3 pm, so there’s really no reason to miss out.

Throughout the weekend, visitors are also invited to join any of the dozen free tours of our collection. See the daily tour schedule online. Families at LACMA will enjoy Story Time in the Galleries on Friday and a free, matinee 3-D screening of The Croods on Saturday. After the film, stay for a conversation with the creators of the movie and star Nicolas Cage. Reserve your free seats online. Per usual, count on new exhibitions and impressive installations throughout campus. Lastly, attend Sundays Live on Sunday at 6 pm, featuring cellist Ruslan Biryukov and pianist Armen Guzelimian, and reflect on the great holiday weekend. Cheers!

Roberto Ayala and Linda Theung


Beyond “See the Light”: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection on View throughout LACMA

November 27, 2013

A good number of exhibitions currently on view at LACMA—a total of seven—feature photographs from the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection. The collection, a gift of the Annenberg Foundation and acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, is comprised of 3,600 photographs that span the entire history of photography. While the near entirety of the medium can be traced in the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, the history of landscapes, architecture, politics, and icons can be seen throughout numerous exhibitions at LACMA that feature works from the Vernon collection.

Little Boxes: Photography and the Suburbs, which closes this Sunday, offers an examination of the suburb in its heyday, from postwar 1940s to the 1990s. Max Yavno’s photograph from 1947, Keyboard Houses, San Francisco, gives us a glimpse into what the city was like before the tech and finance industries became part of the urban fabric. The houses, which appear very ordinary in the high-contrast photo, are now widely considered icons in the built environment of San Francisco.

George N. Barnard, Ruins in Charleston, S.C., 1866, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

George N. Barnard, Ruins in Charleston, S.C., 1866, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Other postwar images—but this time, the Civil War—are explored in the work of George N. Barnard, whose work is part of the exhibition Compass for Surveyors: 19th-Century American Landscapes. The photo above, taken right at the end of the Civil War, shows Charleston, South Carolina, in ruin. A lone figure sits at the center of the frame, ostensibly contemplating the ravages of war. Barnard’s photograph, Fort Sumter, Exterior, 3 1/2 Miles from Charleston (below), also from the same year, shows the site where the war began. The mass of land that was once the locus of the Confederates now appears, after the war, to offer resignation.

George N. Barnard, Fort Sumter, Exterior, 3 1/2 Miles From Charleston, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

George N. Barnard, Fort Sumter, Exterior, 3 1/2 Miles from Charleston, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Down to Earth: Modern Artists and the Land, before Land Art, which closes next week, looks at works that explore the connection between humans and the earth. Edward Weston’s abstracted photograph of Point Lobos in Monterey, California, focuses on forms created by nature found in the sand on the beach. It was during this time that Weston made some of his most iconic images with objects found in the natural world such as the vegetables, sand dunes, shells, kelp, and, of course, the nude. Weston was intrigued by the unusual lines and contortions he noticed in objects, photographing them as abstracted works of art. These images made by Weston communicated to the world what the West, and namely California, was like between the two wars.

Weston developed his oeuvre in Mexico, where he intersected with yet another influential figure, Gabriel Figueroa, whose immense body of work is the subject of the exhibition Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film. The photographer captured images that were nearly parallel to stills from Figueroa’s films. The work Maguey, Texcoco, Mexico, from about 1936, could be placed in many films by Figueroa. The look of the Mexican landscape was incredibly consistent, especially after the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. The Mexico translated by Weston and Figueroa was that of a heroic landscape.

Josef Sudek, Scaffolding in Grand Apse of St. Guy, 1928, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Josef Sudek, Scaffolding in Grand Apse of St. Guy, 1928, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

The photographer Josef Sudek, known as the “poet of Prague” captured the city’s St. Guy Cathedral for nearly five decades. The presence of Prague, the setting for Paul Wegener’s 1920 film Der Golem: Wie er in die Welt kam (The Golem: How He Came into the World), is also felt in the exhibition Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: “The Golem” and Its Avatars through Sudek’s photographs of the city. His images feature extreme perspectives and dramatic light effects, and the photographs established the cathedral as a presence in the city. Sudek’s portfolio of St. Guy Cathedral began in 1928, upon a commission of a restoration of the building. Throughout the series, Sudek is able to play witness to some of the darkest days of Prague, presenting haunting images as document.

Josef Sudek, Wall Shadow, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Josef Sudek, Wall Shadow, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Talk of Town: Portraits by Edward Steichen from the Hollander Collection presents Steichen’s work that circulated through print magazine. It was during time—the first half of the 20th century—that mass media began to figure out what it was and how it could transmit ideas via images and text, and Steichen was a willing participant through his work in Vanity Fair and Vogue. Magnolia Blossom, Voulanglis, from about 1921, is a representation of his pictorialism that would set a new standard for photographers whose work would also be used in magazines and in galleries.

In the last two centuries, art history has had to be reconsidered upon the entry of photography into the list of media. These seven exhibitions rely heavily on the role of photography to tell the entire story, and the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection has been invaluable in making this possible.

Linda Theung, editor


A Surrealist Take by the Haas Brothers at the LACMA Store

November 25, 2013

This holiday season at the LACMA Store, Grant Breding, associate vice president of retail and merchandising, had the idea to commission Los Angeles–based designers the Haas Brothers to create a holiday ornament exclusive to LACMA. The first installment of what Breding hopes will be a yearly tradition, the Haas Brothers’ ornament is inspired by several works in LACMA’s permanent collection that were included in the exhibition Drawing Surrealism, which ran from October 21, 2012, to January 5, 2013. The holiday ornament initiative follows in the vein of Wear LACMA, a project that invites L.A. designers to produce items for sale at the LACMA Store inspired by works in the collection.

These ornaments, which come in multiple colors, are inspired by the exhibition Drawing Surrealism.

These ornaments, which come in multiple colors, are inspired by the exhibition Drawing Surrealism.

Otherwise known as twins Nikolai and Simon Haas, the Haas Brothers meld their backgrounds in music (Nikolai) and painting (Simon), as well as experience in design and construction, to create a multifaceted range of original art pieces, furniture, objects, and one-of-a kind commissions. Clients for their innovative and often playful projects have included Lady Gaga, Lita Albuquerque, Versace Home, and TV on the Radio.

Breding recently spoke with Simon and Nikolai Haas about their inspiration for the ornament design, their process, and their connection to LACMA.

Grant Breding: I understand you were both born in Los Angeles and spent some time here as children. Do you have memories of coming to LACMA? If so, what did you connect with? 

Simon and Nikolai Haas: We were born in L.A. and lived here until we were four, when we moved to Austin, Texas, but our older brother stayed in L.A. and our mom was working here as a screenwriter, so Los Angeles was a second home until we moved back as adults. Our earliest memories of LACMA are from childhood trips to the tar pits [the LaBrea Tar Pits at the adjacent Page Museum]. . . . We used to walk [LACMA’s] grounds and remember the sculpture garden, especially the Calder mobile [Three Quintains (Hello Girls)].

Breding: I think the best part about an encyclopedic museum such as LACMA is that is serves as a resource or database for artists and designers to access art and design from all periods of time. Is there a time period in the museum that you gravitate toward?

George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913, Los Angeles County Fund

Haas Brothers: We really enjoy the collection of early-1900s American art in the permanent collection. We feel like the paintings of American life, like George Bellows’s Cliff Dwellers, have a feeling of newness and excitement that we vibe with—a feeling that comes from breaking away from European traditionalism. There is an almost cartoonishly American feeling to these works that we find both humorous and inspired, and we like to think that our own work is colored by our American experience in a similar way.

Breding: The holiday ornament you made for us is incredibly beautiful. The directions I gave you were very simple: to find something you are inspired by at the museum and create an ornament based on that. Tell us about your specific inspiration for the ornament.

Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duhamel, Max Morise, Cadavre exquis, 1926, collection of Gale and Ira Drukier, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Andre Breton, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duhamel, Max Morise, Cadavre exquis, 1926, collection of Gale and Ira Drukier, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

Haas Brothers: The ornament was inspired by LACMA’s surrealist drawing exhibit [Drawing Surrealism, October 21, 2012–January 5, 2013], especially the drawing technique decalcomania [a process of applying material, such as paint, to paper, and folding and unfolding the paper, or pressing it to other surfaces, to create mirrored or blotted images]. While not a direct translation of decalcomania from 2-D to 3-D, the process for our ornament was inspired by the simple concept of using the innate physical characteristics of two materials to generate an image or form organically. In decalcomania, gouache makes visible the physics of peeling two surfaces apart—our ornament shows what happens when a soft surface’s substrate contracts. The playfully sexual exquisite corpse drawing by [Andre] Breton, [Yves] Tanguy, [Marcel] Duhamel and [Max] Morise [Cadavre exquis, 1926] also resonated with us, so we have chosen to embrace the naturally testicular shape that resulted from this process.

 the drawing technique decalcomania (the process of transferring designs from paper to surfaces).

The Haas Brothers were interested in the drawing technique decalcomania (the process of transferring designs from paper to surfaces). The process inspired their creation of this ornament.

Breding: The process and technique you used to make them is fascinating. Can you explain how it was done?

Haas Brothers: For our ornament, a balloon covered in curing resin is strategically expanded and contracted so that the shrinking latex forces the soft resin to form a beautiful natural pattern similar to the way that fingers and toes wrinkle in water. There are many variations in the types of surfaces that can be achieved through this process, but we were most drawn to the wrinkling and curling that almost-cured resin formed, so our actions had to be very carefully timed. The final production pieces are individually hand-dyed and cast in solid resin so that each piece is slightly different from the next.

haas1

The Haas Brothers’ ornaments are available at the LACMA Store and the LACMA Store website now.


This Weekend at LACMA: “Calder and Abstraction” Opens, Mexican Cinema in the U.S.A., Free Concerts, and More!

November 22, 2013

The most anticipated exhibition of the season, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, opens this weekend at LACMA. Widely considered one of the most imaginative artists of the 20th century, Alexander Calder redefined modern sculpture. Within the Frank Gehry–designed installation, guests will marvel at the iconic mobiles and stabiles, the former are kinetic sculptures propelled by ambient air, the latter are monumental and dynamic objects. Members see it first—and free—with Member Preview Days on Friday and Saturday. While LACMA has a long standing history with the artist, surprisingly this is the first time a museum in Los Angeles has presented Alexander Calder’s work in such a scope.

To commemorate this exciting moment, join Alexander S. C. Rower, grandson of the sculptor Alexander Calder and president and chairman of the Calder Foundation, and LACMA curator and modern art department head Stephanie Barron in conversation on Saturday at 1 pm. In this free event, the two explore Calder’s radical influence on modern art and how it’s reflected in the new exhibition. To RSVP to the Calder and Abstraction opening event call 323 857-6010 or reserve online.

For more exhibition related fun, feed your need with the film series Under the Volcano: Gabriel Figueroa and Hollywood, featuring works found in Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film. This two night event highlights the short-lived yet striking work of Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa in American film during the later 1940s.  Friday night’s double feature includes The Fugitive at 7:30 pm and Two Mules for Sister Sara at 9:30 pm. Then, Saturday evening see Under the Volcano at 5 pm and The Night of the Iguana at 7:30 pm. The Fugitive may have been the closest American cinema ever came to reproducing the unmistakable style of the Mexican golden age of cinema and The Night of the Iguana ended up being Figueroa’s only Academy Award nod.

The melomaniacs in us all will find pleasure on two separate occasions this weekend. Friday night at 6 pm  Jazz at LACMA presents Tall & Small: The Pete Christlieb & Linda Small 11-Piece Jazz Band. Led by a tenor sax and trombone, this ensemble is composed of some of L.A.’s finest. Additionally, Sundays Live, on Sunday at 6 pm, bring classical pianist Rudolf Golez to the Bing Theater. Both events are free and open to the public.

Kitasono Katue, La Disparition d’Honoré Subrac (オノレ・シュウブラック氏の減形), 1960, Collection of John Solt, © Hashimoto Sumiko, used with permission.

Kitasono Katue, La Disparition d’Honoré Subrac (オノレ・シュウブラック氏の減形), 1960, Collection of John Solt, © Hashimoto Sumiko, used with permission

Lastly, while you’re here, take advantage of all the free tours throughout the museum and see anyone of our thoughtful exhibitions and installations: Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet (closing on December 1), Agnès Varda in Californialand, Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and its Avatars, and Newsha Tavakolian, just to name a few. Look and you will find.

Roberto Ayala


Creativity Matters: Every Artist Live!

November 21, 2013

In 2012, Brendan O’Connell, an artist in Bentonville, Arkansas, was disheartened by a nationwide lack of support for the arts and the waning confidence he was starting to see in kids about their own art-making. He worked with the Bentonville school district to organize an art event, and thought that if he could inspire a few hundred kids to participate in a collaborative art project, he’d be satisfied. To his amazement (and delight), over 8,000 elementary-school children enthusiastically participated. With such an amazing turnout, he had to find a sizeable location—a football field!—to display all the children’s artwork.

Shortly after this momentous event, O’Connell partnered with a team of like-minded people and the idea for Everyartist Live! was born. Everyartist’s purpose is to spark human creativity and democratize the art-making experience. As its name suggests, Everyartist believes that everyone can be an artist. A little encouragement and opportunity are all that is needed.

Thankful for Siblings

Thankful for Siblings

The dream that started in Arkansas has grown to awe-inspiring proportions. Today, Thursday, November 21, 2013, Everyartist Live! hopes to set a world record as the largest art event ever, with a goal of recruiting over one million children to participate by creating and sharing an artwork. This time, instead of being laid out on a football field, the artwork will be digitally photographed and displayed online. Schools, museums, galleries, community leaders, and parents from all around the country will come together for this virtual art event to demonstrate that creativity matters.

If you would like to be a part of this nationwide collaborative project, join us today in the Boone Children’s Gallery. Education staff will provide the materials, offer encouragement, and even upload your artwork for you. After, you can go online to see your images alongside what we hope will be millions more! You might even be able to add “co-world-record-maker” to your list of accomplishments.

We have gotten a jumpstart on creating art for this event, with visitors making images on the theme of gratitude.

Thankful for Mother Earth, father sky, animal brother

colors

I’m grateful for circles and colors.

family
mother earth

LACMA’s Education and Public Programs Department is excited to participate in this project because we believe that making art, and inhabiting the role of an artist, helps people better understand the creative process, build greater connections to art, and see in new and different ways. Many of our programs offer LACMA visitors opportunities to make art, and in the Boone Children’s Gallery, we facilitate this experience on a daily basis for kids and adults alike. Last year, over 70,000 people joined us in the Boone to experiment with art materials, practice techniques, make personal connections to LACMA’s collections, and to have fun.

If you can’t make it today to the Boone Children’s Gallery, you can participate in Everyartist Live! on your own—at home or school, with friends or family. Visit everyartist.me for more info.

Karen Satzman, Director, Youth and Family Programs


New Online Publication for Southeast Asian Art

November 20, 2013

Over the past several years LACMA has had the remarkable opportunity to take a fresh look at how we share scholarship about our collection online as participants in an exciting project, the Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. Beginning in 2008, the Foundation provided significant grant funding to launch online collection catalogues at nine museums—the National Gallery and the Arthur M. Sackler and Freer Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), Tate (London), the Art Institute of Chicago, the Seattle Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and LACMA.

The Getty Foundation brought representatives from these museums together periodically over the past few years, encouraging us to seek and share solutions.

Homepage

Southeast Asian Art: An Online Scholarly Catalogue

LACMA decided to start with a selection of objects from the South and Southeast Asian art department, drawing upon the deep expertise of senior scholar, Dr. Robert Brown. He had begun working with the collection in the early 1980s before he left LACMA to take a teaching position in the art history department at UCLA, where he is currently a tenured professor. Dr. Brown returned to LACMA in 2000 to continue working as a curator. For him, the project seemed an ideal opportunity to capture new scholarship in Southeast Asian art, and simultaneously publish in-depth knowledge about a number of objects. In addition to entries about these objects, the new online publication includes four substantial essays by Dr. Brown on topics as varied as light symbolism or female deities in Cambodian and Indonesian art.

Dr. Robert Brown, professor in the department of art history at UCLA and LACMA curator of South and Southeast Asian art

Dr. Robert Brown, professor in the department of art history at UCLA and LACMA curator of South and Southeast Asian art

Another important element of the new online publication is its presentation of the technical aspects of selected works, provided by LACMA senior objects conservator John Hirx. In his contributions, Hirx details subjects such as seismic bases, repairs, elemental analysis, and production techniques. Publishing on the web rather than in print gives us the opportunity to use digital media to showcase this kind of behind-the-scenes work that goes on at the museum as part of our mission to care for and conserve great works of art.

Much consideration was given to the audience for this project. The first collective impulse was to provide information for all levels of users, from casual readers or young students to university and professional scholars. Lively discussions with both internal staff and outside advisors soon narrowed the intended audience to scholarly users. We surveyed selected members of this audience to determine what tools and aspects of the project could be most helpful. Another consideration was making the online publication stable and dependable enough that it could be cited and retrieved for doctoral dissertations or other publications. As Robert Brown originally remarked, “I don’t let my university students use web data as information on Southeast Asian art, as it is virtually nonexistent, or when found, undependable and generally poor quality.” The intention of this project is to reverse that trend, creating online sources that can be used internationally at no cost. Several years ago, there was much concern by museum partners in this project about sharing copyrighted images on websites. Fortunately, this era of controlled image posting by museums is passing with advent of new open-content policies.

On the technical side, the project is an expression of our commitment to open-source development: partnering with other museums to create free, shared digital resources developed by and for the museum community. As the project proceeded, we decided to join forces with some of the OSCI partner museums to invest in the open-source OSCIToolkit created by the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s IMA Lab for initial use by the Art Institute of Chicago. LACMA customized the tool kit with web-development firm Urban Insight for our own unique goals. We look forward to sharing the code repository soon, and continuing to customize tools that support the online presentation of rich media content about our collection.

Please visit the new publication and tell us what you think. Don’t miss the information icon at the top right corner of the site; it reveals an introduction, credits, and explains subtle functions of the site. Beyond the scholarly contributions, some of the best aspects of the project are the very high-resolution images, which can be manipulated with the “compare” tool, greatly enlarged, or in some cases, rotated.

Detail

See features of works of art up close in the Southeast Asian Art Online Scholarly Catalogue

We’ve also included video interviews, maps, a slide tray with images that track the appearance of figure numbers in the essays, and even citation tools that can extract quotes in three formats to help students and scholars refer back to the content.

To note, it’s an important part of our commitment to enabling scholars to do more research online that we do not plan to change the content we’ve published here, so that citations are stable and always refer to the snapshot of information as it was originally published. If we decide to release an updated version of our Southeast Asian catalogue, we will do so under a new URL, so that it is possible for scholars to cite either or both our original and our updated publication, and witness the development of scholarship at the museum over time.

Citation Tool

Ctation tools can extract quotes in three formats to help students and scholars refer back to the content.

CitationDetail

Citations are stable and always refer to the snapshot of information as it was originally published.

LACMA’s ambition is to continue to use the online publication tool we’ve built with our OSCI partners and the support from the Getty Foundation by launching an annual volume. The next publication will be dedicated to the study of the Carter Collection of Dutch paintings by Dr. Amy Walsh and Senior Paintings Conservator Joseph Fronek. Three other partners in this project, SFMoMA (Rauschenberg Research Project), Seattle Art Museum (Chinese Painting & Calligraphy), and Tate (The Camden Town Group in Context) have also launched their sites, and Art Institute of Chicago has released an early prototype of their Impressionist masterpieces by Monet and Renoir.

But for now, test it out, seasian.catalog.lacma.org, and send us some comments with the “contact” feature.

Nancy Thomas, senior deputy director, art administration and collections


Geometric Installation Mirrors Kitasono Katue’s Sensibility

November 19, 2013

During my two-week visit to L.A. in October, I had several opportunities to visit the Pavilion for Japanese Art at LACMA to see the exhibition Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet. What first struck me was the installation and presentation of the works of art in the two-room gallery. The display on each wall was well thought out to the finest detail, and some of Kitasono’s poems and drawings were arranged neatly on the white walls.

Oval tables custom made for the exhibition were inspired by Kitasono's aesthetic.

Oval tables custom made for the exhibition were inspired by Kitasono’s aesthetic.

The organic, oval-shaped display tables were particularly eye catching. Hollis Goodall, a curator of Japanese art at LACMA, described the tables as being specially made for the exhibition, and the idea of their shape was taken from stones that Kitasono often used in his photographic works (called “plastic poems”) as well as on some covers of poetry books and magazines.

Kitasono Days Among the Trees

Kitasono Katue, cover of Whole Days in the Trees by Marguerite Duras, 1967, collection of John Solt, photograph by Lenny Lesser

The covers of VOU, the cutting-edge avant-garde magazine, are displayed on the walls. The presentation traces the transition of his longest-running journal from 1935 to 1978 (except during the Pacific War years). Goodall explained that, by lining VOU magazines side-by-side on the wall, one could see the various and rare colors Kitasono used, how he would manipulate type, and how he did not work in a grid, a strategy typically employed by many graphic artists. Instead, Kitasono worked with balance, space, and color. Viewers seemed intrigued by his aesthetic sense of color (which derived from the fine gradations of traditional Japanese colors), his use of small-font typography, and his graphic images placed on vast blank spaces.

The arrangement of VOU covers in the exhibition.

The arrangement of VOU covers in the exhibition. Photo by Lenny Lesser

The exhibition brochure is another visual feast for the eyes. LACMA graphic designer David Karwan’s deep insights and understanding of Kitasono’s oeuvre made it possible to make this creative, playful, yet sophisticated brochure with high-quality paper, which reflects Kitasono’s aesthetic.

The exhibition brochure designed by David Karwan, courtesy of John Solt

The exhibition brochure designed by David Karwan, courtesy of John Solt

Staging an exhibition is a collaborative process: the curator, designer, and museum staff all worked productivity together to create this innovative contemporary-art exhibition that matches the artistic caliber of Kitasono Katue.

In Japan, Kitasono has garnered more and more appreciation in recent years due to his exploration of various art forms—mainly poetry, photography, and graphic design. Interestingly, however, the interpretation and evaluation of his artworks are different for each genre. In the past 10 years, Kitasono has been particularly well known and respected in the Japanese graphic-design world for his highly refined sense of color, space, and aesthetic balance in design. As one of the pioneers of the field, Kitasono has been looked upon with awe and admired by design luminaries such as Takahashi Shohachiro (also a VOU member), Sugiura Kohei, and Asaba Katsumi.

Tsukue

Kitasono Katue, covers of Tsukue 9, no. 10 (October 1958), Tsukue 9, no. 11 (November 1958), Tsukue 9, no. 12 (December 1958), collection of John Solt

Although Kitasono created most of his avant-garde poems in the middle years of the 20th century, his poetry works were often unappreciated by the Japanese poetry world, which was rooted in tradition at the time. Many felt his modernist poems made no sense, lacking emotion and therefore difficult to interpret. It’s only quite recently that Kitasono’s poetry has been favorably received by today’s younger generation, who tend to see them as simple, light, and, therefore, “cool.” Besides, his experimental poems fit well in the digital age. For example, “Monotonous Space” (1958) is one of his representative poems that breaks the notion of conventional poetry by putting the particleの [“no”] (meaning “of” or “ ’s”) at the beginning of lines, as well as using extremely short lines and few verbs. By changing the text direction of the poem from vertical (for traditional Japanese text) to horizontal (for Westernized Japanese text) and scrolling the text down on a computer screen, it becomes much easier to read his rule-breaking poems. Kitasono was ahead of the curve, and only now the times are beginning to catch up with his avant-garde antics.

Kitasono envisioned a future mode of poetry without words. His photography reflected this aim. He created photographic works he called “plastic poems,” using found objects such as stones, wire, string, and crumpled newspapers. His visual poetry gained international recognition and has inspired two generations of artists in the field. On view concurrently at LACMA is John Divola: As Far as I Could Get (through July 6, 2014), which examines a Los Angeles–based photographer who studied under Robert Heineken. Whether or not he is familiar with Kitasono’s work, the continuing trend of concrete/visual poetry can be found in Divola’s Polaroid images of sculpted objects, which were also made out of humble materials.

John Divola, Man on a Hill, 89MHA1, 1987–9, © John Divola

John Divola, Man on a Hill, 89MHA1, 1987–9, © John Divola

crumpled paper man

Kitasono Katue, Plastic Poem: “Night of Figure,” featured in VOU magazine, no. 148, 1975, collection of John Solt

Kitasono Katue elevated poetry to the realm of fine art (and vice versa), and his genre-crossing artistic spirit and the intermedia products of his creative mind are moving as geometric organisms across time and space, with LACMA the first to focus on his work outside Japan.

Eiko Aoki, art critic and author of blog, ArtThrob in L.A. and Japan


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