The Calder Quartet

March 10, 2014

The Calder Quartet has performed at a wide range of venues throughout the United States, from the Walt Disney Concert Hall right here in Los Angeles to Le Poisson Rouge in New York. This Saturday, March 15, LACMA hosts the Calder Quartet in their second appearance at the Bing Theater, where they will be joined on the stage by red fish blue fish in the first installment of the Art and Music series.

The group, whose name is inspired by the work of Alexander Calder, formed at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, after which they continued studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School. The upcoming performance by Benjamin Jacobson, Andrew Bulbrook, Jonathan Moerschel, and Eric Byers is held, fittingly, occasion of the exhibition Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, currently on view through July 27 in the Resnick Pavilion at LACMA.

Calder Quartet violinist Andrew Bulbrook spoke with LACMA about Calder as an inspiration and their performance at the Bing.

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This question is obvious, but how did your group arrive at the name Calder Quartet? Describe elements from the artist’s work that inspire the group.

We played together for five years as friends before choosing a name. In the beginning our quartet was never a plan, it evolved and grew out of our friendship. We picked a name when we needed it for our first engagements and we had encountered Alexander Calder’s work and also had learned a little bit about his work ethic. The mobile is considered by many (including Sartre) as a very musical form of sculpture and had inspired composers to create work. What looks effortless and moves easily is the product of consistent and daily work. Calder went into the studio every day and practiced his art. That really inspired us.

How did you go about selecting pieces to perform at LACMA?

In talking to Mitch Glickman about the program we decided to anchor it around a new work by the percussionist Andy Akiho that was written for us a few years ago and takes it’s name from the idea of the mobile. From there we connected the dots to bringing in a percussion ensemble, UCSD’s red fish blue fish under the direction of Steve Schick, and also to a larger recording and commissioning project that we have been working on for the past few years called Eclectic Currents. It’s a recording of 12 works by leading emerging composers. (We’ve played pieces from this project at Blum and Poe in Culver City, and the project was supported by 110 individual donors through Kickstarter as well as grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Copland Fund.) Andy’s quartet is part of that project and we thought celebrating young composers and young percussionists together would be a great connection and a nice celebration of Alexander Calder and Eclectic Currents. A decade ago we learned that Calder had been friends with Sasha Schneider of the Budapest Quartet and had donated work to help with his educational efforts and currently the Calder Foundation runs a prize to help develop the career of a living artist. This connection to living composers and supporting them really made sense.

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Were they informed by any interactions with the exhibition?

We all attended the show and loved it. We have the good fortune to appear in Disney Hall regularly and it’s great to see Frank Gehry creating amazing spaces for music and art. The way a room full of mobiles slowly undulates feels like quartet-four voices that move coherently and beautifully together without any apparent leadership.

Have you previously collaborated with red fish blue fish?

We are long time admirers of Steve Schick and while this will be our first performance with him and red fish blue fish we have worked with him for many years at the Carlsbad Music Festival in San Diego where we have been the founding quartet in residence. Carlsbad and UCSD Artpower helped commission many of the works that we will play at LACMA.


This Weekend at LACMA: Academy @ LACMA Showcases Independent Cinema, Harvard Professor on Japanese Scrolls, Free Workshops in the Community, and More!

March 7, 2014

Visit the museum on Friday night and enjoy the first screening from a new film series, Academy @ LACMA. Presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the series launches with a double feature of Down by Law and Stranger than Paradise from director Jim Jarmusch, a seminal figure in American independent cinema. On Saturday see two additional works by Jarmusch: the 1996 “acid western” Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp, and Mystery Train, another blend of high and low comedy and sadness and high jinks.

For more weekend fun, on Saturday families are invited to visit our satellite gallery at Charles White Elementary near MacArthur Park for an open house of Kaz Oshiro: Chasing Ghosts, taking place from noon to 4:30 pm with art-making activities for children. Back on campus check out the free talk at 2 pm with Harvard University professor of humanities, art history, and architecture Yukio Lippit, exploring the remarkable artistry of Itō Jakuchū (Japan, 1716–1800) in The Art of the Future: Itō Jakuchū’s Colorful Realm.

At the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab, located at Steinmetz Park, visitors can take advantage of a free filmmaking workshop on Saturday at noon or contribute their personal story to the Oral History project on Sunday at 12:30 pm. If you’ve not been out to see the lab yet, this weekend is a great time to go. In the Bing Theater at LACMA, check out the UCLA Philharmonia at 6 pm on Sunday for this week’s presentation of Sundays Live.

Frederick Hammersley, Around a round, 1959, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, © Frederick Hammersley Foundation

Frederick Hammersley, Around a round, 1959, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, © Frederick Hammersley Foundation

Finally, around our galleries, join any of the free daily tours of our temporary exhibitions and permanent collection, like a 50-minute walkthrough of See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection on Saturday at noon. On Sunday, take part in a pleasant 15-minute look at Henri Matisse’s La Gerbe at 1:30 pm. Continuing your stroll around the six building campus, and you’ll also encounter Four Abstract Classicists, David Hockney: The Jugglers, and The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection. Who’s in?

Roberto Ayala


The IMLS Inventory

March 5, 2014

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) to support a comprehensive inventory of its collection of photography and time-based media. The project is led by LACMA’s Director of Conservation, Mark Gilberg, Department Head and Curator of Photography, Britt Salvesen, and Head of Paper Conservation, Janice Schopfer.

Gawain Weaver, conservator of photographs, was hired as a consultant for the project, which is being conducted by two IMLS Fellows, Asti Sherring and Laura Moeller. This project has also provided an opportunity for our Mellon Fellow Peter Konarzewski, to prepare a graduate thesis for his degree from the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart, Germany, on the exhibition, storage, and management of color and digital photographs.

Peter Konarzewski, Mellon Fellow and Asti Sherring IMLS Fellow entering data into our TMS data base for the IMLS inventory of the entire photographic collection at LACMA.

Peter Konarzewski, Mellon Fellow and Asti Sherring IMLS Fellow entering data into our TMS database for the IMLS inventory of the photographs collection at LACMA. Photo by Yosi A. Pozeilov, Senior Photographer, Conservation

This phase of the project is taking place in a converted gallery on Art of the Americas plaza. What will we be doing for a year? Like most activities at LACMA, the project is ambitious, forward thinking, and will help prepare the collections for more public engagement. We will be updating the data associated with each photograph in the collection; examining condition and housing; developing protocols for accessing and handling the collection; and inviting public engagement with programs related to conservation and collections management.

An integral part of the project is being directed by our conservation photographer, Yosi Pozeilov. Under his supervision, our conservation technician, Maria Charette, we will take a digital image of each photographic print, not currently documented, and attach those digital files to the TMS database record. This will improve the user interface in our database for both staff and visitors to our study center. Members of our time-based media team, Siska Genbrugge and Alyssa Morasco, Kimberlee Granholm, and Angela Chen will be addressing the emerging needs related to acquiring, processing, housing, and storing time-based media objects, including film, video, slide, digital projections, and sound installations. All of this preparation leads toward future initiatives to expand collections access and enrich the experience of our museum visitors.

Photographer: Yosi A. R-PozeilovEditor: Yosi A. R-PozeilovDepartment: Conservation Photo Studio

Photo by Yosi A. Pozeilov, Senior Photographer, Conservation

Photographer: Yosi A. R-PozeilovEditor: Yosi A. R-PozeilovDepartment: Conservation Photo Studio

Photo by Yosi A. Pozeilov, Senior Photographer, Conservation

Using a binocular microscope, IMLS Fellow Laura Moeller will determine what color process was used by the artist to create this color photograph. A standard list of photographic processes created for this grant make searching the database more accurate and efficient for both staff and researchers. Gawain Weaver (left), our photographic consultant, will be overseeing the process identification and conducting staff training to improve the staff’s ability to correctly identify and care for a wide variety of photographs in LACMA’s collection.

This project constitutes the first phase for the planning of a proposed Art+Film Lab at LACMA, opening in fall 2014. This study center will be a multiuse site for presenting a variety of lens-, film-, and time-based works of art in the context of an encyclopedic museum. It will also serve as a prototype for other departments to create study centers for object based learning as part of the strategic plans being developed for the museum in the coming years.

In 2006, LACMA projected an annual 3% growth rate for its photography collection. Since then, however, the collection has doubled in size, with a current total of approximately 15,000 objects. LACMA’s photography collection is now one of the top 10 of museums nationwide, and we expect its stature to rise with future acquisitions.

Frederick H. Evans, A Sea of Steps—Wells Cathedral, 1903, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © Frederick H. Evans, courtesy Janet B. Stenner

Frederick H. Evans, A Sea of Steps—Wells Cathedral, 1903, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © Frederick H. Evans, courtesy Janet B. Stenner

Recent acquisitions include the important Vernon Collection (highlighted in the exhibition See The Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection in the Resnick Pavilion, closing on March 23), which is comprised of over 3,500 photographs by 700 artists. The collection was instrumental in strengthening LACMA’s holdings of 19th-century photography. There was also a joint acquisition with the J. Paul Getty Museum of the Robert Mapplethorpe Archive, which includes more than 2,000 works. But it doesn’t stop there: LACMA has been acquiring in nearly every curatorial department throughout the museum both photographs and time-based media objects. All of this activity is in keeping with the Michael Govan’s cross-disciplinary vision for the museum.

Still from Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental Volume 1, 2012, 
purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East.

Still from Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental Volume 1, 2012, 
purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East.

Multiple galleries throughout the campus play host to time-based media that span across numerous curatorial area. Check out the Art of the Middle East galleries on the fourth floor of the Ahmanson Building Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012; the first floor of the Ahmanson Building, the Art of the Pacific Gallery Shigeyuki Kihara’s Siva in Motion; and an exhibition on contemporary art on the fourth floor of BCAM, Fútbol: The Beautiful Game.

Please stay tuned as we will be returning with new posts from our inventory throughout the year.

Janice Schopfer, Head of Paper Conservation and codirector of the IMLS Grant Project


Visions of the South

March 3, 2014

We all dream about faraway lands, with miles of sandy beaches, palm trees rustling in the wind, the sound of waves. This idyllic escape is generally associated with countries in the southern hemisphere, notably in the Pacific and Central and South America. Just as we are allured by these sunbathed images of the south, artists throughout history have been inspired by them. Visions of the South explores some of the ways in which artists from the 18th to the 20th century depicted the south, and how their vision shifted from a classical concept to a more exotic or realistic one.

Joseph Pennell, Sunset, Acapulco, c. 1912, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Joseph Pennell, Sunset, Acapulco, c. 1912, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Representations of the south have long occupied an important place in European art. The “south,” as defined from a Eurocentric point of view, has referred not only to a geographic reality (Northern and Southern Europe), but also to philosophical concepts going back to antiquity. A lasting idea of the south has crystallized around the notion of Arcadia, described by the Roman poet Virgil as a utopian place with pastoral landscapes where mankind lived in peace and abundance.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Another view of the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli, c. 1761, gift of Mr. and Mrs. M. F. Grollman

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Another View of the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli, c. 1761, gift of Mr. and Mrs. M. F. Grollman

With the idea of Arcadia in mind, artists came to Italy, attracted by the country’s profuse richness of archaeological remains of the Roman Empire, set in picturesque landscape and bathed in the warm light of the southern sun. This ideal vision of the south found its most complete expression in the paintings of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, two classical artists of the 17th century, who both lived and worked in Rome and depicted frequently the monuments and surroundings of the city. Artists in the 18th century followed in their footsteps and continued to represent the famous monuments and locations which were then sought out by travelers on the Grand Tour—a traditional trip to Italy undertaken by mostly English aristocrats—thus further shaping the classical vision of the south.

Martinus Rørbye, Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino, 1840, gift of the 1990 Collectors Committee

Martinus Rørbye, Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino, 1840, gift of the 1990 Collectors Committee

The lushness of Mediterranean nature and the clear blue sky also favored open-air painting, which became increasingly popular during the 19th century. Colonies of painters from Northern Europe, especially Germany, France, and Scandinavia would travel to Italy and settle there; Rome and the Roman countryside were particularly sought, but soon these artists ventured further south, toward Naples, the Amalfi Coast, and Sicily. They would set up their easel in nature, sketching fugitive impressions of atmospheric phenomena and the ever changing light effects.

James Anderson, St. Peter's From Pincian Hill, 1860s, printed 1860s, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

James Anderson, St. Peter’s From Pincian Hill, 1860s, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

With the advent of photography in the mid-19th century, many artists quickly adopted this new way of documenting their surrounding world. Photographers travelled through Italy, following the path of landscape painters, visiting Rome, Florence, Naples, and Venice, and depicting landscapes, famous monuments, such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s.

Nicolas de Stael, View of Marseille, c. 1955, Modern Art Department, Estate of Hans G. M. De Schulthess © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Nicolas de Staël, View of Marseille, c. 1955, Modern Art Department, Estate of Hans G. M. De Schulthess © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Italy, however, was soon to be replaced by other regions: France’s Provence, in particular, became increasingly popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, offering lesser-known terrains and a light different from the warm Italian sun. Following in the footsteps of Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Henri Matisse, many artists spent significant parts of their careers in southern France, notably in Collioure, Antibes, and Cannes on the Mediterranean coast. Their art was deeply affected by the bright coastline and the distinctive landscape of Provence. The abstract painter Nicolas de Staël found in southern France to a brighter palette, inspired by the strong light of Provence and the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. He created luminous and highly abstract views of the South during the last years of his life.

Emil Nolde, Dancer, 1913, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, Germany

Emil Nolde, Dancer, 1913, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, © Nolde Stiftung Seebüll, Germany

The notion of the south would also extend to more distant lands. With the rise of colonialism in the 19th century, scientific expeditions documented faraway regions, and artists were hired to depict the exotic cultures and landscapes, notably in the Pacific. By the end of the 19th century, illustrated magazines had featured images of exotic locations and Pacific artworks had been shown in various exhibitions in Europe. Many of the German Expressionists, especially members of the Brücke (the Bridge), were drawn to these exotic objects and frequently used them as motifs in their works. Some of these artists, such as Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde, were even inspired to travel to the South Seas in search of unspoiled nature and simple life.

Other “visions” of the south are presented in the exhibition through an original film, conceived for this exhibition, which gives voice to writers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Baudelaire, Henry James, and Robert Louis Stevenson as well as to artists like Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde, and Nicolas de Staël.

Frauke Josenhans, Curatorial Assistant, Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies


This Weekend at LACMA: Visions of the South Opens, Art Meets Science in Talk with Yale Professor, Second Week of Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab, and More!

February 28, 2014

There’s no better time to visit the museum than on rainy days. Opening on Sunday to the general public, Visions of the South surveys the unfolding artistic concepts of the South (a geographic reality and an exotic fantasy) from as early as the 16th century. The exhibitions includes around 40 works from the museum’s permanent collection and features artists like Pablo Picasso, Nicolas de Staël, Richard Seewald, Emil Nolde, and Max Pechstein. Members see it first during the Member Preview day on Saturday.

Richard Janthur, Robinson's island, 1922, The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

Richard Janthur, Robinson’s Island, 1922, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold, Museum Associates Acquisition Fund, and deaccession funds

During your visit check out the full schedule of free docent-led tours which come included with general admission. For example, take a look at the history of photography during the 50-minute tour of See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection on Saturday at noon or a full 50-minute overview of our Modern Art gallery at 2 pm. If you’re here on Sunday quick 15–20 minute samplings of Egyptian works at 1 pm or a focused look at one artwork, in this case Antonio Montauti’s Triumph of Neptune and Europa, at 1:30 pm make for a quite pleasant afternoon. At 2 pm join a talk with professor of psychology, cognitive science, and neurobiology at Yale University, Marvin M. Chun, as he discusses How the Brain Sees the Light in the Brown Auditorium. This event is free and open to the public.

Antonio Montauti, The Triumph of Neptune and Europa, circa 1735–1740, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold

Antonio Montauti, The Triumph of Neptune and Europa, c. 1735–40, purchased with funds provided by Anna Bing Arnold

Families visiting the museum would do well to stop by Andell Family Sundays on Sunday at 12:30 pm, where this month the free art project centers around soccer and the new exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. In the evening, Sundays Live presents conductor Maxim Eshkenazy and the Colburn Chamber Orchestra in the Bing Theater at 6 pm for the free, weekly orchestral performance.

In nearby Hacienda Heights the Art+Film Lab, located at Steinmetz Park, visit the public art space for sessions of Oral History Drop-ins and a free screening of staff-favorite short films on Friday and a free hands-on filmmaking workshop on Saturday. Back in our galleries, see The Ancient Maya World: Masterworks from the Permanent Collection before this display is rotated out on Sunday and make your reservations for James Turrell: A Retrospective now, as spots are filling up fast for this crowd-pleaser, ending in a month’s time. Oh, and remember to pack an umbrella.

Roberto Ayala


All That Had Been Lost: An African American Journey through the Luba Exhibition

February 27, 2014

Is it possible that an African American can view the exhibition Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa without a tinge of discord and disconnect; or are we to be washed over, teary eyed, and spellbound in awe of this immense beauty that is before us?

Here we must travel through time to a dark period as Africans who are not pure bloods. One must peer at a world or cosmos whose complexity was assured and complete. Luba Masterworks stands in a parallel universe, with its profound sacred objects, beatific scars, and intimate rituals of glorification. Simultaneously, we’re wretched back to another darker world of bondage, an adopted god and the abstract scarification of the whip.

Mary Nooter Roberts and Allen F. Roberts write in their book Luba (Visions of Africa) that “the Luba Kingdoms never constituted an ‘empire’ . . . , even the main Luba Kingdom was first and foremost a construction of the mind.” I found the intellectual weight of this notion that Luba’s political strength comes from spiritual power and the beauty of their arts was in profound accordance to all great civilizations.

Caryatid stool, Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba Peoples), The Royal Museum for Central Africa, collection RMCA Tervuren, photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

Caryatid stool, Africa (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba Peoples), The Royal Museum for Central Africa, collection RMCA Tervuren, photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

Upon entering the African gallery, one is confronted with a hall of a kingdom that is past and yet is present. A wooden female figure, a quite small caryatid stool, kneels before you. She is kitenta, a spirit capital. Holding up a thick disk, her eyes are cast down. A choker of giant blue beads adorn her neck and small white beads circle her waist—she is poised. Her extended navel is surrounded by precise, patterned scars that texture the nut-brown wood, which darken toward its edges as she kneels on an equally thick disk.

The Mulopwe (the king) is dead. One is in the presence of “a lieu de memoire,” where his spirit resides. This was the king’s throne as is the other, larger stool in the exhibition. Female power is at the very heart of Luba royal arts, for kings were represented by women “who surround, uphold, and empower them.” Enshrined in a complex ritual, women were endowed with conferring and giving life. “The foundation of kingship is the women.”

Male Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba Peoples, 19th Century, Wood (Schinziophyton rautaneii), Royal Museum for Central Africa, RG 23470 (collected by O. Michaux in 1896), Photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

Male Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Luba Peoples, 19th Century, Wood (Schinziophyton rautaneii), Royal Museum for Central Africa, RG 23470 (collected by O. Michaux in 1896), Photo R. Asselberghs, RMCA Tervuren ©

At the center of the gallery, as out of the marshland of Lualaba River as it were, a buffalo man, the Mbidi Kiluwe, the hero, stares out of a powerful dark buffalo-horned mask as if at the center of gravity. It was remarked that his skin is “black like the night.” He is a masterful hunter and blacksmith, the one that made the Luba Epic—the oral narrative—possible. He imparted knowledge, stimulated memory, and harnessed the spiritual world. He is the touchstone of the Balopwe and the secret association called Mbudye, in which all-esoteric wisdom, customs, and complex rituals are transformed and transferred. The gallery holds these instruments of the intermediaries between the world of mankind and world of the spiritual ancestors.

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 ©

I came upon the Bowl Figure that holds chalk (mpemba), the sacred white substance of enlightenment. I thought about how deeply personal each adornment embodied a sacred expression, spells of grave enchantment.

In this world, the Mbudye members and ruler would drink palm wine and other secretive potions from the ceremonial Kiteya bowls and cups, smoke from the pipe, whose figure’s genitals impart complex social and ancestral relationships that foster personal transformation. Earth spirits in the form of lizards would be carved into lids of bowls. Antelope horns, smoke stained, packed with medicinal substance for these spirit figures, the Bilumbu, had transcendent power of locomotion, not only seeing into the beyond, but may have traveled to the beyond.  There were royal spears, staffs of office and ceremonial axes, which provide metaphors for “breaking a path.” How needful!

Africa—a beckoning world—the “Heart of Darkness,” as Joseph Conrad’s ponderous narrative of barbarians in contrast to “civilized society,” dense in the myth of the “savages,” the “other,” as it is suggested. Marcus Garvey offered a dreamland of return, a land of sad, exotic contradiction, where innocence died. Mary Roberts’s scholarship gives us a complex Luba society of profound depth, and yet it, too, would be a counter narrative to another world tragically simpler, a cosmic failure—ours was where the shame of skin and chained servitude and the endless nightmare of its terror, cruelty, and violence was itself a continent within a continent, creating its own bleak weather, day in and day out, year after endless year, unrelenting, in deep time, hollowed out until memory knew no other.

I am amazed by the sophistication of the Luba people: the intricacy, the subtlety, and the sheer fundamental naturalism interwoven with spirituality that is based in the earth, and honors the corporeal, mystic mystery of the life force. Ironically, by a cruel dent in history, we, as a people attenuated, became the modern embodiment of the existential man who was denied his history.

When I was a boy, we were Negros. Maybe the constant adjusting of the name we were to go by; Negro, colored, blacks, and now, African American, distilled its own formal, paradoxical, elusive identity. As if we were a species of an indeterminate form, aliens from an alternate universe. And one must invent the self through the eyes of the chains that bind us. So I come to this Luba cosmos as an explorer, not as progeny. Only our DNA knows the truth. What were left unmoored were the voices, unencumbered energy in our hips and bodies, the acrobatic motion of a million rituals still in tune, in rhythm, still dancing in the blood of time.

In the new world, there would be no hero, no Mbidi Kiluwe. The mother would be taken from you. No secret association, no Mbudye, no Bilumbu diviner that slips through shadows, no radiant Mboko reading the will of the spirits, no healing and no problem solving, no intermediaries to the darkness they confronted, only the precarious, invented world would be theirs. For the most precious of all Luba artifacts is the memory board, the Lukasas, here the universe of time and place could be read, could be seen through the constellations of beads, shells and bits of metal offering a mnemonic code, geometric patterns of deeply esoteric meanings.

But there would be no “men of memory”—thus we are the people of dreams.

The sheer beauty of the Luba culture was on, some level, beyond imagination, idealization, or at least I was unprepared for its depth—the elegant coiffure, the scars, the animals, and the abstraction that wasn’t an abstraction but a symbol of meaning, the distinctness, a sign of a deeper realization. It was the infinite sky on the other side of the world.

Hylan Booker


Talbot and the Possibilities of Photography

February 25, 2014

One of the first things I noticed upon entering the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection is the numerous quadrants of photographs arranged on the first wall. (Previously discussed in this Unframed post.) The four photographs in each grouping represent the four themes covered in the exhibition: descriptive naturalism, subjective naturalism, experimental modernism, and romantic modernism.

A number of photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot, one of the earliest adopters and promoters of photography, are included to illustrate the descriptive naturalism theme of See the Light. And understandably so—as a witness, and even a competitor, to the earliest methods of making photographs, Talbot was interested in the lens’ ability to act as testimonial to what was situated in front of it. He trusted the lens to depict and describe reality better than the eye or through written observation.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of Porcelain, c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of China, c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

This photograph was made in 1844, a few years after the invention of commercial photography in 1839. Talbot used the method he invented—calotype—to construct this meticulously arranged field of china. Calotype, a process involving paper coated with silver iodide, was a departure from the daguerrotype, which required heavy plates and numerous contraptions to render an image. Talbot considered the ability to create images on paper a substitute to drawing as documentation. (It should be noted, however, that the calotype produced a less-detailed product than the daguerrotype.)

In The Pencil of Nature, published in London in the same year that the photograph (above) was made (Articles of China was also one of the plates of the book), Talbot writes that the illustrations in the book “have been obtained by the mere action of Light upon sensitive paper. They have been formed or depicted by optical and chemical means alone, and without the aid of any one acquainted with the art of drawing.”

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of Porcelain (detail), c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of China (detail), c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Talbot continues, “The more strange and fantastic the forms of his old teapots, the more advantage in having their pictures given instead of their descriptions.” I imagine he might have been referring to an object such as the one above.

It’s remarkable to read Talbot’s description of this image in the context of our visually saturated environment. To our 21st-century eye, Articles of China might perhaps be read as a simple grouping of porcelain objects. In essence, it is the consummate showcase for descriptive naturalism—it accurately represents the reality of that scene. To Talbot, however, someone who was exploring the nascent medium of photography, this picture presented an opportunity to capture all the intricate details present in each of the pieces of china.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of Porcelain (detail), c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, Articles of China (detail), c. 1844, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

We take this practical aspect of photography for granted, but it’s incredible to consider that, just a mere decade before this picture was made, the only options to depict reality were either through painting, sculpture, or drawing. Talbot was right to examine and promote the possibilities of the medium. He writes, “The articles represented on this plate are numerous: but, however numerous the objects—however complicated the arrangement—the Camera depicts them all at once.”

Although the mode of descriptive naturalism seems to have organically come about upon the invention of photography, its use is not unique to the 19th century. Straddling the boundaries between art and science, the crux of the descriptive naturalist strategy in photography—to serve as an objective eye—is still being used today. (The built-in camera on phones, for instance, often functions as a machine that produces testimony/proof of an event.) It’s a rare opportunity to encounter the entire span of the history of photography in a singular exhibition, but when we do, we might realize that our passive consumption and production of images are linked to a trope that was the subject of fascination in the 1840s.

Linda Theung, editor


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