Traces of the 19th Century

March 17, 2014

Remembering LACMA’s photography holdings before the acquisition of the Vernon Collection in 2008, former Photography Department head and curator Charlotte Cotton remarked, “when you went on to the museum database and searched for photographs from the 19th century, you could come up with, like, one picture . . . this was not a historical collection.” While LACMA did own more than one photograph from the era, Cotton was correct in essence. The acquisition of the Vernon Collection nearly tripled LACMA’s holdings in 19th-century photography, bringing works into the collection that would have been otherwise impossible to acquire (due to scarcity or price) by any other means.

Almost one-third of the works in the Vernon Collection (nearly 1,100 photographs) were produced before the outbreak of the First World War. From the first transaction to the last, the Vernons passionately collected the photography of the Victorian era. Maggi Weston, who sold the Vernons their first photographic works, remembered, “I wasn’t used to people in Los Angeles liking 19th-century work, but I took it with me to meet Leonard and Marjorie [Vernon] in L.A. . . . We got into this long discussion over the 19th-century work, and they ooh’d and awe’d. . . . They bought $10,000 worth of photographs on that first viewing.” This interest in the first several decades of photography’s history was given further strength by a trip to Oxford, England, in 1985, where the Vernons studied photography from the Victorian age with photographers and historians Anne Hammond and Mike Weaver, taking the opportunity while there to expand their growing collection of 19th-century work.

Benjamin Brecknell Turner, Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire, North Transept, c. 1854, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Benjamin Brecknell Turner, Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire, North Transept, c. 1854, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

The exhibition and accompanying catalog See the Light—although containing only a small, if exemplary, fraction of the works in the collection—offers a thorough education in the evolution of the medium across the 19th century. From the ghostly impressions of the earliest salted paper prints to the warm tones and bleached-out skies of mid-century albumens, and the moody platinum, bromoil, and gelatin silver prints from the turn-of-the-20th-century, the viewer has the unique opportunity to explore the range of photography’s possibilities in its formative decades. Even the most cursory perusal of the first few galleries of the exhibition, which are dominated by works from the 19th century, is enough to remind us how imprecise it is to use “black and white” to describe photography before the advent of color. A broad range of hues and colors etched themselves into Victorian era photographic papers. We quickly surmise that experimentation was important for early photographers—testing new methods, seeking new visual effects, and employing novel strategies for fixing, toning, and printing photographs. We are reminded that photography emerged and developed at the nexus of science, art and commerce—the dizzying diversity of materials and approaches testifies to that fact.

Gustave Le Gray, The Great Wave, Sète, 1857, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation and Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Gustave Le Gray, The Great Wave, Sète, 1857, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

The one figure who perhaps most exemplified the combination of science, art, and commerce in photography’s early history was William Henry Fox Talbot, who is represented by four works on display in the show. One of the leading figures in the “simultaneous invention” of photography in the 1830s, Talbot was the first to patent a positive/negative process (the salted paper Calotype). Although he is often associated with his scientific and technical achievements, he was also animated by an interest in art and aesthetics, and his images are some of the most haunting and engrossing in the history of photography.

William Henry Fox Talbot, Lace, 1857, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, Lace, 1841, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

It has often been pointed out that Talbot’s interest in photography emerged in part because he was a failed draughtsman—incapable of making effective drawings, he invented what he called “photogenic drawing,” the virtues of which he spelled out in his book with the equally telling title The Pencil of Nature, on display in the exhibition. Works such as A Fruit Piece borrow from the traditions of still-life painting to draw attention to the fleeting, even unsettling, ephemerality of objects in the physical world. His works used the veridical authority of the camera to draw attention to the oddness of things—the physical thing-ness of objects, for lack of a more elegant description. The eerie isolation of the objects in darkened space emphasizes the literalness of the camera’s transcription of reality, and reminds us that these real things in the world will decay and rot, while their photographic trace will remain. For these reasons, and certainly more, Talbot was a favorite of the Vernons, who owned nine works by him—a truly astounding number, given their rarity. The acquisition of the Vernon Collection represented a four-fold increase of the works by Talbot in LACMA’s collection, and for that, we are forever grateful.

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece, 1844–46, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece, 1844–46, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Another photographer working in 19th-century England who was of particular importance to the Vernons—and to the history of photography—is Julia Margaret Cameron. For her, photography was an expressive medium that could be harnessed in the service of fine art. Actively involved in the artistic and literary culture of her day, she made photographs in her glasshouse studio, often costuming her subjects to evoke Arthurian legend and Pre-Raphaelite painting and drawing. Using the then-current wet-collodion process, she never sought to make finely detailed and neatly developed images, and her works are characterized by their vital expressiveness and sense of emotion and immediacy. Unlike most studio portraits of the day, Cameron’s images, such as that of Mrs. Herbert Duckworth on display in the exhibition, lack the rigid frontality and formality characteristic of the form. Cameron influenced the impressionistic, dreamlike imagery that would become a central focus of photographers eager to assert photography’s artistic merits in the succeeding generation.

Julia Margaret Cameron, The Little Novice & Queen Guinevere In The Holy House Of Almsbury, 1874, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Julia Margaret Cameron, The Little Novice & Queen Guinevere In The Holy House Of Almsbury, 1874, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Julia Margaret Cameron,  ENLARGEMY GALLERYCOMMENTTAGSHAREDOWNLOAD IMAGE* * Nearly 20,000 images of artworks the museum believes to be in the public domain are available to download on this site. Other images may be protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. By using any of these images you agree to LACMA's Terms of Use. Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (née Julia Jackson), c. 1867, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Julia Margaret Cameron, Mrs. Herbert Duckworth (née Julia Jackson), c. 1867, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Whereas Cameron’s images impress with their emotional depth and sense of immediacy, many of her most notable contemporaries—such as fellow countrymen Francis Frith and Antonio Beato, as well as Carleton Watkins in the United States—sought to harness the power of photography to create monumental, timeless images, freezing the physical world and capturing it as accurately as possible for posterity (and for commercial gain). With the notable exception of the washed-out skies (a product of the sensitivity of the chemicals used in development to the blue end of the color spectrum), these images offer a detailed catalog of the built and natural environment, designed to bring exotic places into the homes of metropolitan consumers.

Francis Frith, Pyramids Of El-Geezeh (from the Southwest), c. 1857, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Francis Frith, Pyramids Of El-Geezeh (from the Southwest), c. 1857, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

 When standing in front of these monumental images of far-flung destinations, we are reminded of the physical exertion that they must have required. Contact prints made from glass plates of substantial size, these images required an arsenal of equipment to capture and develop the image without the aid of running water or a climate-controlled development room. Watkins’s The Secret Town Trestle, Central Pacific Railroad, Placer County is the very apotheosis of mid-19th-century engineering—the feat of capturing the image nearly on par with the act of building the railways that knitted together a rapidly expanding country.

Carleton Watkins, The Secret Town Trestle, Central Pacific Railroad, Placer County, c. 1876, , c. 1867, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Carleton E. Watkins, The Secret Town Trestle, Central Pacific Railroad, Placer County, c. 1876, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

One of the great masters of 19th-century American photography, Watkins was very sparsely represented in LACMA’s collection before the arrival of the Vernon Collection. The Vernons were partly responsible for the escalation in prices that placed Watkins prints out of the hands of many museums. Denise Bethel, now senior vice president and head of Department for Photographs at Sotheby’s, noted that the Vernons were willing to pay “a small fortune for one of the few Watkins mammoth-plate albums to come to auction. It is a story that has since made its way into the legends of the market, and I can tell you that it would have taken nerves of steel to go that high on any photographic property in 1979.” We are certainly glad to know (now that the collection has made its way to LACMA) that the Vernons had such nerve.

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

The last major purchase of Leonard’s life was also one for the record books, and represented the culmination of a decades-long love affair with the photography of the 19th century. Frederick Evans’s A Sea of Steps, Wells Cathedral, was referred to by many who knew the Vernons as his “Holy Grail”—the one work that he simply had to have. He acquired the work in 2007, not long before he passed. Although the Vernons had acquired an Evans portfolio several years prior, it was incomplete, with this image missing. When it came up for auction in New York, he was, by all accounts, ecstatic, and he insisted that he would not let the piece pass him by. Although he wasn’t in the best of health, he aggressively managed the transaction from bed, insuring that he was the highest bidder. Once it was acquired, he had the gallery in his home hung entirely with images of stairs, with this as the centerpiece. So while the image was not in the Vernon’s home for long, it was certainly a showpiece during the time that it was there.

A Sea of Steps, with its atmospheric tones rendered so vividly in this platinum print, is a powerful testament to the ability of photography to apprehend the world, and to imbue it with new meaning. The Vernon Collection has done something similar for LACMA’s photography holdings—allowing curators and visitors alike to bring their own interpretations to photography’s long, multilayered history.

Ryan Linkof, Ralph M. Parsons Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography


This Weekend at LACMA: 2014 Season of Art & Music Presents Calder Quartet, Free Film and Tours, Can’t-Miss Exhibitions, and More!

March 14, 2014

Each week you have but 48 hours to unwind and experience something new—spend a few of them at LACMA. On Saturday the 2014 season of Art & Music kicks off with a performance from the Calder Quartet with red fish blue fish at 7:30 pm in the Bing Theater. The four-piece ensemble has been playing together for over 15 years and is recognized for reimagining the modern role of a string quartet. Hear why the New York Times calls the group “superb” and how they are pushing a centuries-old medium to new planes. Tickets are still available online or by phone.

Earlier, on Friday at our roving art laboratory, the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab (located at Steinmetz Park), contribute to the oral-history project at 3 pm with your personal accounts of life in the Southland. Then at 7 pm see The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick and starring Brad Pitt. Set in 1950s Texas, the film contemplates human existence, time, and life on earth through provocative sequences and an evocative soundtrack.

Then on Sunday, families are invited to Andell Family Sundays at 12:30 pm, where children and adults explore the art of soccer, through the lens of Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. Andell Family Sundays happen each Sunday and comes free with museum admission. Later in the day be a part of Sundays Live featuring the Capitol Ensemble with pianist Rina Dokshitsky at 6 pm. This program is always free and open to the public.

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece, 1844–46, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

William Henry Fox Talbot, A Fruit Piece, 1844–46, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

And in our galleries find the entire history of photography in the comprehensive exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection (closing next week on Sunday, March 23). For you early birds, take advantage of the free, 50-minute guided tour of the exhibition on Saturday at noon. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic is another exhibition that can’t be missed. Learn more about the legendary artists and his work during the free guided tour at 11:30 am on Sunday. Last of all, discover something new from our permanent collection with a 20-minute tour of our Impressionism artworks on Saturday at 1 pm or see the latest installment of German Expressionism in Visions of the South. The clock’s ticking!

Roberto Ayala


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


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