Interview with Curator Franklin Sirmans—Fútbol: The Beautiful Game

February 24, 2014

The subject of fútbol—or soccer—nicknamed by one sports commentator as “the beautiful game,” touches on issues of nationalism and identity, globalism and mass spectacle, as well as the shared human experience between spectators from many cultures. As the 2014 World Cup takes place next month in Brazil, LACMA mounts an exhibition featuring approximately thirty artists from around the world who examine the sport through video, photography, painting, sculpture, and large-scale installation. Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and department head of contemporary art, sat down with Insider’s Linda Theung to talk the exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game.

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto'o, 2010, Roberts & Tilton Gallery, © Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley, and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California.

Kehinde Wiley, Samuel Eto’o, 2010, Roberts & Tilton Gallery, © Kehinde Wiley, Image courtesy of Kehinde Wiley, and Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California

Linda Theung: Why are you interested in representing the sport of soccer through an art exhibition?

Franklin Sirmans: Like other exhibitions, there’s something underlying that you think needs to be explored. Unlike many other exhibitions, this happens to be one of those things where you are already obsessive about it. Your obsession drives you to explore different ways of examining the subject. The format of an exhibition presents a perfect opportunity for such an exploration. Writing is another way to look at such a topic.

Theung: Tell me a bit more about your obsession. How do you begin to cultivate an intellectual interest in something that is often seen as purely physical?

Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon, Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait (detail), 2006, © Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon

Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon, Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait (detail), 2006, © Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon

Sirmans: I’m thinking about where that transitional moment occurs. As a curator, I’ve been fortunate to be able to take certain personal obsessions and spin them, or look at them, or, for better or worse, intellectualize them. This is not limited to fútbol; I’ve done exhibitions about sports as they pertain to America. And exhibitions about music, to take another obsession. And even about, to some degree, my obsession with spirituality—not, by any means, obsessing about spirituality as it relates to any specific religion, but about the idea of spirituality. I’m interested in intellectualizing the quotidian.

Theung: It happens just organically, right?

Sirmans: In this case, it’s also listening to artists, and all of a sudden looking and thinking: there’s a lot of work about this subject.

Theung: Why is it, do you think, that artists are responding to soccer in particular, and so consistently? In the works in your show, there’s a repeated representation of the grid of the soccer ball and the physical nature of the sport.

Sirmans: I think partly it’s the blanket fact that soccer is the most obsessed-about sport in the world, and so artists, being a subpopulation, will be somewhat proportional in their interest. It’s interesting to engage with international artists and see a thread of similarity in their consideration of the sport. And the aspect of fútbol plays out even bigger globally than it does in the United States.

Theung: Why do you think the U.S. hasn’t really picked up on the interest in soccer? Many sports writers have asked this question. One thought is that it’s a low-scoring game.

Lyle Ashton Harris, Verona #1 (detail), 2001–4, Dunbar, New York, © Lyle Ashton Harris

Lyle Ashton, Harris, Verona #1 (detail), 2001–4, Dunbar, New York, © Lyle Ashton Harris

Sirmans: I think there is definitely something to that, and in the American imagination, the two more popular sports are basketball and football.

Theung: And NASCAR.

Sirmans: [laughs] Yes, of course.

Theung: Speed and numbers.

Sirmans: NASCAR seems to be a bit more regional. But the idea of numbers is definitely supported if we look around out there. And soccer is not something that can be claimed here, in a way, and therefore you have to work against that idea in the market.

Theung: What do you mean by claimed?

Sirmans: It’s not like basketball. The sport didn’t originate here. It’s not American football. It’s a wonderful, amazing import. But it wasn’t made here. Though the U.S. appeared early on the international stage.

Theung: Given that the exhibition runs concurrently with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a country that’s wild about the sport, do you think the exhibition will bring a different audience to the museum? Not only a different audience who will take part in the programming, but also in the conversations that you might have?

Sirmans: I hope so. There are a lot of people who play the sport in L.A., and a lot of people obsess about it here.

Theung: More so than in other parts of this country.

Robin Rhode, Hondjie (detail), 2001, L&M Los Angeles, © Robin Rhode

Robin Rhode, Hondjie (detail), 2001, L&M Los Angeles,
© Robin Rhode

Sirmans: Absolutely. This city has two Major League Soccer teams. I don’t think any other city can say that. Some of the best players are in Los Angeles. It is the perfect place to further explore the idea. Connecting back to the idea of the 2014 World Cup being in Brazil, the interest in the South American population vis-à-vis the game is immense. The first World Cup was in South America. With the demographic in Los Angeles, it seems like a perfect fit.

Theung: And the Olympics in 2016 are in Brazil, so it’s a double feature of really prominent sporting events.

Sirmans: It’s good and bad. Fútbol and FIFA are usually ahead of the crowd in terms of determining the next area of geographic interest. The Olympics tend to be safer in their selection of host countries. If we talk about where the next three World Cups will be, we’re looking at Brazil, Russia, and Qatar, on the heels of the first cup in Africa four years ago. This year the Venice Biennale, which began in 1898, will have its first African curator. No South American or Middle Eastern curator yet.

Theung: Considering the diversity of countries that the World Cup will touch, will the exhibition deal with the political or geopolitical nature of the sport?

Sirmans: To some degree, yes. There are works that touch upon those things. We have some ideas for programming that will make the exhibition very relevant, and it’s interesting to think about fútbol’s position around the world, and politically and socially. There’s a wonderful book about how soccer explains the world [How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization (2010), by Franklin Foer] that shows how you can document the world’s changes through soccer. When the first World Cup was given to Uruguay in 1930, it was a way of celebrating that country’s first hundred years of independence. Also, see Simon Kuper on how it doesn’t!

Theung: In antiquity, athletes were often subjects in art. They represented the classical ideal. One of the artists in the exhibition, Chris Beas, harkens back to this mode of representation in his paintings: his athlete figures are depicted in a celebratory, almost mythic light. On the other hand, the athletes featured in Generic Art Solutions’ works are almost caricatures, almost comedic. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between these two artists: the serious depictions of great athletes and exaggeration of emotion with soccer players holding each other, like in a pietà.

Sirmans: And the work also touches upon, coincidentally, the expressionism of Italian players. It’s making humor out of the exaggerated physicality that happens on the field. And in Chris’s case, he’s dealing specifically with obsession. He’s only painting the team he follows: Manchester United. All the red and white is not simply a graphic choice, but it relates to that team specifically. He’s going for myth. He doesn’t really paint any of their players before the 1970s. They’re these heroic, idealized individuals who are no longer held up to scrutiny but who are essentially martyrs to their cause.

Theung: It reminds me of neoclassicism and the way artists in the eighteenth century mythologized their ideas of figures in antiquity. I’m curious, how is soccer unique among sports in this country?

Sirmans: Like basketball, its simplicity is appealing. It crosses borders. It’s just that one ball. You don’t need a lot of equipment. It’s a sport that has accessibility.

Theung: Right. Soccer is accessible, despite climate and location. It’s easy to have a pick-up game with soccer. Even when you look at the Olympics, and specifically the winter games, it’s all European countries, and in the summer, it’s all non-European countries. It brings up the political aspect.

Sirmans: There was an article in the New York Times about the pick-up games in Brazil. The idea of community is very important. There’s a piece in the show, by Gustavo Artigas, about community and how communities that play different sports see one another. It shows two teams of basketball players and two teams of soccer players. They all play in the same space.

A version of this article originally appeared in the winter 2014 (volume 8, issue 1) of LACMA’s Insider.

This Weekend at LACMA: Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab Opening, Musical Performance by Smoke and Mirrors, the Afterlife of Piet Mondrian, and Much More!

February 21, 2014

Take part in the debut of the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab this Friday with an opening party! Los Angeles–based Chicano Batman rings in the festivities at 7 pm at Steinmetz Park with a free show. See a screening of the film These Birds Walk by Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq at 8 pm. Exploring the plight of poverty in Pakistan by following a unique friendship between Omar, an orphaned toughie, and Asad, an ambulance driver who unites runaways with families by night, and delivers bodies to the morgue by day. Through March 23, the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab offers free film workshops, an oral history project, and a diverse selection of films through the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab.

LACMA 9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

LACMA9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

Need last-minute plans for Friday night? See a special screening of the 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt in Bing Theater at 7:30 pm. As the latest installment of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Restoration Tribute series, the screening includes an introductory conversation with actor Bill Hader.

On Saturday, we’re hosting a free lecture and book signing about the Afterlife of Piet Mondrian with Stanford professor Nancy J. Troy, who also The Afterlife of Piet Mondrian. Troy will explore the different ways Mondrian’s art has influenced culture, and the ways in which his own surroundings shaped the artwork during his life.

Memorial Figure (uli, selambungin lorong type),  Papua New Guinea, New Ireland Province, circa 1900, Purchased with funds provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation with additional funding by Jane and Terry Semel, the David Bohnett Foundation, Camilla Chandler Frost, Gayle and Edward P. Roski and The Ahmanson Foundation

Papua New Guinea, New Ireland Province, Memorial Figure (uli, selambungin lorong type), circa 1900, purchased with funds provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation with additional funding by Jane and Terry Semel, the David Bohnett Foundation, Camilla Chandler Frost, Gayle and Edward P. Roski, and the Ahmanson Foundation

Andell Family Sundays continues, focusing on Memories and Art from Africa. Students are encouraged to design personal memory boards and their own royal objects in artists-led workshops.  The program takes place at 12:30p m in the Los Angeles Times Central Court.

Guests are invited to take part in a conversation with Jeffrey Deitch and Michael Chow at the Art Catalogues Store on Sunday. Jeffrey Deitch will discuss Chow’s return to art with the artist, as well as his book that is available for purchase in the store.  The talk will be proceeded by a book signing and reception.

Also on Sunday, Los Angeles–based percussion ensemble Smoke and Mirrors performs in the Bing Theater at 6 pm. Come hear this rare performance this Sunday, free and open to the public.

Rose Mandel, On Walls and Behind Glass, 1947, printed 1947, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © Rose Mandel Archives, all rights reserved

Rose Mandel, On Walls and Behind Glass, 1947, printed 1947, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © Rose Mandel Archives, all rights reserved

While you’re here, stop by and witness the history of photography—and the science of sight and vision—in one exhibition, See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection. Indeed visitors will encounter both iconic works and be introduced to new pictures as they traverse the exhibition. Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic located in the Resnick Pavilion, showcases the kinetic and dynamic work by this master of 20th-century sculpture. And the exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game features famous football portraits by Andy Warhol, Kehinde Wiley, and many more, and is on view in BCAM. Be sure to check out the entire list of exhibitions to find what you’re looking for this weekend.

Larkin Manger, intern, Marketing and Communications

Through Your Lens—Inspiration and Experimentation in Art+Film

February 20, 2014

As part of LACMA’s Art+Film education initiative, LACMA launched Through Your Lens, a new program for middle-school students that just wrapped up its pilot session. Over eight weeks, seventh and eighth graders at John Burroughs Middle School made short films inspired by artwork on view in LACMA’s galleries. Working with filmmaker and LACMA teaching artist Kate Marks, students learned about the filmmaking process and discovered a new way to express themselves using technology.


Student Nicole Kim posing for a recreation of a Figueroa film still.

Students worked in groups to adapt paintings from the museum’s collection into short experimental films that explored issues they’ve experience in their lives, such as love, friendship, loneliness, and, in one case, war. Students were also inspired by the cinematography of Gabriel Figueroa after touring Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film. As part of their lesson on composition and perspective, the young filmmakers replicated frames from Figueroa’s iconic films within their own work.


Teaching artist Kate Marks leading students through the exhibition.

After speaking with students about their experience and desire to participate in the program, many spoke about previous interests in filmmaking as well as the desire to express themselves. Surprised by how much work and time goes into making a movie, one student said “I never imagined it would be such a long process. It makes you admire [those] movie directors who make three hour movies.”


Students learning about composition by recreating stills from Figueroa film.

As the program progressed and students became more immersed in the class, comfort level with technology as well as teamwork improved among the students. Classroom art teacher, Nancy Hanover-Reyes, commented on the students’ improved “decision making and ‘thinking on their feet’.”

One film titled This Is My Story, created by a group of four young women, was inspired by the painting Messengers in the Wind by Rufino Tamayo. Their experimental piece explored the issue of arranged teen marriage in some Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cultures, an issue close to their hearts and homes. The girls used cinematic techniques influenced by Figueroa and narration rather than dialogue to share a story they felt strongly about. Through Your Lens gave the girls an opportunity to express their ideas using moving image and showed them firsthand the accessibility of filmmaking in their generation.


Director, cinematographer, and assistant director working on shooting a scene.

The program concluded with a screening of student work at the museum and a reception for their families. After each film screened, the students spoke about their inspiration, process, and experience. Seeing these budding filmmakers bravely take center stage and ownership of their work was truly heartwarming. The students and their work become themselves an inspiration for the Art+Film program as it grows to enrich youth through discoveries in art and technology.

In addition to Through Your Lens, other Art+Film events continue as part of LACMA’s commitment to making film more central to the museum’s programming and outreach. Tomorrow, Friday, February 21, the Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab launches at Steinmetz Park in Hacienda Heights. Take part in the opening festivities featuring a live performance by Los Angeles–based Chicano Batman and a screening of These Birds Walk.

Valentina Mogilevskaya, Art+Film Education Coordinator, Education and Public Programs

Lord of the Manor, Queen of the Castle

February 19, 2014

Like any fan of a certain public television drama about English aristocrats, I am a bit obsessed with all things British, especially if it happens to involve grand country homes, art-filled interiors, and taking tea at every possible moment. Last September, I was given the opportunity to study dozens of country homes and their collections at a residential study program based in Norfolk County, England. Our days were crammed with multiple site visits, specialist-led classes, tea receptions given by the current owner or butler of the house, and more walking than I’ve had in years!

Full days were dedicated to two incredibly grand homes in particular: Holkham Hall and Houghton Hall. Both were built in the early 18th century and modeled on the very popular Italian Palladian villa type (after the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, who referenced ancient Rome and Greek architecture in his designs). The art collections in both houses are enough to make any major art museum envious and included extraordinary examples of sculpture, paintings, silver, tapestries, and more. As a museum educator and art historian, being able to see these collections in their original location was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and will continue to professional inspire me for years to come.

Holkham Hall, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Holkham Hall, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Our first day was spent at Holkham Hall, built by Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester who was greatly influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome. He built his grand home reflecting the growing for and renewal of ancient classicism in Britain, and to display his massive art collection, mostly amassed while in Europe on his Grand Tour. Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery in London, gave our group a private tour of Holkham’s neoclassic and ancient Roman sculpture galleries. Allusions to ancient Rome punctuated our visit, from the Palladian architecture to the Marble Hall (designed to resemble an ancient Roman basilica in both plan and design) to the garden temple, where we had a picnic lunch. While at Holkham, specialists opened the home’s collection of silver and illuminated manuscripts to us allowing hands-on time with part of Coke’s collection.

The Marble Hall at Holkham Hall

The Marble Hall at Holkham Hall

Garden Temple at Holkham Hall

Garden Temple at Holkham Hall

The Saloon at Holkham Hall

The Saloon at Holkham Hall

A seminar on silver at the North Dining Room at Holkham Hall

A seminar on silver at the North Dining Room at Holkham Hall

Houghton Hall, built in the early 18th century by Great Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was an incredibly rare treat. On view was the exhibition Houghton Revisited, which restored the painting collection to its original grandeur. In 1779 Walpole’s heir sold several of the collection’s important paintings to Catherine the Great of Russia for her collection. For this exhibition, the paintings were returned to Houghton and restored to their original location for the first time in over 200 years. This created a complete and rare snapshot of a grand 18th-century country house and helped reinforce Walpole’s prestige and power in the grandest manner possible, allowing us to experience the original splendor of the house.

Now the home of Walpole’s descendant, the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall is filled with Old Master paintings and William Kent interiors, but also has an extensive contemporary art collection including two works by James Turrell (one of which is currently on view as part of James Turrell: A Retrospective at LACMA).

Houghton Hall, Norfolk, United Kingdom

Houghton Hall, Norfolk, United Kingdom

The Saloon at Houghton Hall

The Saloon at Houghton Hall

Exterior of James Turrell's Skyspace at Houghton Hall

Exterior of James Turrell’s Skyspace at Houghton Hall

James Turrell's Skyspace at Houghton Hall

James Turrell’s Skyspace at Houghton Hall

Although I visited several other homes, including a 15th-century moated manor that houses tapestries made by Bess of Hardwick and Mary, Queen of Scots; a seaside medieval hall house; a 17th-century estate with an infamous ghost; stately Georgian townhouses; and more tea and cookies than I could have eaten in a lifetime, my visit to Holkham and Houghton remained the highlight of the study program. The collections in these homes were so complete that it was very easy to visualize and understand how the original 18th century splendor was meant to be understood by the visitor.

The Stone Hall at Houghton Hall

The Stone Hall at Houghton Hall

I am leading an upcoming gallery course focusing on objects from LACMA’s own collection. Many of these objects were originally owned by English aristocracy and part of grand country home collections. The artwork at Holkham Hall and Houghton Hall will springboard our discussion as we examine objects from LACMA’s collection of sculpture, paintings, and silver.

Amber Smith, Education and Public Programs

LACMA Paper Conservation Workshop Generously Funded by Linda Shaffer and Peter Loughrey

February 17, 2014

The science and research surrounding art conservation is a dynamic and evolving field of study. The paper laboratory in the Conservation Center at the Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (LACMA) recently held an informative two-day workshop on aqueous cleaning and stain reduction for works of art on paper. The class included lectures as well as, hands-on training, highlighting the use of ammonium citrate di-/tri-basic, sodium borohydride and agarose gels.  The workshop was taught by Antoinette Dwan (private paper conservator from Northern California). The workshop would not have been possible without the generous support and funding by Linda Shaffer (private conservator from Shaffer Conservation) and Peter Loughrey (Director of Modern Design & Fine Art from Los Angeles Modern Auctions).

Participants included thirteen conservators, including Antoinette Dwan (left), LACMA staff and other professionals

Participants included 13 conservators, from Antoinette Dwan (left), LACMA staff, and other professionals

Traditional methods of stain reduction include the use of oxidizing bleaches (not over-the-counter!) and exposure to sunlight (don’t try this at home). Over the two-day series, Antoinette Dwan described novel approaches to stain reduction which take advantage of the ionic properties found in ammonium citrate dibasic (ACD) and ammonium citrate tribasic (ACT) to break up “dirt complexes” and reduce discoloration and  sodium borohydride, a safe and controllable reducing bleach, also used to reduce discoloration and staining in works of art on paper.

Workshop participants placing various paper samples into multiple aqueous cleaning solutions

Workshop participants placing various paper samples into aqueous cleaning solutions

Paper conservator Linda Shaffer locally applying ammonium citrate di-basic for surface cleaning

Paper conservator Linda Shaffer locally applying ammonium citrate di-basic for surface cleaning

The completed test sample (below) presents the results of the various treatments undertaken in the workshop. The strip at the top was not treated and is typical of how paper ages over time. Notice the test sample was cut into sections allowing us to compare various treatment approaches. The results range from little or no stain reduction to a noticeable shift in color indicating a successful reduction of discoloration and yellowing.  These positive results were very exciting as the removal of stains and discoloration can both slow the deterioration of the paper substrate while also presenting a more aesthetically pleasing work of art.

     Completed test sample

Completed test sample

There are few opportunities to share information and spend time with colleagues is in a small workshop setting. As IMLS Fellows we were especially thrilled to take part in the workshop and learn new methods, techniques, and approaches to treatment from a seasoned professional such as Antoinette Dwan.

IMLS Fellows: Asti Sherring and Laura Moeller
Photos by Erin Jue and Gawain Weaver
Generously funded by Linda Shaffer and Peter Loughrey

This Weekend at LACMA: Dozens of Exhibitions and Installations on View, Docent-Led Tours, Free General Admission on Presidents’ Day, and More!

February 14, 2014

Enjoy Presidents’ Day weekend at LACMA with free tours, free public programs, and free general admission on Monday, February 17, as part of Target Free Holiday Mondays. Visitors of all ages are encouraged to come out for a day full of free art-making activities, live music, and fun. Performing at 12:30 and 2:45 pm, the band Quattro will put on a show that blends Latin pop and contemporary jazz unlike you’ve heard before. Plan ahead, as we expect a crowd!

Free general admission on Monday, February 17

Visit LACMA on Monday, February 17, for free general admission as part of Target Free Holiday Mondays

Visit over the weekend, and you’ll encounter over two dozen exhibitions and installations on view, including Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, Fútbol: The Beautiful Game, and David Hockney: The Jugglers. Add in the countless galleries centered around the collection, and you’ll have plenty to discover. With so much on view, free docent-led tours of temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection are the best way to digest everything we have to offer. This weekend check out 50-minutes tours of See the Light—Photography, Perception: Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection on Saturday at noon, the galleries of American Art on Sunday at 2 pm, and the Modern Art galleries on Monday at 3 pm. For a full listing of tours view the online calendar.

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

Great for a special occasion The Art of Wine: The Best of Bordeaux art and wine tour takes place on Saturday at 6 pm. Make reservations online or by phone. Lastly, guests on Sunday will be treated to a free art workshops at the weekly edition of Andell Family Sundays beginning at 12:30 pm and a free classical music concert in the Bing Theater featuring the 70-member Colburn Youth Orchestra with Maxim Eshkenazy conducting at Sundays Live at 6 pm.

Roberto Ayala

Love Hurts: Heartache, Jealousy, Sadness, and Tragedy

February 14, 2014

Few subjects have inspired artists over the centuries as much as love. But these works of art don’t always capture a scene of bliss. In fact, artists have depicted everything from love and lust to heartache, jealousy, sadness, and even tragedy. The following works of art are all currently on view on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building. We’ve partnered with to create this self-guided tour for Valentine’s Day.

A version of this post was originally published on Check them out on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Judgment of Jupiter

John Deare, "Judgment of Jupiter," 1786–87, gift of Anna Bing Arnold

John Deare, Judgment of Jupiter, 1786–87, gift of Anna Bing Arnold

John Deare, an English sculptor who spent his entire professional career in Rome, was commissioned by the Royal Academy to create this relief for an exhibition in 1787. Deare’s sculpture is a scene is from Homer’s Iliad, depicting a fateful decision that would ultimately lead to the Trojan War.

Jupiter sits among the gods at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (at left). All were invited except Eris, the goddess of discord. As payback for the slight, Eris tosses a golden apple inscribed “to the fairest” among the guests. Minerva, Juno, and Venus each claim it. Jupiter wisely refuses to pick the most beautiful goddess, and hands the apple to his messenger, Mercury, who flies above. Jupiter instructs Mercury to pass the apple—and the thankless task —to the mortal prince, Paris. Each goddess offers Paris a bribe—Juno would make him the king of Europe and Asia, while Minerva would grant him wisdom and skill in war. Paris chooses Venus, who presents him the most beautiful woman in the world as his wife. She is Helen of Sparta, who becomes Helen of Troy. The Greeks’ expedition to retrieve her is the mythological basis for the Trojan War, symbolized by Mars, the god of war, shown at the far right.

The Perfect Accord

Jean-Antoine Watteau, "The Perfect Accord" (detail), 1719, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Perfect Accord (detail), 1719, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Many works of art created in the Rococo period (roughly the first part of the 18th century) depicted scenes of aristocrats at play. Jean-Antoine Watteau excelled at depicting these scenes, which often included an ironic or satirical twist. The artist is credited with inventing the genre of fêtes galantes—scenes of bucolic and idyllic charm, suffused with an air of theatricality. In The Perfect Accord (1719), an older gentleman plays a flute, attempting to woo a lovely young lady. A jester to the left and the statue of Pan on the right imply that the painting’s theme is both erotic and comical. The love scene’s comedic punchline is the painting’s title, which suggests the couple will make beautiful music together. In reality, French society would have considered the unattractive older musician a completely inappropriate match for the beautiful young lady, making this a scene of discord.
Diana and Callisto

François Le Moyne, "Diana and Callisto" (detail), 1723, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation, courtesy of and © Museum Associates/LACMA

François Le Moyne, Diana and Callisto (detail), 1723, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Callisto, the daughter of a king, has taken a vow to remain a virgin and is serving as a nymph of the goddess Diana. Jupiter disguises himself to avoid detection by his long-suffering wife Juno, separates Callisto from the other nymphs, and impregnates her. Callisto’s pregnancy is later discovered when she is bathing in the woods with Diana and the others, which is the scene depicted in Diana and Callisto (1723) by François Le Moyne, who worked during the Rococo period in France. French aristocrats loved these scenes because they were an acceptable way to visually show erotic tales of lovely nude women. Furious, Diana expels Callisto from the group. Callisto subsequently gives birth to a son, Arcas. Juno gets her revenge by transforming Callisto into a bear. Years later, as Arcas is about to kill his mother with a javelin, Jupiter places Callisto and her son among the stars, where we know them today as the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, respectively.
Cupid Wounding Psyche

François Boucher, "Cupid Wounding Psyche," 1741, gift of Hearst Magazines,

François Boucher, Cupid Wounding Psyche, 1741, gift of Hearst Magazines

The story of Cupid and Psyche was well known from antiquity and, like other tales with similar erotic content, acceptable for decoration in such a setting. Although she isn’t a goddess, Psyche is so beautiful that Venus, the goddess of beauty, becomes jealous. Venus sends her son, Cupid, to make Psyche fall in love with an ugly mortal by piercing her with one of his legendary arrows. As Cupid arrives at her side, Psyche awakens. Cupid, about to strike with the arrow, is so startled by her beauty that he scratches himself instead, and falls in love with her. After a series of calamities, godly tests, and other events, the lovers are reunited and Jupiter makes Psyche an immortal, so that she may marry Cupid. Cupid Wounding Psyche (1741) was painted by François Boucher, one of the most influential artists of the 18th century. His painterly technique and playful, colorful pastorals and genre scenes of Parisian society helped to define the Rococo style. You have to look up to see this love story—Cupid Wounding Psyche decorated an aristocratic home in Paris and was supposed to hang above a door in a room used for informal entertainment.
The Sleeping Danae Being Prepared to Receive Jupiter

Hendrik Goltzius, The Sleeping Danae Being Prepared to Receive Jupiter (detail), 1603, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

This love story has it all: lust, greed, and gold. Danae was the daughter of the king of Argos. Upon learning from the oracle at Delphi that he would be killed by his daughter’s son, the king imprisons Danae in a bronze tower to keep her childless. Jupiter is smitten by Danae’s great beauty, and disguises himself as a shower of gold coins that rains down upon the sleeping princess—the hero Perseus is born from this encounter. Perseus eventually kills his grandfather by accident, thus fulfilling the prophecy. The Sleeping Danae Being Prepared to Receive Jupiter (1603) was painted by Hendrik Goltzius, the leading Dutch engraver of the early Baroque period who later became a renowned painter. The Dutch valued hard work and wealth, but not greed. Goltzius’ painting celebrates the innocent beauty of the princess, but also provides a warning. Does love or gold conquer all?


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