Derelict Electronics at the Art + Technology Lab

February 12, 2014

Last weekend, we hosted our first workshop at the Art + Technology Lab for the public. Noise artist Ryan Jordan of Derelict Electronics, led the session, which centered on the construction of crystal amplifiers, solar cells, and diodes with raw minerals and detritus. Wielding glue guns and soldering irons, participants assembled their own custom instruments and then tested them out on a specially designed sound system in the Lab. Here are some photos from the fun and noisy afternoon.

Derelict Electronics participants at work on amplifiers and solar cells.

Derelict Electronics participants at work on amplifiers and solar cells.

The amplifiers made in the workshop were based on the design of the Adams Crystal Amplifier of 1933, a precursor to the modern transistor, now ubiquitous in the contemporary electronic and digital world.

The amplifiers made in the workshop were based on the design of the Adams Crystal Amplifier of 1933, a precursor to the modern transistor, now ubiquitous in the contemporary electronic and digital world.

Many of the instruments were also intended to be crude aesthetic objects in their own right.

Many of the instruments were also intended to be crude aesthetic objects in their own right.

Artist Ryan Jordan and a workshop participant test an amplifier.

Artist Ryan Jordan and a workshop participant test an amplifier.

The request for proposals just closed a few weeks ago, and we’re considering our first wave of proposals for artist grants in the Lab right now. We expect artists with projects in development will hold future workshops and demonstrations in the new facility. Watch this space for more information and upcoming programs.

Joel Ferree
Art + Technology Lab Program Manager

An Interview with Artist Hassan Hajjaj

February 10, 2014

Hassan Hajjaj, whose work My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume  I, 2012, is currently on view in the Ahmanson Building, also has a piece featured in the just-opened exhibition Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. The artist sat down with LACMA’s Erin Yokomizo to talk about My Rock Stars Experimental and his working process.

Erin Yokomizo: Hassan, your work is the focus of the current exhibition, Hassan Hajjaj: My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, curated by Linda Komaroff, curator and department head of Art of the Middle East. The three-channel video installation features nine separately filmed performances by an international array of musicians—your “rock stars.” How did you select your subjects?

Hassan Hajjaj: All my subjects were people around me who I admire. Most of them are friends, or if not, they’re friends of friends; it kind of happened naturally. I was shooting stills for My Rock Stars, and I got to the point with a lot of them where I thought: how can I show these people why they’re rock stars?

Once I recognized this, I started to make a list of people around me that do this kind of thing and it happened from there. A lot of the people I’ve filmed are people from different parts of the world who either live in London or are passing through London or just living in London for a period of time, so it was set up documenting them in that period of time.

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Mandisa Dumesweni, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Mandisa Dumesweni, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

EY: You are also the creative vision behind each featured musician’s clothing as well as the tapestries used in their set designs. How much does each individual artist and personality influence what you select for them?

HH: I normally have things already made, and when I choose the person I’m shooting, I’ll work out the backdrop and what they’re going to wear. But saying that, some of the artists [in My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1] are wearing their own clothing. I couldn’t really touch them as they already had this flamboyance, this kind of rock-star character identity. If that’s the case, I might just add sunglasses, shoes, and socks to accessorize them. But I’d say 80% of it is all my design, and the others I just kind of add on to.

EY: I’ve seen background footage on how you shot My Rock Stars Experimental. I liked the fact that you documented the work in public and out on the street.

HH: All the Rock Stars stills and music are done in the street. I think one of the reasons I do it in the street is to capture that moment. If you have somebody performing in the street, you’re going to really see if they’re comfortable in their own skin. It’s a sense that they’re real rock stars: not aware of anything, they just go for it. Sometimes when I shoot, we’ll have crowds. I’ve had people jump in the stills to pose with the performers. For me, the street shoot is exciting; it makes my heart beat; it’s kind of “guerilla-cized.” You’re worried about the rain, you’re worried about the car noises . . . it keeps me in check.

EY: Your work has been shown in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East; and you’re having somewhat of an L.A. moment as well with the presentation here at LACMA, your one-man show at Gusford Gallery, and your work is also included in LACMA’s just-opened exhibition, Fútbol: The Beautiful Game. Do you find differences in the way your work is received around the world?

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Poetic Pilgrimage, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

Hassan Hajjaj, My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, 2012, Poetic Pilgrimage, purchased with funds provided by Art of the Middle East: CONTEMPORARY, courtesy of Rose Issa Projects

HH: I think the Rock Stars has been a fun show because it seems to be global. I think when you put art and music together most people like music and people take an interest in art. The response I’ve had from people has been quite incredible. What’s interesting is when you highlight a certain kind of people and you bring them into like a gallery. For example, in Dubai it’s more of an Arab country, there’s an expectation that you should have Arab art, so it was nice to kind of flip it and show something that’s worldly. It’s perceived in the same way; so far it’s been very positive.

EY: Speaking of the Fútbol exhibition, your work Feetbol is featured in the show. Do you have personal interest in the sport?

HH: 100%. That’s my favorite game to play, so I’m very happy to be part of another show at LACMA. Also, it’s the World Cup this year, and I think it’s incredible to highlight a sport and to bring it to a gallery. I’m definitely a big fan.

This Weekend at LACMA: L.A. PRINT 4.0, Contemporary Curator Franklin Sirmans in Conversation, Final Weekend of Monterey Park Art+Film Lab, and More!

February 7, 2014

Fuel your weekend with conversations, presentations, free film screenings and workshops, and world-class art. To start, take part in L.A. PRINT: 4.0, a panel discussion on fine-art printing and digital technology, on Saturday at 1 pm. On Sunday, at 2 pm, contemporary art department head and curator Franklin Sirmans, who organized Fútbol: The Beautiful Game, is in conversation with chief curator of contemporary art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Trevor Schoonmaker about soccer through the lens of art. Also, the first Art + Technology Workshop, Derelict Electronics with Ryan Jordan, takes place on Sunday at 11 am. Then of course Sundays Live, with conductor Maxim Eshkenazy at the helm of the Colburn Chamber Orchestra, at 6 pm on Sunday, will stimulate the senses. All programs are free and open to the public.

Ryan McIntosh, Lifespan of Technology, 2013, 2013, edition of 10, published by Intellectual Property Prints

Ryan McIntosh, Lifespan of Technology, 2013, 2013, edition of 10, published by Intellectual Property Prints

At the Monterey Park Art+Film Lab the bevy of free programs reaches the end of the line. This weekend community residents are invited to participate in two sessions of Oral History Drop-ins on Friday at 3 pm and later on Sunday at 12:30 pm; free screenings of the films The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada on Friday night and To Live on Saturday night; and a Mini-Docs Workshop on Saturday at noon, all at the East Los Angeles College site. We look forward to seeing Monterey Park residents at LACMA come April 6 for their Free Day at LACMA, the culminating component of each lab site. Our next stop: Hacienda Heights, beginning on February 21.

For more family fun, circle the wagons and check out the free family day at the Charles White Gallery near MacArthur Park, featuring the colorful exhibition Kaz Oshiro: Chasing Ghosts. For this project, artist Kaz Oshiro presents two of his medium-bending sculpture-paintings alongside pieces from LACMA’s collection, as well as a collaborative work between Oshiro and local-area students. Visit the gallery on Saturday at noon to join a tour of the exhibition and a hands-on art project. The weekly installment of Andell Family Sundays on Sunday at 12:30 pm at LACMA gives families another opportunity to spend the weekend sparking creativity.

Install shot of Kaz Oshiro: Chasing Ghosts, 2014, Los Angeles County Museum of Art   Artist Kaz Oshiro works with a student on a collaborative painting project.

Artist Kaz Oshiro works with a student on a collaborative painting project.

Lastly, see in our galleries the exhibitions Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to IconicJohn Divola: As Far as I Could Get, and the finals days (closing February 16) of Masterworks of Expressionist Cinema: ‘The Golem’ and Its Avatars.

Roberto Ayala

The Importance of Provenance

February 5, 2014

Every picture tells a story, as we all know. But with artworks the history of a picture’s journey through time also tells an important story. Where a picture has been, who its various owners were, and where it has been exhibited and published all reveal something about how it was valued, and how it was interpreted—that is to say, what the painting meant, even “said,” to those who experienced it in the past. The history of an object’s ownership is called its provenance, from the French word provenir, which means “to come from.”

The Nazi era in Germany (1933–1945) culminated in genocide and extraordinarily egregious violations of cultural norms, and a concerted effort has been made in recent decades among museums around the world to focus special attention on this era in assessing provenance. Few public museums in the United States have devoted more sustained attention to modern German art and the cultural destruction wrought by the Nazi regime than LACMA. We have a history of presenting groundbreaking exhibitions on modern German art, particularly “Degenerate Art”: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany (1991), the first major exhibition to explore the attack mounted by the National Socialists against modern art and artists; and Exiles + Emigrés: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (1997), which traced the migration of artists within Europe and to the United States. Both exhibitions were prepared by extensive research conducted by teams of experts and was accompanied by engaging public programming. LACMA has also presented exhibitions on many of the artists designated as “degenerate” and persecuted, including German Expressionist Sculpture (1983); German Expressionism, 1915–1925: The Second Generation (1988); The Apocalyptic Landscapes of Ludwig Meidner (1989); Nolde: The Painter’s Prints (1995); and most recently Hans Richter: Encounters (2013), as well as more than 50 exhibitions organized by the Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies. You can read in full the catalogues to some of these exhibitions and others in LACMA’s online Reading Room. Projects by other institutions in Los Angeles include the Getty Research Institute’s Provenance Index® databases as well as its ongoing acquisition of Holocaust-Era Research Resources.

These projects and similar endeavors in German museums, as well as a growing and already vast scholarly literature on the subject of Nazi cultural policies, provide not only a picture of cultural destruction and looting on an almost unimaginable scale, but an understanding of the roles of those who must be held accountable. Additionally, these projects shed light on the moral complexities faced by art dealers, museum officials, journalists, and even artists themselves as they saw what was once a highly cultivated world of culture disintegrating around them.

Max Beckmann, Bar, Brown, 1944, © Max Beckmann Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn

Max Beckmann, Bar, Brown, 1944, gift of Robert and Mary M. Looker, © Max Beckmann Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn

LACMA was recently gifted a painting whose provenance is instructive in understanding the complexities of this tragic era. Like thousands of paintings now hanging in public museums and private collections, Max Beckmann’s Bar, Brown (1944), previously discussed on Unframed, passed through the hands of at least one art dealer who catered to the Nazi regime. These art dealers generally had two lines of business with the Nazis: disposing of modern art designated by the Nazis as “degenerate” in return for hard currency abroad, and providing traditional art of all periods to the Nazi elite, and especially to Hitler’s huge museum project planned for city of Linz. It has been documented by the Art Looting Investigation Unit that some 68 dealers in Germany alone sought works for this massive museum. Holland, where Beckmann sought refuge in 1937 upon hearing Hitler’s tirade at the opening of the Entartete Kunst (“Degenerate Art”) exhibition, became under German occupation one of the busiest and hottest markets for traditional art—and especially old master works—so much so that prices on the Dutch art market were artificially inflated.

Yet Jewish families, collectors, and dealers were not able to benefit from this situation. They fled Holland and were forced to sell at ludicrously low prices, or worse, were transported to concentration camps to face certain death, while dealers were given license to loot the collections they left behind. In about 1937 the Nazis commissioned a select group of dealers (slightly more than a half a dozen), principally renowned firms, to dispose of “degenerate art” purged from state collections. The most visible event was an auction in 1939 of 125 paintings and sculptures at the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne. While a number of the works sold at this auction have returned to German museums, masterpieces by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Henri Matisse, and Franz Marc now hang in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Basel Kunstmuseum, the Cincinnati Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Norton Simon Museum, and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

As thousands more modern works were confiscated and sold, prices dropped and dealers selling on commission did not reap the profits that they had initially envisioned, unless they could sell in volume. Ironically, many of these dealers had been champions of modernism and rightly feared that works that were not exported (or somehow concealed) would be destroyed (as many thousands of objects were). Among these dealers were Ferdinand Möller (who had specialized in Die Brücke), Günter Franke (who retained and hid from the Nazis his Nolde watercolors), Bernhard Böhmer (a specialist in Ernst Barlach), and Hildebrand Gurlitt, the first owner of Max Beckmann’s Bar, Brown. (In 2012, over a thousand works by Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, among others, were discovered hidden for reasons as yet unknown in the possession of Hildebrand Gurlitt’s son, Cornelius.) As director of the König-Albert-Museum in Zwickau in the 1920s, Gurlitt had organized exhibitions on Max Pechstein, Käthe Kollwitz, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Emil Nolde, among others. He continued to support modernism as managing director of the Hamburg Kunstverein (Art Association) until he was forced to resign by the Nazis in 1933, the same year Beckmann was dismissed from his post as professor in Frankfurt. Although designated by the Nuremberg laws as a “quarter-Jew,” Gurlitt’s connections for selling modern art were valuable to the Nazis. Gurlitt faced what Jonathan Petropoulos, a leading authority on the subject, has aptly called a Faustian bargain: by trading with the Nazis he could rescue modernist works from destruction by selling them abroad.

Hildebrand Gurlitt acquired Bar, Brown directly from Beckmann; it was not confiscated from a public museum nor looted from a private collection. At the time Gurlitt acquired it, Beckmann and his wife were living in desperate conditions in occupied Amsterdam. Selling off personal possessions to survive, he and his wife, Mathilde (“Quappi”), lived for a time in the home of Helmuth Lütjens, the Amsterdam representative of Berlin’s Cassirer gallery. Lütjens arranged for many of Beckmann’s paintings to be stored in the gallery warehouse, where they would be better protected from confiscation. He had been tipped off to this possibility by another important dealer in Beckmann’s life, Erhard Göpel, who, like Gurlitt, was connected by trade to the Nazis. Göpel twice arranged for Beckmann (lastly at age 60) to be exempted from the draft, and Beckmann gave him artworks in gratitude on both occasions.

It is unlikely that Beckmann or his dealers reaped great returns selling art in Germany, given that most “degenerate” artists were legally prohibited from working, selling, or even obtaining art-making materials; Beckmann’s son, Peter, serving in Germany’s medical corps, had to smuggle works from Holland to Beckmann’s loyal buyers in Germany. Nonetheless, Beckmann received vital financial support from German patrons such as Georg Hartmann, who, through Göpel’s efforts, commissioned Beckmann’s portfolio of lithographs, Apocalypse, to be printed in Frankfurt in a small edition to avoid Nazi detection. Göpel had bought five paintings from Beckmann between 1942 and 1944, and he and Gurlitt acquired another five works in September 1944, when Göpel left Holland for good. It is not known if Bar, Brown was included in this group. Mayen Beckmann, Max Beckmann’s granddaughter, was quoted recently in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that she says the work has a “clean” history and that she has no plans to reclaim the painting, while noting, “Of course Max Beckmann would have preferred to be in the U.S. by then and to be in a situation that would have enabled him to get a better price for the painting.” (“Private Geschäfte,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, February 1, 2014, page 35.) After the war, Beckmann’s dealers continued their support, with Göpel writing the authoritative catalogue raisonné on Beckmann, and Gurlitt organizing retrospectives for Beckmann in 1947 at Frankfurt’s Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie and in 1950 at Düsseldorf’s Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen.

Peter Beckmann and Hildebrand Gurlitt at the 1950 exhibition

Peter Beckmann and Hildebrand Gurlitt at the opening of the Max Beckmann exhibition in Düsseldorf in February 1950.

Bar, Brown was included in both exhibitions. After the war, Beckmann valued Gurlitt as an art dealer, advising his first wife, Minna Beckmann-Tube, in a letter of January 1, 1950: “For the sale of my recent paintings I believe that H. Gurlitt is the most appropriate person. He is clever and has a fine feeling for art and is fair.” As the painting’s provenance shows, Gurlitt never sold the painting: it was inherited by Gurlitt’s wife upon his death in 1956. The work was offered for sale at public auction in Stuttgart in 1960, but remained unsold. After her death in 1968, it was purchased from her estate by Galerie Roman Ketterer in 1971, from whence it was sold at Sotheby’s in Munich on October 28, 1987, to collectors Marvin and Janet Fishman of Milwaukee. The painting was among the works featured in a traveling show of the Fishman Collection, organized in 1990 at the Milwaukee Museum of Art that subsequently toured to Berlin, Frankfurt, Emden, New York, and Atlanta before being sold at Sotheby’s London, on October 18, 2000, where it was purchased by Robert and Mary M. Looker, who generously donated the painting to LACMA in November 2013. From its initial exhibition to its public sales at auction and in connection with each subsequent exhibition, the provenance of Bar, Brown has been well documented.

Timothy O. Benson, Curator, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

Twenty-Five Years of the Pavilion for Japanese Art

February 3, 2014

The Pavilion for Japanese Art, the last structure and only major public building designed by architect Bruce Goff (1904–1982), an idiosyncratic visionary influenced by the organic designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, divided critics when it opened on the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s campus on September 25, 1988. William Wilson, head art critic for the Los Angeles Times, who had eyed the building’s construction “with itching anxiety,” was ecstatic with the end result, calling it a “beautifully balanced architectural solution not rational T-square logic but romantic logic on the order of that exercised by Antonio Gaudi, Paolo Soleri, or Simon Rodia.” Other critics likened the pavilion’s shape, with its convex triangular walls and tusk-like exterior beams, to that of warrior helmets, dinosaurs, mastodons from the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits, ships, and giant shells.

Illustration of the Pavilion for Japanese Art

Illustration of the Pavilion for Japanese Art

Twenty-five years later, a silent verdict seems to have been issued by the pavilion’s status as a destination site for L.A. residents and visitors. With its colorful history, its unusual, daring, and poetic forms, its unconventional materials, and the utterly unique art-viewing experience it offers, the pavilion has become a fixture at LACMA, a respected structure that three Pritzker Prize–winning architects—Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano, and most recently, Peter Zumthor—have deliberately preserved in their respective master plans for the museum’s renovated campus. The 32,100-square-foot pavilion is a three-level building comprising two wings with exhibition galleries, a study area, a library, offices, and storage areas, with the west wing devoted to changing exhibitions, works from LACMA’s permanent collection, and a netsuke gallery to display the Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection of nine hundred exquisite nutshell-sized Japanese sculptures. The east wing was designed for the traditional display of Japanese screens and scrolls, in tokonoma, or traditional viewing spaces, for which the pavilion was originally conceived.

Model of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, © Museum Associates/LACMA

Model of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, © Museum Associates/LACMA

The story begins in Oklahoma, years before the project broke ground at LACMA in 1985, Goff and his foremost client, collector Joe Price, had discussed building a gallery at Price’s Oklahoma estate to hold the collection of Edo-period work Price had amassed throughout the 1950s and ’60s, widely considered one of the finest in the Western world. Price’s stipulation was that the “art itself” would be the client, dictating the design of the building from the inside out, with scrolls and screens displayed as the original artists intended: under natural light, with each work hung in its own tokonoma, or alcove—quite different viewing conditions than for contemporary Western art, which often calls for large spaces and bright, uniform lighting.

Interior of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, © Museum Associates/LACMA

Interior of the Pavilion for Japanese Art, © Museum Associates/LACMA

Ultimately, Price decided to open his collection to the public, and—with several twists and turns along the way—the site was relocated to Los Angeles, where LACMA was undergoing a major capital campaign under the guidance of Earl “Rusty” Powell. Longtime trustee Camilla Chandler Frost led fundraising efforts for the creation of the new building. When Goff died, in 1982, the building was yet to be realized. It was Bart Prince, Goff’s disciple, who meshed Goff’s imaginative plans with the reality of the LACMA site’s many challenges, which ranged from an absence of bedrock to a necessity to vent methane gas from the La Brea Tar Pits to stringent California building and seismic codes, not to mention the delay in construction caused by the new discovery of prehistoric fossils beneath the foundation.

The exterior walls of the Pavilion for Japanese Art are made of Kalwall, a translucent material that permits light to enter a room much the same way a shoji screen does, varying according to time of day, weather, and season, making the movement of the sun and clouds noticeable on the works; the gentle spiraling ramp and petal-like viewing platforms that give the viewer a sense of climbing through a garden, glimpsing art from above and below; the soft shadows that gather in the space and the building’s cream, gray, and green colors reminiscent of clouds, stones, and leaves, provide a contemplative space in the heart of Los Angeles. The Pavilion for Japanese Art remains a quiet space—a house of tranquility, as its creators intended.

Interior of the Pavilion for Japanese Art

Interior of the Pavilion for Japanese Art

To celebrate the pavilion’s twenty-fifth anniversary, LACMA will present a special exhibition, The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection (opened this past weekend), comprising a selection of Japanese paintings from the renowned collection of Joe and Etsuko Price. In 2013 this exhibition traveled to three cities in the Tohoku region of Japan, which was directly impacted by the great earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The exhibition was a gesture of solidarity and support for the citizens of the Tohoku region, and was greeted with enormous gratitude and enthusiasm in Japan. LACMA is honored to share this exhibition with our many visitors. Consisting of masterpieces by such artists as Itō Jakuchū, Nagasawa Rosetsu, Maruyama Ōkyo, Suzuki Kiitsu, Sakai Hōitsu, and Kawanabe Kyōsai, the exhibition will be shown in two rotations, the first from February 1 through March 9, 2014, and the second from March 15 through April 20, 2014.

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

This Weekend at LACMA: Fútbol: The Beautiful Game Opens, Under the Mexican Sky Closes, Free Workshops, and More!

January 31, 2014

Pass on the big game this weekend in favor of the world’s game. Opening to the public on Sunday, February 2, Fútbol: The Beautiful Game explores the sport, players, and spectators involved in the international obsession that is soccer. Represented through paint, sculpture, photography, and video works, the exhibition touches on issues of nationalism, globalism, and mass spectacle. Members have free, early access to Fútbol on Friday and Saturday. For more feats of synchronized athleticism see David Hockney: The Jugglers, a video artwork showing a procession of jugglers (accompanied by John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”) through the lenses of eighteen fixed cameras on a multiscreen grid. The Jugglers opens on Saturday, February 1, in the Resnick Pavilion.

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

Nearby, Monterey Park residents and neighbors score big this weekend at the LACMA9 Monterey Park Art+Film Lab at East Los Angeles College. On Friday take part in Oral History Drop-ins in the early afternoon, see the LACMA9 Shorts Program at 7 pm on the big screen, and join in on the free Composition Workshop on Saturday at noon. This is the second to last week of free programming in Monterey Park before the Art+Film Lab heads to Hacienda Heights on February 21.

Gabriel Figueroa, film still from Una cita de amor, directed by Emilio "El Indio" Fernández, 1956, © Gabriel Figueroa Flores Archive

Gabriel Figueroa, film still from Una cita de amor, directed by Emilio “El Indio” Fernández, 1956, © Gabriel Figueroa Flores Archive

Back on campus, the clock winds down on Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film, which closes this Sunday. Figueroa was among the most important cinematographers of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, and his distinctive and vivid visual style crossed genre lines as well as country borders. For more art and cinema check out Masterworks for Expressionist Cinema: The Golem and Its Avatars and learn about the mythical figure from Jewish folklore. Lastly, take a timeout to enjoy Andell Family Sundays beginning at 12:30 pm (this month investigating memories and storytelling as seen in Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa) and Sundays Live with the Jolivet Trio at 6 pm in the Bing Theater. Now take the ball and run.

Roberto Ayala

2014: The Year of the Horse

January 30, 2014

Chinese New Year begins tomorrow, January 31, 2014. To celebrate, we will talk about several pieces from LACMA’s permanent collection of Chinese art that feature the auspicious horse, which is this year’s zodiac. For thousands of years, equines have been one of the most popular animals depicted in Chinese art, and the following examples only provide a glimpse into the rich historical and symbolic significance of horses.

In the early history, it appears that the horse was considered a close kin of dragons. Equipped with imaginary powers, horses would carry the soul to an imagined land after death. An Eastern Han dynasty horse, probably excavated from a tomb in the Sichuan province, displays such a celestial quality. Its left front leg is about to move forward, with the hoof barely touching the ground. Its tail flies upward, rendering the solid body a sense of elevation, as if the horse was dancing or flying. In fact, flying horses are often found in Han dynasty tombs, remarking on the belief its ability to carry the soul to the afterlife realm.

Funerary Sculpture of a Horse China, Sichuan Province, Eastern Han dynasty, 25-220 Molded earthenware with modeled and carved decoration Gift of Diane and Harold Keith and Jeffrey Lowden (AC1997.137.1)

China, Sichuan Province, Eastern Han dynasty, Funerary Sculpture of a Horse, A.D. 25–220, gift of Diane and Harold Keith and Jeffrey Lowden

The animal was also a military necessity. The strength of a cavalry was important to defend kingdoms and empires from the threat from northern and Central Asian nomads. Essential to securing territorial integrity and maintaining sovereign independence, it is natural that horse was soon connected symbolically with power. By the Tang dynasty, the horse’s symbolism as an imperial power became even more pronounced.

Funerary Sculpture of a Horse China, Middle Tang dynasty, about 700-800 Molded earthenware with molded, applied, and incised decoration and polychrome (sancai) glaze Gift of Nasli M. Heeramaneck (M.73.48.79)

China, Middle Tang dynasty, Funerary Sculpture of a Horse, about 700–800, gift of Nasli M. Heeramaneck

China, Tang dynasty, , Funerary Sculpture of a Horse and Rider, 618–906, the Phil Berg Collection

China, Tang dynasty, , Funerary Sculpture of a Horse and Rider, 618–906, the Phil Berg Collection

In addition to the tribute horses brought to the Tang capital by the neighboring states, it is said the imperial court had a herd of over 700,000 horses. The sancai (three-colored glaze, brown, green, and cream) horse in the LACMA collection was found in a Tang dynasty tomb. It has a saddle on top of a coverlet. Its crupper and breastplate are decorated with tassels. So is the bridle piece, demonstrating the status of the tomb owner. Its tail is also carefully braided, showing its military or ceremonial function. Equestrian and polo became popular sports in the Tang dynasty, played by both men and women, displaying the wealth and status of the riders.

Square Dish (Die) with Figure on Horse China, Chinese, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period, 1662-1722 Black lacquer on wood core with shell and gold leaf inlay Gift of Miss Bella Mabury (M.39.2.569.1)

China, Chinese, Qing dynasty, Kangxi period, Square Dish (Die) with Figure on Horse, 1662–1722, gift of Miss Bella Mabury

For the Chinese scholars educated in the Confucian classics, the characteristic of horses were equated with one’s virtue and ability, as recognized in the story of Bole, a man with extraordinary understanding of equines. Without Bole’s recognition of its talents, a horse will only pull a cart in the market. Similarly, a Confucian scholar’s refinement and virtue need to be discovered and employed by a benevolent and enlightened ruler.

By the Ming and Qing dynasties, the horse appeared less frequently as an independent art genre. Instead, it subsided to the role of mounters in the depiction of popular fictions and dramas, such as the lacquer square dish carefully inlayed with shell and gold leaf, where an official riding a horse is about to enter the city gate. A repeating form, however, is a monkey riding on the back of a horse, a visual rebus meaning “immediate advancement in officialdom,” an auspicious wish for scholars with ambitions.

Buckle in the Form of a Monkey on a Horse China, late Qing dynasty, about 1800-1911 Abraded jade Gift of Patricia G. Cohan (M.2001.179.43)

China, late Qing dynasty, Buckle in the Form of a Monkey on a Horse, about 1800–1911, gift of Patricia G. Cohan

In the 20th century, the most celebrated horse painter is no doubt Xu Beihong. Trained in Shanghai, Tokyo, and Paris, Xu’s galloping horses combine the free and unrestrained expressions he was exposed in France and the traditional Chinese art of the brush and ink. The horses, always in vigorous sprinting gestures, embody a powerful political message: the noble and heroic spirit of China during the turbulent years of Sino-Japanese war.


Private collection, © Chen Art Gallery

In the popular culture of the Chinese zodiac system, each 12-year cycle is associated with a particular animal. For more than 2,000 years, people have believed that the attributes of each animal is reflected in those born in the corresponding year, affecting his or her personality and future. The horse is praised for its energy, strength, and intelligence, and cautioned against impatience and stubbornness.

Happy the Year of the Horse!

Christina Yu Yu, Assistant Curator, Chinese Art


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