October 24, 2008
Like most people who work in museums, I have to go to a lot of less-than-scintillating meetings. The single most effective way to alleviate the daily grind is to take the extra couple of minutes en route to the next meeting to walk past some of the most exceptional demonstrations of human endeavor in LACMA’s galleries. It’s been especially pleasurable of late because of the possibility of bumping into one of the more than forty artists and performers who are rehearsing in LACMA’s galleries for our upcoming Machine Project Field Guide to LACMA.
A few weeks ago, Corey Fogel came in to try out acoustics for his combined drumming-and-putting-on-a-suit-made-of-peppercorn-cans performance. Jason Torchinsky has been getting wet in the Dorothy Collins Brown Fountain as he measures up for his hydropticonium (a made-up word for a wonderful flipbook-like contraption), that will be powered by the fountain’s water flow. There have been quite a number of LACMA staff and Machine Project collaborators helping Jessica Z. Hutchins and Dawn Kaspar refine their murder mystery trail through LACMA’s permanent galleries.
And last week, musicians, including Heather Lockie, each stood in the elevators in the Ahmanson Building playing string instruments, their music connecting, dispersing, and then tumbling out of the elevators as the doors of their respective elevators opened at different floors. Here’s one of the videos that filmmaker Jim Fetterley has been making of the rehearsals for Machine Project’s day-long Field Guide to LACMA on November 15.
October 24, 2008
This weekend marks the last chance—for a while, at least—to bring your kids to the Boone Children’s Gallery. The current exhibition, Construct, will close on Sunday so we can renovate LACMA West as part of the campuswide Transformation campaign.
The Boone Gallery has always been a feather in our cap. It opened about ten years ago, shortly after the former May Co. building was officially reopened to the public as LACMA West. The exhibitions—always free, often wonderfully noisy—have been a fun way for kids to learn about and interact with art. So it’s a little bittersweet to see the gallery lights go dark, even if just temporarily.
The good news is that when the gallery reopens as part of the refurbished LACMA West (planned for 2010), it will be better than ever. The entire second floor will be dedicated to education. Our museum educators’ offices will be right down the way from the all-new Boone Gallery, which will be joined by an interactive media lab for kids. Study centers dedicated to prints and drawings, textiles, and photography will also be installed for slightly older students (i.e., grad students and scholars, among others).
Yes, the Boone Gallery is ready for its nap; but when it wakes up it is really going to be ready to play.
October 23, 2008
When Edward Steichen described the photograph he took of Gloria Swanson (which just went up on our street banners all over L.A. for Vanity Fair Portraits), he said, “I took a piece of black lace veil and hung it in front of her face. She recognized the idea at once… her look was that of a leopardess lurking behind leafy shrubbery, watching her prey.”
Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen, 1924, Vanity Fair, February 1928, © Condé Nast Publications Inc.
Lace can act as a shrubbery of sorts—obscuring and diffusing—but it can also embellish in a way few fabrics can, its transparency allowing it to practically become part of the object. This concept of ornamentation is one reason Vanity Fair Portraits′ lead designer, Maja Blazejewska, was intrigued by the fabric—so much so that she used it in the exhibition’s typography, its entrance wall, and on a few products she created for the museum shop. The socks she designed, which she’s modeling below, feature four lace patterns from LACMA’s own collection. They’re all chantilly lace, which is distinguished by its delicacy and complexity of floral pattern—in these particular examples, the floral motifs are made by hand and outlined with a heavy silk thread.
As clever as these socks are, the design of Maja’s I’m most intrigued by is a digitized lace pattern, which she created as an homage to digital photography found in the exhibition.
She’s taken a fresh approach to something aged, and to hear her describe the process of creating the pattern—”even though I was working on a computer, it really felt like I was sewing, it was so time-intensive and intricate”—makes me dig it all the more. You can check it out in full bloom on the entrance wall to the exhibition; the show opens this Sunday.
October 22, 2008
The corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, c. 1920
Opening at LACMA this Sunday, Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 spans the entirety of the magazine’s history, stretching back to the launch of Dress & Vanity Fair in 1913. It was a pretty illustrious year for debuts.
In March, the legendary Armory show opened in New York, captivating and confusing critics and crowds alike. Causing the biggest stir were the galleries for cubist and futurist artists, whom former President Theodore Roosevelt described as “the lunatic fringe.” Noting Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, American Art News offered $10 to any reader who could identify either a nude or a staircase.
Plenty was also happening in Los Angeles in 1913. On November 6, the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art opened in Exposition Park, and the Owens River Valley Aqueduct began bringing water to the city—a primary force in making this soon-to-be metropolis a livable region.
About three weeks after water and culture arrived in L.A., Cecil B. DeMille followed—fleeing the East Coast because Thomas Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company had monopolized the industry. In L.A., DeMille filmed his first feature, The Squaw Man; it was shot in a rural part of town—Sunset and Vine.
DeMille stayed in Hollywood for the rest of his career. An aviation enthusiast, he bought up land all over the city for airfields—one of which was located at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, right across the street from the future site of LACMA. Next time you drive by Johnie’s or the 99 Cent Store, imagine DeMille taking off in his JL-6.
October 21, 2008
Early one morning last week I walked through the Ahmanson Building and found one of our conservators dusting Smoke, the Tony Smith sculpture occupying the building’s atrium. As you can see from the photos, Smoke is huge, with a lot of hard-to-reach surface area. In the past, conservators used soap and water to wash it, followed by a special formula spray cleaner; but the cleaner left the sculpture a bit streaky so they devised a new procedure.
First, they give it a once over with a long, synthetic feather duster of sorts. Then they hit it with a Swiffer. Yes, a Swiffer. (Procter & Gamble, if you’re listening and want to make a donation…) Next, a microfiber towel is used to get any last tidbits of dust. It’s a two-day process that involves a scissor lift and a lot of fine-tuning. The difficulty of cleaning is compounded by the color of the object, black, which really shows dust from Southern California’s famed Santa Anas and a campus undergoing major construction. As one conservator told me, the most common comment observers make is, “Hey, did you know you missed a spot?” Yes, they know, and they’re on it.
October 20, 2008
At the time of Manny Farber’s death this summer, he hadn’t published any film criticism since the late seventies, focusing instead on his collage-like, perspective-defying paintings. (The image used here appears in the latest issue of CinemaScope, which also includes a “guide to Farber“). For me, Farber remains the greatest film critic the United States ever produced (check some of his greatest hits at the invaluable Greencine blog). He ventured further out than most of his peers, all the while maintaining the swiftness and vinegary tone of a thirties B-picture roughneck and the incisive poetics of a Frankfurt school brainiac. His bebop syntax, brut exuberance, and sculptural texture are all immediately striking. But there’s also a ceaseless squirreling of ideas amid all that kinetic language.
Manny Farber, Sherlock Jr., 1982
Too much film criticism remains just perfunctory writing at the service of utilitarian opinions. Farber’s clutter of angles and tangents, the vulgar modernism and pulp formalism, always served a wealth of ideas. A champion of Wellman and Akerman, Walsh and Snow, his taste can only be considered eclectic when set against an incurious narrowness of cultists or so-called experts. Consider this sentence, written somewhat prophetically in 1968, on Godard:
At the end of this director’s career, there will probably be a hundred films, each one a bizarrely different species, with its own excruciatingly singular skeleton, tendons, plumage… already he has a zoo that includes a pink parakeet (A Woman Is a Woman), diamond-black snake (Contempt), whooping crane (Band of Outsiders), jack rabbit (Carabiniers) and a mock Monogram turtle (Breathless).
Godard and Farber cross paths at this year’s Viennale Film Festival. Godard’s first transmission in years is an erstwhile “trailer” for the festival; there will also be a sidebar tribute at the fest devoted to films of Farber’s liking. Surprisingly, it’ll only include slapstick silents. It seems much of Farber remains unexplored terrain.
October 17, 2008
Last weekend I was in New York for the closing of Olafur Eliasson’s NYC Waterfalls. I never got to see The Gates, and I swore I wouldn’t miss seeing this installation in person.
With my anticipation for what I was about to see building, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and caught my first glimpse. As soon as I saw them, the first word that popped in my head was “majestic.” They were truly a spectacle, with the juxtaposition of their massive size and their light and airy appearance.
As I stood beneath the bridge, taking in the waterfall, I looked around for my fellow revelers, expecting to be surrounded by people just like me, astounded by this massive structure. That wasn’t the case; the audience was strangely blasé. Street performers and wedding parties seemed to be receiving more attention than the 120-foot waterfall next to me. I was struck with the question, have we become numb to public art? Perhaps these people had already seen the waterfalls hundreds of times and their sense of awe had passed, the artwork becoming just another sight and sound of the city.
Unframed contributor Scott Tennent pointed me to this article from the Observer, published last year, about a group of researchers investigating what sounds might make a city environment more pleasant. Among others, they found “car tyres on wet, bumpy asphalt, the distant roar of a motorway flyover, the rumble of an overground train and the thud of heavy bass heard on the street outside a nightclub” were all pleasing to the ear. They also found that “In the laboratory, many listeners prefer distant motorway noise to rushing water, until they are told what the sounds are.”
Maybe all those waterfalls were just stressing the locals out. Lucky for them, the waterfalls are gone now.