Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 4

November 18, 2008

We asked Joe Sola—an artist whose work can currently be seen in Hard Targets—Masculinity and Sport and in an exhibition of paintings and video at Bespoke Gallery in New York—to share his thoughts on Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 4, which is screening here, along with his Drawing Restraint 10, this Thursday, in conjunction with Hard Targets.

The first time I heard about Matthew Barney’s work was in the nineties in New York City. I remember being at 7B, my favorite local bar in the East Village, where a couple of friends were talking about his sculpture of a weightlifting set cast out of Vaseline that had just been exhibited in the city. To view this sculpture you had to enter a large refrigerator. The refrigerator supposedly kept the Vaseline from losing its shape. The work got us speaking about a lot of things that evening, most of which started from this image of a sporty sexualization of the male body. It took me many years from that conversation (I am slow) to figure out that the real subject in his work, as well as mine, was that of what it is to be a guy in this world. His work is ripe with formal innovation and violence. It moves very quickly in that regard. If you haven’t yet, see his Cremaster 4 film from the Cremaster series. The word on the street is that the cremaster muscle is the muscle which pulls down the testicle from inside the male body to the outside, one of the physiological things that makes males different from females. You can see how he’s developed a language around this idea of “feminine” and “masculine” and how they meet and what they become. This film is filled with strangely choreographed scenes, underwater photography, helicopter shots, customized motorcycles, messy blobs, and a soundtrack filled with the screaming tear of engines.

Joe Sola

Jorge Pardo on the Pre-Columbian Galleries

November 17, 2008

Earlier this month Michael Govan sat down with Jorge Pardo as part of the Directors Series. Along with a discussion of some of Pardo’s seminal works, the two discussed Pardo’s design for LACMA’s pre-Columbian galleries, which debuted in September to some debate. They’re certainly unique—the bright colors, the curtains (one audience member at the talk called them “oppressive”), and of course the undulating cabinetry. Among the questions raised is, simply, why? Why display them like this? Why not stick to a simple, unadorned pedestal or display case? Govan and Pardo got into this in their hour-long discussion, which you can watch in its entirety. Just to give you a sample, here they discuss Pardo’s installation design for a Donald Judd exhibition at the Caixa museum in Spain—another controversial exhibition design that raised many of the same questions as our pre-Columbian galleries.

The entire conversation is pretty interesting; they talk this topic some more, as well as their prior collaborations at the Dia. Keep your eyes out for another Directors Series podcast with Chris Burden, which should be up on the site soon. We’ll let you know.

Scott Tennent

Q&A with Machine Project’s Mark Allen

November 14, 2008

Tomorrow, Machine Project will descend upon LACMA for ten hours of performances as part of the Machine Project Field Guide to LACMA. In anticipation, curator Charlotte Cotton, who organized the event on behalf of LACMA, chatted—actually, iChatted—with Mark Allen of Machine Project, to give a sense of what’s in store.

CC: So how are you feeling in the final countdown to the BIG day?

MA: Good-ish. I’m really happy with the rehearsals, the print material, and the plans. I was talking last night about how I basically experience large projects before and after but not really during. The fact that we have 250 [participants] involved blew my mind. How are you feeling?

CC: I’m at that stage when I swing between thinking it’s going to be me and you plus 250 brilliant people getting on with some absolutely fantastic scenarios at LACMA—and then wondering if thousands of Angelenos will be curious and come along.

MA: It’s hard to say, right? Neither of us have done something like this at LACMA before.

CC: It’s exciting, the part that we could only partly anticipate is about to just happen. I think we know how special all the thoughtful performances and interventions will be, but how that actually plays out all together, and how visitors will react and develop the ideas, we just don’t know.

MA: Yes, who knows! I think I’m pretty used to things not turning out the way I expected, since most of my curatorial practice is based on events.

CC: It’s an almost unique talent, Mark!

MA: My philosophy is that if you set up a framework and execute in it, whatever ends up will be great.

CC: Coming from the more anal and institutionalized end of curating, it’s been an amazing thing to go along on this journey with you.

MA: Well I hope it’s been somewhat fun. I am often curious about how curation works in a more professional sense.

CC: It involves low cunning and patience.

MA: One thing that is really different is the role of scholarship, which isn’t a big part of what we do at Machine (although I have great respect for it). The advantage of curating new work is I think there is less pressure to contextualize it historically. Is that fair to say?

CC: I think curating historical work (and that really is everything except very new work) involves a double contextualization.

MA: What do you mean?

CC: If you are a curator who specializes in a particular medium or period of history, then you are reconstructing a narrative that is not necessarily familiar to museum visitors. To try to explain the context is one of the first responsibilities you have to your chosen field. But there’s the second part to this—which is about contextualizing the past FOR the present. For me, that’s the exciting part—where you breathe contemporary life into history.

MA: Neat!

CC: That’s why I wanted to see what you would do at LACMA.

MA: How do you see your role in this project? Are you contextualizing what we do at Machine in terms of LACMA?

CC: I suppose there was the selfish role I chose which was to be participating from the outset and learn about LACMA from imaginative perspectives that you and the artists you work with bring to the museum. And to be the person who tries to keep the door open to as many of your ideas as possible but be clear when an idea might miss the mark.

MA: It’s interesting, that’s basically what I see my role being for projects that take place at Machine. Facilitator/guide. Something that was really challenging for the group of artists that worked on this project was dealing with the fact that it was at LACMA, since we’re mostly younger artists. For most people this is their first museum show, and I think in the beginning there was some concern about what it meant to contextualize their practice in the institution. But in the end, we decided to try an adopt an attitude that we could treat the museum like any other space or context. The same way we could react to a dry ice factory or a public park. To be both inside and outside if possible.

CC: Rather than being the David to LACMA’s Goliath?

MA: Yes of course—to avoid less productive approaches. Like a) “oh jeez, now’s our big shot, we have to make real art now,” or b) “museums are lame, let’s blow it up.”

CC: I’m glad you didn’t choose plan b!

MA: Well, it’s a fine line, I think, of how much one teases/abuses/interrogates the use of the museum. To be too respectful or too little. I think we tried to use it more as a “found context.”

CC: And that’s really worked with the character of LACMA.

MA: Yes, I can’t see this project working anywhere else in L.A. It requires the huge sprawl.

CC: It’s huge! Some parts of the campus are shiny and new and then other bits have cobwebs in them.

MA: If there is room for cobwebs there is room for us. That’s how I thought about it in the beginning.

CC: If you can relax into the confusion and contradictions of LACMA’s sprawl, you can really enjoy yourself.

MA: That same statement will apply to our show I hope.

CC: Exactly—the field guide may only be visible for one day but I think that the encouragement it gives to visitors to just enjoy the fact that each visit we make to a museum is idiosyncratic, full of the unexpected and not just about the label texts, is an enduring fusion of what you do and how LACMA actually gets experienced.

MA: Thanks! I’m not sure how conscious that was on our part, and how much a result of the museum having an influence on how it unfolds. The form of the museum had a lot of influence on how the show evolved.

CC: Do you mean both the architectural spaces and also getting to know how it works?

MA: I think the architecture, because of the sprawl, but more how the size of the museum interacted with our curatorial process since we visited so many times, with so many people.

The curation of the show is almost a trace of how we experienced the museum during the brainstorm sessions and the process of thinking up the ideas was really interesting, because we all experienced the museum so differently when we were there looking at it as a site instead of a museum. Lots of the curatorial team spoke about that. Hence the title—”field guide.” It will be interesting to see how the book reflects that experience as well.

CC: I like your idea for the book to not only document and evaluate the ideas that were realized on the day but also list the projects that didn’t happen.

MA: Yes, and treat them on the same level. I’m actually still not sure how the book will unfold because I think it’s also an opportunity to speak about the group of people involved who are an interesting cross-section of California (for the most part) artists and performers who are mostly outside the commercial art world.

CC: Is this one of the reasons that you set up and have continued to host Machine Project in Los Angeles?

MA: Do you mean to provide a forum for this kind of work?

CC: Yep, and that it’s a particular strength of artistic practice in Los Angeles—that so much functions outside of market and institutional structures.

MA: First and foremost, I want to provide a really casual interaction between performers and audience. And support projects and artists I believe in. But also provide a place for people to experiment with their normal practice. I could go on about Machine’s motivations at great length… I’m interested to see how the show is received in the art world context.

CC: I can’t think of how else the museum could genuinely respond to and acknowledge the hub that is Machine Project, nor the strength of Los Angeles’ artists other than by trying to just open its doors to your way of thinking. Could you imagine if we’d tried to create a separate space, like a temporary exhibition gallery, for Machine? It would have been disastrous.

MA: Yikes.

CC: And you probably would have said no.

MA: Yikes.

CC: So which project that isn’t going happen on the 15th but you dreamt up are you going to miss on the day?

MA: #1: our handwritten donor list, next to the $$$ LACMA donor list! #2: drivers’ ed. school valet parking. For the most part, I think the best ideas triumphed. What about you? What do you wish we had done that got scrapped?

CC: I really liked the idea of growing plants along the link between the European paintings galleries and the Arts of the Americas. Going from a little oak tree to potato plant.

MA: Oh yeah, all the gardening projects. Those were good. I think we needed to think of those much earlier. Like five years ago.

CC: I also would have liked to have set up more games for the BP Grand Entrance, which you are naming “Mission Control” for the day. Maybe there is still time for me to get prepared. I like guessing games:

1. Guess how many security screws in the jar
2. Guess how many words on all the labels in LACMA’s galleries
3. Guess the square footage of LACMA (I don’t think anyone knows this really)

MA: These are great ideas! Why am I just hearing about them now?

CC: I’ve been busy being a proper curator. I also wish the field guide could have included food but the health and safety issues were insurmountable.

MA: I know. We do a lot of food. We have a pie expert spending some time with us in December. Many pie-related activities coming to Machine.

CC: I’m especially looking forward to the Murder Mystery competition with clues through the museum’s galleries. I love any activity that brings out the fiercely competitive spirit of whole families. Remind me what the prize for the winners will be?

MA: No idea! We need to figure that out.

CC: How about the sum total of all the crochet bonnets that will be made for Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation? To keep the lamps warm this winter?

MA: I think we’re giving them to needy children.

CC: Bless you! Or maybe the most beautiful urn made for Liz’s recycling project?

MA: That might be good.

CC: Okay, well that’s another thing to add to our “to do” list for tomorrow.

MA: It certainly is.

Charlotte Cotton

Getty Rembrandt Project

November 13, 2008

Rembrandt, Portrait of Marten Looten, 1632, gift of J. Paul Getty

In February, we hosted a cadre of out of town journalists for the opening of BCAM. Many of the visiting writers and editors told us they could really sense a collaborative feel among L.A. museums. Another step in that direction was just officially launched this week—Rembrandt in Southern California. It’s a web-based project initiated by the Getty that involves LACMA, the Hammer, the Norton Simon Museum, and the Timken Museum of Art in San Diego. Together, these five institutions feature the third-largest assemblage of paintings by Rembrandt in the United States. Rembrandt in Southern California brings these works together into a virtual exhibition that features fourteen paintings on view in Southern California. The site also offers a guide to exploring the works along with suggested connections and points of comparison. Check it out at

Allison Agsten

Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

November 13, 2008


Why did you come to the museum today?
[Sitting in front of Friday Night Jazz] I grew up listening to jazz since I was eight years old. Over sixty years. My early years were in Harlem and there was always music around and I remember that every apartment that we moved to there was a piano. So with the jazz thing, I’ve been chasing it around…

Rafael (left)

Rafael (left)

What do you do?
I’m a design student. I’m visiting from Tijuana.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Ishmael, again, by Daniel Quinn… It taps into how humans just believe that we are the creation, the center.

Casey and Nico

Casey and Nico

What do you do?
We are both photographers.

Have you ever been inspired by art to do something you normally wouldn’t?
Nico: I would say that going to museums made me become a photographer.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc

The American Art Fun Zone

November 12, 2008

Tucked in back of the American art galleries (third floor of the Art of the Americas Building) is a small room I’ve been calling “the fun zone.” I tagged this intimate, one-room space with the phrase while planning for the reinstallation of the American art collections. I was committed to maintaining a space that would be flexible, into which contributing curators could pull together works for three to four mini-exhibitions a year.

Since our reinstalled galleries opened in July 2007 we’ve seen amazing modernist and pictorialist photographs acquired by the museum directly from photography salons mounted by Camera Pictorialists of Los Angeles between 1918 and 1947. Kanemitsu in California during the 1960s and 1970s featured standouts from the museum’s extensive collection of expressionist and witty lithographs by Matsumi “Mike” Kanemitsu. Superb modern works given to the museum by art impresario, critic, author, and book designer Merle Armitage were showcased in Merle Armitage: Collections at LACMA.

James Albert Rosenquist, F-111: West, gift of Mrs. Robert Fenton

Currently there is a marvelous installation on view, Pop Prints from the Permanent Collection. Consumer products are subject and object in vibrant works by four pop artists. James Rosenquist’s monumental F-111 (1974) is so long it wraps around a corner of the room and bombards you with pattern, color, a blond baby under a hair dryer, light bulbs, tire treads, and an A-bomb explosion all overlaying the image of the F-111 bomber.

Claes Oldenburg, Profile Airflow, Gift of The Marmor Foundation in memory of Dr. Judd Marmor

But the showstopper has to be Claus Oldenburg’s three-dimensional object/lithograph of a car, Profile Airflow (1968-69). It is the kind of work that makes you stop in your tracks, it is so gorgeous and outrageous and unexpected. The curator brilliantly describes the “seductive cast-polyurethane car” as having “the consistency of flesh and the blue-green translucency of a swimming pool.” Go dive in.

Austen Bailly

War and Its Aftermath

November 11, 2008

Editors’ Note: For Veterans Day we asked Austen to select three relevant paintings from our permanent collection and tell us about them. Two of the works are not on view, but you can see the Childe Hassam on the third floor of Art of the Americas Building. And today’s holiday is a good day to do so, because general admission is free all day.

I thought of these paintings because they encapsulate a range of artistic responses on the part of American artists to the war efforts during World War I (1914-1918), and inspired art patronage in Los Angeles. These works also underscore the internationalism of war and its aftermath.

F. Childe Hassam, Avenue of the Allies: Brazil, Belgium, 1918

In the fall of 1918, the fourth and last of the Liberty Loan Drive fundraising parades was held in New York, and each block on Fifth Avenue from Twenty-Fourth to Fifty-Eighth streets was dedicated to the flags of a different Allied nation. Childe Hassam depicted that 1918 scene at the block devoted to Brazil and Belgium along what became known as the “Avenue of the Allies.”

George Benjamin Luks, Czechoslovakian Army Entering Vladivostok, Siberia, in 1918, 1918

Luks’s painting imagines the triumphant conclusion of the Czechoslovakian army’s march across Siberia in the drive for independence and to become an Allied Nation. Their success was celebrated on Czechoslovak Day, October 3, 1918, held during the Fourth Liberty Loan Drive Hassam painted. These two paintings were given to LACMA in the 1920s by William Preston Harrison, whose art bequests form the historic core of the LACMA’s American art collection.

William Wendt, The Mantle of Spring, 1917

The Mantle of Spring by Wendt was given to LACMA in 1921 by the Los Angeles District Federation of Women’s Clubs in “grateful tribute to the Boys of America who gave their lives and the Mothers who gave their Sons in the World War.” Wendt’s lush California spring landscape, when our state’s parched brown hills turn bright green during winter rains, is of course a poignant metaphor for rebirth and renewal after the devastation of war.

Austen Bailly

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