Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

December 19, 2008

Jacob (student) and Chris (photographer)

Why did you come to the museum today?
Jacob: Because it’s where we come to unwind. We need a little time down so we can hang out, you know, maybe get a couple of drinks [laughs].

What are you reading right now?
Chris: Marciano Magazine.
Jacob: 33 Strategies of War.


Melanie (headhunter) and Ken (screenwriter)

If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be?
Ken: Probably a Frank Stella, but I can’t think which one. I like machines, so you obviously have to have mechanical knowledge to do a piece like that. They seem to be larger than life; they don’t just lie there. To be something by Jackson Pollock, I mean I like Pollock, but it’s being a victim of a shotgun.

Melanie: I’d be a Calder sculpture because they are usually out in the open and they are moving and a sense of whimsy.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc

Art and Education: A Conversation between Marysa Dowling and Elizabeth Gerber, Part II

December 17, 2008
Marysa Dowling

Marysa Dowling

Today, part II of artist Marysa Dowling’s conversation with LACMA’s Manager of School and Teacher Programs, Elizabeth Gerber. Yesterday’s portion saw Gerber asking Dowling about the themes behind Journeys, Dowling’s project on view at Charles White Elementary School as part of Art Programs with the Community: LACMA On-Site. As the conversation progressed, Dowling started asking the questions.

MD: What do you hope people will bring to this exhibition? Take from the exhibition?

Elizabeth Gerber

Elizabeth Gerber

EG: Like you, I hope that with careful looking at the artwork, visitors will see something new in this city, or consider different ways they can look at their own neighborhoods or familiar journeys. I hope people will bring an interest in seeing new artwork and in learning how some of the young people in Los Angeles view their schools and neighborhoods. And I hope that the broad role that LACMA can have in this city, and of museums generally, is refreshed and reinforced. I too hope that the collective portrait presented in the exhibition continues to grow over time.

MD: Why are these types of projects important to LACMA?

EG: The museum supports an incredible amount of work with students and teachers; a project such as this one encourages art making and discussions with students and teachers—as well as their families, friends, and neighbors—outside of a traditional classroom setting. A project that is based in different neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles allows the museum to engage with the interests and concerns of multiple neighborhoods, and to work with individuals who might not have previously visited LACMA. Ultimately, projects that create new and dynamic works of art, build community, engage with audiences, and educate (in the broadest possible sense) are critical to furthering LACMA’s mission.

MD: Why is it important to commission artists?

EG: I am actually very interested to see the response that we receive to this question here on Unframed, as the importance of commissioning artists and the type of work that should be commissioned is a fascinating topic for discussion. From my perspective, the museum has the opportunity to foster the creative process and to share it more broadly with others through these types of commissions.

When it comes to commissioning artists to work with students, there are a range of important benefits. In addition to the creation of new work, the time and energy that you shared with the participants can have a large impact: so often we hear from teachers and principals about the importance of artists as role models for their students. With this project, you introduced David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio as an artwork for students to view and discuss, leading them to consider their own journeys through Los Angeles. At LACMA we often try to view our encyclopedic collection through a contemporary lens, and artists are very good partners in this endeavor. There’s always a risk when new work is created, but in my opinion, that risk is an interesting and important element as well.

MD: In what ways could this project connect with other cities?

EG: We live in an increasingly global world, where images and information can travel at an incredibly rapid rate. At the same time, localities matter—and they matter a lot. In my mind, a project like this does an excellent job of highlighting the similarities and differences of cities, and the people who live in them. At its core, an institution like LACMA provides opportunities for people to learn about cultures throughout time and around the world.

For more information on this exhibition, including directions and hours, click here.

Art and Education: A Conversation between Marysa Dowling and Elizabeth Gerber, Part I

December 16, 2008

Earlier this year, LACMA commissioned London-based artist Marysa Dowling to work with students in the Los Angeles Unified School District as part of Art Programs with the Community: LACMA On-Site. The result, Journeys, is a collection of images both from the students and from Dowling. The exhibition is on view at Charles White Elementary School. LACMA’s Manager of School and Teacher Programs, Elizabeth Gerber, sat down with Dowling to discuss the project. Midway through, Dowling turned the tables and interviewed Gerber. Today we present the first part of the interview, with part II to follow tomorrow.

Photographs by Marysa Dowling

EG: Your artistic process often involves many decisions by the individuals you are photographing. Could you describe your process for this project?

MD: There are several pieces of interconnected work within the overall project, Journeys. All of them are portraiture projects with several intentions: to look at how people move around the city they live in; to explore how people communicate and engage with the city and with others; how they use and see everyday objects; and most importantly, how people express themselves in front of, and communicate through, the camera.

I wanted to create a piece of work that let, to a certain degree, other peoples’ choices shape how the project would evolve and who would be involved. So for the main pieces I came up with a set of rules—or rather instructions—for each person to follow. I first made a series of portraits of seven people on journeys they each take regularly. I also had them incorporate an object, a blue plastic bag, which they used in one of the photographs. And I asked each of them to choose at least five other people to become involved and be photographed.


EG: Why did you propose this theme of journeys for this project?

MD: L.A. has such a particular way of being viewed by those who have never been here and has an odd familiarity to the rest of the world. Having an overarching theme that I could explore in various ways is something I often do. I also like to work on similar projects in different cities simultaneously.

Realizing how many people live totally different lives within the city seems obvious, but once you really start to see and hear about it, it’s quite overwhelming. It’s also amazing the connections that start to unfold.

One thing the project has done is reinforced my thoughts about how complex and problematic cities are and but also how wonderful, strange, and engaging they are. People live with similar concerns in cities everywhere.

EG: Why the blue plastic bag?

MD: I began using the using this object in London, when The Photographers’ Gallery in London commissioned the project entitled The Movement of an Object. I knew it had to be a common, ordinary, and ubiquitous object, something people use and engage with all the time but do so without really thinking about it. It’s also important that the object can be changed, adapted, or even destroyed by the sitter as a way of enabling them to express themselves.

I use the object as a way for people to bring performative aspects to the portraits. Everyone has something creative inside of them; the choices people make and how they choose to represent themselves, this urge to express ourselves in front of the camera is what fascinates me.


EG: The galleries include an area for people to add to the exhibition. What would you hope people might think about when adding to the space?

MD: I’d like people to bring their own stories, the small details about how they live, and make connections by adding photographs, words, or drawings. I hope people find something new through the small details in an image, while simultaneously finding recognition of something similar to their own lives.

Check back tomorrow for part II of the conversation. For more information on the exhibition, including directions and hours, click here.

Potato House Experiment

December 15, 2008

I was discussing the upcoming Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures show with modern art research assistant Dorothea Schoene when I noticed something rather unusual on her office shelf.

Yes, this is an impaled potato. No, you are not to touch it. The potato is part of a conservation experiment to determine how long it takes for a nailed potato in an artificially lit space to sprout. Since Art of Two Germanys includes Sigmar Polke’s Potato House Object (1967), and as neither the potato farmer Dorothea is working with nor the conservation team know how long it will take for sprouting to occur under such circumstances—the guess is four to six weeks—they set up the test you see here. (Sprouting is the goal, by the way, as it represents the artist’s intent to find a humorous symbol for creativity and growth.) The result of the LACMA team’s investigation will be evident when Potato House Object, pictured below, goes on view January 25. It features about 350 potatoes, hopefully perfectly sprouted, affixed to wooden grids that together take the shape of a three-walled house.

Sigmar Polke, Object Kartoffelhaus (Potato House Object), 1967, courtesy Michael Werner Gallery, New York and Berlin

Allison Agsten

Hearst the Collector, a Soundtrack

December 12, 2008
Nicolas Regnier, Divine Inspiration of Music, from the William Randolph Hearst Collection

Nicolas Regnier, Divine Inspiration of Music, circa 1640

It’s always an interesting process to find the musical focus for one of our exhibitions or featured artists for our Art & Music concerts. Our recent Basquiat celebration was a slam dunk—Basquiat included his inspiring musical forces Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in his paintings. But programming the music for this coming Monday’s Hearst the Collector concert was more complex, as the focus of the exhibition is infinitely broader.

My first step was, of course, to speak with the curator and educator for Hearst, Mary Levkoff and Mary Lenihan. It turned out that much of the Hearst exhibition would be featuring exquisite works from the Baroque era, so I turned to the perfect musician to represent that period—J.S Bach—with a “Bach & Beyond” theme.

But looking at Hearst the man, the collector, was a little more problematic. His musical tastes were very eclectic, as were his pursuits beyond art. To capture the forward-thinking Hearst, I’m presenting a fascinating new work, 13 Ways of Looking at the Goldberg. This marvelous piece uses the theme from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and, through thirteen wonderful and wildly disparate contemporary composers—including Lukas Foss, Jennifer Higdon, Fred Hersch, and David del Tredici—gives us a fresh look at this classic work. Presented along with Bach’s English Suite, 13 Ways give us a real soundtrack to the Hearst the Collector.

Mitch Glickman, Director of Music Programs

Butterflies in Art and Nature

December 11, 2008

Damien Hirst’s works were deinstalled last month as LACMA prepares for the Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures exhibition opening in late January. If you didn’t get to see Hirst’s spectacular butterflies, I recommend seeing them live in their natural habitat. Every winter the Monarch butterfly makes its annual migration south to warmer climates, traveling from as far north as Canada to as far south as Mexico. There are various spots along the California coast where the butterflies stop, but my favorite is a secluded area a little more than an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles.

The Coronado Butterfly Preserve is roughly ten acres of land protected by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. It’s quite unassuming—parking access is in a residential area, where the trail of the preserve leads to a dense section of trees and other vegetation that’s known as the Ellwood Monarch Grove. There you’ll find thousands of butterflies huddled in trees for warmth: pay special attention to the signs. The subtle movement of wings fluttering is constant, but almost invisible; words can’t describe what it’s like to see trees appear to breathe.

Hirst’s fascination with butterflies and their life cycle have been seen in his work since the early nineties. In and Out of Love, an exhibition installed in 1991, included hundreds of live butterflies, some even attached on canvases in the pupae stage. While Hirst was able to bring an ecosystem into a gallery space, now is the best time to observe the butterflies in the open. Peak butterfly sightings at the Coronado Preserve are from December to January; by March they’ll have moved onward, travelling along their migratory path. Hirst’s works of “stained glass” may exude an ornate sense of wonder, but the natural trompe l’œil of the butterflies in the preserve are just as breathtaking.

Devi Noor, Curatorial Administrator, American Art

LACMA on Film

December 10, 2008

Much like the smog that appears in the sky each day like a collar stain, L.A. makes frequent appearances in television and film (every car ad these days seems to feature downtown’s Music Center or the Second Street Tunnel, and I can’t count the times I’ve seen the streets lined with craft service tables and bored cops sipping coffee). Our very own museum has also had her share of close-ups over the years.

In the 1990s we had probably the most visible entry in L.A. Story, where a roller skating Steve Martin glides through our galleries. (Martin was a longtime member of LACMA’s Board of Trustees when he made the film.)

LACMA is often a backdrop for parties, as seen in Robert Altman’s 1992 The Player. And speaking of players, LACMA has peeked out from behind Nancy Sinatra and Dean Martin in her 1967 TV special Moving with Nancy.

Sometimes the museum plays itself. In a 1979 episode of The Rockford Files, “Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man’s Job,” Jim Rockford parks his Firebird in front of the (then) fountain-clad LACMA and visits an Egyptian expert whose office doors are the Bing Theater lobby. BCAM has also played a small role on The Young and the Restless, with soap star curators bustling about the campus spouting off art-isms.

The indies also have found LACMA a worthy film location. Minnie and Moskowitz, a Cassavetes film, has the star poised as a curator—in one scene you can see the entrance to the Ahmanson Building, the main staircase, and a contemporary sculpture of a rack of pool balls). The film Miracle Mile uses LACMA, Johnies, and the May Company Building as backdrops.

Even Hancock Park, right behind LACMA, has had a guest spot. It can be seen in I Am Sam (the last scene, where they play ball in the Sixth Street park area). I even caught it on the Fitness Channel in the background of a show featuring Boot Camp LA.

Probably the biggest “blockbuster” appearance was in Volcano, where streams of hot lava flow down Wilshire Boulevard, right past us. My memory is a bit hazy as to whether or not the campus is incinerated, but it’s implied.

Paul Wehby, Senior Graphic Designer

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