Small Wonders

February 23, 2009

Big art has it easy. Of course you look at it—it’s enormous. But small art has its power too. It’s intimate, it draws you in. In fact, sometimes to simply find out what it represents, you have to get so close that it ends up being all you can see.

That was my experience the other day when I happened on the 7.5 by 5 inch Copenhagen: Roofs Under the Snow by Peter-Severin Krøyer. It’s easily the smallest work in its gallery, where it appears to be the size of a framed postcard.

On closer inspection, I found this mysterious and beautiful little oil painting: a view, evidently from an upper-story window, of snow-covered rooftops, apartment building walls, and a city that recedes in a wintry fog. It’s one of the best paintings I can recall at conveying the feeling of a winter afternoon: the infinite distance from cold sky to warm building, the way that snow absorbs light as it falls.

Peter-Severin Krøyer, Copenhagen: Roofs Under the Snow, late 19th century, promised gift of Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross

To learn more I went to see Patrice Marandel, LACMA’s chief curator of European art. He discovered the painting in a Paris gallery several years ago and found it to be evocative, wonderful, and a bit odd, with something of an eerie feeling. “Krøyer is a painter who is quite famous for something else entirely,” he said. “His trademark image is women in long, floating gowns, walking along the beach.”

In any case the curator liked the winter painting enough to set its acquisition in motion. Today it is a promised gift, found in the David and Sylvia Weisz Family Gallery of the Hammer Building. “People love it,” said Patrice, “because it’s small and such an ambitious project, to represent a city view on a painting the size of a postcard—to create atmosphere, emotion, and feelings.”

Tom Drury

Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

February 20, 2009

Mariana, lawyer and writer

Where are you from?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is my first visit to L.A. and I’m very pleased to be here.

Why did you come to LACMA today?
I had heard about the museum and the richness of the collections and I wanted to see them.

Have you been inspired by art?
I write, and on many occasions my source of inspiration is a piece of art. In fact, I am here in this building to look at the Rothko painting that you have. So yes. Definitely, yes.

Piaget, artist, and Czarina, architect

Piaget, artist, and Czarina, architect

Why did you come to the museum today?
Piaget: We are here to see modern art, I came down from San Francisco, I had a show and I’m leaving tomorrow.

If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be?
Piaget: I like Calder sculptures. They’re free, they’re playful…

Georgian, artist

Georgian, artist

Do you have plans to travel?
If I can get a job or sell some of my art, I will go to Spain…It’s beautiful, relaxing, and I’ve always gone there as a child…hopefully I will travel around and go to Bilbao.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc

25 Random Things about LACMA

February 19, 2009

By now you probably know that your second grade best friend wished she had a pet monkey or that the guy down the hall is a bocce ball champion. All this thanks to 25 Random Things on Facebook. But perhaps you don’t know which kind of bug took over our Magritte exhibition a few years ago, or who the famous crooner is on our Board of Trustees. With so many enticing little odds and ends, we thought we’d present you with our own 25 Random Things…

1. LACMA’s largest collection is Costume & Textiles. We have 25,000 objects in that department alone.

2. LACMA’s campus is approximately twenty acres—the same size as about fifteen football fields.

3. There are at least twenty kinds of palms in each season of Robert Irwin’s palm garden installation.

4. In 1913 the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art opened in Exposition Park. Later it became the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art. In 1965 the “art” seceded to its own digs on Wilshire, becoming the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

5. The most common search term on is BCAM.

6. The most popular artist searches are (in this order) Picasso, Magritte, and Diego Rivera.

7. The most read Unframed post is Celebrating Urban Light.

8. The most commonly ordered item at Pentimento, LACMA’s restaurant, is the warm chicken apple salad.

9. Last year was a record year for acquisitions—4,000+ objects, including the Vernon Collection of photography, a group of Oceanic objects, and a selection of European costume spanning eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

10. LACMA donated the ancient animal bones it excavated while building BCAM to the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits.

11. LACMA’s most visited exhibition last year was Dalí: Painting & Film.

12. In order to build the BP Grand Entrance, LACMA received permission to permanently close a portion of Ogden Drive, where the structure is built.

13. A woman was shot and killed by her husband on the top floor of LACMA West back when it was the May Company department store.

14. Damien Hirst’s The Collector was not the first time we had live insects in our galleries; during the 2006 exhibition Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, a prankster unleashed a number of ladybugs in the galleries which had to be briefly cleared to chase the insects out.

15. Barbra Streisand is on our Board of Trustees.

16. Just as LACMA’s boardroom is a work of art, so is Director Michael Govan’s office. Both are installed with John Baldessari’s snarled freeway ceiling wallpaper and cloud carpet from the Magritte exhibition.

17. LACMA offers free or subsidized admission to 400,000 visitors annually.

18. One member of the staff nicknamed the Jubea palm that grows from the parking structure elevator area “Billy” (although there was no apparent reason, the name has caught on).

19. Paula, who works in LACMA’s cafeteria, has one of the most talked about installations—her seasonal fingernail art.

20. LACMA has more volunteers than staff members.

21. There are still active tar pits on the LACMA campus, and it shows. We often track tar in on the carpets.

22. When in the elevator of LACMA West (the former May Co. building), Barbara Kruger has found herself waiting for someone to announce “Ladies’ lingerie” or “Hats, fifth floor.”

23. “I will never forget the first time I set foot in what I immediately felt was the kingdom of darkness, the staff offices. ‘What are you doing here? How can you see the light and the truth? How can you have perception of truth by staying here in this darkness?'” said Renzo Piano, speaking of LACMA’s administrative offices.

24. The color of the walls on the first and third floors in BCAM is Benjamin Moore Super White.

25. The travertine marble in BCAM comes from the famous quarry, Bruno Poggi, in Italy.

Allison Agsten

Carleton Watkins: Great American Photographer

February 18, 2009

Washington Column, 1866

Carleton Watkins (1829–1916) is one of the most extraordinary American photographers ever (and one of my personal favorites). LACMA has twelve Watkins photographs, nine of which entered the collection just last year as part of the landmark Vernon Collection, including Washington Column (c. 1866) and Eagle Creek, Columbia River (1867). What I am struck by over and over when I see his work is the extraordinary compositional sophistication Watkins brings to everything he photographs, whether it is an epic vista at Yosemite or a frontier outpost. Often working with a mammoth plate camera, shooting from a precarious perch, and developing negatives on the spot, Watkins remained remarkably attuned to the formal characteristics of his subject, from how he framed a shot to the visual texture of the elements within, especially trees.


Eagle Creek, Columbia River, 1867

The image of Eagle Creek at the Columbia River in Oregon, which was part of LACMA’s recent exhibition A Story of Photography: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, seems at first glance to be a snapshot of an isolated frontier settlement, perhaps a simple document of development in the region. But notice how we hover over the foreground of the image. On what was Watkins standing to take this picture? Because we are thrust into the scene, and because of the careful composition—in which the tree at left is contained within the profile of the tree-covered hillside in the background, and the three spindly trees at right echo the angle of that background—we become aware of the subtleties of this picture. I fixated especially on the juxtaposition of the jumbled pile of raw lumber in the foreground with the orderly wooden planks of the mill and the large platform behind. This creates a striking visual effect as well as a metaphor for the efforts of these settlers trying to contain and capitalize upon the Oregon wilderness. And I could go on!

Eagle Creek, Columbia River offers just one example to demonstrate how rich these images are formally as well as what they can tell about the history of the American West. Fortunately, these themes are the subject of the major Watkins exhibition in its final weeks at the Getty: Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California. This exhibition presents a rare and important opportunity to see so many amazing Watkins photographs, images that are intimately tied to the history of this region. And you can see an actual mammoth plate camera too.

Austen Bailly

Behind the Scenes, Part II

February 17, 2009

A few weeks ago, we showed you the artful LACMA in our first behind the scenes photo installment. Now, a peek into the conservation lab…

Many of us who work in museums agree that this is one of the most interesting spots on campus. It’s the place where art and science come together and any time I pop in, like when I recently made a surprise visit to take this picture, there’s something fascinating to see. In the image above, conservator Don Menveg stabilizes loose bone inlay in an Ottoman cradle.

Allison Agsten

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