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 lacma.org 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

Free Admission Presidents Day

February 16, 2009

Looking for something fun—and free—to do on your day off? Look no further: LACMA is free all day today. If you haven’t seen Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures yet, now would be a great day to do so. Or if you have seen it already, come see it again! It rewards multiple viewings. You’re also close to missing out on Vanity Fair Portraits (closing March 1) and The Arts and Crafts Movement (closing March 8), as well as the BMW Art Cars by Warhol, Rauschenberg, Stella, and Lichtenstein, which will only be here through February 24.

Happy Valentines Day, Urban Light: I Made You a Mix Tape

February 13, 2009

What with Valentine’s Day tomorrow, we thought we’d give our favorite streetlamps the ultimate in expressions of love: a mix tape. Here’s a handful of songs inspired by the 202 lampposts culled from every corner of Los Angeles and installed at LACMA’s front door almost exactly one year ago. You can go to iTunes and download this playlist:

1. The Velvet Underground: Beginning to See the Light
2. Spoon: I Turn My Camera On
3. Elliott Smith: L.A.
4. Sam Prekop: Neighbor to Neighbor
5. A.C. Newman: The Town Halo
6. Josh Rouse: Street Lights
7. The Beach Boys: Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
8. Big Mama Thornton with the Muddy Water Blues Band: Guide Me Home
9. Wilco: What Light
10. Gene Clark: White Light
11. Television: Guiding Light
12. Low: Streetlight

Most of these songs, you’ll see from their titles, are taken more or less literally. (Uh… any other songs about “light” that I missed?) The Beach Boys selection doesn’t have any literal connection to Burden’s piece, other than that it’s a song about two people who shut the rest of the world out, and I think Urban Light is a terribly romantic work of art, especially around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when the surrounding neighborhood is all but silent and those lights seem to be there just for you and your sweetheart. (The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes for You” is another great choice.)

On that note, the last track, by the Duluth, Minnesota trio Low, is probably my favorite: just thirty seconds long, I’ve always thought of it as a love song, in an elementary school sort of way. The entirety of the song:

And you can see her
Before it cracks and goes out
She throws rocks at streetlights
Keeps the streetlight changer busy

Scott Tennent

Dieter Roth’s Box of Chocolate

February 13, 2009

Dieter Roth, Chocolate Lion Tower, left foreground

Dieter Roth’s Chocolate Lion Tower (1968–69) is featured in Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures. You can smell it before you see it—a rare moment in art in which the nose is privileged before the eyes. Chocolate Lion Tower is comprised of 252 chocolate objects which, perhaps much to conservators’ chagrin, are allowed to decay, flaunting conventions of both materials and content. For the exhibition, the Roth estate fabricated a copy that will decompose during the year the show travels.

Allison Agsten

One Museum’s Impact on the Economy

February 12, 2009

The Los Angeles Times‘ Christopher Knight makes an important point in his recent Culture Monster post,  namely “the inability—or the perverse refusal—of many to include jobs in the culture industry as a legitimate concern.” We at Unframed wanted to underline this point by reprinting a letter written by LACMA’s President, Melody Kanschat, to Senator Harry Reid and the other members of the H.R. 1 House and Senate Reconciliation Committee.


February 10, 2009

Senator Harry Reid
528 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Reid:

I am writing to express my disappointment about the Senate-passed bill (Sec. 1609 barring museums, zoos, and aquariums) and the House-passed bill (Sec. 1609 barring zoos and aquariums) from receiving funds through Federal economic stimulus funding.

Museums employ more than a quarter-million Americans, spend an estimated $14.5 billion annually, and rank among the top three family vacation destinations. In fact, visitors to cultural and heritage destinations stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other kinds of tourists. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has forced museums to struggle just to maintain essential programs at a time when your constituents need those services most.

Through the course of our regular annual business the Los Angeles County Museum of Art:
– employs 450 people in our community;
– has an annual budget of $60 million;
– serves 800,000+ visitors each year, including 15% from out of town;
– serves 250,000 children each year through school visits to museums and programs in the schools;
– offers free or subsidized admission to over 400,000 visitors.

In addition the museum is currently engaged in an $85 million campus expansion program with financing procured and donations committed that:
– employs 400+ construction, architectural, engineering and management workers;
– improves, widens, and upgrades 4 major intersections serving over 100,000 cars per day;
– will extend our services to an additional 200,000 visitors per year.

And we have 5 shovel ready projects on hold due to the current economic conditions that:
– total $142.7 million in spending over the next 3 years;
– would produce 900 direct jobs for people in the construction, architectural, engineering, and management fields;
– would produce 1,926 indirect jobs (2.4 indirect jobs for each direct job);
– would produce 1,988 induced jobs (14 jobs for each $1 million spent);
– would add 50 artistic, scholarly, and museum professional positions to our full time employment ranks.

It is unfathomable to me that the economic impact that museums, zoos, and aquariums have on our community is not considered a viable stimulus alternative. They are in fact economic engines and a central part of our nation’s cultural and educational infrastructure.

I hope we can count on you to recognize that the completion of museum, zoo, and aquarium projects will be critical in the economic recovery of cities and localities, and that you will support the deletion of this language when the House and Senate versions are reconciled in committee.


Melody Kanschat

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