Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

March 20, 2009
Samuel, graduate student at UCLA, and Samantha, who works for a financial publisher in Baltimore and a music blog

Have you ever been inspired by art?
Samuel: I’m more of a literal appreciator of art, so I would say the works of Tolstoy actually got me really excited to visit Russia.

Has a piece of art ever made you laugh or cry?
Samantha: I was on a trip somewhere in the south, and it was a gallery that had very traditional art and I saw this giant painting of a Prussian battle. You could only see a tiny corner of it at a time because it was so big, so I walked along the bottom and saw a white horse and a dark horse. It reminded me of a reading that I’d done with a guy that I fell in love with and had to part ways with the year before. I actually had to sit down in the gallery and was weeping.

If you weren’t working at your current job, what job would you like to try?
Samantha: I would be a cellist. It’s why I write about music—because it’s as close as I can get for now.
Samuel: I would be a performer. I would act. I would tell jokes for a living. I would live as many lives as I could through the craft. My jokes aren’t funny enough for that, so I’m going with teacher instead. I get a built-in audience that way and they can’t leave and they can’t get a refund.

Where would you want to travel?
Samuel: I’d love to see more of the American Midwest and the plains. I’ve been to South Dakota and I’d love to see more rural Minnesota. I’d love to have an experience of communion with land. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and I think it would be very edifying to maybe farm or something. The interior of America would be a lovely place to go.
Samantha: Maybe a motorcycle tour in Vienna, Poland, Romania, or Hungary—a lot of my favorite composers grew up in Hungary. Just to see what land and music are like when they come together.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc


Rite of Passage, L.A. Style

March 18, 2009

Pulling into the parking lot at LACMA one morning I noticed the museum’s director, Michael Govan, placing a brand-new California license plate onto a tan-colored, 1989 BMW 325is. After the initial shock of watching him use hand tools in his impeccable suit wore off, I asked him about the car. He explained that he had recently had it shipped to Los Angeles from New York City and was considering having it custom painted. He noted that it was very similar to my own 1991 BMW 325i. “You drive that little black one, right?” As it turns out, Michael appreciates cars, and now that we had ours in common, he would, from time to time, update me on the progress of his. Turns out the custom paint was being created with art fabricator and artist Jack Brogan in an unassuming warehouse in Inglewood where, along with tricking out Michael’s car, Brogan has been collaborating with Robert Irwin on a series of highly polished and gorgeously colored large-scale paintings on honeycomb aluminum. Intrigued, I recently sat down with Michael to find out more…

MT: Let’s talk about your fabulous car.

MG: So hilarious that you’re here to talk to me about that.

MT: Who painted it?

MG: Jack Brogan—he’s a legend in Los Angeles. He was one of the key collaborators of the Southern California artists, who some people called finish-fetish artists, or conceptualist artists. In particular, he worked since the early 1960s with artists like Robert Irwin and Larry Bell. He often restores artworks; in his studio now is a Calder from San Diego, and a Larry Bell, and a Craig Kauffman. Whenever anything has to be done that is super precise, or requires unusually refined surfaces, you call Jack; he’s a genius at that. He is currently working with Robert Irwin on a series of new paintings that were just shown at Pace Gallery. The surfaces of the black painting I saw recently is so perfect that to see it is to look into another world. While it’s incredibly reflective, it’s very different from looking into a mirror.

MT: And how did you find him?

MG: The simple story is that I was sick of making car payments on new cars that I mostly didn’t love anyway, and since I only drive two miles to work every day, and occasional meetings, it seemed a waste to have a new car. I was toying with the idea of bringing my old car that was stuck in a garage in New York. I had to move it anyway, so I thought maybe I’d bring it out here.

John Bowsher, LACMA’s director of special art installations, who was with me in New York and had ridden in that car up to Dia:Beacon many times, said, “You can’t bring that color to L.A. It’s not an L.A color.” It was BMW’s ‘80s “Bronzit” beige color. I had never liked the color anyway. A few days later John said, “You’ve got to change it, and I got it all set up. I talked to Jack Brogan.” I had known Jack through his friendship and association with Irwin.

Anyway, I went over to Jack’s and he showed me all the work he was doing with Bob Irwin—we spent probably an hour and a half just talking about color, and paint color, and he showed me what he was doing with metal paint. Long story short, he said he’d be happy to work on the car for me, and work on the color.

John Bowsher, Jack Brogan, and Robert Irwin

John Bowsher, Jack Brogan, and Robert Irwin

MT: Had he done cars before?

MG: Yes. Even his Chevy Suburban, you’ll notice, has been subtly lowered, and all the trim has been removed. So it’s not screaming “custom” at you. The first thing he asked me, jokingly, was whether I wanted flames painted on it.

MT: You didn’t get the flames?

MG: I didn’t get the flames. He’s restored many, many cars. Have you ever read Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, which is Lawrence Weschler’s biography on Robert Irwin? In it is a wonderful section that talks about the artist and car culture. Bob argues with an art critic about aesthetic practice by showing him the many aesthetic decisions that go into a car restoration. Bob, like several of his contemporaries in L.A., restored cars himself. It was all part of the artists’ scene that he and Jack inhabited in Los Angeles in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Work in progress

Work in progress

MT: You told me once before that Jack said he didn’t do foreign cars.

MG: He doesn’t in general work with foreign cars, so at first he looked a little askance at my BMW. By the time we were done, he was driving it himself every day, and quite liked it. We picked the color, which is actually a deep blue, so when it’s in the California blue sky, you really see the blue. Most people would say that it’s black. But at night, blue-black is even darker than black. It’s a really, really beautiful color.

MT: Why did you choose this car in the first place?

MG: I bought the car in 1994, when it was already five years old, in Long Island. I had actually just seen it on the street in East Hampton, and took down the number; I loved the square shape of that BMW. It turned out it was owned by the girlfriend of a guy who is the “car doctor” of eastern Long Island, Ryan Pilla. He is the “car doctor” to auto enthusiasts, car collectors, and celebrities. He offers car racing vacations, he races motorcycles, cars, and he takes care of Jerry Seinfeld’s car collection, among others.

MT: Did you really install woofers and a sound system?

MG: Well the problem was that the wires had rotted out. So we needed new speakers, and I didn’t want to change the look of the stock speakers, so in order to get any quality sound we had to put in the amp and the sub-woofer.

MT: That’s so L.A.

MG: It doesn’t sound as good as a new car, but it sounds really good for a little car like that. And I put in the performance chip.

MT: What’s that?

MG: These are some of the first cars that have computer-controlled electronic ignition, so you get fifteen more horsepower if you reprogram the ignition; I did it myself for fun.

MT: You did it yourself?

MG: Yeah. It was kind of cool: you had to replace the chip from underneath the glove box; I read all of the instructions. It was my little Saturday morning project. I was half-sure it was going to blow up when I turned the ignition, but it worked. Jack hasn’t driven it since the performance chip, and he’s got a little touch-up to do.

MT: Are you just ecstatic now for having brought it out, because you can drive it more now that you’re in Los Angeles?

MG: Right, now it’s exciting. And I bought a bicycle too so that I can ride that to work when the car is in the shop, as old cars can be. Actually Bob Irwin said that I had finally moved to Los Angeles. I had gone through my rite of passage: I had customized my car. I customized it in just that way where most people don’t quite know that it’s not stock. It’s more fun. It’s an ’89, so it’s a super boxy car. Today almost every single car on the road is curved or chiseled, so it stands out.

MT: I want to go back to your discussion about the color. What was that like?

MG: Jack was working on his and Bob’s dark paintings, so we were talking about the nature of dark colors; I definitely wanted it dark. I thought that the body shape looked better when it was dark; everything pulled together with the tires and the trim. It had a light tan interior that I thought was ok, so we just cleaned it up a little bit.

The greens, reds, and blues of the paintings were really deep and dark. I loved the blue because it held the sky somehow, the L.A. sky. We started looking in that family of colors. Jack came up with something new and special for the car. Bob Irwin said that he liked the color so much he might use it for a painting. We’ll see.

MT: Was Bob satisfied with the end result?

MG: I think he was, yes. He was skeptical at first since he has such high standards in these matters. But I think he was quite surprised and impressed.


1989 BMW 325is

MT: Did you go to see Jack specifically with the intention of asking him for the car color?

MG: Jack already knew that I was coming because of John, and I knew him through Bob. He didn’t paint it himself; he mixed the color, and ended up having someone else paint it. And they did a great job. It’s almost “cherry,” as Bob Irwin would say. Perfect.

Marietta Torriente de León, Major Donor Event Planner

New Acquisitions in Spanish Colonial Art

March 17, 2009

When we opened our new Latin American art galleries last summer, our pre-Columbian collection drew much attention, and rightly so—LACMA boasts a rich collection and Jorge Pardo’s daring installation reinvigorated the discussion about the display of art. But what you may not have heard as much about is something the museum is doing for the first time in its history—devoting galleries to Spanish colonial art. This is a first not only for LACMA, but also for many mainstream museums across the country that have traditionally showcased pre-Columbian art, but very rarely art of the viceroyalties.

Among our recent acquisitions is a group of six works by the eighteenth-century painter Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, one of the most sophisticated and accomplished artists of the time (eighteenth-century Mexican painting also happens to be an area I find especially fascinating). Morlete’s paintings are based on engravings of the original series of paintings, Ports de France, by the French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet. Vernet’s series comprised fifteen paintings, which were completed between 1753 and 1765, and commissioned for Louis XV of France.

Morlete’s works bear the royal Spanish coat of arms, and it is likely they were commissioned by viceroy Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa (r. 1771-1779). One such set, for example, is listed in the viceroy’s death inventory, which also includes two views of Mexico City—an intriguing local addenda.

View of the Port of Sète (El puerto de Sète), Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, 1771

Some may find the subject of Morlete’s set somewhat surprising. What motivated a Mexican or New Spanish artist to paint a set of French ports? But this is precisely what makes the set so compelling; it tells us much about the working methods of Spanish colonial masters, and how they were aware of the most current European artistic trends.

View of the City and Port of Bayonne (Vista de la villa y puerto de Bayona), Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, 1771

After all six paintings (the set is broken down and the location of many of the paintings is unknown) are cleaned and the yellow varnish removed we will be able to appreciate more fully Morlete’s luminous palette. Down the line I plan to organize a small exhibition and bring together several of Vernet’s paintings and the prints after them which Morlete surely saw. This will be an exciting exercise where the collaboration of a curator and a team of painting conservators will yield much new information about the history of painting in New Spain. Stay tuned.

Ilona Katzew, Curator of Latin American Art

Last Look at Public Art in Culver City

March 16, 2009

As OCMA’s California Biennial comes to a close this month, there are still some public works of art that you can see around Los Angeles. In Culver City, Jedediah Caesar’s Gleaner’s Stone sits on the corner of Marcasel Avenue and Washington Boulevard. As part of a public art initiative by LAXART and ForYourArt, it rests near a vacant lot, residential homes, a shoe store, and hair salon.

Given its lack of signage and neutral material, its earthy color and solid shape somewhat blend the work into its environment. While it’s unassuming, it is still noticeably out of place—Gleaner’s Stone was at one point removed, mistaken for debris.

However, upon closer inspection one can explore all the details of items included in this work. The materials Caesar uses show a sense of historical preservation: viewfinder discs, denim fabric, and corrugated cardboard are just some of the timely objects encased in resin:

Working in a curatorial department, I am constantly learning about design and placement in the galleries. In gallery installation planning, I’ve learned that “vista” or “axis” pieces refer to works in a collection that are strategically placed in order to be first seen from different angles when walking into a gallery space; usually these are iconic works or highlights of a collection. Even though Gleaner’s Stone is displayed out of gallery context, placement strategy is clearly evident. Situated where three streets intersect, it is viewable by both commuters and pedestrians, yet still accessible to the public.

Gleaner’s Stone is a work that requires inspection by the viewer to appreciate its details, yet the lack of gallery setting requires a bigger responsibility on the part of the viewer to acknowledge it as art, not a sidewalk obstruction. It’s definitely worth a long look before it is taken away for good.

Devi Noor

Free at LACMA

March 13, 2009

Everyone is tightening the proverbial belt these days so we wanted to tell you about a few little-known ways to enjoy LACMA for free. For starters, we have a Pay What You Wish program that kicks in every day after 5 pm. Also take advantage of our evening parking special—vehicles entering the 6th Street parking garage after 7 pm park for free. On the second Tuesday of each month, general admission to the permanent galleries and non-ticketed exhibitions is free to all. Then there are the Target Free Holiday Mondays. (Next one Is Memorial Day, Monday May 25.) NexGen membership offers free general admission to anyone 17 and under as well as one accompanying adult. (Sign up at the box office—this is a free membership.) You can also enjoy the LACMA campus, including Urban Light, for free. We’ve got a host of free talks as well. My pick for the weekend is actually an event happening tonight—Franz West and Darsie Alexander, chief curator at the Walker Art Center, discuss the history of his work, his relationship to younger artists, and the evolution of public sculpture. And , you guessed it, it’s free.

Allison Agsten

The Latest on the Sculpture Garden

March 13, 2009

When I was driving into work on Wilshire earlier this week I noticed a couple of sculptures peering down from the balcony of the Ahmanson building.


Turns out they’re Rodins that will soon be installed in the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden, which lies just below them. I got a closer look at the pair when I visited with Robert Irwin yesterday to discuss the sculpture garden for a future post. Irwin determined the placement of the sculptures and is also extending the palm garden into this area. More on that to come. For now, here he is surveying his work on Thursday. (He’s the one in the middle.)


Allison Agsten

Shadi Ghadirian Refashions the Tutu

March 12, 2009

British fashion icon Bruce Oldfield once said, “Fashion is more usually a gentle progression of revisited ideas.” In the case of nineteenth-century Iran and the French tutu, this certainly holds true. During a trip to Europe, Nasser al-Din Shah, the Qajar dynasty ruler of Iran during the second half of the nineteenth century, attended a ballet performance and found himself captivated by the ballerina’s costumes. He returned home with a prototype in mind. While ballerinas graced the stages of Paris on point, clad in opaque tights and tulle tutus, offstage in Qajar Iran, woman of the Shah’s harem were provided with a reinvented tutu, fitted to their modest haute couture desires hundreds of miles away.

Contemporary Iranian artist Shadi Ghadirian captures this unique twist of style in her Qajar Series (1998), on view on the top floor of the Ahmanson Building through the end of this month. In this series of thirty-three photographs, she dresses friends and family in vintage or remade costumes in the traditional style during the Qajar dynasty, and many of her models fashion a slightly altered version of a tutu. Not stiff and vertical like the customary French tutu, this adaptation is soft and unassuming, draped on top of their Qajar-style clothing. Ghadirian juxtaposes her subjects with everyday objects from the modern world, such as a Pepsi can or a Hoover vacuum, to accompany them in their portraits.

Shadi Ghadirian, Untitled (Qajar series), 1998, purchased with funds provided by the Art of the Middle East Acquisition Fund, Art of the Middle East Deaccession Fund, the Ralph M. Parsons Fund, the Joan Palevsky Bequest by exchange, and Catherine Benkaim, with additional funds provided by Angella and David Nazarian

The result: an image that itself is a contrast of modernity and tradition; of two worlds meeting in a fabricated setting created by the artist. The Qajar-style tutu is, in a sense, a similar creation to Ghadirian’s contemporary portrait series. It is also an intersection of two dissimilar worlds. Moreover, it is a revisited idea and a progression of another’s design. At most, it is duality and contradiction, and at the very least, perhaps it is just fashion.

Jenna Turner, Curatorial Administrator, Art of the Middle East

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