Rekindling Our Relationship to the Book

April 24, 2009

I find myself thinking of artist Steve Fagin’s amalgam of criticism, fiction, visual arts, and numerous other disciplines as a productive model for a contemporary art curator working within an encyclopedic museum. I’ve been in discussion with Fagin ever since my graduate student years in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, San Diego. Fagin is exemplary of the hybrid and genre-bending artists that have created and sustained that department in the sunny beach town of La Jolla. (San Diego and the Origins of Conceptual Art in California, a fascinating show at a local gallery, recently chronicled this history.)

Ugo da Carpi, Sibyl Reading, Lighted by Child with a Torch, c. 1480-1532)

Ugo da Carpi, Sibyl Reading, Lighted by Child with a Torch, c. 1480-1532

Recently, Fagin has been contemplating the next life of the book. In this age of the Kindle and E-Ink, there is an increased technological mediation of our reading experience. Fagin’s romantic, frenetic, and intellectually challenging response to the rebirth of the book as electronic (illuminated) manuscript—impishly titled The Last Book: This Ain’t Your Grandson’s Kindle—is a live performance and video projection involving an international roster of writers, artists, and filmmakers that will take place at the MAK Center at the Schindler House this Sunday. Fagin’s idea is to rekindle (pun intended) a physical and visual relationship to the book.

As Clive Phillpot once noted, “Artist books are distinguished by the fact that they sit provocatively at the juncture where art, documentation, and literature all come together.” Fagin, the wizard behind The Last Book, is staging what might be the future of reading as an amazing voyage into the twenty-first century, and I’m readjusting my reading specs accordingly.

Rita Gonzalez, Assistant Curator, Contemporary Art

On Erased James Franco and Other Films as Films Disguised as Other Films

April 23, 2009

In a recent Culture Monster post, the LA Times‘s David Ng quickly profiles a new 16mm film by the artist who goes by the name Carter. Titled Erased James Franco, it’s over an hour’s worth of footage in which the titular lead plays himself. Or, synecdochically speaking, he appears as the actor presently known as James Franco.

Playing out starkly distilled and sequentially unmoored solo reproductions of scenes from John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Todd Haynes’s Safe, and even several titles from the Francography, he concretely renders the crude serialism of filmed performance. Sure, the list of works that find actors playing actors is long and even includes other artists’ efforts (see Francesco Vezzoli). But in most cases, it’s actors’ muddled sense of identity that is roundly satirized. The strange and tedious “craft” of acting is fleetingly glimpsed, though Jacques Rivette’s gigantic Out 1 spends its first few hours (!) monitoring this zone of artifice and actuality while David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE riffs on it to oneiric ends.

At present, there are no plans to screen Erased James Franco at the museum. Not quite conciliation, but I think both Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (screened at LACMA April 10 and 11) and Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light (screening this Friday and Saturday) may belong in the same Warholian continuum as Carter’s film. These fictions in a documentary register use long, steady takes and oblique performances. Delphine Seyrig plays lumpen-bourgeois Jeanne Dielman, all routine and repetition in cage-like Brussels, as much as the Mennonite cast of Silent Light play their lyrical likenesses languidly drifting through Reygadas’ Scope paradise. Erased looks to be the most edit-heady of the three, replacing the dizzying zoom “cuts” of The Chelsea Girls with real splices. But all three works seem entranced by the materiality of the present moment.

But where these two films seem to greatly divert from Erased is in their lack of Carter’s explicit detournments. For something closer, maybe we should look at Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take or just about everything by found-footage fountainhead Craig Baldwin. In these films-playing-films-disguised-as-other-films, to paraphrase Kirk Lazarus, we find phantom likenesses of Alfred Hitchcock, L. Ron Hubbard, and Jack Parsons in stories, settings, and relationships only availed though montage.

Like Carter’s Franco (or should it be Carter’s Franco’s Franco?) these avatars are loops: simultaneously in the process of emergence and erasure. Then again Grimonprez and Baldwin more or less belong to another continuum altogether: that of Joseph Cornell and his basement wunderkammers and archive fever dreams. These channels of eternal return messily mutate, remap and recycle. They’re porous and fluid, while Erased seems closed and somewhat sculptural in its density. After all, regardless of its title, Erased James Franco is a production, sort of somewhere between séance and Sweding.

Bernardo Rondeau

Find the Titles

April 22, 2009

In the communications department the other day we were talking about two-part exhibition titles, and especially those two-part titles where the first part acts as a thematic signifier and the second part zeroes in on what the show is about. You know:

Against the Grain: Contemporary Art from the Edward R. Broida Collection

Beauty and Learning: Korean Painted Screens

To War, To War: Military Portraits of Freedonia

Okay, the last one is made up, with help from the Marx Brothers. Anyway, we thought it would be fun to find some actual two-part titles from LACMA’s past, separate the parts, mix them up, and see if you can put them together correctly. Just match the title beginnings from the lefthand column with the corresponding endings on the right. Actual exhibition titles and years can be found after the jump.


Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Alive!

April 21, 2009

On Friday afternoon I received the following email from John Bowsher, whom you heard from on Unframed yesterday…

From: Bowsher, John
Sent: Friday, April 17, 2009 3:03 PM
To: Agsten, Allison
Subject: fact check please

Ok so I just walked through the park coming back from lunch. I swear on a stack of artworks that I saw the mother wooly mammoth in the tar lake moving her head, and slowly moving in the water.

Is there some way you can confirm?


As you may know, LACMA is literally a few feet from one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, the La Brea Tar Pits, which is home to a number of fake prehistoric animals positioned in and around a big, bubbling lake of tar. I was certain John was yanking my chain about the wooly mammoth that we all walk past regularly, but after a few emails back and forth between us, he convinced me to go look for myself. And guess what—the beast was indeed moving. Check it out.

How can it be? Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with John Bowsher, Director of Special Installations at LACMA

April 20, 2009


John Bowsher, director of special installations, was instrumental to the reinstallation of the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden (which we talked about on Friday). As a collaborator with artists, he certainly has one of the most interesting jobs at the museum. Here he tells us about his longstanding relationship with Michael Govan, about the 680,000 pound rock that’s on its way to LACMA, and about his favorite part of the sculpture garden.

Q: How would you describe what you do?
A: I help artists realize their ideas.

Q: What kind of training has prepared you for your line of work? I don’t suppose there’s a degree program for enormous artwork installation.
A: No, it’s one of those things that you learn on the job. I started as a carpenter at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and over time my work evolved to include large objects and working with living artists.

Q: What came after the Walker?
A: When director Richard Koshalek moved from the Walker Art Center to MOCA here in L.A., he hired me. MOCA did a big Richard Serra show and borrowed three Richard Serra sculptures from Dia in 1998, and that’s how I got to know Michael Govan, LACMA’s current director and Dia’s former director. I worked at Dia for eight years, then came here to work on the installation of the two Serras installed in BCAM as well as other projects such as Chris Burden’s Urban Light.

Q: Do large-scale projects come with particularly large-scale problems?
A: Well, in 2010, we’re planning to bring Michael Heizer’s Levitated Slot/Mass to LACMA. It’s a granite boulder weighing 680,000 pounds, so that presents its challenges. Moving it will clearly be an enormous undertaking, but even looking under it to assess the structure of the rock is complicated when you’re talking about this scale. I guess you could say that the problems are simple but the solutions are complex.

Q: You just finished up a big project with Robert Irwin, the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden. What’s your favorite part of the reinstallation?
A: The Balzac sculpture—it keeps a watchful eye on Urban Light.


Three projects that couldn't have happened without John Bowsher: Chris Burden's Urban Light (left), Robert Irwin's palm garden (center), and the B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden (right).

Q: What have been some of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on at LACMA?
A: Working on the feasibility study for Jeff Koons’s Train because it’s very complex. I have been working with engineers to determine if it is possible to authentically recreate a steam locomotive that has certain functions like steam, and wheel acceleration, and suspend it vertically from an actual crane.

Q: What’s been your most challenging installation to date?
A: It hasn’t happened yet—Michael Heizer’s Levitated Slot/Mass.

Allison Agsten

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