Behind the Scenes: The Workshop

April 13, 2009

As I approached LACMA’s workshop to take a few photos for the latest in our series of behind-the-scenes posts, David Bowie’s baritone and the distinct scent of cedar wafted toward me. Inside, Simon, Chuck, and Charlie were at work on the pedestals and vitrines for the upcoming Pompeii and the Roman Villa.


They play music loud—I also heard Dave Matthews and Janet Jackson during my visit—so they can hear it over the saws and hammers. Not only does the construction team build the cases the objects reside in, but they also make furniture for the galleries and even frames. (As Simon told me, “We built Pompeii.”)


They custom-blend all the paint colors by eye versus machine in-house as well. It’s perhaps the least museum-y space in the museum. Whereas the galleries are pristine and hushed, the workshop, as is evidenced by the paint-spattered mirror below, feels much less ordered. And if you ask me, it smells and sounds better too.


Allison Agsten

Babble On

April 10, 2009

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported the launch of ArtBabble, a community website organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art to showcase art videos. LACMA was one of a handful of institutions to contribute content and I’m excited to hear that more than twenty others are clamoring to participate.

ArtBabble is similar to YouTube or iTunes U in that you can rate and comment on content. But what really sets the site apart is its innovative “notes” feature allowing users to jump to related links. In a video I watched about Japanese calligraphy, artist Hirokazu Kosaka discussed a special brush made by his grandfather, while at the same time I was prompted to check out a Flickr photo illustrating the softness of elephant ear hair.

Here are a couple of my other favorite videos which I’d recommend you check out:

I Love the ADs from the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This hilarious video takes a page from VH1’s I Love the 80s series, giving viewers a glimpse of the raddest trends, fads, and fashions of Ancient Roman culture. For instance, the Roman version of the jheri curl, urine baths for clothes washing, and Juvenal, the author of the period’s best sitcoms (not the rapper).

MoMA’s 30 Seconds series. In this a series by artist/filmmaker Thilo Hoffmann, MoMA members and staff discuss their on-the-job experiences. In one of the best shorts, MOMA security guard Esmay Smith gushes about her meeting Clint Eastwood.

Design by the Book from the New York Public Library. The library serves as muse for a group of New York artists as they explore its collection to create unique artworks inspired by what they’ve found.

And last but not least, LACMA’s own Made in LA: The Prints of Cirrus Edition. This fun LACMA video traces the development of the Cirrus print workshop from its inception in 1970 to the 1990s. Cirrus owner Jean Milant and artist Ed Ruscha discuss the 1970 print Pepto-Caviar Hollywood and how little sturgeon eggs were squeegeed across Copperplate Deluxe paper to create a landscape with “Hollywood” sign.

Kendrea Chandler, Collections Information Intern

Snapshot: Who’s at LACMA

April 10, 2009
Nicole, Edwin, Isaac, Alexis, Sasha

Nicole, Edwin, Isaac, Alexis, Sasha

If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be and why?
Nicole: I would like to be Picasso’s paintings, because they’re beautiful, artistic, and creative.
Alexis: A statue, so everyone could see how I am.
Sasha: I would be a Picasso because I like all the artistic things he draws.

For your next trip, where would you want to travel and why?
Nicole: I would go to Italy because they have a lot of beautiful sculptures and beautiful statues and art.
Isaac: I would go to New York, because I want to see how it is.
Isaiah: I would go to France so I could learn to speak the language because my sister speaks French.
Sasha: I would go to New York because I like all the stuff they have and I want to see the Statue of Liberty.

Victoria and Emily

Victoria, program advisor for UCSB Education Abroad Program, and Emily, graduate student at UCSB and a financial analyst for UCSB

Why did you come to the museum today?
Victoria: We came to see the German exhibition. It was very interesting to read the explanation about the difference in agendas of the art between the east and west blocks.

If you were a piece of artwork, which one would you be and why?
Victoria: I think I would want to be a mosaic, because it’s colorful and a molding of different media and you can be a collective work. There is just a lot of variety that could happen. It combines a lot of things and I identify with that.

Has a piece of art ever made you laugh or cry? Which one? Why?
Emily: We thought the “colon-esque” sculpture over there [by Franz West] was pretty funny. I think modern art can be pretty funny.

For your next trip, where would you want to travel and why?
Victoria: I think I want to go to Japan, just because I’ve recently been making an effort to become minimalist in my life and surroundings, and I see that a lot in Japanese art, especially in the traditional landscapes. I’m just attracted to their use of space, simplicity, and ceremonial approach to everyday life.

Caroline and Ed

Caroline and Ed

Have you ever been inspired by art to do something that you normally wouldn’t?
Ed: The work of Goya got me to Madrid on his bicentennial, and I don’t think I would have gone there otherwise.
Caroline: All the tiles got me to Istanbul.

For your next trip, where would you want to travel and why?
Ed: We haven’t really talked about it, but we are not of one mind on that [both laugh]. She would like to go somewhere where it is very hot and I’m not sure I would want to go. I would like to go to Scotland.
Caroline: The Greek Isles.

What are you reading right now?
Ed: I’m reading my son’s third novel, it’s called Lowboy.

Rachel Mullennix and Michael Storc

Steve Roden on Wallace Neff

April 9, 2009

Tuesday’s article in the Los Angeles Times about the city’s SurveyLA program, which is looking for “hidden gems” of architecture around L.A. in need of preservation, resonated with me after seeing L.A. artist Steve Roden give a talk at last week’s Postopolis series, sponsored by the Storefront for Art and Architecture and For Your Art.

Roden, whose work is in LACMA’s collection—you might have noticed his name in the list of AHAN acquisitions in yesterday’s post—spoke at first about his paintings, sculptures, and sound works, but midway through he took a left turn and gave a slideshow of rare photographs he’d just acquired which detailed the strange architecture of Wallace Neff. (A more thorough rundown of his talk can be found at City of Sound.)

“Strange architecture of Wallace Neff” may seem an outlandish thing to say; he’s best known for the Spanish-style homes he built in the 1920s and ’30s around Los Angeles for stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. But Roden, whose work often engages directly with architecture, has spent the last ten years researching the period of Neff’s career in which the architect became obsessed with what he called airform architecture—domed structures created by inflating a massive balloon, then covering it in a concrete shell. The result is more tactile than, say, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes (designed about a decade later); Roden describes their look and feel “as if someone hand-made a ceramic bowl, then flipped it over.”


As Roden noted in his talk, this period in Neff’s career is often looked at as blemish, a brief foray off the rails. The recent Neff monograph gives only a cursory nod to these works. But the truth is that Neff regarded his airforms as his most important work. Commissioned by the War Department in the 1940s, Neff built these structures in Virginia, Arizona, and California—as well as in South America, India, and Africa. Of the airforms built in California, only one still stands, in Pasadena. (It might not surprise you to know that Roden lives in it.)

The photographs Roden unearthed—detailed by the artist in a recent post at his site (including some hilarious back story relayed in the comments section)—include photos of construction crews inflating the balloons and building the houses and “testing” the structures’ durability by smashing mallets against the wall. Roden has only posted a few of the photos so far, but promises to share some more in the future.

Scott Tennent

Art Here and Now

April 8, 2009

I’m often asked how it is that certain works of art come to be in LACMA’s collection. In the case of objects acquired through our Art Here and Now (AHAN) program to support acquisitions by emerging Los Angeles-area artists, there is a very particular—and interesting, and fun—process, with pretty wonderful results. But first, a bit about the interesting back story to AHAN…

From 1963 through 1986, AHAN’s predecessor, known as LACMA’s New or Young Talent Award and funded by our Modern and Contemporary Art Council (MCAC), offered a stipend based on the average cost of a year’s rent for a studio—originally set at $1,200—as a way to keep artists in L.A. at a time when they all too often moved to New York to further their careers. Since 1986, AHAN has been an ongoing and heftier acquisitions program in a city that no longer needs to fight to keep its artist population but still wants to support its resident artists.

This year, seven members of LACMA’s MCAC served on a committee that met with us (us being curators in our modern and contemporary art departments). Together, we discussed twenty-two Los Angeles-based artists early in their careers whose work is of interest to the museum; most were proposed by the curators but a few were put forth by committee members. Out of the twenty-two, we selected nine for studio visits.

Further discussion, again among all the curators and the full committee, followed these visits. While all of the artists are, by definition, early in their careers, any work the museum acquires needs to hold up in the context of our entire permanent collection. Which artists do we think have staying power? Who feels as if he or she has arrived at a mature vocabulary rather than still being in search of a voice? At the end of a lively interchange of ideas and the consideration of work by many strong artists, the group chose Aaron Curry as the one whose work will be purchased for LACMA’s collection this year with funding from the council’s AHAN program.

Aaron Curry, Pierced Line (Brown Goblinoid), 2008, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

Aaron Curry, Pierced Line (Brown Goblinoid), 2008, image courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery

Curry is a sculptor whose work also incorporates two-dimensional, wall-bound elements. His art is informed by a wide variety of sources ranging from European modernism (including Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró) and mid-century American sculpture (Isamu Noguchi and David Smith in particular) to pop music and contemporary graphic design. LACMA’s curators will select a piece from Curry’s next body of work (slated to be completed in late summer) for the museum’s collection.

Over the past forty-six years, the work of eighty-nine emerging Los Angeles-based artists, many of whom have gone on to critical acclaim, has been acquired through the YTA/AHAN program. You can read the full list after the jump.

Carol Eliel, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

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Made in The Shade

April 7, 2009

It was a perfect L.A. day (low 80s) yesterday, so I really felt for the poor Rodin (pictured below) who was all wrapped up in a blanket when I happened by. He was preparing for his descent by crane into the almost-open B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Garden and was covered for protection. Thankfully, “The Shade”—great name for a sculpture in a Los Angeles garden—was in place and unburdened of his wraps within fifteen minutes.











Allison Agsten

History of an Intersection

April 6, 2009

Oilfields at Wilshire and Fairfax, 1920s

It’s easy to think of L.A. as a city fixated on the new. When we talk about history in L.A., conversation tends to revolve around which star once lived where; when I first moved to this city a realtor tried to sell me on a rundown apartment building that Bette Davis supposedly once lived in—”now a writer for the Gilmore Girls lives here!” It’s a similar kind of conversation New Yorkers have about storefronts (“that shoe store used to be a butcher shop…”). It’s a kind of cultural or architectural oral history of a city’s neighborhoods.

There was an interesting post over at BLDGBLOG last week, on the lost airfields of Los Angeles (something we’ve touched on here as well). Using the historical photos archived by UCLA’s Re-Mapping Los Angeles project as his jumping-off point, Geoff Manaugh, the blog’s proprietor, dreams of an “archaeology of airfields” that “could be inaugurated at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, where a group of students from UCLA will brush aside modern concrete and gravel to find fading marks of airplanes that touched down 90 years ago, over-loaded with film equipment.”

The truth is that the history of the landscape at Wilshire and Fairfax is far more layered than prehistoric wooly mammoth and twentieth-century stunt pilots. The excellent site Curating the City includes a timeline of Wilshire Boulevard stretching back to 500 AD, when Tongva Indians settled in what is now known as Brentwood. To build their settlement, they would trek to the tar pits to use the tar for building materials. Twelve hundred years later Spanish explorers followed these same paths from the tar pits to the ocean. Think about that next time you’re trapped in gridlock at Wilshire and Westwood.

In 1903, a man by the name of Arthur Gilmore struck oil at Wilshire and Fairfax. In 1908 he opened the first gas station in the city—a gas tank perched on a wagon he parked on the corner of what was then a dirt road. By 1934 that dirt road was the city’s first major paved artery, linking the ocean and downtown). You might say L.A.’s car culture was born on Wilshire—and it gassed up at Fairfax. (Fitting, then, that the Petersen Automotive Museum is also on this intersection.)

Gilmore’s son, Earl, did his share of developing land in the area too. He built a football stadium at Fairfax and Beverly, and in 1934 offered to let a handful of farmers sell their crops in a makeshift market nearby. The stadium is gone from the site today, now occupied by CBS Studios. The Farmers Market, of course, is still there. So is the Apple Store.

Scott Tennent

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