ArtWalk Wonderland

May 29, 2009

As part of this weekend’s ArtWalk 2009 in the Miracle Mile, Goldenvoice (of Coachella Art & Music Festival fame) is transforming the La Brea Tarpits into a temporary “art wonderland.” Here’s a preview of just some of the large-scale installations you’ll find…


La Divina Familia install The Shrine. The huge hit at Coachella contains more than twenty years of drawings and relics from Pasadena’s Spears family.


Sonik Mercury and his crew recreate the Ice Age by wrapping the park’s trees and statues in white lycra to be lit from the inside.


Gerard Minakawa and friends use the bamboo plant to fashion the Bamboo Archway, making for a uniquely fascinating way to enter the park.


Dustin Feider constructs a 20 foot geodesic dome that will one day be transformed into one of his sustainable treehouses.

Jason Gaulton, Muse Coordinator

Deconstructing “Night at the Museum”

May 28, 2009

A question that always intrigues me when Hollywood intersects with the world of museums is how truthfully our institutions are portrayed on film. What art or historical objects are featured and why? What liberties (and there are many) are taken? Even if it might be a little harder for me to suspend my disbelief, I enjoy the fictions created and always have fun deconstructing such movies from an insider’s perspective. I was happy to say yes when Unframed asked me to check out Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

One instance of directorial license I noticed is that many of the key scenes in the movie take place in the stately interiors of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., which is not part of the Smithsonian Institution. And many of the featured artworks, which come to life, facilitate time travel, and interact directly with the protagonists, don’t even belong to the National Gallery or the Smithsonian. Instead we see iconic American paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago—Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.


The movie is populated with lots of other world-famous works set in the National Gallery space, like Rodin’s Thinker, which is transformed into a dolt of a he-man, and the classic black and white photograph—enlarged to take precedence over the painted masterpieces hanging adjacent—from Life magazine’s coverage of VJ day in August 1945: Alfred Eisenstadt’s unforgettable Times Square Kiss. And this is not to mention Jeff Koons’s gigantic Balloon Dog prancing around the halls of the museum!

Then there is the real Smithsonian, from the National Air and Space Museum, to the Castle on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the largely imaginary subterranean “federal archives,” which all figure prominently in the plot. Underground we see historical figures from outmoded dioramas come to life: General Custer, Sacagawea, Napoleon, Ivan the Terrible, and the Egyptian pharaoh Kamunrah, who has enthroned himself in the Castle in Archie Bunker’s easy chair on top of a mountain of other objects looted from the Smithsonian’s vast collections (including Dorothy’s red slippers from the Wizard of Oz, which he tosses aside because they aren’t made of real rubies).

Watching these icons of pop culture, history, and art history whiz by on the screen, I couldn’t help but think of how the very real mission of museums—to preserve such objects and histories for the public and posterity—shapes Hollywood’s reliance on instantly recognizable imagery to reach and entertain the broadest possible audiences.

Austen Bailly

Art and Ambiguity; or, Why I Like the Museum of Jurassic Technology

May 27, 2009

LACMA’s Art Rental and Sales Gallery occupies several hallways underneath the Bing Center, including the one outside my office, so my coworkers and I are used to a regularly shifting selection of work from local artists.

Several years ago, one small collage caught my eye. It was hung in a short connecting hallway leading to the Hammer Building elevator. A bit oddly, it was hung higher on the wall than the other pieces. And it had no label.

I eventually noticed, too, that while other artworks would come and go, this anonymous collage stayed in place. I imagined it orphaned by its maker and, with no one to return to, it had been left to stay in a little-known corner of the back hallways of LACMA. It had insinuated its way into our permanent collection, like a stray that takes a shine to that secluded spot under your porch. I found this rather appealing.

Taking the back way to the Hammer one day, I noticed that a small label had finally appeared.


Colorant Durability Test
Questions? Call Conservation


One local institution trades in such ambiguities every day. (Well, strictly speaking, it trades in such ambiguities on Thursdays through Sundays.) Shortly before I moved to L.A., I was in town visiting my sister. One afternoon, with only the barest of explanations, she took me to an unassuming storefront in Culver City. I looked at the sign and laughed: The Museum of Jurassic Technology?

“Is it… a comedy club?” I asked.

She smiled enigmatically.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I dutifully read every word of every label (my future as a museum editor evidently being fated). Somewhere between the animation of the Plane of Experience passing through the Cone of Obliscence (from Geoffrey Sonnabend’s Theory of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter, naturally) and a gallery featuring displays of such folk practices as the duck’s breath cure, mice on toast, and the malevolent uses of scissors, I turned to my sister. She was now grinning outright.

“It’s all fake, isn’t it?” I said. “It’s a satire of a museum.”

“That depends on your definition of it, is, and fake,” she said.

And, I eventually realized, on your definition of satire and museum, too.

The brainchild of David Wilson, the MJT has been home for nearly twenty years to a wondrous array of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, brilliantly (if eccentrically) curated to blend the lofty and the kitsch, the historical and the fantastical.

I take my own out-of-town guests every chance I get—of course, with only the barest of explanations when they first ask what it is.

Sara Cody, Editor, Publications Department

Franz (and More) Free Today

May 25, 2009
"Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof," installation view

"Franz West, To Build a House You Start with the Roof," installation view

If you haven’t caught LACMA’s Franz West show, closing June 7, this is the day to do it. General admission to the museum is free on Monday thanks to Target Free Holiday Mondays. Of course the permanent collection, including the award-winning modern installation, is another great reason to come by. And there’s the rest of our twenty-acre campus and encyclopedic collection to explore.

*Please note that the Pompeii exhibition still requires a special ticket.

Five Things I Didn’t Know about Pompeii

May 22, 2009

fovI’ve just finished The Fires of Vesuvius, Mary Beard’s 2008 book on the ruins of Pompeii, and thought I would pass along some of the things that revised my very vague sense of what the lost city was all about. The book makes a great companion to Pompeii and the Roman Villa, creating a context for the artworks and the lives lived among them.


Writing on walls and public surfaces was evidently popular in Pompeii. Some examples: “Epaphroditus and Thalia.” “Atimetus got me pregnant.” “I won at Nuceria playing alea, 855½ denarii—honestly, it’s true.” “Celadus, heartthrob of the girls.” (Beard concludes that this last example and other tributes to gladiators were written by the gladiators themselves.)


Pompeii was not engulfed by the eruption of Vesuvius without warning; tremors would have affected the town hours and possibly days in advance. The town’s population is figured at between 6,400 and 30,000; of those, Beard estimates, at most 2,000 died in the disaster. The book opens with the terrifying episode of some who waited too long before trying to leave.

Riot at the Amphitheater

Twenty years before the end of Pompeii came what Beard calls its “second most famous appearance” in Roman history—a gladiatorial show that went bad when the rivalry between hometown Pompeii and visiting Nuceria progressed from name-calling to stone-throwing to open sword combat. There were so many casualties that the matter was taken to Nero, and Pompeiians were prohibited from holding similar events for ten years.


Pompeii was known for making and distributing a fish sauce called garum. The point of manufacture seems to have been outside of town. Pliny the Elder praised Pompeii’s garum (while disparaging a local wine as likely to produce a hangover till midday). Pottery labels show that you could get kosher garum as well as “best,” “premium best,” and “absolutely the best” garum.


The Moregine Triclinium, installation view


Mary Beard excels at dividing what is known about Pompeii from what is guesswork or wishful thinking. Did the emperor Nero visit the city? The author finds the evidence flimsy. She cites a recently discovered wall painting of Apollo that’s been said to resemble Nero and thus demonstrate that Nero had used the location as a temporary residence. Or not, says Beard. But you can have a look for yourself. The painting is part of the Moregine Triclinium on display in Pompeii and the Roman Villa. (Oh, and I checked the wall label—there’s no mention of Nero.)

Tom Drury

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