Last summer, I started up my own Twitter account on behalf of LACMA. The idea was to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the assembly of one of our exhibitions, Hard Targets. It worked pretty well, and I expanded my account to include other tidbits about the museum, which ultimately led to the more official @LACMA. A few of us have contributed to that account, and now we’re rolling both my original account and @LACMA into one. Kicking things off, Erin Sorensen from our Education Department and Devi Noor in American art will be joining me in posting daily updates on @LACMA, and we’ll see how it goes. Twitter has been an experiment for us for a while now and we think this might be a good next step—getting all your LACMA news in one place. Let us know if you like the new format; we’ll keep tinkering until we get it just right.
Last week we told you about our acquisition of Matta’s massive painting, Burn, Baby, Burn (L’escalade), acquired through our annual Collectors Committee event. Immediately upon acquiring the work, curator of Latin American art Ilona Katzew set about installing it in our Latin American galleries—and now it’s up! Find it on Level 4 of the Art of the Americas Building, in a great gallery with paintings by Rufino Tamayo, Carlos Mérida, Frida Kahlo, and the so-nicknamed “Los Tres Grandes” (The Big Three) of Mexican muralism—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Why did you come to the museum today?
David: We are visiting Los Angeles, from Rome, and a friend of ours, who lives in West Hollywood, said that we had to come here for a visit.
Is this your first time to Los Angeles?
David: Yes, we came here first two weeks ago and then we went all around California, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and now we are back before we head home.
What do you think of Los Angeles?
David: Well, it’s nice. In the beginning it’s a little bit hard to get in touch with the city, it’s a huge city, it’s very … sparse, not dense, so at the beginning it’s very hard to find the path, but now we are feeling a little bit more comfortable.
Mouran: We feel like we are learning part of the language, not the English, but I mean the local vibe.
What is your favorite thing that you have done in Los Angeles?
David: Third Street has been very nice. We went to have lunch at Joan’s on Third and went walking around and shopping a little bit.
Mouran: I ate a cupcake, the first time in my life I ate a cupcake. I didn’t even know what it is.
David: And we’ve been to Santa Monica to have a walk on the oceanfront and to Venice.
Mouran: I liked Venice very much, to come from Italy and see the Venice canals here, it’s very different, but it’s also very interesting. It gives you a feeling of an American re-interpretation of the concept.
David: Let’s not forget the architecture, it’s very cool here in Los Angeles, very nice building. It’s amazing because we were saying, how in Italy there is a heavy heritage and … you are bound to it. But here you can see there has been great work in renovation and innovation in architecture.
Mouran: Also the fact that it does not have a center. It’s like a psychological point of view, where you can easily get lost.
As vigorous in his provocations as he is in his formal inventions, Nagisa Oshima is a filmmaker who has always stood apart. An omnidirectional spigot of j’accuse fervor (chiefly aimed at Japanese nationalism) with a pair of Scope-spanning kino-eyes, he deserves to have the breadth of his eclectic oeuvre more substantially recognized. Long unseen, if ever, in Los Angeles, thirteen of Oshima’s films, from his 1959 debut (A Town of Love and Hope) to his 2000 swan song (Gohatto), will screen at LACMA starting tomorrow.
In anticipation of this retrospective, I exchanged emails with the film series’s curator: Cinematheque Ontario senior programmer James Quandt. Quandt has been the recipient of a Special Prize for Arts and Culture from the Japan Foundation and editor of definitive volumes on Shohei Imamura and Kon Ichikawa. He’s not only renowned for his erudite, prolific writing but also for curating among the most thorough film retrospectives in North America. In the Realm of Oshima is no exception.
Q: It’s been two decades since a retrospective of Nagisa Oshima’s films was last held in North America. In fact, you were also the curator of that preceding series, which took place in 1988 at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. What are the major differences between that series and what you’ve put together now?
A: This one is more comprehensive; two or three titles were not available the last time, and, of course, Oshima has made several films in the two decades. More important, many of the new prints in this retrospective are recently struck or brand new; the Harbourfront retrospective had to rely on extant prints, many of which were not in good condition.
Q: Oshima himself attended the ‘88 retrospective and the two of you kept up a correspondence for some years. Can you tell us a bit more about your relations with a director often deemed “difficult” by many?
A: Indeed, I had been warned off inviting him by many colleagues, but, as often happens in such cases, he proved to be the total opposite of his reputation: sweet, funny, generous. We maintained a correspondence for some years after and because one of the producers of his next film (never made, alas), about Sessue Hayakawa, was in Toronto, he sometimes dropped by to visit.
Q: Have you had any direct contact with Oshima about this present retrospective?
A: No, Oshima suffered a debilitating stroke some years ago, and is not aware of the retrospective.
Q: Can you discuss a bit more what you call the “vexing rights issues” that long delayed this Oshima retrospective and thwarted so many others from mounting such series in the past twenty years?
A: Some of this must remain private, but suffice it to say that the rights on many of Oshima’s key films, especially from the sixties and seventies, have been contentious, uncertain. I thank my colleague Marie Suzuki at the Japan Foundation, Tokyo, a true miracle worker who finessed what had long been considered intractable problems to get prints made and the necessary permissions. My psychotic persistence paid off in the end.
Q: You specifically cite Oshima’s television documentaries from the sixties as “impossible” to screen. Can you tell us a bit more about them?
A: Oshima made several very political documentaries about Japan’s history, criticizing the imperial system, the rise of militarism, etc. They incorporated a great deal of newsreel footage. It is truly amazing to me that these were made and shown on Japanese television. That would certainly never happen in North America. I very much wanted to show at least two or three as examples of the form; they’re very important works. But my investigations showed that the rights, which are always complicated for public exhibition of television works, were impossible to secure, partly because of the nature of the works (clips from here, there, everywhere). The retrospective has been invited to this year’s Torino film festival and they are keen to show some television work so perhaps they will be luckier than I. Of course, I also felt I had to concentrate on getting the rights and prints for the films, which was a daunting enough task.
Q: What are some of your favorite films in the series?
A: The pantheon is the pantheon for a reason: Boy, The Ceremony, In the Realm of the Senses. But there are many I love which are not so well known. The Sun’s Burial is one of cinema’s great visions of hell. And I have mighty fondness for Three Resurrected Drunkards, one of his wittiest and most deeply felt films, though it can drive an audience to distraction.
Yesterday we told you that Hello Girls, LACMA’s sculpture by Alexander Calder, is back up and running again thanks to recent repairs. After paging through what seemed like a phone book-sized packet of conservation reports, it became clear that it’s been difficult to keep the sculpture in working order since its original installation in 1965, largely due to complications with the water circulation system. When Head Objects Conservator John Hirx began the overhaul of the feature five years ago, he went to Las Vegas to look at the Bellagio; if the desert hotel can maintain a huge lagoon with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, he presumed there must be a way to solve the seemingly endless Hello Girls challenges. Ultimately John hired a team of designers who came from the company that worked on the Bellagio project, and they rebuilt the feature that is seen today. (The same crew also developed the Grove’s well-known water feature.) The solution was a pool with less water (8,000 gallons vs. 24,000 gallons) and a much stronger pump.
Now that one water issue has been resolved, John and his colleagues are tackling another—they’re investigating the best paint solution for the paddles, or “leaves,” shown above. Requirements? Must withstand UV radiation, hot and cold cycles, abrasive particles in the wind, and the constant pounding of water. No problem, right? We’ll keep you posted on that one.
Hello Girls, LACMA’s Alexander Calder sculpture, is installed in a quiet little dell just northeast of the Wilshire and Spaulding intersection. Though it’s rather large—23 x 24 feet—the sculpture would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Perhaps it only stopped me recently because of the sound emanating from its bush-shrouded location—water. I was pleasantly surprised; the Calder had been inactive for the past few weeks (and most of last year) due to complications with a circulation system that pumps water into jets that spray the sculpture, activating movement. It’s been quite a journey—literally (including one conservator’s trip to the Bellagio fountain in Vegas)—to bring Hello Girls back to life. More on that tomorrow. For now, we thought we’d share a selection of archival photos we unearthed of the artist installing the sculpture as well as a couple of fun tidbits: Did you know that LACMA’s Art Museum Council commissioned Calder in 1964 to create the sculpture for the museum? Or that the name, Hello Girls, is a playful nod toward the mostly female council that brought the artist on board?
Browsing through the Pompeii and the Roman Villa catalogue, I was stopped in my tracks by an image of one sculpture’s piercing ivory eyes set upon its darkened bronze face. I had learned that ivory eyes were a common trait among bronze statues, but Girl fastening her peplos (Peplophoros), unlike most, was beautifully restored and had really stood the test of time. Who knew a statue could have so much intensity? It wasn’t just the eyes that got me; she seemed to be stopped in her tracks, as well. Like a deer in the headlights, she looked as though she was caught off guard while buttoning or unbuttoning her dress (or peplos).
As I went over the catalogue description, my curiosity only grew. “Her gesture should be effortless,” the text read. “But it is rendered somewhat awkward by the fact that she faces directly forward and does not look at what she is doing.”
Pompeii curator, Ken Lapatin, confirmed that she (along with her four “sisters” found in the Villa dei Papiri, but not included in this exhibition) was, in fact, a mystery. He noted that she doesn’t seem to be a mythological figure, as they tend to carry some sort of prop with them—a bow, an arrow, a wand, a crown. This one comes with only, well, the clothes on her back. Not only that, but Lapatin also pointed out that even her title was up for question—no one really knows for sure if she’s actually fastening or unfastening her peplos. He thinks the artist may have deliberately made her enigmatic just to keep people guessing. If so, it works; I’ve overheard numerous conversations in the galleries as visitors tried to decipher just what she’s up to.
Her posture doesn’t match her peers in the exhibition, either—she’s not outwardly posing, nor is she limp; with her solid, straight stance, Girl is no wilting flower. For me, all these things brought her to life. I couldn’t help but wonder what the artist had in mind. What were we to make of that reaction? She looked just like any one else who had been caught in the moment. Perhaps her fixated stare was the result of spotting a special someone in the distance. Did she possibly come upon a moment of clarity? Or maybe, just maybe, she was simply getting dressed.