A Tour with the Director

July 14, 2009

Today’s guest blogger, ForYourArt’s Bettina Korek, is hardly a guest at all. She is a former staff member, and also, until recently, the co-chair of President’s Circle Avant-Garde, LACMA’s young patrons group. Bettina has left an indelible mark on Avant-Garde; the event she writes about below was her last as co-chair.

A few weeks ago LACMA Director Michael Govan met with members of President’s Circle Avant-Garde for a very special “surprise tour” of the museum (this is just one of the pretty amazing perks of the group). A couple of themes came up during the tour that I thought would be interesting to share—and something visitors can keep an eye out for when touring LACMA on their own.

Michael welcomed us in the Director’s Lounge, which was a treat in itself—the private space is in LACMA’s famed Bruce Goff-designed Japanese Pavilion and is filled with furniture by Noguchi and Maloof—and started off by speaking about his desire to have the museum bridge time, from ancient to modern. This idea informs so much of where LACMA is headed, and will ultimately manifest itself in the way we’ll enter the museum, starting with the present and traveling back in time—all the way back, in fact, through art history and ending with a view of the tar pits; a reminder of how fragile human culture is through the lens of geologic time. As Michael explained, “reverse history is a fiction of the present.”

Art of the Ancient Americas galleries, installation designed by Jorge Pardo

Art of the Ancient Americas galleries; installation designed by Jorge Pardo

As we left the Director’s Lounge and headed up to our first stop at the pre-Columbian galleries, the relationship between, and relevance to, ancient art and the future was immediately clear in Jorge Pardo’s installation design for the Art of the Ancient Americas galleries.

Michael pointed out his favorites, like one of the smiling figures, and added another interesting layer—many objects in LACMA’s collection are meant to be used. Of course, the most obvious examples of integrating art into everyday life can be found in the museum’s decorative arts and design collection, but there’s also drinking vessels, plates, hunting spears, and even a child’s toy represented in the pre-Columbian galleries.

Our private tour ended at the amazing and newly acquired Matta, where the topic of communication was at the fore. Michael pointed out how (pre-Twitter) this astounding work reflected the global exchange of, and reaction to, information—a Chilean artist living in Paris addressing a crisis in Watts.

The purchase of the Matta was made possible partly with funds from Collectors Committee, another support group of the museum, and it seemed a fitting place to end this special evening.

Bettina Korek

Summer Reading

July 13, 2009


Since summer is officially here, I thought it would be great to catch up on some summer (art-related) reading.

Whether you frequent the library, bookstore, LACMA’s museum store, read e-books online or via Kindle, or listen to books on tape/podcast, here are some recommendations from our fellow Tweeps on Twitter to get you started. If your favorite art-related book is not listed, feel free to post in the comments section.

Adult Fiction:

Lewis Croft, The Pornographer of Vienna (novel inspired by life of Austrian artist Egon Schiele)

Jesse Kellerman, The Genius

Jane Langton, Murder at the Gardner: A Novel of Suspense: A Homer Kelly Mystery

Gregory Maguire, Confession of an Ugly Stepsister (a well-known fairy tale from a different point of view that includes a well-known artist)

W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence (novel based loosely on the life of Gauguin)

Iain Pears, The Raphael Affair, The Titian Committee, Giotto’s Hand, etc.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, The Relic (fiction set in New York’s Museum of Natural History)

John Shors, Beneath a Marble Sky (historical fiction involving the development of the Taj Mahal)

Tim Powers, The Anubis Gates

Émile Zola, The Masterpiece

Mary Kay Zuravleff, The Bowl is Already Broken (novel set around a fictitious museum by former Smithsonian editor)

Adult Non-Fiction:

Bruce Altshuler, Salon to Biennial: Exhibitions that Made Art History, Volume 1: 1863–1959

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

Judy Chicago, Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Woman Artist

Douglas Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins

Gregory Curtis, Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo

Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo

Daniel J. Sherman, ed., Museums and Difference

Slinkachu, Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkachu

Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock

Children’s Books:

Menena Cottin, The Black Book of Colors

Ian Falconer, Olivia

E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Greg Tang, Math-terpieces

Besides the standard book-buying sites, here are more sources for finding more art/museum-related books:


Center for Children’s Books

Kohl Children’s Museum’s Suggested Reading List

Devi Noor

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Galleries

July 10, 2009

If you follow Unframed, you know that last month I imposed my own Month of Art.

It was a little experiment to see if I’d do a better job of seeing works at LACMA if I actually scheduled viewing into my day. A rewarding endeavor to be sure, but a lot harder to squeeze in than I could have ever imagined. Most days, I’d look at the clock, see it was well past 5 pm, and skitter up to the galleries to get my dose. On my way into the galleries I would often be annoyed with myself for finding yet one more way to overschedule my day—yet I’d feel totally transformed and invigorated on the way out. The biggest lesson I learned was that the art I had planned to see each day was great but what was on the periphery was even better. Probably a good analogy for life in general. Here are a few of the highlights from the diary I kept last month.

June 3: Burn, Baby, Burn

A rainy Wednesday, museum closed, the ultimate hush except for my really loud high heels; bench to myself. Staggering, stopped in tracks—not where I thought it would be installed; joy of the unexpected, of surprise. Guernica comes to mind first… scale, impact, meaning. Bonus—peripheral works come into view—David Alfaro Siqueiros’ Landscape in Red—smaller, so powerful, and maybe equally emotive.


Matta, "Burn, Baby, Burn (L'escalade)," 1965-1966, Gift of the 2009 Collectors Committee with additional funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund


David Alfaro Siqueiros, "Landscape in Red (Paisaje en rojo)," 1969, The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art

June 4: Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child

Went to see the Cassatt and saw the key painting by Lee Mullican, Space, on the way. Fell in love with it all over again. At Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child, I was astounded at the way Cassatt could capture a mother and child’s connection—the look—just with the mother’s cock of head, not seeing her eyes as her child peers up at her. She’s bathing her baby as I should be mine at 6:45 in the evening. Mother’s guilt comes over me in a big way.


Mary Cassatt, "Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child," 1880, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest


Lee Mullican, "Space," 1951, Gift of Fannie and Alan Leslie

June 5: The Lost Felice

Story more haunting than the painting? Thought it would be but object was somber, stark, a reflection of the emotion. Still… the story and Austen’s telling of it

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

June 8: Rabbit Netsuke

Had a reproduction of one of these as a child; searched more than 100 netsukes to find one today—then, when I got down to the last five objects, stumbled upon what I was looking for. Grateful not to have found it earlier; then I wouldn’t have seen the owls, foxes, and a tiny man in a garden with a rooster. Netsuke reminds me of haiku—remarkably powerful in its brevity. Of the art I have seen so far, this experience struck me the most—so much discovery in such a small space. Thought about it ‘til I went to bed.


Kaigyokusai (Masatsugu), "Rabbit Pair," mid- to late 19th century, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection


Ikkyu (style of), "Owl and Owlets," early to mid-19th century, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection

June 9: Untitled (Opus 161)

Thomas Wilfred, pioneering light artist. I always pass this in the modern galleries but am never into it though Light and Space is my thing. Lesson: always put glasses on when going into galleries. Much better now. Hypnotic up close. Love the length of the piece—almost two-year running time. Total netsuke juxtaposition.

June 11: Severed head of John the Baptist

Looked for the work but to no avail.

Must not be on view. Happened upon our iconic Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge for the first time—loved its “altar”—had its own little wall, its own nook, lined in light-blue fabric and ribbon at the edge.

So much smaller than expected. Crisp and beautiful—too beautiful for my taste—up close, tulips still dominate but now able to see fine little dragonfly too. Power of the in-person experience versus the digital image I regularly work with.


Ambrosius Bosschaert, "Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge," 1619-1620, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter


Auguste Rodin, "Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist," circa 1887-1907, Museum purchase made possible by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in memory of B. Gerald Cantor

Allison Agsten

Inside the Director’s Office

July 9, 2009

Annie and Christine, my colleagues in the Communications Department, have done a few fun behind-the-scenes videos for our Facebook page, and we thought we’d share Annie’s latest endeavor with you here on Unframed. These aren’t slick productions—I shot this video in one take on our Mino—but hopefully they allow viewers to see a different side of LACMA, and, in this case, Michael Govan. Here, our director tells Annie why he selected the art that was just recently hung in his office.

Allison Agsten

A Curator Answers: Substituting Artworks

July 9, 2009

Mira Hnatyshyn asks:

I’ve read that museums keep copies of some of the paintings, for example Starry Night by Van Gogh, on their walls while sending on exhibition tour the original. Is this true? Or Visa versa?

Thanks for your question, Mira. LACMA has never replaced a work of art with a replica while the actual piece is traveling, and the same is probably true for most museums. The closest we’ve come—and something which is common practice—is to hang a small photograph in place of the work with a note that says the original is on loan.

Nancy Thomas, Deputy Director

New Acquisition: 18th-century Altar Frontal

July 8, 2009

As a curator of costume and textiles, my eyes are in constant search mode for exceptional objects to add to LACMA’s collection. But on rare occasions a treasure appears that requires neither inquiry nor pursuit, which is exactly what happened when I was contacted by Reverend George F. Woodward III, rector of Saint Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino.


Altar Frontal (antependium), Northern Italy, 1730s–40s, gift of Saint Edmund’s Episcopal Church, San Marino, California

Since the fifties, Saint Edmund’s has been graced with an eighteenth-century altar frontal—a decorated textile, usually large, hanging on the front of the altar. After contacting both the Huntington Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Reverend had decided that the piece needed to reside within a museum to ensure its preservation and exhibition for generations to come, and he wanted LACMA to be the recipient of the church’s donation.

I must admit I wasn’t prepared for such a marvelous sight when I went to examine the frontal, and quite literally gasped at the intense color of the silk thread and the lavish encrustation of gold and silver! This was the hallmark of professional embroiderers, skilled in “painting with the needle,” who created magnificent textiles and vestments for powerful ecclesiastical patrons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


This altar frontal was most likely made for a church in northern Italy about 1730–40, but virtuoso artisans worked throughout Europe for royal and aristocratic patrons as well; embroidered silks were in great demand for fashionable dress and the decorative arts. The vibrant colors produced by new advances in dye chemistry, and Europe’s developing fascination with gardening and exotic blooms imported from Asia, made floral motifs the most widely used embroidery designs. The science of botany fascinated scholars and laymen alike; skilled needle workers manipulated hundreds of shades of colored silk thread into both fanciful and highly naturalistic flowers that reflected the gardens and bowers of country houses and grand estates.


How fortunate we are that Saint Edmund’s chose to donate its exquisite, yet imposing, altar frontal—more than nine feet in width—to LACMA’s collection. It will be a star in an exhibition of eighteenth and nineteenth century dress opening in the fall of next year.

Kaye Spilker, curator, Costume & Textiles

Renzo Piano Visits the Resnick Pavilion

July 7, 2009

One of the more interesting parts of my job as a communications specialist for LACMA is the behind-the-scenes access I have to various projects as they emerge on campus. Case in point: I recently walked through the construction site of the museum’s Resnick Exhibition Pavilion with an august group including the building’s donors, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Resnick, the architectural team, Renzo Piano and Antoine Chaaya, and LACMA’s Director, Michael Govan.


Renzo Piano and Michael Govan

As fascinating as being able to tour an as-of-yet unfinished space was, it was even more enlightening to experience it through each person’s varied perspective.

One of the most notable aspects of the building is that its entire ceiling is made from saw-tooth glass, so the natural light flooding the space was on everyone’s mind. The ambient light created in the 45,000 square-foot area is warm and soft, and to this woman of a certain age, very kind.


In the Pavilion

Antoine described how the roof would reflect and diffuse the incoming southern light; he and Renzo also explained how the nylon mesh blinds are controlled by computerized timers that can be adjusted to address the needs of any exhibition, allowing for many variations of light—including its complete absence.


Lynda Resnick

Mrs. Resnick loved the lighting, too. She and her curator, Bernard Jazzar, who also joined the tour, discussed how dramatic the opening exhibitions would be in that space (more on those to come in future posts). There was talk of possible intimate candlelit dinners as well as the gala opening.

Renzo’s focus was also on the marble, which comes from the same quarry as that used in LACMA’s building for contemporary art, BCAM. Some of the differences between the buildings are that the Resnick Pavilion’s marble has been washed to looked aged; the public enters on the southern axis of the building; and there will be restrooms on the east and west quadrants as one enters featuring, in the words of the architect, some of “the most gorgeous toilets in the world.”

Michael saw the space from a curatorial vantage as a perfect square with vast convertible space, no wasted space, lots of light, and endless wall possibilities. He called it an “honest building.”

All in all, it was unusually fascinating for me, providing not only an enhanced perspective on the coming building but a heightened sense of excitement.

Barbara Pflaumer, Associate Vice-President of Communications

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