Echoes of Pompeii

August 24, 2009

You may recall the “lattice of coincidence” theory from Repo Man—that, if you are thinking of a plate of shrimp, and someone suddenly says “plate,” or “shrimp,” or “plate of shrimp,” though it may seem meaningless, it’s “all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.”

I experienced this phenomenon the other day while seeing Collecting History, MOCA’s exhibition of acquisitions from the last five years. Our own show Pompeii and the Roman Villa was on my mind, and at MOCA I found not one but two works with “Pompeii” in the title.

Eerie, no? Or not so much? It seems artists have always found source material in the lost city. Pompeii and the Roman Villa has a section for artists who came along many centuries later (as recently as 2001) finding inspiration in the last days, the rain of fire, the excavated ruins.

Lucy McKenzie, “Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii,” 2005, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, purchased with funds provided by the Drawings Committee, image courtesy of MOCA

Lucy McKenzie, “Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii,” 2005, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, purchased with funds provided by the Drawings Committee, image courtesy of MOCA

One of the pieces in the MOCA show is Lucy McKenzie’s 2005 mural-within-a-mural Cheyney and Eileen Disturb a Historian at Pompeii. With its cool adaptation of the Tintin style and free association of historical elements, it seems to suggest a time warp more than a simple run-in between scholar and tourists. It’s a big inviting work and one of my favorites in the show.

Allan McCollum, "The Dog From Pompei," 1991, produced in collaboration with the Museo Vesuviano and the Pompei Tourist Board, Pompei, Italy, and Studio Trisorio, Naples, Italy

Allan McCollum. "The Dog From Pompei," 1991. Cast glass-fiber-reinforced Hydrocal. Replicas made from a mold taken from the famous original "chained dog" plaster cast of a dog smothered in ash from the explosion of Mount Vesuvius, in ancient Pompeii, in 79 A.D. Produced in collaboration with the Museo Vesuviano and the Pompei Tourist Board, Pompei, Italy, and Studio Trisorio, Naples, Italy

If Lucy McKenzie uses present-day Pompeii as a setting for a mid-century illustrative style, Allan McCollum’s The Dog from Pompei* (1991) takes us very close to what actually happened at Pompeii in 79 AD. Using a contemporary mold derived from an original plaster cast made in 1874, McCollum has replicated many times over the form of a watchdog who died smothered in the ash that buried Pompeii.

The artist spoke in a 1992 interview about choosing the dog among other cast artifacts of Pompeii. “At first I was afraid of the drama of the thing. It seemed so incredibly overdramatic, dramatic beyond any necessity. But in the end I think I chose it because it is so poignant, so evocative. I mean, people have actually cried when they’ve seen it—when they see my copy of it.”

McCollum has also replicated dinosaur bones and sees a unique value in copies made by nature. “…I felt that if representation is a sort of alienating mechanism maybe these objects sort of corrected, or bridged, that gap, or naturalized the relationship between the copy and what the copy represents in some uncanny, symbolic way because they are naturally made copies.”

Tom Drury

* McCollum uses the modern single-“i” spelling of Pompeii to emphasize that the mold for the work was made in 1991, from a second-generation cast found in the Museo Vesuviano.

Sleeping Coins

August 21, 2009

A few weeks ago, Michele Urton, assistant curator of contemporary art, sent an email to staff members asking for their contributions of sleeping coins. We at Unframed were intrigued.


What are sleeping coins? For artist Haegue Yang, they’re forgotten change, sitting in drawers, gathering dust. (In Korean, Yang actually calls them “dust coins.”) Michele was collecting them for Yang’s Storage Piece (2004), an installation composed of crated and wrapped works by the artist, which is in the Your Bright Future exhibition.


Storage Piece is on loan and the museum is obligated to return the installation to its owner in the condition it was received. To that end, in collaboration with the artist, we opted to collect our own coins for the work so as to ensure that the originals aren’t dismantled.


It’s one way the staff was able to be part of the experience, but the public can engage with Storage Piece too. Another component of the installation is knitting—Yang started a project pictured below which our visitors are welcome to add to.


Allison Agsten

Frequently Asked Superhero Questions

August 20, 2009

Abishek Singh, "Ravan, the Demon of Lanka," Ramayan 3392 AD, issue 5, 2006 (detail), Liquid Comics, Bangalore, India


With more than 2,000 views and counting, our call for storylines and illustrations for a superhero comic based in Los Angeles has become Unframed’s second-most popular post of all time. The contest (for those who have not read the post) is in conjunction with our upcoming exhibition, Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India’s Comics. Along with tons of views and links, the post has also drawn a number of questions, such as:

What format should I follow?
Please submit a word file or PDF for synopsis of storyline, which should be no more than one page (about 250 words). Use JPEG images with dimensions up to 800 x 1000 pixels. Individual JPEG files should be no larger than 1mb. Please keep your entries between 3 and 5 images total. Submissions will be accepted in any stage of the process—including storyboards, individual character explorations, or comic book pages—as long as a narrative description is included.

Who can participate in the contest?
Our call for comics is global, and is open to U.S. and non-U.S. citizens.

What will I win?
Each entry will be reviewed, with the best comics being featured on the Unframed blog.

Can I submit work that has been previously published?
We will only accept previously unpublished work.

What are the specifications for the storyline?
We seek original storylines for a superhero comic set in Los Angeles. Other than that, the sky’s the limit!

Details after the jump . . .

Read the rest of this entry »

Ask a Curator: Richard Serra vs. the Elements

August 18, 2009

For this installment of Ask a Curator, we thought the question was better handled by one of our conservators, so we handed this over to Senior Conservator John Hirx.

Hannah asks: I’ve seen many Serra sculptures, whether it be the two sculptures in St. Louis (Twain and Joe) or at a MOMA exhibition, and many of these sculptures have been both inside or outside. With the use of the cor-ten steel, does the patina change inside the museum environment as quickly, if at all, like outside Serra sculptures? Obviously, if it changes, it does so in a slower process, but does that change the overall aesthetic of Serra sculptures? Are they best seen outside or inside?


Richard Serra, "Band," 2006, purchased with funds provided by the Broad Contemporary Art Museum Foundation, photo by Lorenz Kienzle

Serra’s work can be seen and experienced both indoors and out, as site-specific work or not—his work doesn’t seem to fall into an “either/or” category.

Seasonal weather changes support the development of the aesthetically desirable Cor-ten patina. Air quality probably plays a role as well. The environment inside of BCAM, in terms of relative humidity (RH) and temperature, is closely monitored—hovering at about 50% RH and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with minor fluctuations. The museum air also circulates through an air-conditioning system. Therefore, patina development is slowed.

At its best, a weathered Cor-ten surface develops a forest of richly colored dark brown crystals. If the crystals are not disturbed during formation, the sculpture has a unifying, monolithic appearance even though the patina varies greatly from place to place. However, one rarely encounters this because the surface is so often disturbed in some manner. Keeping in mind that most of Serra’s Cor-ten sculptures are large and have enormous surface area, it is impossible for the surface not to be disturbed. Weather or human intervention can act to make the surface active, so when crystals are disturbed, time and the outdoor environment or a surface treatment support new corrosion or patina development. Therefore, the overall aesthetic is an ongoing work in progress.

John Hirx, Senior Conservator

One Gift Leads to Another

August 17, 2009

On view in the American art galleries is a small, temporary installation, The Art and Craft of Arthur and Lucia Mathews. It’s an exciting project that allows us to show several recent gifts of objects created by the Mathewses, San Francisco-based Arts and Crafts painters and furniture designers.

Prior to 2007 LACMA didn’t own any work by the Mathewses. The way the gifts came to LACMA is a particularly intriguing one (told in this Los Angeles Times story from last year). In brief, former Board Chair Nancy Daly generously donated the Arthur Mathews painting Monterey Cypress, California.


Arthur Mathews, "Monterey Cypress," California, c. 1930, gift of Nancy Daly

News of the acquisition was featured on LACMA’s website, which led to an out-of-the-blue email to the Decorative Arts and Design Department from a man who had inherited some Mathews furniture. His grandfather’s uncle was one of partners of the Mathewses furniture business—and he wondered if the museum would be interested in accepting it as well. Mathews furniture is as rare as hen’s teeth, so the answer was an unequivocal yes! There are very few extant examples, and most of them are at the Oakland Museum of California (however, there is one other piece of Mathews furniture on public view in Southern California—a chest in the American galleries of the Huntington Library). Among the objects LACMA received is a vividly painted blanket chest depicting a landscape of gently rolling hills with a flowering tree in the foreground, and a towering candelabra featuring a richer palette of reds, greens, and golds and accented with skilled carving.


Lucia K. Mathews and Arthur Mathews, Chest, c. 1910–15, gift of William J. Zeile


Lucia K. Mathews and Arthur Mathews, Candelabra, c. 1910–15, gift of the estate of John E. Zeile, Jr.

The installation is on view through December 6, 2009 in the Art of the Americas Building, toward the back of the American Art galleries on the third floor.

Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

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