Making New Walls Look “Good and Ancient”

October 20, 2009

Lately, writers have taken notice of an unusual feature in our Luis Meléndez show—the treatment of the walls. It’s true; these definitely do not fall into the default-white category.


Curator Patrice Marandel took a more atypical route in his installation of eighteenth-century Spanish still lifes, envisioning a contrast between the finish of the paintings and the roughness of the walls. The effect was created by contractors with the direction of exhibition designer Bernard Kester, who noted that the challenge was, “How to make the walls look good and ancient when they’re really brand new.” He achieved his goal by selecting a coarse plaster (vs. paint) to cover the walls, followed by a more refined plaster applied “casually” so as to appear unstudied, then paint in “an old fashioned white suitable for the attitude of paintings.” The dark glints that emanate here and there are the uncovered, raw first layer of plaster showing through. I asked Bernard what he calls this technique, which may be repeated in the medieval galleries when the European art reinstallation is complete next year. His response—“Messing around, I’d call it.”

Allison Agsten

Behold, Our Superhero Winner: Inazuma!

October 19, 2009

Back in August we announced our Create a Superhero contest, inspired by our exhibition Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India’s Comics, which opened this weekend. We asked for a short storyline and character ideas for a Los Angeles-based superhero comic, with the winner getting their work highlighted here on Unframed.

After sorting through our submissions, we all agreed that fourteen-year-old Dani Bowman from La Cañada, California, had the most entertaining comic. Other submissions had some terrific art or great stories, but Dani took a great stab at both. We liked too that Dani’s comic was inspired by current events affecting Los Angeles. Dani’s colorful comic made us smile, even during a time when some of our own co-workers were being evacuated from their neighborhoods. Our co-workers returned safely to their homes, so I guess we have Inazuma to thank.




Scott Tennent

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… a Playlist!

October 16, 2009

Today’s playlist, inspired by Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India’s Comics (opening tomorrow), was a fun one to make. How could it not be when the exhibition shares its title with one of the greatest songs the Beach Boys ever wrote? The theme also happens to lend itself to some of my favorite songs by the Flaming Lips, Serge Gainsbourg, Big Star, and Black Flag (though the latter two, I think, are not popular opinions). There must be something about comics and superheroes that inspire great work from rock bands—probably because the fantasy of wanting to be a superhero and wanting to be a rock star are rooted in the same desire to be bigger than life.

Picture 1

Here’s what I came up with—as always, available for download on iTunes:

  • The Beach Boys: Heroes and Villains
  • Big Star: The India Song
  • Serge Gainsbourg: Comic Strip
  • Madlib: Indian Bells
  • The Flaming Lips: Waitin’ for a Superman
  • Leonard Cohen: A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes
  • The Libertines: Time for Heroes
  • The Fiery Furnaces: Cabaret of the Seven Devils
  • Dan Deacon: Pink Batman
  • Black Flag: You’re Not Evil

Thanks to @eugeniedfraval, @Itxi_Itx, @CreativesInc, and the blog Follow that Ostrich (who did a whole playlist of their own) for their suggestions and contributions, which included the Dan Deacon, Leonard Cohen, and Libertines tracks.

Scott Tennent

One Way to Get Through Baggage Claim

October 14, 2009

Allison discovered the trove of art and history that is LACMA’s library only yesterday, but I’ve been digging through its archives almost since I arrived at LACMA nearly three years ago. If it weren’t for our archives I wouldn’t have been able to bring you this post on the history of the Wilshire/Fairfax intersection, or this one on all the illustrious debuts of 1913, or this great family portrait taken at LACMA in 1968.

When I came across the family portrait in a book of press clippings from ‘68, I also happened upon a news item from the Venice Vanguard concerning Edward Kienholz. Apparently the artist managed to outdo that United Breaks Guitars guy some forty years in advance. Here is the article in full:

Airline desk ruined by artist’s axe

Artist Edward Kienholz, who is best known for his display of controversial sculpture at the L.A. County Museum of Art last year, has—literally—struck again.

The scene of the improvised “happening” was the TWA terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Kienholz… arrived at the terminal at 1 p.m. Thursday and presented a letter of introduction before he proceeded to demolish a lost and found desk in the baggage department with a long-handled axe.

Police report that the steel and formica desk was completely ruined by the four hefty swings which Kienholz took at the TWA property.

The outburst was prompted by a disagreement between Kienholz and TWA. Police said that Kienholz had presented a $150 claim for damage to one of his works of art while it was being transported from San Francisco aboard a TWA flight. When the claim was denied, it was presumed that Kienholz decided to collect “in kind.”

Los Angeles police officers of the Airport Division met Kienholz in an airport parking lot after the incident and returned to the scene of the crime to investigate the damages. TWA officials refused to file charges and Kienholz was sent home.

Photos and a report of the damage has been sent to the West Los Angeles City Attorney, who may file a complaint of malicious mischief against Kienholz

Kienholz is reported to have been accompanied by two friends and a photographer.

For more on “the TWA incident,” this article at X-tra Online goes into more detail, and Kienholz himself recounted the incident to Lawrence Weschler in a 2004 issue of the Believer (though only a portion of the article is available online). A story like this one makes me extra glad that LACMA takes special care when it comes to transporting art! Warning to all baggage handlers: do not invite the wrath of the artist upon ye.

Scott Tennent

Daring to Enter LACMA’s Library

October 13, 2009

I’ve been at LACMA for more than four years, but until last week I had yet to step foot into our research library. Partly I was put off by the “research” bit; since I’m not a scholar, I figured my kind probably wasn’t welcome. And the “by appointment only” sign on the door also scared me off. The place just seemed way too intellectually exclusive so I kept my distance. But, on a quest for information on a past exhibition, Scott dragged me down the hall to check it out for the first time. And of course, I walked through the door and instantly fell in love. I have really been missing out for the last four years.

Ed Ruscha's "Every Building on the Sunset Strip"

Ed Ruscha's "Every Building on the Sunset Strip"

A smattering of Surrealist ephemera

A smattering of Surrealist ephemera

The extensive, non-circulating collection of 175,000 books, journals, and periodicals contains everything from exhibition catalogues to, as I found, Ed Ruscha’s classic Every Building on the Sunset Strip book. And here’s the best part—not only was I welcome there, but so are you. The research library is open to the public by appointment (call 323 857-6118 or email Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I’ll be back again soon to pull out some of the gems the library staff shared with me including the surrealist ephemera above and, particularly pertinent to my job, this old press clipping book—an entire volume devoted entirely to the controversy surrounding the exhibition of one of our iconic (and lightning rod) works, Back Seat Dodge ’38 by Ed Kienholz. Great headline, right?

Allison Agsten

We’re Here for You (And We’re Free, Too)

October 12, 2009

The third day of a three-day weekend can feel a little funny sometimes. It feels like a Sunday, moving at a relaxing, mellow pace, but the newspaper isn’t fat, and strange things are on TV, like Regis and Kelly and Brady Bunch reruns. Worse—everything is closed!

Except LACMA. Not only are we open, we’re free all day today. Come to the museum and check out Luis Meléndez or Joseph Beuys, or bring your kids and get a little brush-painting in while you check out our Korean galleries. We also have a few regularly scheduled tours of the permanent collection. Come on, you’ve seen all those Brady Bunch episodes anyway.

Scott Tennent

The Bread Savant

October 9, 2009

Most visitors who have seen our Luis Meléndez show note the spectacular fruit and vegetables in the still lifes. But, for my husband, a fourth-generation flour expert, it was all about the bread. It’s always about the bread.

When we’re out to dinner, an assessment typically begins the moment the bread basket arrives. Usually, with just a cursory glance, my husband tells me what bakery the bread came from, whether it is truly fresh baked or frozen and then partially baked off at the restaurant, and how I can expect it to taste and feel in my mouth—all just by looking! The bread savant routine finally came in handy earlier in the week when he stopped by to see the Meléndez show.


Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Pigeons, Onions, Bread, and Kitchen Utensils, c. 1774, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, the Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Summer Collection Fund

Of the dozen paintings in the show featuring bread, this is the one my husband really fixated on. He pointed out a detail in the background that I’d never noticed—on the right-hand side of the painting, there’s a ridged pan resting in a bowl. Judging by the concentric pattern on both the vessel and the loaf, that’s likely what this bread would have been baked in, with a lid placed on top. (You can tell there was a lid because of the crease in the middle of the bread; this is where the dough oozed through.) My husband also noted that this bread would have been quite dense because Meléndez was painting during a time before commercial yeast became available. It was likely baked in a hearth oven, with wood beneath.


Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, c. 1770, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patron’s Permanent Fund

For this loaf, he rendered quick judgment: “Don’t even thinking of using it for a sandwich!” Way too crusty and difficult to cut neatly because of the deep split top created by scoring the surface of the loaf before baking. Fruit, fittingly, would have been a perfect accompaniment.

Allison Agsten

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