A Convincing Lie

October 8, 2009

A couple of weeks ago John Baldessari graced the stage of the Bing Theater in conversation with LACMA’s director, Michael Govan. The talk was part of The Director’s Series, which has previously seen Govan in conversation with, among others, Chris Burden, Jorge Pardo, Robert Irwin, and Jeff Koons (many of which you can see in full in our Screening Room). The next one, by the way, will be with Barbara Kruger. (The event is free but tickets are required. But if you want my advice—if you find that the event is sold out, take a risk and try the standby line on the night of.)

The entire Baldessari conversation was really interesting, giving a brief overview of the artist’s career and whetting appetites for the retrospective of his work that will go on view here next year (and is opening next week at the Tate Modern). One segment that got my mind working was their discussion of his text paintings, which involve Baldessari using text written by someone else and then painted onto the canvas by a sign painter. Their discussion of what makes something “art” only begins here; if you’ve got the time, watch the conversation in full.

Another moment in the talk stuck out at me as well, since not long before Allison had done her series of posts on keeping tabs on the art collection. In her post about the backs of paintings, which contain documentation of everywhere they’ve been, one commenter asked what happens when the back of the painting is filled up. Baldessari clearly wrestled with that same problem at least once, and came up with a worthy solution:

Scott Tennent

Operator, Get Me Urban Light

October 7, 2009

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Ashish Soni, Director of USC’s IT department, and his colleague Trina Gregory, just as they were launching the first ever iPhone application class at the school. The timing was particularly serendipitous as the LACMA team had an idea for a playful app based on the Celebrating Urban Light project. Since Chris Burden’s Urban Light, a sculpture comprised of 202 vintage Southern California streetlamps, has become a key L.A. art experience, we thought it would be great to create a virtual flipbook that could serve as a (free) memento of the encounter. And, for those that can’t easily make it to the museum, you could have a chance to see what all the fuss is about.

Ashish’s students took on our idea and ran with it. Chris Guitarte, Rachel Wagoner, Susana Ruiz, and Rokhsan Shafiei knocked us out with their hard work and professionalism, and now the fruits of their labor are ready for you all to pluck. Check out Urban Light from Day to Night in the iTunes app store. It’s a new, beautiful (and did I mention free?) way to look at this already iconic work of art.


Allison Agsten

The Benevolent Guardian of the Boone Children’s Gallery

October 6, 2009

There’s a dragon in the newly reopened Boone Children’s Gallery—but don’t worry, it’s not the menacing fire-breathing type. Those dragons, feared for their destructive ways, are from Europe. This dragon is Korean, and while still a powerful mythological beast, he is, well… nice. Benevolent, kind, symbolic of kings and good luck… these are the traits associated with dragons from East Asia.

mural 3 

The Boone dragon was painted by a trio of artists (Andy Doherty, Kirsten Burton, and Pamela Starks) who studied LACMA’s Korean art collection and, like me, fell in love with a dragon who lives among the clouds (and, by the way, truly has eyelashes to die for) on a ceramic jar, on view just steps away in the Korean galleries.

Korea, probably Kwangju, South Cholla Province, Jar with Dragon and Clouds, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), eighteenth century, purchased with museum funds

Korea, probably Kwangju, South Cholla Province, Jar with Dragon and Clouds, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), eighteenth century, purchased with museum funds

The Boone’s auspicious animal is twenty feet long and oversees the new drop-in brush-painting studio where children, families, and even adults are invited to make art. The muralists’ design was first projected on the wall of the gallery using an old-fashioned overhead projector—the kind your science teacher used in junior high. They came in the middle of the night to work in peace and relative darkness, only to learn that the gallery was still well lit—making projecting a challenge—by the Hammer Building’s bright exterior lights shining in through the windows.

Pamela Starks adds to the mural

Pamela Starks adds to the mural

Little by little, as color and details were added, the composite creature came to life. And by composite, I mean that it takes nine animals to make a dragon. Here is the checklist: horns of a deer, head of a camel, ears of a cow, neck of a snake, belly of a clam, scales of a fish, claws of an eagle, paws of a tiger, and the eyes of a rabbit. And the eyes, by the way, are always painted last. With this final touch the dragon’s personality is revealed and it comes to life…

Karen Satzman, Manager, Art Classes and Family Programs

Pioneers of Video Art, from the East and West

October 5, 2009

Tomorrow night marks the first of three programs in the screening series Vital Signals: Japanese and American Video Art from the 1960s and 70s (with programs two and three happening on the next two Tuesdays, October 13 and October 20). Looking back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the first generation of artists began experimenting with the increasingly available medium of video, the series offers a chance to recontextualize and revisit early works by many artists found in our permanent collection such as John Baldessari, Vito Acconci, William Wegman, Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, Joan Jonas, and Gary Hill. It is doubly exciting to learn more about the affinities between these artists and those working at the same time in Japan.

The series, organized in collaboration with the media arts organization Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI) and curators in Japan, shows rarely screened works by artists from the U.S. and Japan and will have some real surprises for even the most avid aficionados of experimental video. The correspondence between American and Japanese artists has often been cited in terms of technological innovations (such as in Nam June Paik’s collaboration with Tokyo-based engineer Shuya Abe), or in terms of influence (for example the role of Noh performance in Joan Jonas’s work). In Vital Signals, however, we are given an opportunity to consider the parallel investigations of artists grappling with a new technology yet working in drastically different milieus.

Some of the works are astoundingly similar, such as in Paik’s Digital Experiment at Bell Labs and the Japanese artists Computer Technique Group, in which early computer graphics and type punctuate the screen.


Nam June Paik, ”Digital Experiment at Bell Labs,” 1966, courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

Computer Technique Group, ”Computer Movie No.1,” 1969, courtesy of the artist

Computer Technique Group, ”Computer Movie No.1,” 1969, courtesy of the artist

In others we are confronted with the way artist, subject, and representation reverberate. Joan Jonas’s Left Side Right Side shows the artist performing alongside a mirror-image video, while Takahiko Iimura’s Observer/Observed questions who exactly is watching whom.


Joan Jonas. ”Left Side Right Side,” 1972, courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York

Takahiko Iimura. ”Observer/Observed,” 1975–76, courtesy of the artist

Takahiko Iimura. ”Observer/Observed,” 1975–76, courtesy of the artist

In John Badessari’s Cigar Lexicon the artist tries to build a definition of an object through a series of repeated motions, followed by Hakudo Kobayashi’s Lapse Communication, in which gesture is gradually repeated and broken down into nonsensical movements.


John Baldessari. ”How We Do Art Now,” 1973, courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York


Hakudo Kobayashi. ”Lapse Communication,” 1972 (revised 1980), courtesy of artist

These kinds of revelations run throughout the series. Tomorrow night will focus on how early video works highlighted the novelty of the medium itself—instantaneous playback, animation capabilities, technological manipulation, etc. Next week’s screening explores how artists worked with television and the increasingly availability of video as a tool for communication, political activism, and commentary on image production. In the final program we will return to the artists’ studios for performances produced specifically for the camera. In all three programs there is a loose conversation between the works in both continents, thus creating an underlying narrative that captures the excitement of artists working at the forefront of technological possibility—a thread we might follow through to our present moment of digitization.

Alex Klein, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow

The New Homepage

October 2, 2009

I like a spare, reserved homepage as much as the next person, but some time ago I began to wonder whether the LACMA homepage might not be a little too spare and reserved. People would be looking right at the homepage, on which one of the headlines said, “Unframed: The LACMA Blog,” and they would say, “I can’t find the blog.” So that was a problem.

Picture 1


There also seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between the page’s minimalist demeanor and the countless exuberant ways that museumgoers interact with all kinds of art (and with each other) every day at LACMA. The situation was helped a lot by the Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries takeover of the homepage, which was very well received,* but then Your Bright Future ended and so did the takeover. By then, however, we were already working on an evolution of the homepage that we’re happy to be introducing today.

Picture 2


In the new iteration, designed by Seso Media Group and LACMA graphic designer Jin Son, art images abound, social media steps forward (try the Community Twitter feed) and a mini-calendar provides fast access to the latest concerts, films, and conversations. And a small touch, but one I’m fond of: The persistent question of “Where is LACMA?” should be easier to answer, as you only have to click on the address at the top of every page and a map appears.

Tom Drury

* There were several calls informing us that our site had been hacked, but we took those as positive responses as well.

A Peek Beneath the Paint

October 1, 2009

With work underway on a catalogue of LACMA’s exceptional collection of seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish paintings, our team of painting conservators, scientists, and curators have been investigating the materials and techniques used by these highly skilled artists. Conservators often use research tools adapted from other fields when examining the techniques used by an artist, and one piece of equipment we routinely use when investigating paintings is a digital infrared camera. Infrared is more often associated with the military or security companies, who use it for night vision. In our labs, IR cameras help us see the initial sketches carried out directly on the canvas or panel support by an artist. These underdrawings, done with charcoal, ink, or a soft lead pencil directly over the prepared panel or canvas, were used as “guides” for the painting that would be done on top. Curators often use these underdrawings to help authenticate or date a painting or to show changes that an artist may have made during the creation of the work.

Underdrawings are for the most part invisible to the unaided eye, but using a digital infrared camera we are able, in a sense, to “penetrate” the upper paint layers and see the hidden drawing below. Here curator Amy Walsh (standing) and I are using LACMA’s IR camera to view the underdrawing in Salomon van Ruysdael’s Landscape with Deer Hunters (1630). The infrared image of the underdrawing is captured by the camera and shown on a computer screen.


You can imagine our surprise when we discovered the remarkable underdrawing; looking at the painting you would never guess that such a loose and energetic drawing existed under the paint layers! No preliminary sketches on paper are known to exist for Ruysdael’s landscapes; he appears instead to have used underdrawings in his early paintings. Later in life he painted directly onto his panels or canvases without any underdrawing as a guide.


Salomon Jacobsz van Ruysdael, "Landscape with Deer Hunters," circa 1630, oil on panel, Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection


"Landscape with Deer Hunters," infrared image


"Landscape with Deer Hunters" (detail)


"Landscape with Deer Hunters" (detail), infrared image

In this detail from the infrared image you can see how Ruysdael first drew in the landscape—it was probably executed very quickly, perhaps in as little time as a few minutes. The tree on the left is suggested with swirling loops and the ground under the trees and figures in sharp zigzag strokes. Ruysdael has defined the landscape with just a few abbreviated strokes, while the painting on top is filled with details, light, and atmosphere. It is also interesting to note that the artist only drew in the landscape and trees—he did not sketch the figures at this early stage. These were painted in later over the underdrawing. As the paint layers were applied the drawing would gradually have become invisible, only to be revealed hundreds of years later with our equipment.

Elma O’Donaghue, Associate Painting Conservator

Photos: Yosi Pozeilov

%d bloggers like this: