Oil on Canvas, meet App on iPhone

January 29, 2010

Cellular phones have become an indispensable tool in today’s world. Now that mobile phones are morphing into devices that sync one’s phone, email, photos, and other types of social media into one sleek package, it’s only natural that some artists are gravitating toward these aptly named smartphones, some of which carry artistic tools. 

Take David Hockney for instance. In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Lawrence Weschler describes the artist’s increasing fascination with the iPhone. Utilizing the Brushes application, Hockney has taken to creating images ranging from portraits, flower still lifes, and seascapes. Unlike canvases, Hockney describes these smartphones with art applications as a “medium of pure light, not ink or pigment, if anything more akin to a stained glass window than an illustration on paper.” (Click here to see his images.) 

Other artists have also begun to incorporate the use of smartphones (particularly iPhones) in their work. The New Yorker  featured Jorge Colombo’s artwork on its June 1 cover, done entirely by an iPhone using the Brushes application. You can even see the step-by-step process here: 

Local artist Bob Poe recently featured his work at Bergamot Station a few months ago, his works of abstraction playing with the simple capabilities of a camera phone and the combination of light and color.

Bob Poe, Cover, 2009


John Baldessari even toys with the concept of digital imaging on large panels facing Wilshire Blvd. that grace LACMA’s very own BCAM, juxtaposing one panel where an image of a palm tree is taken with an iPhone next to another panel showing an older method of image taking: using a thumb and pencil. 

Baldessari's banners on BCAM's exterior

So what does this say about future tools of technology and their place as a medium in the art world? After all, smartphones—be it an iPhone, Droid, or the new Nexus One—have become the modern day Swiss Army knife, and just like any tool, they can easily fall behind to newer, more innovative versions. And while they will never (nor should) take the place of pencils, brushes, and SLR cameras entirely, other media can certainly make room for it as we can only watch and wonder how artists adapt to these advances in technology within their creative environment. 

Devi Noor

An American Art Double Take

January 28, 2010

Hanging in the American galleries, there is a trio of paintings—all painted in 1926—that may prompt a double-take: Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro; Yun Gee’s Artist Studio, and Otis Oldfield’s Portrait of Yun Gee. Look closely and you will discover the connections that I love pointing out to visitors.

Miki Hayakawa, Portrait of a Negro, 1926, purchased with funds provided by Mrs. James D. Macneil

Yun Gee, Artist Studio, 1926, purchased with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. and Mrs. James D. Macneil

Otis William Oldfield, Portrait of Yun Gee, 1926, purchased with funds provided by Dr. and Mrs. Christian Title and Carey Nachenberg

Using bold colors and modern forms in his prismatic studio scene, Gee has depicted Hayakawa at work on one of her portraits from her series of single figures of different races. His is a modernist vision of the sitter in front of the red drapery and posing before Hayakawa’s easel, on which we see her canvas (to which he even added her signature “Miki H.”) and on it the image of the African American model taking shape in her realist style.

A noted portraitist, Oldfield taught both Gee and Hayakawa. Oldfield collaborated with Gee to found the Modern Art Gallery, the first artists’ cooperative in San Francisco, and painted his student the year Gee founded the Chinese Revolutionary Artists Club, which instructed Chinese art students in Western artistic methods. Acquired together in 2004, these interconnected paintings reveal the little-known camaraderie and diversity of the talented community of modern artists working in the Bay Area as early as the 1920s.

Austen Bailly

Journey through Sequence

January 27, 2010

Sometimes the public interacts with a piece of art in an unexpected way. Such is the case with Richard Serra’s sculpture Sequence, which sits in one of BCAM’s first-floor galleries. Faced with two rust-colored behemoth pods and a small dark opening, visitors bravely enter and exit (usually smiling) and, as if by revelation, say the most endearing things about a piece of art.

Richard Serra, "Sequence," 2006, lent by the artist

Sequence encloses the spectator and offers a trail, a journey in which time is condensed and expectations are slightly disturbed for some, while others enter aimlessly and come out surprisingly pleased, as if a small, somewhat imperceptible gift had been bestowed upon them. Out of curiosity while on this post over many hours, I would ask them as they were preparing to leave the building how the artwork made them feel. Having seen and heard all matter of emotional response, these are some of their replies.

“That was exquisite!”

“Very unusual, I didn’t expect that.”

“It made me dizzy.”

“That was fun!”

“Thank you so much. That was neat.”

“My kids want to go again.”

“Totally didn’t expect that.”

“I loved the way the walls made you want to lean away or toward them.”

“It’s interesting.”

“But what was the point?”

“That was great!”

“It was cool.”

“I thought it was scary, I’m claustrophobic.”

“I thought it would never end!”

One visitor said that Serra was invoking nature, for on the inside he was in Arizona, and that this mountain of iron made something more of nature. He called it sublime. Sequence is possibly a skin on space if Serra’s words are anything to go by: “not an object we inspect but an arrangement of space in which we move”; “not figures on pedestals.” In John Rajchman’s essay in the book Richard Serra’s Sculpture: 40 Years, he finds Serra talking of a sense of indeterminacy and a “gigantic exercise in thinking.” While watching and listening to the visitors of this heroic piece of art, one witnesses that some of the greatest artists sense the yet-unexplored terrain and guide us there.

Hylan Booker, Gallery Attendant

An Aerial Photographer, Two Photojournalists, and David LaChapelle Walk into a Hotel Bar . . .

January 26, 2010

Recently I saw an eclectic combination of photographers speaking about photography at the Doubletree Hotel in Santa Monica for this year’s 19th Annual Photo LA. It was a day of lectures curated by LACMA, and the photographers who spoke were Michael Light, Colin Finlay, Sara Terry, and David LaChapelle. It was a day that took me from the firmament to terrestrial realities to celebrity surrealities.

"Earth’s Largest Excavation, 2.5 Miles Wide and .5 Mile Deep, Looking West," photograph by Michael Light

Michael Light flies a “very tiny aircraft in very large spaces” seeking the sublime. He produces very large handmade books of the results he finds, which are also reproduced as trade editions for the everyday monograph consumer. By flying through the atmosphere, Light is bathing in vision—the wide angle, the distance, and the air thick with light. He has a self-proclaimed taste for the grandiose and is quick to point out the happy coincidence that he was born with the name Light and is primarily interested in finding and making images of the stuff.

A woman peers through an opening in the gate that leads into Rabia Balkhi Women's Hospital, the second busiest maternity hospital in Kabul, photograph by Sara Terry

Photojournalists Sara Terry and Colin Finlay were on hand to speak about their involvement in the book A Thousand Words: Photographs from the Field, which documents twenty-five years of the International Medical Corps, an international relief agency that not only specializes in delivering medical services to areas of the world most in need but also strives to set up infrastructures to sustain that relief.

Formerly an award-winning reporter in print, radio, and television, Terry lost faith in words when they failed her at a key time in her personal life. Around that time she also picked up a camera and started taking photographs. She hasn’t turned back, focusing her lens on places like Bosnia, Afghanistan and, more recently, rural California. She’s also the founder of the Aftermath Project, which makes grants to help societies rebuild after major political upheaval. With photography, this wordsmith has incorporated images into a most effective form of language.

Children in Rwanda, photograph by Colin Finlay

Colin Finlay used the word “alchemy” when he spoke about photographing. In order to achieve the soul agreement that has to happen between him as a photographer and the person in front of his camera, he has to be completely raw and compassionate to receive the image of his subject. To Finlay, photographs are given, not “taken.” It’s all about how the subject sees him, not the other way around.

Photograph by David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle has traversed the worlds of commercial and art photography, music videos, and filmmaking. It was this campaign, above, shot in the first half of 2005 and published shortly after Katrina hit in July, which led LaChapelle to drop his allegiance to advertising photography for a couple of years and move to Hawaii to build an organic farm. Needless to say, some viewers mistakenly saw this fashion-in-a-hurricane theme as deliberate and in poor taste (although it was photographed months before the destruction in New Orleans). LaChapelle, having worked nonstop for twenty years, seized this moment to shift course. It seems to have brought him back to focusing on the fine art side of his work.

If you’re a photographer, where do set up your camera? What’s your perspective?

Sarah Bay Williams

Introducing the Reading Room

January 25, 2010

We’re happy to announce today the launch of the Reading Room—a special corner of lacma.org dedicated to catalogues of exhibitions past. These are out-of-print, hard-to-find books reprinted in full for you to read online or download as a pdf—for free. To kick things off we are offering ten books related to the Southern California art scene, with plans for more books reflecting the depth and breadth of LACMA’s collection to be added over the coming months. We asked Nola Butler, co-director of LACMA’s Publications Department and a member of the team that got the Reading Room up and running, for her take on this new venture.

"Edward Kienholz," exhibition catalogue, pp. 55-56, on Reading Room

There are certain out-of-print LACMA catalogues, like Art and Technology (1971), that have become legendary (and not just in the mind of an editor in the Publications Department). I first came across one of these treasures when I was working on curator Howard Fox’s essays for Made in California (2000). I hadn’t been at LACMA very long and was just learning about the infamous Back Seat Dodge controversy. Weirdly, by chance, I happened to discover Maurice Tuchman’s brilliant Edward Kienholz (1966) in the back of a Pubs department file cabinet. There’s something about finding just the right book at just the right time, and the Kienholz catalogue is one very cool book: a faux leather-bound paperback with faux marbled paper on the inside covers, a greenish “toothy” stock for the text pages, and black-and-white images with cartouche-shaped borders like in old photo albums. There is a lovely surprise at the back—a gatefold of The Beanery, Kienholz’s homage to the old Barney’s. They reserved one full page for a color reproduction of our own Back Seat Dodge ’38. Deborah Sussman’s design is crafty; the book looks like a battered scrapbook that Kienholz might’ve found in a junk shop and used in one of his works. It’s sort of ugly and beautiful at the same time.

I still have that book in my office, and over the years I’ve kept my eyes open for more of these legendary LACMA catalogues. In assembling material for the Reading Room, I had an excuse to really go after these books—searching Pubs offices and eBay, borrowing from the Rights and Reproductions Department and our research library. I’ve filled two long shelves in my office with just about every book and catalogue this encyclopedic institution has ever published. My desk faces these shelves, and every time I look at them, it makes me happy.

Nola's bookshelf

This is the great thing about the Reading Room: it’s like I get to invite everyone over to my office to check out all the fantastic books LACMA has done. You can see that Kienholz book, Art and Technology, and the rest of our electronic reprints right here.

Nola Butler, Co-director of Publications

Inhabiting Tarkovsky’s Dreams

January 22, 2010

There seems to be very little I can possibly say about Andrei Tarkovsky that hasn’t already been written, far more eloquently and astutely by the likes of J. Hoberman, James Quandt and Chris Marker (who’s One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich will screen on the final Friday of our Tarkovsky retrospective, which starts this weekend). Just pick up a copy of 2008’s handsomely illustrated Tarkovsky and do a bit of leafing; or for a deeper plunge, try Robert Bird’s Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema. There’s plenty on the internet, of course, so try the indefatigable Canadian website nostalghia.com; here, I’ll just signpost a personal favorite in the series.

The Mirror (1975) may be Tarkovsky’s purest expression. Largely unencumbered by narrative, it dwells and drifts freely through poetry, memory, newsreels, landscapes, and climates (wind-blown spring feels hard-won after the horizon-blanketing snows of winter). A house burns in a forest. A girl levitates. A woman wanders among massive reams of paper in a seemingly abandoned factory. To call it dreamlike is far too simplistic given that Tarkovsky’s cinema, with its prevalence of lengthy, crawling takes, lingers in an enigmatic present tense. His shots don’t so much span space as they alter the viewer’s sense of duration (the tree may not only be a sign in Tarkovsky’s cosmology but also a concrete representation of time itself). The camera floats through expansive realms that are earthy—Marker notes Tarkovsky’s affinity for grounding his figures in vast stretches of land with little space afforded to the sky—and where time is somewhat elastic or at least porous. Just look at the way figures amble within the frame or the different planes of action unfurl in fugues of simultaneity. Tarkovsky’s protagonists don’t so much take center stage, commanding their destiny, as they glide through a potent, waterlogged world, slipping into visions or reminiscences, pondering their place, and slipping toward magnificently sublime ends. In The Mirror, this lead isn’t an on-camera presence as much as an in-camera consciousness. And after nearly two hours inhabiting it, these memories will be your own.

Bernardo Rondeau

Two Art Histories, One America

January 21, 2010

When I found out that LACMA had been presented with seven rare examples of nineteenth-century Pueblo pottery, I was thrilled to realize that the scope of our historical American art collections was finally more comprehensive. Like many museums across the country, LACMA’s American art collection technically did not include works made by American Indians. Instead, it contained many works of art, especially from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, depicting American Indians generically and often stereotypically (with the important exception of our recently acquired portraits of Chippewa chief No-Tin).

The conventional notion was that American Indian art is not American art per se, the latter being traditionally understood as fine and decorative arts produced from the colonial era through the mid-twentieth century by formally trained, non-Native American artists. Recent exhibitions, such as The Modern West: American Landscapes, 1890–1915, and key museum installations at the Denver Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, have tried to counter this convention to better present the two art histories—American Indian art and American art—as both independent and interdependent. And now, with the installation of Pueblo Pottery: 1800–1900, LACMA is able to do the same, if on a much more modest scale.

Zuni Pueblo, Kiapkwa, Polychrome Water Jar, circa 1840-1850, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Acomita Pueblo or possibly Laguna Pueblo, Water Jar, circa 1800-1820, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Tesuque (Tatungue) Pueblo, Water Jar, circa 1880-1890, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Zia Pueblo, Storage Jar, circa 1900, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Nampeyo, Bowl, circa 1900, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Acoma Pueblo, McCarty's Village, Jar, circa 1870-1880, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Acoma Pueblo, Jar, circa 1910, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost

Ultimately, these ceramics will be installed permanently in the American art galleries and may help us continue to shape an American art collection that includes more images and objects of—and by—American Indians.

Austen Bailly

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