Annual Cherry-Blossom Alert

March 24, 2010

Today we share the latest edition of a general announcement that arrives in our email every year about this time—Curator Rob Singer’s much-anticipated annual report (with haiku) on the cherry trees seen from the Pavilion for Japanese Art:

Date: Tuesday, March 23, 2010
To: All Staff
From: Robert T. Singer, Japanese Art
Subject: 2010 Annual Cherry Blossom Alert

It has been an unusual cherry-blossom spring—because of all the rain and intermittent cold, the blossoms have bloomed at least twice, if not three times in the last month. This NEVER happens in Japan, where they bloom only once. At the present moment our ten cherry trees are a wonderful mix of cherry-blossom pink and new-leaf green.

Here are a few haiku and tanka, not all about cherry blossoms.

In spacious courts,
The courtiers and their ladies
Have time to spare;
Today again they beguile it,
Sprigs of cherry in their hair.
Yamabeno Akahito, Shin Kokin Wakashu, eighth century

Where is that luster now
in the past so beautiful?
Flowering cherry
only the bare trunk remains
stripped of its flowers and branches.
The Tales of Ise, tenth century

In a light sleep
The one I love appeared—
And ever since
It is dreams, only dreams,
That hold any hope for me.
Ono no Komachi, Kokin Wakashu, c. 905

Their colors may glow, but petals will fall.
Who in this world can stay unchanged?
Huge hills of life’s sorrow I’ve traveled over.
No drink or deceiving dreams for me.
Kobo Daishi, Iroha uta, 774-835

Robert T. Singer, Curator of Japanese Art

News from Houston

March 22, 2010

Edward Robinson leads a tour of "Assembly: Eight Emerging Photographers from Southern California"

Earlier this month I visited Houston with Edward Robinson, associate curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department, to install the show Assembly: Eight Emerging Southern California Photographers as part of the thirteenth FotoFest Biennial of Photography and Photo-related Art. FotoFest is a month-long festival that rounds up over a hundred art galleries and other viable spaces to host exhibitions, portfolio reviews, workshops, an auction, film screenings, and curatorial dialogues and symposia. Assembly is one of four exhibits by guest curators that fit this year’s theme of contemporary U.S. photography.

Natasha Egan, associate director and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, organized The Road to Nowhere?, examining photography that documents or personally comments on the turmoil of war and economy that has crept into the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Greg Stimac, Concord, Vermont (Mowing the Lawn),” 2006

Aaron Schuman, photographer, editor, writer, and curator, saw parallels between the keen eye of Walker Evans, who photographed the United States of the early twentieth century, and those of contemporary photographers working today. His exhibit for FotoFest, Whatever was Splendid: New American Photographs, is partially named for a quote by Lincoln Kirtstein, from his essay written for the significant 1938 Walker Evans monograph American Photographs.

RJ Shaughnessy, La Brea Ave., 2008

Gilbert Vicario, curator of the Des Moines Art Center, whose show spans three spaces, created Medianation: Performing for the Screen, exploring the ways in which a selection of contemporary artists have manipulated traditional modes of communication and media such as television, internet, radio, film, photography, and even the U.S. postal service, to express their artistic vision.

Emilio Chapela, Digital Degradation, 2009

Our exhibit, Assembly, focuses on eight photographers who have developed their practice within the last ten years here in Los Angeles. As curator Edward Robinson remarks in the essay accompanying the show, “the cultural history of Southern California has been one of ongoing dialogue between utopian ideals and apocalyptic apprehension—the boosterism of the ‘end of the road’ state, heralded for its promise and abundance, in tension with concerns about the fragility of its natural and built environment.” Take a look at how this is manifested by the artists included in Assembly, below. Thanks to a generous gift provided by LACMA’s Photographic Arts Council, each of these photographers are now represented in the museum’s permanent collection.

Nicole Belle, Untitled, 2008

Nicole Belle’s series, Apartment, features photographs of moments of absurd choreographed action and unusual elements of her home that happily convolute the typical and normative trappings of domestic life.

Matthew Brandt, Lake Hollywood CA 3, 2008

Among other unconventional photographic processes used, Matthew Brandt’s photographs of lakes and reservoirs are soaked in water Brandt collects from the location pictured. After weeks or more, the prints settle into a brilliant and beautiful spectrum of decay.

Peter Holzhauer, Balloons, 2008

Peter Holzhauer’s approach is that of a visual anthropologist, surveying the city and countryside for signs of what has become of us—the accidental, the presence of well-intentioned but unfortunate urban planning, and the misplacement and even defacement of the natural setting.

Whitney Hubbs, photos from the series Day for Night, 2008-2009

Whitney Hubbs captures moments from her life, creating a world of memories so precious that she has remarked they feel stolen.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (bedroom), 2008

Matt Lipps’ photographs shown in Assembly are from a series that marries archival images of his childhood home with striking cutouts of National Park vistas by Ansel Adams. The images, which serve as family portraits to Lipps, are further unified by swaths of hues inspired by Benjamin Moore color schemes.

Joey Lehman Morris, Black Mountain Detachment: Two Nights, From Waxing to Fully Stated, 2008

Joey Lehman Morris has been photographing the Southern Californian landscape and creating objects that are oftentimes as sculptural as they are photographic, using the photographic medium and its presentation to introduce the viewer to new ways of viewing both natural and man-altered environments.

Asha Schechter, Picture 04, 2009

Asha Schechter composes the images in Assembly with his own open-ended curation. Using imagery collected from a variety of sources, Schechter arranges groupings of photographs against colored backgrounds that emphasize the physicality of the photographic print, while exploring the nostalgia and meaning of making images and presupposing the widespread future of digital influence on photography.

Augusta Wood, family to go through, 2006

Augusta Wood focuses her attention on images that include phrases collected and meditated upon as well as images from her past that she brings to life by projecting them on space where the images originated.

Sarah Bay Williams

Swimming with Sharks

March 19, 2010

John Singleton Copley’s famous painting Watson and the Shark was commissioned by Brook Watson to document a harrowing event at age 14 as a maritime sailor. While swimming alone off Havana Cuba in 1749, Watson was repeatedly attacked by a shark. The shark first removed some flesh from Watson’s right calf, then bit off his entire left foot at the ankle. Rescued by his shipmates, the teenager subsequently had to have his left leg amputated below the knee. In the painting Copley has depicted Watson as a romanticized ghostly, nude figure on his back, woefully vulnerable to the more powerful beast acting on animal instinct. One seldom sees a more graphic vision of the classic theme Man versus Nature.

John Singleton Copley, "Watson and the Shark," 1778, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ferdinand Belin Fund

In Los Angeles we have made an art form of controlling our environment: manicured palm trees, diverted river water, flood channels, fire breaks. However, once in a while Angelenos are starkly reminded of natural threats in our midst—say, by this Los Angeles Times photo last October of a shark breaching in Santa Monica Bay near Gladstone’s restaurant.

As a regular ocean swimmer in this area, such photos are of immense interest to me. In chatting with the photographer, Randy Wright, I found he has recorded several more shark sightings there. On the Shark Research Committee website, local surfers have posted dozens of similar accounts, including some nibbles by smaller sharks. I hide from my swim buddies the fact that a sea lion pup with head cleanly sheared off was discovered in our Redondo Beach training area.

Of course, such photos and reports generate countless theories within the swim/surf community of what provokes a shark attack, or doesn’t. For instance, “they will attack if attracted by sparkly jewelry, or by wetsuits resembling seals.” “They won’t savagely attack humans because we’re not blubbery enough.” “They’ll only strike in deep water because they spring up from below.” Almost 250 years since Copley’s painting, shark tales continue to ignite the imagination. It seems there are only three facts everyone can agree on: 1) Sharks are an important part of the ecosystem unfairly maligned and overhunted. 2) Swimmers must respect the ocean for what it is—the wild—and acknowledge one’s limitations, even a few yards off Gladstone’s. And 3) One’s chances of being attacked or being fatally wounded are extremely rare, aggravated by swimming alone—Watson’s mistake.

Renee Montgomery, Assistant Director of Collections Information

Measuring Arts Education, Part III

March 18, 2010

Recently I explained how we in the Education Department measure the impact of our LACMA On-Site program through various activities in the classroom, at libraries, and here at the museum. Today I’m going to share some recent statistics from the thorough evaluation of that program.

After an eleven-month evaluation of the program, we learned that art and artists are a part of students’ daily use of what they know and their expanded viewpoints of the world. In addition to being engaged in thinking, talking about, and making art, schoolchildren have been positively impacted in ways that have fundamentally changed how they use language to talk about art and the artistic process. Through this program children and adults have found personal and meaningful connections with works of art. Parents, classroom teachers, school administrators, and librarians value the program and recognize the importance of the arts in children’s lives.

Here are six key findings:

The program makes a positive impact in language development for participants. Students are using art vocabulary and noting details in their language, and are able to express themselves using descriptive language. In LAUSD’s diverse population, the program also supports language development for English Language Learners. And teachers report that students’ use of descriptive language continues beyond the art workshops. One of the most significant benefits of the evaluation was identifying ways more students could have a chance to voice their ideas in short instructional settings by providing opportunities for students to work in small groups and pairs during instruction.(1)

Participants are using and exploring a range of new art materials not readily available to them, including collage, watercolor painting, oil pastel, and clay. Students and families are learning and applying specific skills and techniques related to these art media, which expands their understandings of those techniques and materials. (2)

Program participants overwhelmingly find personal and meaningful connections between their own lives and LACMA’s permanent collection as seen in their artwork. In particular, teens engage in library workshops because the content is relevant to their lives and families and librarians relate to concepts that resonate with their communities. (3)

The program content resonates with participants and administrators. In the schools, students and teachers relate that they are using LACMA arts curriculum for further development of critical thinking skills and other core academic areas. For example, the program fosters the development of students’ analytical skills through the process of expressing and supporting their opinions when talking about art. Teachers integrate the curriculum for varying purposes, connecting vocabulary words, art concepts, and workshop themes with their ongoing instruction. (4)

Classroom teachers, school administrators, librarians, and parents place a high value on the program and desire to continue the experience. Teachers recommend it to their colleagues, librarians value the program’s emphasis on family learning, and principals value the quality of LACMA’s staff, teaching artists, resources, and support. Both teachers and librarians note specific reasons to continue the collaboration with LACMA and see it as an integral component of the school curricula or library community programming.

In addition to achieving its short-term goals, the program has made strides in achieving longer-term goals, including increasing levels of action around art education by school administrators and sustaining arts engagement in the LAUSD elementary and middle schools.

The evaluation also documents a well-known, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of arts education: arts learning provides English Language Learners, students falling behind in traditional classroom settings, and students with special needs with opportunities to excel and often exceed their teacher’s expectations.

What does it take to provide meaningful, effective, large-scale programming in an urban and widespread area such as Los Angeles? These evaluation findings help to identify a programming model that can be transferred to other areas of the country, using shared outcomes and teaching strategies. Formal documents that share the evaluation findings, both in print and on LACMA’s website, will be available this summer.

(1) Across all grade levels, specific and descriptive language expanded. In the libraries, children used descriptive words to talk about art.

(2) Of particular significance, over 90 percent of all participating K-5 students applied skills in using art materials and over 80 percent of middle school students applied skills in using art materials. 92 percent of children participating in the library program applied an art skill or technique as well. Typically reticent in these situations, 51 percent of adults are applying arts skills or techniques for the first time.

(3) Across all programs, over 90 percent of participants are including personal content in their own artwork.

(4) At the elementary and middle school levels, 93 percent of teachers saw connections with other subjects.

Elizabeth Gerber, Manager, School & Teacher Programs

Nurse and Child: An American Story

March 17, 2010

Nurse and Child, an American daguerreotype made about 1850 by an unknown photographer, is an arresting image. It was the unflinching directness of the nurse’s gaze and the beauty of her face that first fixed my attention. Although this daguerreotype appears in the current Getty exhibition, In Focus: The Worker, which “presents a photographic history of working people across many cultures,” I can’t help but look at Nurse and Child through the lens of LACMA’s current exhibition, American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915.

Unknown American, "Nurse and Child," about 1850, hand-colored daguerreotype, image courtesy of the Getty Center

Like so many of the paintings in LACMA’s exhibition, what is riveting in this photograph is how the details and the composition offer clues about the complex relationships between blacks and whites in nineteenth-century America. Here an African-American caregiver, who may or may not be a slave (we don’t know where she lived), is pictured with her white charge, who appears to be around the same age as my own eight-month-old son, a feature that surely drew me further into the image. Her remarkably long fingers do not grip the baby’s hand with a fist but extend delicately along the child’s arm to softly restrain it from batting, like the impulse of the child’s other hand, and therefore blurring, “a necessary gesture in early photography, when exposure times were usually too long for a child to sit still,” notes Getty curator Paul Martineau. The nurse presses her head gently against the baby’s to keep it close, comforted, and stationary. The tenderness with which the nurse effectively collaborates with the photographer to achieve this image—ostensibly a double portrait—is palpable.

It is also clear, however, that the focus is on the white baby, who is dressed in a bright costume and is held to stand above the eye level of her nurse, in front of her, and in the light. Aside from the neatly tied, light-patterned headscarf, the figure of the nurse recedes into the background. Yet her face is aligned along the same plane as the baby’s, indicating at once their close bond and suggesting the dependence of a white family on the care and labor of African Americans. Such relationships are evident in many paintings in American Stories.

Mount, William Sidney, "Eel Spearing at Setauket," 1845, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, photo courtesy of Fenimore Art Museum, photo by Richard Walker

Consider Eel Spearing at Setauket, painted in 1845 by William Sidney Mount, which shows Rachel Hart instructing her young charge George Washington Strong on how to spear eels, or Winslow Homer’s Cotton Pickers, whose protagonists possess a stoic beauty akin to that of the nurse. While Nurse and Child portrays two actual if unknown individuals from 1850s America, we want to make up stories about their lives, stories that contemporaneous American painters often set to canvas.

Austen Bailly

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