Newly Added to the Reading Room: 7 German Art Catalogues

April 16, 2010

Today LACMA is launching its latest installment of free online catalogue reprints in the Reading Room. In conjunction with the German expressionist exhibition Myths, Legends, and Cultural Renewal: Wagner’s Sources, which opened yesterday, the latest batch of Reading Room catalogues revolves around LACMA’s scholarship in the area of German art. Take a look at the seven new catalogues here. Below, LACMA Editor in Chief Thomas Frick gives some insight into the biggest behemoth of them all.

There are those of us in the book world—you know who you are—who feel an uncanny affinity with Thomas Mann’s observation, “Only the exhaustive is truly interesting.” Attracted to endless encyclopedias, massive catalogues, and arcane compendia of all types, we’re perverse enough to gladly trade a free round-trip ticket to Paris for a week’s lodging in Borges’s Library of Babel.

One LACMA publication could be placed on any list of exhaustive works: German Expressionist Prints and Drawings: The Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, a two-volume behemoth published in 1989. Comprising a book of essays and a catalogue raisonné totaling 1,088 pages, it has been called by one antiquarian bookseller “among the finest resources on the graphic art of German Expressionism.” Although LACMA’s Rifkind Center has added significantly to its holdings during the subsequent two decades, these out-of-print volumes are still much sought after—I’ve seen the set offered through AbeBooks for well over $2,000.

In 1971 Robert Gore Rifkind, a Beverly Hills lawyer and third-generation Angeleno, began collecting German expressionist graphic art, along with the books and periodicals that themselves often contained original works. Eventually the collection grew large enough to require a staff and a place to house it; thus the center at LACMA was born.

The essay volume surveys the history of the expressionist movement, recounts its reception in the U.S., and includes, among other things, an intimate conversation between Rifkind and Oskar Kokoschka.

It also features numerous reproductions, many in saturated color. The expressionists’ angular forms and bold vibrating lines, carving out indelible images within often highly charged negative space, are a reminder of the power of expressionism as conveyed in the graphic arts.

To page through the catalogue volume is a pleasure and an amazement. Simply the corralling of such complete documentation alongside each of the thousands of black-and-white thumbnail images (so numerous no one is ever confident of their count) commands the awe of anyone who’s ever assembled a checklist for an exhibition catalogue.

Of course, such exhaustiveness exacts a toll. The boxed set weighs fifteen pounds. Every time I pull it off the shelf, my wrists feel in danger of snapping. To fall asleep with the catalogue volume on your chest might well asphyxiate you.

Thus, it is especially rewarding to add this work to our electronic Reading Room library, where it will be more safely perusable. There it joins six additional historically important LACMA publications concerning German expressionism, a field with which the museum has had a long and fruitful engagement. The most notable of these other books, “Degenerate Art”: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, will be the subject of a future Unframed report.

Thomas Frick, Editor in Chief

Jazz at LACMA 2010

April 15, 2010

This Friday marks the opening night of our nineteenth jazz season at LACMA. I always look for a special musician to open the series, someone who epitomizes the best of the L.A. jazz scene. In that regard, it’s hard to top Red Holloway—one of the musicians who created the L.A. jazz scene, both as a saxophonist and as the talent director of the legendary Parisian Room.

Red has been on the world stage for nearly sixty years and is still blowing strong. He started his career playing with Dexter Gordon, Billie Holiday, and Chuck Berry. For most musicians, those would be the career highlights, but Red went on to tour and record extensively with Lionel Hampton, Jack McDuff, George Benson, Clark Terry, Sonny Rollins, along with his long partnership with Sonny Stitt. The guy is living jazz history.

Dizzy Gillespie, Red Callender, and Red Holloway

At 82 years young, Red’s touring schedule has not slowed down. He still jets around the globe as one the revered jazz figures of our time. Be it straight-ahead, blues, soul, or bop, Red does it all. For our opening-night concert he’ll be joining drummer Gerryck King and his organ trio. The clip below features Red with a different group—organist Rhoda Scott and drummer Bobby Durham—but should give you a taste of what to expect this Friday.

Mitch Glickman, Director of Music Programs

The Earth Quakes, but the Art Stays Still

April 13, 2010

Like a lot of people in L.A., especially in the last few weeks, I’ve had earthquakes on the brain. Is the big one on its way? Am I just asking to be crushed by my unreasonably large collection of books and records? Do I need to start wearing a helmet to work? If I’m in one of LACMA’s galleries during a quake, should I fear toppling art?

I needed John Hirx, head of Objects Conservation, to set at least one of my fears to rest. John, I was told, is the man to talk to when it comes to earthquakes. For many years he has been working closely with engineers on isolator systems installed in the bases of sculptures to protect them from crashing to the floor during a major earthquake. There are a variety of mounts used for all kinds of sculptures around the museum, but the most sophisticated isolators are used for especially large freestanding sculptures. John estimates there are about five such isolators currently in use in the galleries.

Two of them are in the South and Southeast Asian galleries on the fourth floor of the Ahmanson Building—the “worst-case-scenario” galleries in the museum, he tells me. Based on years of observation we know that this floor of the Ahmanson moves the most during earthquakes. In fact, during the Northridge earthquake in 1994, before the current isolators had been invented, the tenth-century Hindu God Vishnu, which stands more than seven feet tall, toppled from its mount, its head separating from its body. (Luckily, it should be noted, the statue was originally acquired in two parts; it broke in the exact spot where it had previously been separated.) In fact if you go into the gallery today you can still see a mark on the floor from the crash.

Cambodia, Angkor, Pre Rup, "The Hindu God Vishnu," c. 950, gift of Anna Bing Arnold

Today Vishnu stands in a new, safer location within the gallery, and on a new pedestal containing the most sophisticated isolator system thus far devised by anyone. Take a look at the base.

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside that box are three massive steel plates stacked on top of each other on rails. And when I say massive, I mean massive: there are about three tons of steel inside that mount. These isolators act as a counterweight to the sculpture and absorb the movement of the quaking floor beneath. John illustrated this further by pointing to the top portion of the mount, which looks like a three-inch-high platform on top of the larger base. That platform actually moves, sliding from side to side atop the motionless base. In an earthquake the opposite would happen—the ground itself would be moving from side to side while the sculpture, thanks to the isolators, would remain still. Here’s a shot of a different sculpture atop a similar isolator, sans exterior base in order to illustrate the movement.

So that’s one fear I can happily suppress. Now about my books and records…

Scott Tennent

Community Stories: Kerry James Marshall

April 12, 2010

Works of art from our permanent collection often travel on loan to other museums. For instance, Kerry James Marshall’s 1993 painting De Style is soon headed to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where a retrospective of his work opens next month.

Marshall, who currently lives in Chicago, grew up in Los Angeles. As an elementary school student living in Watts, Marshall visited LACMA and began to envision a future as an artist. Since then his work has been widely exhibited by major museums and he is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius award. I recently spoke with him about his formative experiences at LACMA. Here’s what he had to say:

We arrived in Los Angeles in 1963 from Birmingham Alabama, part of the classic migration story. My father was looking for better opportunities. We all got on a train and took that three-day trip from Birmingham to L.A.

It was so bright! The light was blinding almost. Then you saw palm trees, thirty or forty feet tall, which was something we had never seen before. It was strange and new.

Kerry James Marshall, "De Style," 1993, purchased with funds provided by Ruth and Jacob Bloom

When we first got to California we lived in Watts. We moved to the Nickerson Gardens Projects on 111th Street. Then we moved to South Central L.A. so my father could be closer to work at the VA Hospital in Westwood.

From my third grade teacher I was starting to develop an interest in art. And then in fourth grade we visited the library and I started to learn about technique. I used to watch John Gnagy’s program, Learn to Draw. By the time I got to LACMA on a fifth grade field trip, it really meant something. I was able to see things by people whose work I had seen in books.

Paolo Caliari Veronese, "Allegory of Navigation with an Astrolabe: Ptolemy" (left) and "Allegory of Navigation with a Cross-Staff: Averroës," 1557, gifts of The Ahmanson Foundation

There are two paintings in the museum by Veronese. Two big paintings of saints. Those two pictures struck me as the most magnificent things I had ever seen. I grew up looking at a lot of comic books. The figures in those were like super heroes! It was the color, the tone, the drawing. The size. They were extraordinary. They were beyond.

I also saw one of the most powerful things I had ever encountered. In the African Art section, there was a Senufo figure—burlap with feathers in the top and sticks for the arms.

Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Senufo peoples, "Fetish Figure," 20th century, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Baker

I had never seen anything like it. It was so mesmerizing. It had such a power. I didn’t know anything about it, but there was something about it that was haunting.

I would go back to the museum to see that and the Veronese paintings all the time. Those two things had the most profound impact on me.

Amy Heibel

Show Us How You Eat

April 9, 2010

Fallen Fruit, "Fruit Machine Video," 2009

Have you had your breakfast yet? Did you get a chance to record that on video?

This weekend, we’d like you to think about documenting something you do every day, several times a day. We’re looking for short videos of you, your friends, or your family eating—nothing else, just eating.

Submit your video to the Show Us How You Eat group on YouTube by May 31, 2010, to participate in EATLACMA, an ongoing series of events exploring the human connections between food and art organized by LACMA and the artists’ collective Fallen Fruit. A selection of the submissions to Show Us How You Eat will be selected by Fallen Fruit to be part of an exhibition for Fallen Fruit Presents EATLACMA at the museum, opening in June.

So pick up that video device—get your camera, cellphone, laptop or PC video camera—and have a bite. And remember, we just want to see eating, no preparing, no cooking, just eating. Bon appétit!

Sarah Bay Williams

A Lavish Mirror Regains its Luster

April 7, 2010

I was staring at myself in the massive mirror which adorns the early American gallery on the second floor of the Art of the Americas Building when I got to thinking, “There’s got to be a story behind this thing.” It’s hard for me to imagine the context in which such a massive piece of furniture would be not only feasible to construct but also fashionable. Luckily, Don Menveg came to my rescue. After breaking me away from my own reflection he explained the provenance of the piece and how it wound up in LACMA’s permanent collection.

Throughout the Gilded Age (1865–1901), fashionable interior design became increasingly lavish, expensive, and resplendent with decoration. The crescendo of all this adornment is reflected in this mirror with its carved and inlaid wood, gilded statues, and painted figures. Because of limits on the ability to manufacture glass in large sheets, this single mirror pane was incredibly expensive. The mirror was used to adorn the music room of Milton Latham, former governor of California and railroad magnate. His mansion, designed by the Herter brothers of New York, was considered one of the finest residences in the San Francisco area and was constructed and furnished at a considerable price. Not long after the home’s completion in 1873 its owner went bankrupt, and in 1882 he passed away. The home was demolished in 1942, but many of its impressive features were salvaged.

In the wake of World War II, Hollywood studios bought up a lot of the lavish interior decorations of European homes to use as set pieces. The Herter mirror, with its European-style craftsmanship, met a similar fate. When LACMA acquired this piece in 1991 the mirror was covered in dulling spray so it would register more subtly on camera. Much of the carved surface, including the blue painted figures, was painted over, and the gilded faces were coated in bronze so they would be less reflective.

Restoring the Herter mirror was a multi-year project for Don and his colleagues. They used special enzymes to eat through the most recent coat of paint without destroying the underlying design, bringing the luster back to the mirror. It’s amazing how art objects absorb and record history. This piece in particular is interesting because it had been used by different people for different purposes. And yet, thanks to the efforts of the conservation center, it appears untouched by time.

Aaron Ziolkowski, Collections Information Intern

Soap and Water on View

April 5, 2010

Visitors to the Ahmanson building may notice an unusual sight—a bright green bike lying on the floor near plaza doors. It’s apparent at once that it both is and isn’t a bicycle. It’s a work of art by Robin Rhode, cast in Sunlight soap, a popular brand in his native South Africa. I watched Robin install the piece while he was here working with curator Leslie Jones. He was patient and engaging as visitor after visitor stopped to ask him about it. Here’s what he said:

Amy Heibel

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