Free Admission on Memorial Day

May 28, 2010

Summer: aka the time of year when the need to get out of the house and find something fun to do ratchets up a notch or two on the priority list. Memorial Day being the unofficial first day of the season, we thought we’d help you out by opening our doors free of charge. That’s right: it’s time for another Target Free Holiday Monday.

If you haven’t had a chance to see the Robin Rhode exhibition, now’s a great time—the show closes on June 6. Also on view are exhibitions of Tibetan furniture, German expressionism, and art from the Pacific Islands. The latter will be complemented by a live performance of Hawaiian music and dance with Hawaiian Splendor and Ka Hale Hula O’Iolana at 12:30 and 2:45 pm. (Speaking of Hawaii, don’t forget—we can help you get there. Talk about something to do this summer!)

Scott Tennent

Cell Phone Stories

May 26, 2010

This weekend LACMA will launch Cell Phone Stories, a series of narratives and essays circulated exclusively via mobile phone technology. The project was conceptualized by artist Steve Fagin, who invited writers, designers, artists, and actors to refigure and rethink the museum and its audience. To give you better idea of the project, we asked Steve to explain it in his own words.

I could blame this project on author Barry Yourgrau, who told me of the fortune cookie-size novellas he was writing for the Japanese cell phone market, but Barry is one of the collaborators on the project, aka, Team Phonie, so he has been given immunity. Or I could blame LACMA director Michael Govan, who suggested I come up with a project that would rescue his museum from the endless remarks that LACMA was a third-rate wannabe Met, but alas, poor Michael is already under indictment for a capital offense, the wanton destruction of the art form of the twentieth century, THE CINEMA. So, I will absolve poor Michael of responsibility for the misdemeanor of encouraging, abetting, and commissioning my Cell Phone Stories project. So lookin’ round the room, who is to blame? Should I, as Claude Rains would put it (know your cinema),”round up the usual suspects”? I think not! We should go after the master criminal and point our index finger of guilt at the Dr. Mabuse (Know Your Cinema) of our little story, and that is beyond a Shadow of a Doubt (KNOW YOUR CINEMA) Steve Jobs. J’accuse (kyc) l’iPhone!

Honestly, your honor, I took just a small bite.

Let me give testimony:


BiP (before the iPhone) the use of cell phones to access the internet was ubiquitous in Japan and virtually nonexistent on the rest of the planet. This ubiquity in Japan was the breeding ground for a cacophony of cell phone-specific projects. Perhaps the best known was keitai shosetsu, the short story form written specifically for the cell phone and mostly marketed to an avaricious teenie bopper market. I learned of this phenomenon through my globetrotting friend, Barry Yourgrau. Barry had been writing his type of stories, definitely not teenie bopper, for the Japanese cell phone market and clued me as to this fever for the short-form downloaded story.


Over a slimming lunch with Michael Govan in his LACMA office (why is it that crispy pata is never served in the art world?), we munched over possibilities for a project that would reshuffle the deck of the LACMA collection, give it another story, refigure the sanctity of the space, conceptually redecorate (eat your pasta primavera out Renzo Piano). I chewed over a carrot stick, quiet I’m not, and eventually spat out the idea of a series of projects done exclusively on the cell phone that would commission architects, artists, actors (you can do the rest of the alphabet soup) that would refigure and rethink LACMA. Michael loved the concept but was stymied (no, not really, have you ever seen Michael Govan express styminizeness?) as to how we would get these cell phones that download from the ether, oh so common in Japan but the first strawberry of spring precious on the rest of the planet, into LACMA-goers’ hands (chopsticks, not) so they could participate in the bloody project


Well, I must confess museum time makes getting something moving forward transform Kafka’s Austro-Hungarian empire into a speedy and agile “in an Intel minute” type of enterprise. From the initial conceptualization in January, 2007 to the present downloading of things to your cell phone, the project has moved from novelty to ubiquity. I must confess this is a great relief to me and a “nothing to lose but your chains” moment for our Cell Phone Stories project. No more are we are on the “cutting edge of technology, ushering in a new age for mankind,” creating the new art, encore, encore, encore, ad nauseum. There is nothing more tired and ragged than the concept of the new. Over and over and still over again from the dawn of the twentieth century to its doom we have been bombarded with the hackneyed idea of the new. I’ll take the everyday over the novel every day of the Soviet Gregorian calendar (of course, this invention of the new would have to keep being pushed back, past the French revolution, back and still back again, but we have no time to tell that story).


(Hopefully, this will be the last interactive moment)

Ok, “YOU Want the Facts, Just the Facts” (no need to reference TV)


Five cell phone exclusive stories refiguring common forms (i.e. jpeg, Facebook, Twitter, email, voicemail, etc.) told over a season.

Projects for the season

Imagining LACMA, Barry Yourgrau
How might one daydream a museum they have never attended?

LACMA A LA MODE, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte
The Mulleavys create sketches inspired by works from LACMA’s collection.

LACMA Live, Rich Bott
Follow the clues and solve the crime live, as it happens at LACMA (inspired by a Charles Willeford Story)

I HATE LACMA, Rainn Wilson
A Twitter-filled weekend of the many, many reasons to never go to LACMA

And last but not least, STAY TUNED, our mini-series that will run throughout the season featuring artists Steve Fagin, Adrienne Ferrari, and Kianga Ford

Only for Dummies, Steve Fagin
Steve Fagin’s alter ego–a ventriloquist dummy—tours through LACMA creating a story equal parts Flaubert and Facebook.

And Now A Word From…, Adrienne Ferrari
Microanalysis of the museum and tweeting as an endurance activity.

You Are Here…a movement, an act, an episode, an ecology, Kianga Ford
A series of short messages and reflections that consider the museum and its cast of characters from multiple vantage points.

To participate in the project, text “LACMA” to 67553 and you will receive weekly text message links to each new installation of the project. You can also join us Saturday, May 29 at 1 pm for a performance by Rich Bott, who will use SMS and Twitter to unleash a story inspired by LACMA’s collection in the vein of mystery writer Charles Willeford.

Five Questions with Pianist Christopher O’Riley

May 25, 2010

I had the chance to talk to Christopher O’Riley in advance of his performance at LACMA later this week. O’Riley is an accomplished classically trained pianist known for crossover arrangements of rock songs—particularly Radiohead. We talked about appropriation in music and the visual arts, song structure, and crossover audiences.

What will you be performing at LACMA?

A few Radiohead songs. Also Tori Amos, Terry Riley, Raymond Scott, Thomas Adés, Nirvana, the Cure. Also some Ravel.

You’re well known for your piano arrangements of Radiohead songs. What is it about Radiohead?

Most of what draws me to any music is the combination of harmony and texture. Radiohead has an arresting harmonic language the way they choose chords that go into their music. I’ve always found it engaging. They also excel at the creation of a large-scale musical texture, which comes from the interweaving of different voices, different parts. A lot of pop music can be vertically oriented—crashing chords. Just about every Radiohead song is made up of an intermingling of voices. There is still verse and refrain in the overall structure, but there’s also a thread, a weave that leads you through the piece.

In visual art, we talk a lot about appropriation—the way that a painter, for example, will borrow from the art of the past, or from popular culture. How do you think about appropriation in music?

It’s been part of music for a very long time. When Beethoven wrote his symphonies we didn’t have radio or symphony orchestras in every town. Franz Liszt made arrangements of these symphonies for solo piano. A hundred years ago there were more pianos than radios in households. Arrangements for solo piano were an expedience that grew into a conceit—it became a matter of showing off the piano, a way of saying: here is this percussion instrument and I can make it sing like a symphony orchestra (or a five-piece rock band).

I’ve been trained as a classical pianist and I grew up playing rock music. I’m comfortable with the membrane between genres. If there’s something I want to play, I find a way through the various sound languages I have at my disposal.

Tell me about your audience.

I’ve had a great time introducing people to music they may not have been familiar with but that I find extraordinarily beautiful—that explains the lesser-known pieces on the program, like the Thomas Adés piece, Darkness Visible, which is itself based on a four-hundred-year-old piece called In Darkness Let me Dwell, by John Dowland, an English composer. Darkness Visible is an explosion of that song. You hear the melody flung over eight octaves of the piano.

It used to be a lot weirder when I would play a recital and the first half would be classical and the second half would be Radiohead. You’d have the more staid classical audience, and they would be looking at these young whippersnappers with their lighters in their hands ready to go.

Duke Ellington’s adage that there are only two kinds of music, good music and the other kind, is a call to musicians on both sides of the fence, rock and classical. I’m responsible for performing what I believe in and I hope the audience will come to the experience without preconceptions or genre preferences that come from liking only that which has been pounded into your head by the mass media. It’s gratifying to me when kids who like my Radiohead songs see Mozart on my calendar and say “Oh, I always wanted to check him out.” It gives them a way in.

Amy Heibel

When is a Tiger Not a Tiger and a River Not a River?

May 24, 2010

When I stopped by to visit Japanese Art curator Robert T. Singer and see the newly acquired screen by seventeenth-century artist Kano Sansetsu, he was second-guessing the title he’d given the work: Tiger Drinking from a Raging River. “Is ‘raging’ too strong?” he asked me. “Should it be a roiling river?”

The fact is there was no official title for this work prior to its acquisition. The two-panel screen was discovered in 2006 in an English country house. Rob estimates that it might have been in England for at least the last 100 years. When it was brought back to Japan, the NHK (think “the BBC of Japan”) documented its arrival and followed the scholar Tsuji Nobuo as he looked closely at the screen for the first time, to determine whether or not it was a genuine work by the great Sansetsu. Here’s a clip from the broadcast.

You can see Professor Tsuji set a book next to the screen, comparing the style of the tiger to another work by Sansetsu. Rob translated for me that, after careful consideration, Professor Tsuji declares the work “without doubt, a genuine work by Sansetsu.” (It doesn’t hurt that the artist’s signature is in the top left corner.)

In the four years since its discovery, Sansetsu’s screen has been published in numerous textbooks on Japanese art. In one book it was titled, simply, Tiger. In another it was more elaborately labeled Tiger Drinking Water. Rob felt that neither was appropriately descriptive. This was a tiger daringly stealing a sip before the river water might splash or drench it. You can see from its curved back and rolling eyes that it is apprehensive. Rob wanted to get the dangerous nature of the image across in the title, though now he wondered whether he’d overstated it with “raging.”

Then again, one might ask: Is this a tiger? Is that a river?

The answers are a qualified yes and probably. In the seventeenth century there were no tigers in Japan. Though the animal loomed large in the Eastern zodiac and yin-yang cosmology—both concepts imported from China, where large cats roam—Japanese artists depended on descriptions from their more well-traveled peers. So, this tiger has the paws and tail of a leopard. (We also have a thirteenth-century elephant—another animal that didn’t exist in Japan—which looks a bit more like a puppy, with a short trunk and, as Rob describes, “the butt of a water buffalo.”)

Too, what river has waves like that? Is this tiger sipping from the ocean? “I don’t think so,” said Rob. “What animals drink salt water?” Even if Sansetsu didn’t know the accurate details of the tiger’s paws, he would not have turned the image into total fantasy. So, it is a tiger, and it drinks from a river. Thus we return to that last nagging word, raging. Finally Rob decided that it was appropriate. It’s an adversarial image—the river is squarely on one panel of the screen, the tiger on the other; the tiger is poised on a rocky edge as it nips at the water, and the waves are many—they stretch into the distance almost like a mountain range. Were you take a raft to that river, “raging waters” would probably describe your experience.

Scott Tennent

Last Weekend for American Stories

May 21, 2010

Having worked on this exhibition since I first started in the American Art department in 2006, I write with mixed emotions that American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765-1915 will finally be coming to a close this weekend. Not only has it been great to see so many of these iconic works in Los Angeles, but every time I go through the exhibition I have the opportunity to take a look and really contemplate the events the artists depicted at the time the work was created. A particular favorite of mine is Winslow Homer’s Eagle Head, Rochester, Massachusetts (1870):

Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910) "Eagle Head, Manchester, Massachusetts (High Tide)," 1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923, photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the foreground Homer depicts three women who have emerged from the shore. Two are depicted with their legs revealed, while the middle figure stands with her back to the viewer. After the Civil War, Winslow Homer’s works that featured women tended to evoke a sentimental quality, and in a sense a throwback to traditional values (if you get a chance to see the show, see Homer’s Croquet Scene (1866) next to Eagle Head).

Yet this work, while depicting three young ladies enjoying a day at the seashore, was reproduced quite differently. You can see the difference in the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s engraving of Homer’s High Tide (1870).

Instead of revealing bare legs, the skirt of the young woman wringing out her dress now shows her garment gathered past her ankles. Also to the left of the canvas, where once a seemingly harmless dog stood with a somewhat inappropriate upward gaze, now lies the young woman’s bathing cap.

Eagle Head, Rochester, Massachusetts is only one of the numerous paintings in American Stories that pose the question of the United States’ transformation to a modern audience. A year before this work was made in 1870, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the National Women Suffrage Association, which would eventually merge in the 1890s with the American Women Suffrage Association. While women would not gain their right to vote until fifty years later, in 1920, this painting and its censored reproduction thus reflected the ongoing issue of women’s rights.

If you do get a chance this weekend to see American Stories, I hope you’ll take a moment to look at the works, and see the depictions and stories of the past events that ultimately developed our nation—stories that even for modern audiences still strike a resonant chord to this day.

While I’m sad to see this exhibition go, I look forward to another exhibition the American Art department has been working on which will open this summer: Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins.

Devi Noor

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