“What Do People Want? Images”

May 18, 2010

A little while ago we ran a survey asking what information people find most useful on the LACMA website. Based on the way we put the question I expected a strong showing from “hours and directions,” but it finished fifth, well back of “artworks,” which won going away. “Let your art flourish on the site,” wrote one respondent. “What do people want?” asked another. “Images.”

Well, O.K. Images it is.

Today we introduce new web pages featuring more than 800 images of LACMA artworks. Each of the 22 collection subdivisions—areas of specialty spanning time and geography—gets a new page, with close-ups and full images of signature works, plus collection-specific Unframed posts, image browses, events, and video.

Image fans should also give the new all-collection landing page a look. In addition to an image grid providing links to the collection specialties and a rather dashing alphabetical sampling of artists in the collection, there is remix. Think of remix as a curated tag cloud—we’ve put together hundreds of sets featuring three images from the collection and a word or phrase that unites them.

People from all across the museum contributed remix sets and we invite you to do the same. Just email us a word or phrase, and enough information to identify three corresponding images from our collection, and we’ll put them together and add them to the cloud. The phrase should be, oh, say, one to five words. Be warned though. Inventing remix sets can be addictive. After sending several rounds of wonderful remixes (see “Spying,” “Jealousy,” “Money”), one of my colleagues decided that was enough because, as she said, “my brain likes this too much.”

Tom Drury

Seeing Anew: A Conversation with Franklin Sirmans

May 14, 2010

Franklin Sirmans hasn’t wasted any time settling into his new post as head of contemporary art at LACMA. He’s been visiting studios, galleries, and private collections around town, getting to know the works of art in our permanent collection, and planning upcoming exhibitions. Before coming to LACMA, Franklin served as curator of modern and contemporary art at the Menil Collection in Houston, and worked as an independent curator, critic, writer, and editor. Now that he’s been here for a few months, I checked in to see how he was adjusting to his new surroundings.

What brought you to LA?

It was the opportunity to work with the team assembled here—including director Michael Govan, and my colleagues throughout the museum—at a really exciting time. Also, right now, the art conversation in Los Angeles is so interesting. Art in Los Angeles is still so young. We’re looking back to the grand old past of, what? The 1950s and 60s. We are still in the midst of a conversation about the formation of the art scene in Los Angeles with the people who were here then and are still here now—Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, Betye Saar, Samella Lewis, just to name a few. That fascinates me.

What are you finding out about Los Angeles?

I’m still checking out the neighborhoods, seeing new places. I went to see Judson Powell in Compton the other day to talk about his work at the Watts Towers in the past and his present work there, building an arts and cultural center.

I feel like I know the Culver City scene but I know that’s very little in the scope of things. That said, Lauri Firstenberg at Laxart, Suzanne Vielmetter Projects, and Roberts & Tilton are always interesting.

I‘ve done studio visits with Betye Saar, who has a wonderful piece in the collection, and Paul McCarthy, also in the collection. I recently did a visit with the curator Samella Lewis, whose work I grew up reading.

I knew a lot of artists before coming here. But I didn’t know the collectors and collections in Los Angeles, so I’m trying to get to know them now, as well as artists. I’m also really interested in what’s happening outside the confines of visual art—what people are doing in film, dance, and music, and the vernacular of the city.

What else, besides art?

I watch a lot of soccer.

What do you miss about Houston and the Menil Collection?

The atmosphere there is so serene. You have the Byzantine Fresco Chapel across the street from the Mark Rothko Chapel. Right there, you also have Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk and down the street you have the Menil Collection and behind that you have Cy Twombly’s gallery and behind that you have Dan Flavin’s gallery. It’s like a perfect art experience.

But in a lot of ways, that’s what’s happening here at LACMA, right now.

What’s it like getting to know the collection here?

I’m interested in exploring the synergy between the Broad collection and the LACMA collection, and we’re doing that already in some new installations this fall.

The modern collection here includes some really special pieces—the Giacomettis, for example. The Picassos, those Brancusi birds.

There are some wonderful works I would like to see installed—a Marlene Dumas painting that’s been out on loan for a while, a work by John Outterbridge that I really want to see, and Toba Khedoori, a young artist who interests me. We have a wonderful piece of hers in the collection. It’s huge—I’d really love to see that on view. Not easy to do.

I want to play on the strengths of the collection, those special objects that we have at hand, and also the relationship we have with artists here in Los Angeles, which is something that will play a prominent role in a future exhibition. More news on that shortly.

I want to look at contemporary art in the context of the encyclopedic museum. That was part of the hook, the reason I came here. How, as contemporary viewers, do we look at the art of the past? How can artists help us see the past anew?

Amy Heibel

The Boone Child-at-Heart Gallery

May 13, 2010

I first started working in the Boone Children’s Gallery several years ago when it was located in LACMA West. The theme of the gallery at the time was Construct, offering the experience of understanding construction, recycling, building, and city planning. It was a big hit: regulars and locals would come daily and weekly to work in our “free art area,” which really drew the crowds. Kids would line up to paint; it was by far one of the most popular activities we had.

With the Boone Gallery’s change of location a few months ago—it’s now adjacent to the Korean galleries inside the Hammer Building—so too did its theme change. I was thrilled to see that the new theme represented and honored the traditions of Korean art by focusing mainly on brush painting. Even more thrilling was finding that the change in venue would also bring about a whole new type of visitor—not just the very young but the young at heart!

What could possibly bring young and old alike together? The simple art of painting. We have teens that come to work on school projects after school, adult artists who stop by to pick up techniques from facilitators, weekly regulars who come to learn particular brush strokes and get demos, and professional painters who leave us pieces to learn from.

All the activities in the gallery are focused around Korean brush painting or crafts related to the Korean arts, and the traditional music that plays in the background really sets a tone. There are lots of children’s books that one can look at to get inspiration and a wall display of art donated by visitors that changes regularly so as to help conjure ideas and techniques. It’s such an irresistible space that passersby on their way to exhibitions seem to stop by to do “just one quick painting.”

The Boone has always been a place where families can spend time together and learn along the way. It’s nice to see that all ages groups can interact, enjoy each other, learn from one another, and become a community family in that sense.

Amber Edwards

Painted On…What?

May 12, 2010

Painters are a resourceful lot, constantly experimenting with different materials and the effects they can accomplish. A quiet corner of our new gallery of Northern European paintings is a great example. Curator J. Patrice Marandel has installed a wall of smaller paintings, mostly religious scenes by Italian and Northern European artists. They include paintings on slate, marble, copper, and silvered copper.

I talked to conservator Joe Fronek about the science behind the way paint and support interact. Joe explained: “The harder the surface, the less porous it is. Paint really sinks into canvas. It does so to a lesser degree with slate or marble, and even less with copper. You get a wonderful glow. The paint brush doesn’t experience the drag created by a rougher surface.”

You can see this in the juxtaposition of works like Alessandro Turchi’s Saint Agnes Protected by an Angel (c. 1620), painted on marble, and the nearby St. Francis (c. 1600), by Paolo Piazza, where the lighter colors sing atop the marble. Nearby hangs a Simon Vouet painted on canvas. The juxtaposition of works on canvas and works on marble, slate, and copper perfectly illustrates the difference in the way the paint communicates, depending on the underlying surface.

A nearby gallery holds another fine example of painting on marble (in this case, onyx): Jacques Stella’s Jacob’s Ladder (c. 1650). The rich vein in the marble becomes an element of the composition; Stella uses it to represent the ladder, and certain elements of the background landscape. Patrice says the natural vein of the marble is part of the challenge to the painter, providing a jumping-off point (and a non-negotiable element) on which to base the composition. The smooth, light-reflective surface of the marble gives the painting a luminosity it would lack were it painted on canvas or wood.

Particularly in the flock of sheep in the foreground, you can really see the marble showing beneath the paint. Joe explained the natural aging process of a painting like this one: “Oil paint is oil mixed with pigment. It binds to the underlying material, and as it dries, it releases solvents. Then it oxidizes and hardens, and a process of deterioration begins. The paint gradually becomes less opaque as it ages. In the case of the Stella painting, the aging process is more apparent, because the underlying material is so colorful.”

Amy Heibel

Learning More About You

May 10, 2010

This week we launched Project Membership, a campaign to get 10,000 new members in the next ten weeks. As part of the project, we asked some of our members to let us know how art affects their lives, and to tell us a little bit about their favorite works of art (at LACMA or anywhere else), among other questions. It’s been really fun to get to know a few of our members better—they’re insightful and have enabled me to think about art in different ways. Here’s a sample of some of the answers we received. You can read the full interviews with each of these members (and more) here.

Jaime Turrey, Owner, Monsieur Egg

How does art affect your life? I used to live with some artists of the found object variety, so historically, art challenged my sanity. But over time their work helped me to appreciate more and more the beauty, history, and strangeness of the world around me.

What’s your favorite work of art? The Mexican muralists (Rivera, Siquieros, Orozco) were a great influence on me. Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park says a lot of things about me.

Mike and Malcolm Miley and Amelia Chen Miley, Teacher/Writer and Registrar

How does art affect your life? Mike: I want to spend all my time immersed in art. Art is what gives my life joy and meaning. I am always awed and humbled by other people sharing their points of view with me and getting me to see the world in a new way. Art is where we learn the most about ourselves and our potential. It makes us more appreciative, compassionate, and enriched. I can’t imagine living one day of life without art in it.

Amelia: Artistry in the natural landscape and in architecture is something I’ve learned to appreciate as I’ve gotten older. Driving around Los Angeles, you can get a little of that everyday. If I’m having a dreary day, I’ll check out designsponge.com to see what new creations they’ve decided to highlight that day. I’ll always find something to brighten my day.

Elizabeth Allen, Film and TV Director

How does art affect your life? I work in a commerce-driven art form, but often use more pure (non-commercial) art as my inspiration. For example, I use artwork as references and communication tools with my crew when prepping films.

Elizabeth Hunter, Writer/Producer

What’s your favorite work of art? Michelangelo’s David, especially when contrasted and compared to Barkley Hendricks’ Brilliantly Endowed. I like perfection.

Sara Granik, Manager, Entertainment Advertising

How does art affect your life? I was so fascinated by my high school art history class that I decided to spend a year in Florence when I went to college. That year in Europe changed my life—my eyes were opened to beauty I never imagined could exist. Today, my love of art is manifested in my daily life, teaching me that sometimes you have to look deep to see the beauty in a person, situation, circumstance.

What’s your favorite work of art? Courting Couples in the Voyer d’Argenson Park in Asnières by Vincent Van Gogh. I saw it in Amsterdam in 2002 and just stood and stared for about an hour. The large print now hangs in my bedroom at home and I often catch myself staring again!

Wes Craven, Filmmaker

What’s your favorite work of art? Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The Simpsons’ version isn’t bad either.

Ellen Castruccio, Director of Marketing, Membership

Faux Pearls, Fish Scales, and Fancy Dress

May 6, 2010

Over the past year, hundreds of eighteenth to early twentieth–century garments have passed through the Textile Department at LACMA’s Conservation Center: royal wedding gowns, French Revolutionary waistcoats and breeches, and Victorian walking suits, to name a few. These historic costumes are part of the recently acquired costume collection to be featured in the upcoming exhibition Fashioning Fashion, opening this fall in the new Resnick Pavilion.

One of the exhibit’s highlights is a diaphanous pink silk gown from the 1830s. The skirt is decorated with a sea of faux pearls which weigh down the sheer silk and would click together lightly as its wearer moved.

Collaborations between LACMA’s Textile Conservation & Research Departments reveal these faux pearls were manufactured in a curious manner: delicate and hollow glass beads were filled with a slurry of material derived from fish scales and gelatin or sturgeon glue. This slurry coated the interior face of the hollow bead creating an iridescent, or in this case pearlescent, effect. This curious technique was developed by a seventeenth-century French rosary maker.

The story goes that the rosary maker, Jaquin, while vacationing in Burgundy, observed that a tub in which fish were soaking bore a film of silver particles on the water’s surface. Skimming these particles and dehydrating them, he was left with a lustrous powder. He felt he had the makings of an iridescent pigment and began experimenting in the manufacture of faux pearls. Initial trials (and a suggestion from a clever female customer) determined that the pigment only held fast to the glass surface when applied on the inner surface of a bead, injected in one hollow end of the bead and allowed to drain out the other end. When applied to the outer surface, the necklace wearer’s body heat and sweat dissolved the coating, creating a mess. This trade secret was closely guarded until 1716 when it was outed by famous French naturalist M. de Reamur, whose knack for experimental study led him to work out numerous trade and ancient manufacturing secrets. After Reamur’s revelations, this manufacturing technique became common in Europe and faux pearl beads produced in this manner decorated historic costume in the centuries to follow.

These images show the even manner in which the coating covers the inner part of the bead. A small drop of the slurry was swirled around inside the bead. LACMA Associate Conservation Scientist Charlotte Eng was able to separate the pearlescent coating from some broken beads. Magnified images show the platelet-like guanine crystals which give fish scales, and the pigment found on these beads, their iridescent appearance. Pretty neat stuff.

Maria Fusco, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Textile Conservation Department

The Mystery of The Aristocratic Women

May 4, 2010

Mysteries abound in the art treasures of LACMA, and none more profoundly puzzling than The Aristocratic Women, on the fourth floor of the Ahmanson Building in the South and Southeast Asian art gallery.

Pakistan, Gandhara region, South Asia, “The Aristocratic Women,” illustration of the tale of “The Necklace of Thread,” from the “Maha-Ummagga Jataka” (Story of the Great Tunnel), 2nd century, purchased with funds provided by Mrs. Harry Lenart, Robert and Mary Looker, Robert F. Maguire III, and The Hillcrest Foundation through the 1998 Collectors Committee, Stephen Markel in memory of Catherine W. Markel, the Southern Asian Art Council, and S. Sanford and Charlene S. Kornblu

The sculpture depicts a Buddhist tale known as “The Necklace of Thread.” It appears that the future Buddha resolved, rather judiciously, the mystery of the necklace’s rightful owner by examining its scent. It is one of five beautifully crafted sculptures of Buddhist icons from a region known as Gandhara in the second and third century, today known as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 326 B.C. Alexander the Great had attempted to add this region to his empire. Though he failed, Hellenistic culture nevertheless filtered its way into the region. The Aristocratic Women is done in the Hellenistic/Roman body-defining style, with very Grecian facial features. The exquisitely carved women’s gray schist stone garments, the stola (tunic) and the palla (shawl), of the second-century Roman style, fall gracefully around their bodies, their intricately styled hair delicately curled on their shoulders. Here we witness Western art melding with Eastern sensibilities, and though the details don’t surrender all their secrets, one is nonetheless held in awe.

All the other sculptures in the gallery are straightforward and deeply sacred images of Buddhism: a Buddha, Sakyamuni (the enlightened one) and three Bodhisattvas (saviors of compassion) that would have traveled the various trade routes of the Silk Road through the Hindu Kush to and from China. But who was the intended audience for The Aristocratic Women? Buddhists, being about karma and nonviolence, or Romans, who were notoriously, resolutely proud adventurers? Was it for a Buddhist who appreciated things Roman, or a Roman who was a Buddhist? A sort of paradox, wouldn’t you say? Long hours on duty of wondering can leave you with questions like this. Even in a great museum, a time machine, many things remain unsettled.

Hylan Booker

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