Rodarte Re-imagines the Collection

July 20, 2010

Last week as part of Cell Phone Stories, Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the design duo behind the fashion label Rodarte, created five designs based on works from our collection. Clearly they found inspiration in our Latin American galleries, using works by Rufino Tamayo, Roberto Matta, and Mathias Goeritz (a personal favorite), as well as a censer and decorated skull from our ancient American collection. Additionally they picked up on Brancusi’s Bird in Space, bronzes by Alberto Giacometti, and a woodblock print by nineteenth-century Japanese artist Utagawa Hirosige. If you’re subscribed to receive texts from Cell Phone Stories, you already saw these, but the Mulleavys’ sketches are so stunning we wanted to share them on the blog, too. (Click on a sketch to enlarge.)

Cell Phone Stories isn’t done yet. Still to come, stories by Barry Yourgrau, Kianga Ford, and Adrienne Ferrari. Text “LACMA” to 67553 to get in on the stories. You can also check the Cell Phone Stories archive blog for past projects you might have missed. Plus—twitter followers, brace yourselves—Rainn Wilson will commandeer our twitter feed during the first weekend in August.

Scott Tennent

The Weather at LACMA

July 19, 2010

I don’t usually think about weather. One of the luxuries of living in Los Angeles is the predictably warm temperature, but lately the weather has been weird, with fog followed by a burst of heat and then… thunderstorms? As unexpected grey rain clouds rolled by overhead last week and a flash flood warning appeared on my television, I thought of this Tamayo painting, Messengers in the Wind, which hangs in our Latin American art galleries. I love the urban detail of the telephone wires, the bricks and cement, combined with the magic of the two figures in flowing white robes sweeping past.

Rufino Tamayo, “Messengers in the Wind (Mensajeras en el viento),” 1931, The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art

The heat and humidity that followed made the Dutch paintings galleries in the Ahmanson Building a welcome respite. The weather in there, particularly the sky as painted by the great seventeenth-century painter Jacob van Ruisdael, is clearly from a cooler clime. A long wall of Ruisdael paintings feature dramatic and sometimes imposing skies, often making up the better part of his spectacular landscapes.

Jacob van Ruisdael, “Landscape with Dunes,” 1649, gift of Dorothy G. Sullivan

If you just turn to the wall to the left of the spectacular Ruisdaels, there’s a very different picture, Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Scene on a Frozen Canal—one of my favorites in the museum. This scene of townspeople skating on a frozen canal in Holland perfectly captures the way the ice reflects the flat winter sky of northern places. All the warmth and color in the picture comes from the costumes of the characters zooming around on the ice, chatting, making money, and playing games.

Hendrick Avercamp, “Winter Scene on a Frozen Canal,” c. 1620, partial gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward William Carter and purchased with funds provided by The Ahmanson Foundation, the Paul Rodman Mabury Collection, the William Randolph Hearst Collection, the Michael J. Connell Foundation, the Marion Davies Collection, Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior, Mr. and Mrs. R. Stanton Avery, the Estate of Anita M. Baldwin by exchange, and Hannah L. Carter

For another wall of spectacular weather, I visited the newly installed Impressionist gallery at the south end of the Ahmanson Building, on the same floor as the Dutch galleries. Across from a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows hang a number of pictures by Monet including The Beach at Honfleur. In contrast to the moodier Ruisdael paintings, the sky here is crisp blue with innocuous white clouds high overhead, and the beach baking in the flat bright light of the coast.

Claude Monet, “The Beach at Honfleur, 1864–66, gift of Mrs. Reese Hale Taylor

If it’s possible to simulate weather through mechanical means, Thomas Wilfred does it for me with his Lumia light composition, Luccata Opus 182. I sat in front of the piece in the Ahmanson Building for a while. I’ve heard it described as “visual music.”

Thomas Wilfred, “Luccata, Opus 182," 1967–68, lent by Carol and Eugene Epstein, Los Angeles

In the shifting colors and shapes, I saw what reminded me of moonrise, the purple night sky of the desert, wisps of cloud and celestial bodies. The label for the piece refers to it as a “composition of infinite duration” and it struck me that the same could be said of the weather.

Amy Heibel

This Weekend at LACMA

July 16, 2010

Saturday is the perfect day to come to LACMA if you’re looking for something fun—and free!—to do with your family. As part of Target’s Arts & Wonder Weekend, LACMA is free all day tomorrow! We are one of eighty other institutions around the country who are opening our doors for free thanks to Target. We’re open from 11 am–8 pm, but be sure to bring your kids between 12 and 5 pm for some fun art-making activities on the Los Angeles Times Central Court. (With or without children, this is also a good excuse to come see the John Baldessari show, too.)

Concerts, we’ve got ‘em: tonight the CJS Quintet performs as part of Jazz at LACMA. You can sample songs from their latest album at their website.  Tomorrow for Latin Sounds the salsa group Costazul will take to Hancock Park, and Sunday evening will see an Homage to Chopin in the Bing Theater. All of these concerts are free.

Meanwhile our Ernst Lubitsch film series continues into its second weekend. Tonight we have the double feature of Design for Living and the Maurice Chevalier musical The Smiling Lieutenant. Tomorrow, the classic The Shop around the Corner followed by Angel, starring Marlene Dietrich. Shop contains one of James Stewart’s great performances—even if he did ignore the fact that he was supposed to be Hungarian. It’s the folksiest small-town shop you’ll ever find in Budapest.

Scott Tennent

From Ruscha, with Love

July 15, 2010

Want to find out what’s behind the curtain inside EATLACMA?

Ed Ruscha had been painting single words onto canvas using a trompe l’oieil technique since about 1967. But, as he explained in his catalogue Raisonné, “I felt for awhile there that I was painting pictures. And in painting pictures, I was just applying skin to canvas… There was not enough for me.” In 1969, the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Hollywood invited Ruscha for a two-month fellowship where he would work with master printers to produce lithographs using the words Anchovy, Mint, and Carp, all looking as if the words were spelled out of spilled liquids.

Ruscha took the “spilled liquid” prints a step further when he started experimenting using organic and inorganic materials such as Vaseline petroleum jelly, tobacco, egg yolk, beer, chocolate syrup, wine, Liquid Drano, grass, and even his own blood in work called Stains. It was around this time that his friend and master printer Jean-Milant decided to open up his own shop, Cirrus Editions and Cirrus Gallery. Under Milant, Cirrus welcomed experimentation, and it was here that Ruscha created the two-color screenprint titled Fruit-Metrecal using apricot and grape jams, and a diet drink from the sixties called Metrecal. 

Edward Ruscha, "Fruit-Metrecal Hollywood," 1971, Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions

I talked to Chail Norton, assistant paper conservator, to find out why it needed to stay behind a curtain. LACMA conservators did some highly technical “fadeometer” readings within the last few years to find out just how quickly the colorants will fade. They determined that since the piece is comprised of organic materials it is highly light sensitive, and will fade easily.

The Hollywood sign was not a new subject for Ruscha, he often uses the visual language of Los Angeles in his work. In 1986, LACMA acquired the Cirrus Collection which included a similar piece, using Pepto Bismol and Caviar. Pepto-Caviar Hollywood will be on view at the Norton Simon later this year.

Edward Ruscha, "Pepto-Caviar Hollywood," 1970, Cirrus Editions Archive, purchased with funds provided by the Director's Roundtable, and gift of Cirrus Editions

Meghan Moran, Graphic Designer

Collection Favorites: Rembrandt and Picasso

July 13, 2010

Two favorite works make for an interesting comparison: both were extensively reworked but still seem unresolved.

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, "The Raising of Lazarus," c. 1630, gift of H. F. Ahmanson and Company, in memory of Howard F. Ahmanson

Rembrandt’s The Raising of Lazarus, with its dramatic light and brilliant paint application and color, went through various transformations. (The x-ray shows vigorous scraping by the artist of an earlier design in the right side, changes of the figures at lower left, and painting out a cloth once held in Mary’s hand.) It is a powerful image that reads from a distance but when looked at closely shows carefully observed details. Imagine creating this work of death and resurrection at age 24. Intriguing for me is that it still seems unresolved; one can feel this tension not only in the subjects but in the contrast between the highly resolved upper part of the painting and the possibly unfinished lower part, where only dark broad brushwork is visible.

Pablo Picasso, "Portrait of Sabastia Juñer Vidal," 1903, David E. Bright Bequest, © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Picasso painted his Portrait of Sabastia Juñer Vidal at 22 and it too went through numerous changes, many visible in x-ray. (A dog once sat at the lower left corner—also visible in raking light—before the table was added, and the artist scraped out earlier paint on the right side and repainted.) Juñer’s companion was added, it seems, as the painting progressed, and she is painted so differently from Picasso’s friend Juñer: He was painted with depth of character in several layers of paint and she superficially in an almost offhand manner to make one ask if she is actually there with Juñer or something of his imagination. The latter results for me in psychological tension compounded by the deep blue color and the feeling of it not being fully resolved.

Though unresolved in my mind, these are still great works of art and great examples of extensive artistic experimentation and development.

Joe Fronek, Hannah and Edward Carter Senior Conservator, Paintings Head of Paintings Conservation

Collection Favorites: Hiromu Kira

July 12, 2010

Recently we surveyed our Graphics Department for some of their favorite works in LACMA’s permanent collection. This week we turn our eyes to the Conservation staff for their picks.

Hiromu Kira, "Man on Steps, Bowl (The Thinker)," c. 1930, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation and promised gift of Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Hiromu Kira, a Japanese-American photographer belonging to the pictorialist movement of the 1920s and ‘30s, made this bromide print using an image he made while demonstrating a camera to a customer, the sitter, at the Hollywood Dam.

Of all of the wonderful work that I get to see and photograph here at the Conservation Center at LACMA, this print has really stuck with me. I just love the compositional elements of this picture, its simplicity and inviting repeating pattern, so modern in graphic terms, accentuated by the perfect positioning of the dwarfed subject in this massive weaving of steps which could be anywhere. The fact that the picture was made at the Hollywood Dam surprised me.

The more I think about this image, the more I feel it is a beautiful photographic representation of yin yang, where a brighter area of a step gives way to the darker area of its own self, and vice versa. The repetitious pattern going downward from top left to bottom right inversely accentuates the strength of this relationship by shortening the integration of the light-dark elements and at the same time increasing the perceived contrast of this same integration. The sitter becomes the light and dark dot simultaneously due to what seems to be a contemplative placement right in the middle of a light-dark-light interface, himself being divided in light-dark values almost in complete opposite to his surroundings. Life represented with the most minimal of elements.

Yosi Pozeilov, Senior Conservation Photographer

This Weekend at LACMA

July 9, 2010

Have you ever seen someone beatbox through a flute? Me neither, until I saw Katisse do it. The jazz/hip hop/funk group is playing for free tonight. Check this video for a sample—the way Katisse is able to punctuate his beats with melody from the flute is mind-blowing.

As with every weekend we’ve got free concerts every night: Saturday, Braziliando performs a mix of samba, Brazilian jazz, and bossa nova in Hancock Park. Sunday in the Bing Theater, Phillip Levy and Francois Chouchan perform works by Beethoven and Grieg.

Starting tonight we’re also kicking off a month-long salute to the great director Ernst Lubitsch’s American comedies.The series opens with the film Lubitsch considered his personal favorite, Trouble in Paradise paired with the Lubitsch-produced 1936 comedy Desire, starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper. Lubitsch’s daughter, Nicola, will be in attendance for the opening night. Read the L.A. Times article on the series, in case you missed it.

Saturday sees two more Lubitsch films, the Oscar-nominated Garbo comedy Ninotchka and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, the latter another Cooper vehicle also starring Claudette Colbert and David Niven. Both feature screenplays written by Charles Bracket and Billy Wilder. Here’s a trailer for Bluebeard, should you need to be reminded of “the Lubitsch touch”:

Art-wise, we’re happy to have opened four more galleries for our permanent European collection, as you may have surmised from yesterday’s post. We’ve been reinstalling the entire third floor of the Ahmanson Building in phases over the last few months, with plans for completion soon. The latest galleries to open feature works from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mostly Italian and French (joining the already-open galleries for Dutch paintings and works from Spain and Northern Italy). Do check out the latest additions, which includes Jacques-Louis David’s Portrait of Jean-Pierre Delahaye, Ludovico Mazzanti’s Death of Lucretia, and a gallery full of Monets, Gaugins, Cézannes, and more.

Scott Tennent

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