Bananas for Moholy-Nagy

August 12, 2010

While introducing his students to Lazlo Moholy-Nagy through a 1936 essay called “Photography: a New Instrument of Vision,” artist Patterson Beckwith became personally interested in a section titled “The Eight Varieties of Photographic Vision.” It is a very simple list that describes what is possible to do with the medium—photograms, reportage, snapshots, timed exposures, infrared photography, x-rays, transparent superimposition, and optical illusions.

“Bananas for Moholy-Nagy” is a photo illustration Beckwith produced using all the methods on the list with a single banana for each image. In 2009 LACMA acquired the series of photographs and created a small publication of the project, available in the Art Catalogues store in the Ahmanson Building.

All photos by Patterson Beckwith, 2006, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © Patterson Beckwith

Why a banana? Beckwith explains: “The bananas are slightly harder to explain. The work is not ‘about’ bananas, really, they are a vehicle—you can slip on them, ladies can’t eat them in the street because they are a phallic symbol; the Warhol and other Pop banana art aspect was a plus too. Personally I always love talking on a banana phone. I think art should be funny, and I think bananas are funny.”

From start to finish the entire project took less than three weeks. “Each image was a technical challenge; I had the time of my photo-nerd life, using infrared and litho films, learning how to tone prints… I had the most fun making was the Harold Edgerton style high-speed image—capturing a 1/30,000th of a second of the fruit exploding using a firecracker.” Both images are currently on view in EATLACMA.

Harold Edgerton, .30 Bullet Piercing an Apple, 1964, printed 1985, gift of the Harold and Esther Edgerton Family Foundation

Patterson Beckwith, Untitled (Rapid seeing by means of the fixation of movements in the shortest possible time: snapshots), 2006, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © Patterson Beckwith

Meghan Moran

The Perfectionist’s Anxiety

August 11, 2010

Thomas Eakins, "The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)," 1871, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund and George D. Pratt Gift, 1934

You wouldn’t think that I, a lowly LACMA volunteer, would have anything in common with Thomas Eakins, the greatest American realist of the nineteenth century. I like two-for-one sales and cats; he was more into dissecting horses and organizing nude photo shoots. Also, I can’t paint. Yet I think we share a common trait, Eakins and I: perfectionism.

Eakins found it hard to cope with failure. Whilst studying in Paris he sent home frantic letters to his father promising to become a better painter. He had two nervous breakdowns in his lifetime: one following the death of his mother, whom he had “failed” to nurse back from mental illness; the other was after his dismissal from teaching (due to alleged “misconduct”). Some might say he overreacted.

Perfectionists always do. Subject to polarized thinking (seeing situations/people as either “wonderful” or “awful”) the perfectionist crafts a self-oriented world that either helps or hinders them in their quest for the ideal. If the latter, the perfectionist dreams up scenarios in which everything turns out right.

For Eakins, this meant that his drawing master, Leon Gerome, was “raised above the swine,” whilst his Philadelphian detractors were compared with an “evil person.” It meant creating “enchanted” worlds in his art: rivers, woodland grottos, sports arenas. Even his infamous “surgery” paintings feel like a magic show.

But the driving force of the perfectionists’ anxiety is that, deep-down, we know wishes don’t come true—at least, not as we imagine. 

This explains why, in his paintings, Eakins turned his frustrations on himself. In The Gross Clinic (1875) his bloody body lies passive on the operating table. In The Champion Single Sculls (1871) Eakins, seen rowing in the distance, is a towering emblem of male strength and self-reliance. But look closely at his reflection: this fantasy is cut through by a gash of paint slicing the body. 

I struggle with my own, more mediocre, self-destructive tendencies. (Will I EVER get to the gym?) But, whilst perfectionism can be a difficult character trait to live with, it can also birth greatness. Eakins’s work is testament to the fact that it’s okay to aim high… just so long as we can allow ourselves, and the world, to occasionally fall short.

Olivia Chapman

Gluttons for Punishment

August 9, 2010

If you were following our Twitter feed Friday and Saturday, you might have wondered whether we’d been hacked. Well, in a way we were—by Rainn Wilson, the actor known for his role as a second banana in My Super Ex-Girlfriend and the lead in The Rocker—a film I’ve not seen but is a modern classic, according to my thirteen-year-old nephew (who by the way claims that explosions, the television show Wipeout, and this youtube video are also “classic”).

Following his takeover we feel we should clarify a few things: we’re not selling our collection or bulldozing the museum, we don’t support the Birthers, we do not have any emoticon-based exhibitions in the works, and many artists in our collection are post-modern maximalists working in a pre-ironic milieu, not pre-modern reductivists working in post-irony—an inferior genre if ever we’ve seen one.

Mr. Wilson—sadly, not related to actors Owen or Luke, nor to Ann and Nancy of the band Heart, nor to the volleyball in Castaway (any of which would have made him way cool)—did get a couple of things right amid his hate-spewing under the guise of our name: There is an automotive museum across the street, and omg Justin Bieber is cute. Sooooooo cute.

(If you missed his takeover and want to catch up, check our twitter feed.)

Scott Tennent

This Weekend at LACMA

August 6, 2010

Clearly, somehow, we have been suckered. The nefarious Rainn Wilson, known to some as the nefarious Dwight Shrute from The Office, has finagled the login and password of our Twitter account and has locked us out. In a dastardly act, he has promised to tweet today and tomorrow all about how he hates LACMA. We are powerless but to follow him and be outraged—and, okay, entertained too.

If you choose to love LACMA, we’ve got more free concerts and a new film series kicking off this weekend. First, the music: tonight, bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin will stop in for Jazz at LACMA. Franklin has played with greats including Archie Shepp, Willie Bobo, Freddie Hubbard, and Hugh Masakela.

Saturday evening Cuban vocalist Adonis Puentes checks in for Latin Sounds before heading to New York for a performance at Lincoln Center. Puentes has shared the stage with Celia Cruz, Eddie Palmieri, and other greats, so this should be a not-to-miss (and free!) performance. You can hear some audio samples at his website.

Sunday, South African pianist Petronal Malan performs works by Griffes, Haydn, and Liszt. Here’s a sample of what you can expect:

This weekend our latest film series begins—Fuller at Fox— looking at a handful of films by director Samuel Fuller. Tonight will see his 1953 thriller Pickup on South Street, starring Richard Widmark, followed by 1951’s Fixed Bayonets!, about a U.S. platoon trapped behind enemy lines in the Korean War. Saturday features House of Bamboo, the first Hollywood film to be filmed in Japan, and Hell and High Water, Fuller’s first color film, again starring Widmark. Now, I could show you trailers of these films, but I think this interview with Fuller, about Pickup on South Street, gives you a much better idea of what you can expect. It’s priceless.

Finally—don’t forget the exhibitions on view!

Scott Tennent

More May Company Pics

August 5, 2010

We received a great response to our post last week about the remnants of May Company, including a few comments from people remembering the old department store. Here are a few of our favorites:

Wow does this bring back memories!! My mom and I used to shop here and Bullock’s Wilshire , Farmer’s Market, Canters. Ladies wouldn’t think of going shopping in slacks. We’d get dressed up and make a day of it. We weren’t even from LA. We came from San Gabriel Valley. Lots of good memories. I’m glad this is still here.

My father was one of the first employees when the store opened. He worked in the linen department, but soon after became the assistant buyer, then the buyer, and moved to the downtown store. We lived in Parklabrea, so the Wilshire store was convenient for him. Downtown meant a bus ride, then a drive when we got a secnd car. My mother and I did almost all our shopping at the May Co. Wilshire.
I was very happy when LACMA took over the building, saving an important historic landmark.


Brought back memories of working here, 1943 and 1944 after school (Hamilton High) and summer vacations. Was an elevator operator, chosen for “looks”, wearing a smart light brown uniform, and reciting what merchandise was on each floor. In summers worked at the information desk, and modeled in the Oval Room on Thursday evenings.


Do you have any memories to share about the May Company store? We’d love to hear them; leave them in the comments section below. Meanwhile, here are some more photos from behind the scenes.

This is where the telephone operators used to sit.

Ring before entering.

Elevator cable.

Bank teller windows.

Bank vault.

The floor pattern for the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

Escalator U

Old lubricant cans in the escalator room.

Giant gears.

Drop box in a stairwell; this is where you could deposit your May Co. payment.

Cold storage.

Again, is it just me or does this remind you of Dr. Strangelove?



Weight and pulley system.

Civil Defense door in the basement.

Meghan Moran

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