June in Paris with the Surrealists

September 7, 2010

For the past year, I have been working as a research assistant here at LACMA, helping the curator Ilene Susan Fort with the preparations for a major exhibition called In Wonderland: the Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States. This show, opening in January of 2012, will showcase the work of many well-known artists such as Frida Kahlo, but also introduce many important women who have not achieved such international renown. One of the most enjoyable aspects of working on this project has been tracking down key paintings and sculptures by these lesser-known artists and learning about their extraordinary lives.

This past June, I was lucky enough to travel to Paris in the pursuit of information on one such artist, Helen Phillips. Born in San Francisco in 1913, Phillips won a travel scholarship to study art in Paris in 1936, where she fell in love with the ideals and practices of the surrealist movement. Phillips also fell in love with the artist William Stanley Hayter, director of the Atelier 17, a print studio which served as an important center of experimentation for many surrealist artists. In the 1940s and 1950s, Phillips created anthropomorphic forms in bronze, and we are eager to include a few of these in show.

In Paris I went to stay with Phillips’ daughter-in-law, the Italian curator Carla Esposito Hayter, whose apartment in Saint-Germain-des-Prés is right down the street from the famous Café Les Deux Magots. With regular doses of espresso and pain au chocolat, we spent long hours happily digging through Phillips’ documents from throughout her career, including wonderful photographs such as this of Phillips and Hayter in their studio.

We also measured and photographed many examples of Phillips’ work, lugging bronze sculptures onto a bathroom scale (it is important to have a weight estimate for shipping purposes). Phillip’s best-known sculpture is a work in Carla’s apartment called Metamorphose (1946) a good example of the artist’s concern with forms in perpetual motion and transformation.

As Carla and I were looking through a batch of old photographs of Phillips’ sculptures, she suddenly realized that one of the works was in corner of the bedroom where I was staying. Neither she nor I had given much attention to the piece, which seemed sort of flat and nondescript. However, as we carried the bronze out into the living room and set it in the proper position according to the old photograph, a fully-realized work came to life.

Although the piece is romantically called Amants Novices (Inexperienced Lovers), its sharp “teeth” and tangled limbs give the sculpture a slightly menacing quality that may relate to the surrealist interest in symbols of violent female sexuality, such as the Praying Mantis. Carla and I were very excited about our discovery, and it may turn out that this sculpture is perfect for a show about the ways in which women artists responded to surrealist concepts.

Terri Geis,

Research Assistant, American Art

Heads Awaiting Bodies

September 7, 2010

Spied in the conservation center, a row of heads which will soon top the forms dressed for Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915, opening in just a few weeks in the new Resnick Pavilion.

Scott Tennant

LACMA is Free Today!

September 6, 2010

Looking for something to do today? LACMA is free all day as part of Target Free Holiday Mondays.  Here are the highlights of the day:

•    Every gallery and exhibition is free, from 12 to 8 pm.
•    Live performance by Mexican folk music group Cambalache at 12:30 and 2:45 pm on the plaza
•    Gallery educators will be in the Latin American galleries from 1:30 to 3 pm
•    We’ve created a special Family Guide just for today, available around campus

There are also lots of exhibitions and installations on view, including Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas EakinsCatherine Opie: Figure and Landscape,  and John Baldessari: Pure Beauty (the latter closes on September 12!)—not to mention permanent collection galleries covering art from nearly every corner of the globe from ancient to contemporary times.

Scott Tennent

This Weekend: Free Concerts Every Day and Free Admission Monday!

September 3, 2010

Happy three-day weekend, everyone! Sorry it means that summer is more or less over. As a last hurrah for the hot season, we’ve got a handful of free events happening, starting tonight with Jazz at LACMA.  Kamasi Washington and the Next Step will be the performers—you can hear samples of their music at their website.  If you’re an L.A. County resident, you can also get into all our galleries for free while you’re here, starting at 5 pm.

Tomorrow evening will see the final installment of our Latin Sounds series for 2010. Susie Hansen brings her nine-piece band perform high-energy Afro-Cuban Latin jazz. Here’s a sample of what you can expect:

Susie Hansen: No Te Metas Conmigo (from Representante de la Salsa, available at her website .

Sunday in the Bing Theater Endre Balogh (violin), Steve Gordon (viola), Dennis Karmazyn (cello) and Genevieve Feiwen Lee (piano) will perform works by Beethoven and Brahms as part of Sundays Live.

Which brings us to Monday. Thanks to Target we will be free all day on Labor Day!  We’ll have gallery educators in the Latin American galleries from 1:30 to 3 pm, and live performances by the group Cambalache at 12:30 and 2:45 pm. This is also a great time to see our Thomas EakinsCatherine Opie,  and John Baldessari exhibitions. Baldessari closes on September 12 so if you haven’t seen it yet, the clock is ticking.

Scott Tennent

What Will You Wear for Labor Day?

September 2, 2010

Labor Day weekend is just a few days away—what will you be wearing to celebrate the (unofficial) last weekend of summer?

Margit Fellegi, for Cole of California, "Woman's Bathing Suit," 1936, gift of Margit Fellegi

This bathing suit was designed in 1936 by Margit Fellegi for Cole of California. Using an innovative technique called “Matletex,” it allowed the fabric to be shirred (gathering an area of fabric using elasticized threads in parallel rows) to create a flattering silhouette. Traditionally swimsuits were created using wool; this new process allowed for fabrics such as cotton and rayon with brightly printed patterns to be used for the first time.


DeDe Johnson, "Woman's Three-piece Playsuit," late 1950s, gift of Esther Ginsberg and James Morris in memory of Don Morris

The “patio” playsuit was designed by DeDe Johnson during the late 1950s. This “sportswear” ensemble features a blouse, skirt, and shorts made of printed cotton featuring images of a barbeque, chaise, and umbrella table and chairs. I wish I had this piece; it is the perfect example of an outfit that is practical and fashionable!

Meghan Moran

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