Sneak Peek at our Plans for Tim Burton

December 20, 2010

Tim Burton opens at LACMA this spring; the exhibition explores the evolution of Burton’s creative genius through hundreds of drawings, paintings, photographs, moving images, storyboards, puppets, maquettes, and ephemera beginning with his days as a kid in Burbank.

Tim Burton, Untitled (Romeo and Juliet) 1981-1984. Pen and ink, marker and colored pencil on paper. Private collection. © 2009 Tim Burton

Recently, our curator Britt Salvesen met with Burton and his team at LACMA and in Toronto, where the exhibition is on view. We talked with Britt about what it was like to meet Burton, and how the show will be installed at LACMA.

Will the show surprise people?

Most people have a really good sense of the Tim Burton style. But the show demonstrates how persistent that vision is and how evident it was from very early on, before he was even thinking about making full-scale feature films. You’ll find motifs of masking, creatures transforming from one thing into another, themes of childhood and adolescence. You also find this really unique mixture of horror and humor from the get-go. To see the ideas emerge in their pure form from his teenage days to the present is really striking!

Tim Burton, Untitled (Edward Scissorhands) 1990, private collection. Edward Scissorhands © Twentieth Century Fox © 2009 Tim Burton

Tim Burton opened first at MoMA. Since then, it has traveled to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and, now, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. How has the exhibition changed from venue to venue?

In the MoMA installation they constructed a very logical narrative starting with his early days in Burbank (the section is called “Surviving Burbank”), coming into his own as a creative thinker (“Beautifying Burbank”), and then they segue to his work in feature film in a third and final section (“Beyond Burbank”).

The next two venues for the show, in Australia and Toronto, are museums specializing in the moving image—film-based museums. So they changed the emphases and flow of the show. In Australia they used projected film clips which hadn’t been used in New York, and in Toronto they began with some of the early feature films rather than the student drawings.

Tim Burton at MOMA, entrance designed by TwoSeven Inc. Photo: Michael Locasiano

How do you foresee the installation at LACMA?

We are using the giant mouth as our entrance, but it won’t look exactly like it did at MoMA. You’ll enter through the giant mouth—you’ll be walking into it.

We have this incredible new exhibition space in the Resnick Pavilion. That’s really kind of a great playground for our thinking about the installation here. Tim and his assistants came to see the space where the Eye for the Sensual exhibition is currently on view. That installation is very spectacular, with its custom wall coverings and columns and the recreation of this elegant interior from another time. We discussed the possibility of retaining some aspects of that décor and transforming it into a Burtonesque version—adding a sense of dilapidation evoking the types of interiors he creates in his films.

We are thinking about how to create connections between different films and bodies of work with sight lines, maybe creating windows within the show where you can see from one section through to another.

We also will have access to the outside world through the windows on the north side of the building; we are hoping to install some pieces in the park, creating a relationship between the exhibition and the campus. The show includes a topiary sculpture of a deer that will be located outdoors. It’s a great photo op!

What was it like to meet Burton?

Sitting in a restaurant over dinner with Tim and his crew, I saw him drawing on napkins, one after another: pictures of things that were coming up in conversation, or things that had happened earlier that day, random things that crossed his mind. I could see that it’s really a way of thinking for him.

I got the impression that this venue means a lot to his team, because it’s their community. Over a lifetime in Tim’s case: his origins and his family and of course a lot of the talent he works with to this day are based here. I feel like it’s personally satisfying for him and his production crew.

Tim and his crew have been really open to museums process for developing and implementing a design. They have not swooped in to take it over as if it were a studio set. They have really been respectful of and helpful in recognizing the differences. It’s been a good collaboration.

Tickets for Tim Burton go on sale May 2. But if you join LACMA you’ll get two free tickets and will be able to make your reservations starting March 30. For the dedicated fan, a limited-edition museum membership is on sale now, including admission to the show.

Amy Heibel

Actor Julian Sands on the Lucknow Exhibition

December 16, 2010

Actor Julian Sands is a long-time friend to LACMA and—currently–a lender to the Lucknow exhibition. We asked him about collecting, and about the Lucknow tureen, one of his treasures.

Julian Sands, with another piece that came to LACMA from his collection: a Paul Storr centerpiece


What and why do you collect?


I don’t think of myself as a collector. I spend a lot of time on mountains doing marathons in remote places where you are carrying with you the minimum you need to exist: a tent, a bed, some fuel, some food. That’s your world. I acquire things with the ferocity of a pirate, but like a pirate I just like to dig a hole in the sand and drop it in and head off for more. It’s an insatiable greed, foiled by this Trappist like renunciation.


Tell us your impressions of the exhibition India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow?


The show reveals Lucknow as this jewel of a place. In local terms, what would it be? San Francisco with downtown New York and New Orleans all rolled up into one! And fabled, with its poets and painters and craftsmen and glamorous courtesans. It was a tremendous meeting point of east and west.


Stephen Markel has been putting this exhibition together for twelve or fifteen years. He has cast his net wide to bring together these great treasures. His passion for his subject is fabulous.




The Lucknow Tureen


Tell us about the Lucknow Tureen, now on view at LACMA in the Lucknow exhibition?


It has sculptural presence, immense beauty and grace. The shape is classically Mughal. But there are these lions which look exactly like an English lion.


Claude Martin, the great nabob of Lucknow, who was drummed out eventually and fled back to England, built a magnificent  building—which is, today, called La Martiniere—in Lucknow. There are motifs on the bowl that you’ll find in the architecture of the building. In particular, the lions are very much like the lions you’ll flanking the Martiniere. So there is every reason to suppose the piece was commissioned as part of a service for the Martiniere.


I like to think somewhere there is a great ladle. But a lot of these things got melted down. The Indian tradition wasn’t to pass things on to keep so much as to pass things on to melt down and people remade things in their own style.




The Lucknow Tureen, detail



How did you come across the piece?


I found the piece through a friend of mine, who is a great scholar of colonial silver: Wynyard Wilkinson. I’ve known him since I was at school. For a long time, I coveted it.


Really great objects have tremendous power and energy. There is something of the nervous system of their creator, the man or woman who chiseled or cast or painted or drew or fabricated the object.


I don’t set out to collect anything for sake of a collection. I get interested in a form, a medium, a type of work. So you go looking for things. And then when you find something you may have been seeking, there’s a release, almost like an Arthurian knight. You are released from the challenge.


What do you like to see when you visit the museum?


All my life I have taken such pleasure from museums.


LACMA, in particular, has amazing space and such great light – you feel that it’s an organic, ongoing, 21st century, vibrating beacon of forward-looking culture bringing the past into the present. There’s a great fusion of possibilities here.


When I’m here at LACMA I usually visit the paintings and sculpture in the Modern galleries – the quality and balance is superb. The presentation of sculpture is wonderful. I love the great Tony Smith, and going in the new Resnick Pavillion, a place of beauty and an architectural wonder.


India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow is on view through February 27th, 2011. View a slideshow of 19th century photographs of courtly Lucknow at



Amy Heibel

The Corrido of LA

December 15, 2010

This weekend, Ozomatli performs corridos submitted by students across Los Angeles. The event is the culmination of The Corrido of LA: in celebration of the centennial of the Mexican revolution, we invited students in grades 7 to 12 to compose a ballad song about the city they call home.

Corridos are storytelling ballads, often about heroism and struggle. They became popular during the Mexican Revolution and, later in the 20th century, as a way to raise social consciousness about civil rights and political justice.

Here are just a few selections from the entries we received.

Yo Soy un Ilegal, by Veronica Zelaya, 11th grade, Roosevelt High School, begins:
Yo soy un ilegal
Que he venido a luchar
Para a mis padres ayudar
Un trabajo de verdad
Y que tengo miedo de enfrentar…

Lyla Matar, an 8th grader at Highland Hall in Northridge submitted this video of her corrido, titled “Dreaming of a City”:

Erendira Hernandez, a 12th grader at LA Leadership Academy, submitted this audio recording of her corrido:
We are a different city, we love, we hate, we play, we fight as well…”

You can view all of the submissions here.

Ozomatli’s performance–free, by the way–starts at 2 pm on Saturday in the Bing Theater at LACMA. Ozomatli will be performing later that evening at Club Nokia.

Amy Heibel

Conservation in Action: Saving a Rare Buddhist Scroll

December 13, 2010

An extraordinary project is now underway in the Korean Art galleries: a team of conservators is restoring a large eighteenth-century Korean Buddhist painting, in public view.

Professor Park and her team of five conservators traveled from Korea to work on this project at LACMA for a year.

Professor Chi Sun Park, who teaches in the Department of Conservation of Cultural Properties at Yong-In University in Seoul, is supervising the work with help from our Conservation Center. Professor Park says that initially she had concerns about working in a public area. Now that the team is installed at LACMA, she appreciates the interest and respect demonstrated by visitors who come to watch her and her team go about their painstaking process.

When LACMA acquired the scroll, it was in such fragile condition that we couldn’t display it. So far, the team has managed to reintegrate the torn and damaged sections of the painting. They are replacing the lining, cleaning the surface of the painting, and stabilizing areas of flaking paint. The Friends of Heritage Preservation helped bring Professor Park to LACMA to save this rare masterpiece.

Buddha Seokgamoni (Shakyamuni) Preaching to the Assembly on Vulture Peak depicts Seokgamoni (Sanskrit: Shakyamuni), the historical Buddha and founder of Buddhism, seated on a lotus pedestal, preaching to a large assembly. It is the earliest known painting from Gangwon province to survive the devastation of the Korean War.

You can see the restoration of the scroll in the Korean Galleries in the Hammer Building at LACMA through August 2011.

Amy Heibel

Start Your Art Collection at LA Print: Edition 1

December 9, 2010

As a print curator, I am often asked “what’s the difference between a print and a poster?” “A lot!,” I proclaim and launch into a diatribe on the distinctions. For the purposes of this blog (designed to be brief), I will refrain from explanation of the numerous print media—such as woodcut, etching, lithography—all of which have centuries-long histories and traditions of their own, and comment only on the basic differences. Posters are, generally speaking, reproductions of other works of art (such as a painting) and often intended as a form of advertisement or as decoration. For this reason, posters are often printed in the thousands using off-set presses or digital means. Prints, however, are original works of art in that they are conceived of and realized as prints by the artist, often with the assistance of a master printer. The making of a fine art print is a time-consuming and collaborative process that results in original works of art (not reproductions) that are limited in number. (Edition sizes can vary but usually range from 25-100.)

Lynn Hanson, "Standard, " 2010, edition of 20, printed by Hamilton Press

Because fine art prints run in editions, they are less expensive than paintings or drawings by an artist, making them a great way to start an art collection. And you may be surprised to learn that an original art print may often cost the same or less than a framed poster purchased in a museum shop or at! As a means to encourage the collecting of prints, and to provide a learning experience about how prints are made and why artists make them, the Prints and Drawings Council of LACMA and LACMA Muse have organized LA Print: Edition 1, which debuts this Saturday. LA Print highlights printmaking in LA, featuring local print shops and artists that have made the city one of the most vital printmaking centers in the world. There will be print demonstrations and an impressive lineup of artists discussing their prints and appreciation of the print medium. (Not to mention an After Party!)

Don’t miss this great opportunity to learn about the LA printmaking scene and maybe even start an art collection!

Leslie Jones, associate curator, Prints and Drawings

Searching for the Artist in the Art, and Vice Versa

December 8, 2010

It would seem the images of William Eggleston are a form of blank poetry, sensual but not sexy, somewhere in the ether of documentation and artistic wonder where we find him trolling. But who the artist was, I didn’t really know until I met him during the installation of the current retrospective. Were you ever totally off base about someone? I certainly was.

Can the art tell you who the artist is? Based only on Eggleston’s photographs, I guess I really wanted to see him as a hipster channeling country blues or Memphis Slim, for the pictures had that earthy delight, that swell of down-home ready. He seems to possess an idiosyncratic vision that offers a graphic sort of purity; in other words, an image devoid of contextual meaning yet delivering a seductive charge of beauty. His rapacious lens seems to find a sort of theatricality of hyper-country glamour of Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley with a potpourri of hauntingly everyday eye candy, compositional gems caught in casual glances. As for the images, if there are stories, you will have to tell them to yourself. It’s an eye for the ordinary made extraordinary, at times by mere focus. There’s a kind of haphazard, enchanted, social realism, a junk beauty cast aside, around the bend, in the back seat, up the creek, on the lawn, behind the wheel, overhead, alongside, around the corner, outside the door.

William Eggleston, "Untitled (Memphis, Tennessee)," c. 1972, from "14 Pictures," 1974, collection of Adam Bartos, © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

I first saw the enigmatic William Eggleston sitting elegantly in beautiful black suit in a tan fold-out chair in the middle of 2nd floor of BCAM, in front of the giant red elevator in which Barbara Kruger’s black and white and red words climb up the wall of the shaft; his grey hair parted to the side; one long leg crossed over the other with his shining aubergine-colored classic shoes blending perfectly and contrasting with his starch white shirt opened at the neck; a loose and untied green and cream bowtie slightly slung to the side. The look spoke volumes!

And when he spoke in a slow, somewhat thoughtful searching manner which reminded me of the British playwright Harold Pinter (“the master of the pregnant pause”), there was a ground shift. It was the moment for which the lilt in his voice was more the tone and charm of a southern aristocrat—Tennessee Williams without the drama. From time to time with his long elegant fingers he would wave them through the air in his halting speech as if they too were language.

William Eggleston, "Greenwood, Mississippi," 1973, collection of Adam Bartos, © Eggleston Artistic Trust, courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

This was a native son, the gentle sophisticated product of Memphis who saw it with a stranger’s eye. A lover of Bach! Yes, he was one native who uniquely saw everything in dreamy, saturated, crazy color and silently worshipped it all. And in doing so, sometimes the images he captured acted upon one or achieved the state that an abstract painting delivers: colliding or converging patterns of color exploding into mere sensation but held down by a not so surreal awareness that it’s a ceiling, or a vague sense of knowing that a powerful lusty color can so easily foster the attraction. And underneath, bizarrely, there’s a silence about the images, a hush, hush, an ironic stillness over and above the physical state the photo presents. So that here was the tough-minded enchanter, William Eggleston, or so it would seem.

Hylan Booker

Q&A with Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio

December 7, 2010

For the last few years LACMA has been collaborating with Charles White Elementary School in creating interactive exhibitions in their on-site art gallery. The latest exhibition is LA Icons: Urban Light and Watts Towers, in which students responded to these two monuments through drawings, photographs, and poetry.  Architects Ball-Nogues Studio were invited to create their own monument specially for this exhibition. We asked Benjamin Ball about their result, Double Back to Basics. The exhibition is on view at Charles White and is open to the public Monday–Friday, 2–5 pm

Ball-Nogues Studio, Double Back to Basics, 2010

What was your inspiration for this work?
The process of production was inspirational; it determined the conceptual content of the project. During the past year, we developed techniques for making three-dimensional structures from pulped paper. We imagined that paper, a lightweight material associated with disposability, would create tension if used to make monumental form. It enabled us to consider monuments as disposable. Double Back to Basics is not a discrete object, it is a process: after six months in the gallery the monumental shape will be dissembled to become dozens of living gardens for the kids of the Charles White School.

We have also been exploring how we can “informalize” structure—how to reduce the level of control necessary to conduct a building process. This inspired us. Piles and heaps are structures that can be made without exerting much control and precision. There are only a few choices to make when making a pile – what kind of material do we use, where do we put the pile, how high do we make it? The installation suggests a heap or pile as much as it suggests a monumental arch made with traditional bricks or stones stacked in a controlled and orderly manner. We liked that double reading. When viewed from the entry, it is a quirky vertical wall of letters doubling as bricks. When viewed from within the gallery it is a primitive heap fashioned to be a monumental arch; it suggests a ruin.

Side view

What was the process for Double Back to Basics’ assembly?
There were two phases of construction. The first was the fabrication of individual letters and numbers. We developed a technique for spraying paper pulp over Mylar balloons, which act as formwork. The result is hollow, lightweight structural “shells” (the installation weighs about twenty-five pounds, the same as a few bags of groceries) that are very strong.  The process was laborious, spraying a coat of pulp on each balloon, then allowing it to dry for twenty-four hours in a kind of oven/wind tunnel. The colors are integrated with the paper—we didn’t use paint. We utilized different colors of paper for each coat and then splattered the final coats to yield a painterly, almost impressionist quality. The colors and texture sometimes suggest “natural” lichen, and sometimes powdery candy or donuts. We infused the pulp with wildflower seeds. These will sprout and become gardens after the kids disassemble the installation. 

Mylar formwork

Spraying the pulp onto the balloons

In the second phase, we transported the shells to the gallery, where we assembled the “monument.” We see the letters and numbers as akin to bricks, but being lightweight and hollow, they are inversions of the solid, heavy bricks used to make traditional buildings. In our usual approach to assembly, each component has a predetermined location within the whole.  For LACMA, the method was different; it was informal. The awkwardly shaped letters conjoin with a casual logic; the procedure required intuition rather than rigid predetermination and precision. Control was necessary, but we employed it in a way unlike most of previous projects.

Assembling the arch

How did the notion of monuments impact this piece?
Letters and numbers are elemental building blocks of language, but here they are also the physical building blocks of the installation itself. They represent fundamental origins; they suggest potential. Origins are tied up with the notion of progress: we always move forward from a point of origin. The work lays this out for contemplation.

Monuments are attempts to preserve collective memory, and as a consequence, they are associated with permanence. Monuments help us look back into history, but history is always being made anew. We were interested in this paradox. If Double Back to Basics is to be understood as a monument, what can it mean if it is slated to disappear in six months, when the exhibition closes?  What does it memorialize? If monuments are attempts to preserve memories or ideology, what might be preserved here, if anything? This is why we infused the paper with seeds, so the monument will live on as gardens to be planted by the kids. The timeline of the project is tied to an educational process where the kids witness the transformation of material from installation in a gallery to living things. This transforms the child through learning. The metamorphosis of material and form mirrors and celebrates the growth of individuals while the growth of individuals is inexorably linked to the metamorphosis.

What, if any, design philosophy does the Ball-Nogues Studio pass on to this project?
Design philosophies make us a little uncomfortable, but we do bring certain principles to the work. In essence, Double Back to Basics explores the design of disappearance. Monuments are considered permanent and unchanging. An installation in a gallery has a relatively brief lifespan. It is designed to assume a shape for a given amount of time, but then it can become something else when the installation is taken down. Perhaps this kind of thinking could be passed on to permanent structures. Perhaps buildings and monuments can have expiration dates.

How do you envision the student’s interaction with your piece? What do you hope they will take away from their experience of your work?
The installation suggests a monumental arch, scaled to the size of a child. Kids can pass through it, touch it, and have their photos taken standing in front of it. They can relate to it in ways people physically relate to monuments. By way of that interaction, the kids might think differently about the meaning of the letters and bricks. They might invent their own meanings.

The students will be involved in dismantling the installation. We will encourage them to take pieces of it home rather than throwing them in the trash. The paper is non-toxic and when properly cared for, it will sprout a garden. Through an educational process, the kids will facilitate an entropic process and a process that generates life. The monumental shape breaks down, but the project literally lives on, becoming a living thing. We want kids to witness this transformation and to think about how it might relate to other processes in their world. It invites them to relate to the physical world as a work in progress.

Andre Chambers, Development Intern

Photos by Tyler Crain, courtesy Ball-Nogues Studio

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