Q&A with Kris Morningstar, Executive Chef of Ray’s

January 31, 2011

The news went out at the end of last week that Kris Morningstar has been named executive chef for Ray’s, the new Renzo Piano-designed restaurant opening at LACMA—alongside the new Stark Bar—on March 4. Kris was here at the museum last week and we had a chance to ask him a few quick questions about his plans for the menu and his new position.

Kris Morningstar

How do you feel about being named executive chef at LACMA’s new restaurant and bar?
I’m very excited to be coming here—it’s great to be back working with Joachim Splichal’s Patina Restaurant Group as I used to work as line cook at his Michelin-starred Patina Restaurant in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. After six years it’s great to be back in the family with Joachim, who’s made an art of creating a fine dining experience in concert halls and museums across the country. I’ve worked at AOC, Blue Velvet, and most recently, I was executive chef at District and Mercantile.

Tell us more about the menu and your style of cooking.
Ray’s is a great venue, where the focus will be on the food and good service. The menu itself will be contemporary, market-driven cuisine, not overly stylized, and well-presented, featuring great flavors driven heavily by the seasons with a focus on local farms. The kitchen has a wood-burning oven and wood grill, so you can see what we’re up to behind the scenes!

What is the difference between Ray’s and Stark Bar?
At Ray’s, we hope to serve something for everyone. The outdoor Stark Bar will have a different menu from Ray’s, featuring shared plates and bar food, and the mixologist will create cocktails to complement this style of food. In both, the wine list will feature predominantly Californian wines but a selection of wines from around the world will also be available. It’s great to have somewhere in this area to cater to not only museum-goers, but all the office workers and production offices along Wilshire.

What do you think of the restaurant and bar, designed by Renzo Piano, and what are your thoughts about working in a museum setting?
I love the restaurant’s design, which is modern and functional, and allows us to focus on the menu. The fact that it’s at the center of the museum’s campus, behind the welcoming Urban Light on Wilshire—there are few places like it. It’s an artwork in itself! I’ve lived in this neighborhood for awhile, so I’m glad to be able to work in such an exciting and inspiring environment.

How are you preparing yourself for the launch in March?
At the moment we’re experimenting with the menu and tweaking and refining it. My focus is on building the foundations of the restaurant behind the scenes, testing the equipment, working out budgets, in order for it to become a restaurant that’s around for a long time.

Miranda Carroll, Director of Communications


This Weekend at LACMA: Chabrol Film Series, Kathak Dance Performance, and More

January 28, 2011

If you’ve never seen a thriller as directed by the great Claude Chabrol, you’re in for a treat over the next few weekends. Our latest film series, Le Beau Claude: Eight Thrillers by Chabrol, kicks off tonight with one great from early in his career, La femme infidel (1969), and one from the twilight of his fantastic run, The Bridesmaid (2004). Trailers for both:

Saturday the series continues with Le beau Serge (1958) and La cérémonie (1995), the latter starring Jacqueline Bisset, who will be here in person.

Sunday is a great day to take in India’s Fabled City. Bring your kids for Andell Family Sundays to do art-making activities inspired by the exhibition (starting next week Family Sundays will have a new theme, inspired by Fashioning Fashion). Sunday afternoon in the Bing is a not-to-be-missed dance performance by the Nrityodaya Kathak Dance Academy. Kathak is the classical dance style of Northern India. Here’s a sample of another performance they did recently, to give you an idea what to expect.

The weekend closes out with violinist Tim Fain and pianist Gideon Rubin performing works by Zimmerilli, Glass, Fauré, Puts, and Zhurbin—part of ongoing free Sundays Live series. Here’s a clip of Fain performing “Arches,” composed by Kevin Puts, to whet your appetite.

By the way, if you stop into the Resnick Pavilion while you’re here this weekend to see Fashioning Fashion, you’ll be treated to the continuing deinstallation of the recently closed Olmec exhibition. The lengths our staff is going to in moving these massive objects is a feat unto itself, as this video attests!

Scott Tennent

New Acquisitions: Three Works on Paper by Kirchner, Heckel, and Radziwill

January 27, 2011

Every autumn I go to Print Fair in New York, an amazing display of prints and drawings brought for sale by roughly 100 print dealers from around the world. It’s like being  a kid in a candy store where you are allowed to open frames, use a magnifying glass, and sometimes even touch artworks to scrutinize every detail if you’re really serious about buying. As the curator of the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies, I always hang out at the booths of the best dealers specializing in this area, and this year I was blown away by two extremely rare prints that would fit perfectly into a LACMA exhibition I am organizing for 2013 entitled From Van Gogh and Gauguin to the Blue Rider: German Expressionism and France. The show will be full of colorful paintings by French Neo-Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Fauves, Cubists, and German Expressionists.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Dreaming Woman, 1909, gift of the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation

But the amazing (and I think still untold) story of artistic exchange between German and French artists before World War I must also be conveyed through works on paper. If artists often begin their ideas with drawings, how did the leading Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (of the first Expressionist group, the Brücke) react when he saw the first major exhibition of Matisse’s Fauve works in Germany at the Paul Cassirer Gallery in Berlin in January 1909? His 1909 lithograph The Dreaming Woman may give us some clues. It’s a pretty large lithograph, and the lines are beautiful sweeping gestures that help simplify the figure of Dodo, his partner at the time and the subject of many of his drawings and colorful paintings during that year. Here the focus is on line, something we often associate with Matisse. But this lithograph shows Kirchner already to be a master of line as well—his sketchbooks, now in his estate near the Swiss town of Davos, show him already brilliantly capturing the motion of dancing and gesturing figures in a fluid line, much in contrast with the relative stasis of Matisse’s decorative compositions. Clearly Kirchner didn’t need any help learning how to draw! But he may have gained something else from Matisse, who had just published his famous 1908 text Notes of a Painter  in Germany, in which he remarked “What I’m after, above all, is expression…. the place occupied by figures or objects, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything plays a part.” At this time no one really agreed on what “Expressionism” meant, and one of its first usages was to describe exclusively French art in a 1911 Berlin catalogue. So perhaps Kirchner learned something about how he could use the entire composition to express himself.

Of course not all German artists liked Matisse. Max Beckmann was famously “shocked” into lamenting “one impertinent effrontery after another,” and was prompted to ask “why don’t they just simply make cigarette posters?” And Max Pechstein, who went to the show with Kirchner and probably had already met Matisse in Paris, remarked on a postcard “Matisse partly really terrible“; but Kirchner wanted to recruit Matisse right away to the Brücke group.

Erich Heckel, Woman on the Bed, 1908, gift of the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation

Meanwhile fellow Brücke member Erich Heckel was just as much absorbed with Van Gogh and Gauguin. (You can see Van Gogh’s influence in the brushstrokes in LACMA’s 1909 painting by Heckel, Sand Diggers on the Tiber,  which will be back on view in early February when it returns from an exhibition in Germany.) Gauguin informs the massive contour lines that evoke volume and simplify and flatten forms in his 1908 lithograph Woman on the Bed. Yet the lines here are wonderfully spontaneous, just enough detail to capture this figure and an image on the wall behind her. This lithograph is from one of Heckel’s most inventive phases as he made a shift from the forceful formal means of Expressionism to New Objectivity, the new sober, unsentimental, cool, and factual art of the 1920s. Yet during this time Heckel made only a handful of impressions of such prints, making them exceedingly rare today. It is on a lovely greenish heavy laid paper that we seldom see. Both of these prints jumped off the wall when I saw them, and I knew I had to act quickly to get them.

Franz Radziwill, Girl at the Table, from the portfolio Zehn Radierungen (Ten Etchings), 1922, gift of the Robert Gore Rifkind Foundation

Another wonderful print was hiding in one on the many boxes of prints the Print Fair dealers bring along: Franz Radziwill’s enigmatic 1922 etching Girl at the Table. The faceless figure might strike some as unfinished, but the artist did sign his work in the lower margin. In fact a similar faceless woman is portrayed in a watercolor postcard he made while creating the portfolio from which this work comes, entitled simply Ten Etchings. Around 1920, many German artists became fascinated by the Italian Pittura Metafisica (“metaphysical”) painter Giorgio de Chirico, and this is certainly suggested in the architecture and bottle on the table in this sparse composition. Meanwhile the influence of Brücke expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff is also seen throughout the composition, especially in patterns of striated and cross-hatched lines. Although best known as a painter of hyper-realist paintings in the mid-1920s, Radziwill’s first works were made in a more expressionist style with the transition to New Objectivity occurring in the early 1920s, precisely at the time of this rare etching. While announced in an edition of sixty, in actuality only some fifteen impressions of this print were made. The plates were seized in 1933 by the Nazis as “degenerate art,” along with a considerable number of graphic works in Hamburg’s Kunsthalle, never to be seen again. I feel very fortunate that LACMA now has these works.

Timothy Benson, Curator, Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

Meet the Swinger

January 26, 2011

This October, California Design 1930–1965: Living in a Modern Way will open at LACMA. Part of the Getty’s region-wide Pacific Standard Time initiative, the exhibition features modern design and craft from all over California—everything from necklaces to cars. The exhibit will examine the contexts surrounding well-known and loved designers like Charles and Ray Eames, as well as introducing some incredible designers that are not household names… yet.

Uncovering these designers and locating their work have given us some unusual adventures in twenty-first-century curating, exemplified in the case of a recent acquisition—Polaroid’s Swinger Land Camera, model 20 (1965).

We came across the Swinger while researching Henry Dreyfuss, a famed industrial designer responsible for classics like the ubiquitous black Bell Telephone. Though Dreyfuss’s firm had its main office in New York, after 1944 he himself worked at a smaller office in Pasadena. Telecommuting way before the internet made it common, Dreyfuss managed his New York office with frequent visits (packing was easy because he notoriously only wore brown suits) and daily airmail exchanges.

Finding a piece designed in the California office took some work. Many of the clients were Southern California aviation companies, like Lockheed and Convair—and, much as we’d like to, it would be pretty difficult to exhibit a commercial jet! Surprisingly though, we learned the office handled accounts from several eastern companies, including Polaroid.

Henry Dreyfuss and James M. Conner for Polaroid Corporation, The Swinger, Land camera model 20, 1965, Decorative Arts and Design Council Fund

Once we saw the Swinger, a camera designed especially for the youth market, it seemed to be an obvious choice. In addition to its appealing mod form, the camera was designed to be easy to use, a hallmark of the Dreyfuss office’s work and influence.

Russell Flinchum, Dreyfuss’s biographer, put us in touch with James Conner, who designed the camera. Over the phone and email, the 88-year-old designer demonstrated his remarkable memory, walking me through details of the camera, such as its innovative light meter which displayed a straightforward “Yes” or “No” depending on whether or not the camera could take a successful picture.

Locating an early Swinger was its own challenge; the model 20 went out of production in 1970. While our first instincts were the usual museums and collectors, a hunch took us to eBay—after all, can’t you find everything there? We found multiple Swingers and bid on one in its original box, complete with instructions and 1960s film coupons.

After winning the internet auction, our Swinger arrived safely at LACMA last year. And thanks to an early television commercial posted on YouTube, we got a glimpse of how its original audience first “met the Swinger.” The 1965 advertisement captures the California spirit, with swimsuit-clad soon-to-be movie star Ali MacGraw dancing to a jingle about its easy-to-use features and affordable price (only $19.95!) as the camera swings from her wrist.

Staci Steinberger
Curatorial Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

New Acquisition: Miguel Gonzalez, Virgin of Guadalupe

January 25, 2011

Miguel González, Virgin of Guadalupe, c. 1698, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund

We just added a new image of the famous Virgin of Guadalupe to our growing collection of Spanish colonial art—this time made with inlaid fragments of shell that make the work look almost otherworldly. Inspired by Asian decorative arts, this special technique was invented in Mexico and is known as enconchado (concha means shell in Spanish). Throughout the colonial period there was a significant influx of Asian goods to Mexico via the legendary Manila Galleons that connected the East to the West. The Japanese embassies of 1610 and 1614 to Mexico also contributed to the fashion for Asian-inspired objects. Interestingly, at the beginning of the seventeenth century Japan and New Spain made attempts to formalize trade relations, but the effort was thwarted in part due to Japan’s desire to curtail contact with the West following the country’s unification.

This work is signed by Miguel González, who along with his brother Juan González is considered the foremost painter of enconchados. It depicts the Virgin placed atop an eagle perched on a cactus, Mexico City’s legendary coat of arms. This is a significant detail that points to the rapid Creolization of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the second half of the seventeenth century, and her increasing association with a local sense of identity. She is surrounded by four roundels depicting her three apparitions to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531, and the moment when Juan Diego unveiled her image imprinted on his tunic before Bishop Juan de Zumárraga (r. 1528–1547); each roundel is supported by an angelic figure that lend a sense of playful dynamism to the composition.


An important element is the work’s elaborate shell-inlaid frame that combines lavish floral motifs with symbols of the Litany of the Virgin.

Detail of frame

Enconchado paintings often include ornate frames such as this (inspired on Japanese Nanban lacquer work): they enhanced their preciousness and luminosity and were considered an inherent part of the work. The painting represents the vibrant fusion of Eastern and Western artistic traditions in New Spain.

Ilona Katzew, Curator and Co-Department Head, Latin American Art

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