Fashion Your Own Fashion

January 11, 2011

Today we have two announcements, both pertaining to Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915. First—the show has been extended! It will now remain open in the Resnick Pavilion through March 27.

Second, we just posted an exciting new resource for costumers: patterns that may be used to approximate the design of these garments from our collection.

Thomas John Bernard and curatorial assistant Clarissa Esguerra at work pulling patterns from an 18th century waistcoat.

We talked with Thomas John Bernard, a theatrical costume designer and professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who worked with the exhibition curators to create the patterns.

What was it like to work with these garments?

It was exciting because a lot of them are very unique and they are in amazing condition for their age.

When you look at the insides of these pieces, you discover things you don’t really expect. You get to do detective work forensics to try to figure out what the garment was like, how it was made and perhaps remade.

When you are a costume designer, you read plays set at different times in history, and you make clothes for people to represent the time and place. I do a lot of patternmaking for Utah Shakespeare Festival and other theatres around the country; knowing how historical garments were made during the period helps me be a better craftsperson.

Man's Waistcoat, China for the Western market, c. 1740 Purchased with funds provided by Suzanne A. Saperstein and Michael and Ellen Michelson, with additional funding from the Costume Council, the Edgerton Foundation, Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer, Maureen H. Shapiro, Grace Tsao, and Lenore and Richard Wayne M.2007.211.811, photo © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA

Can someone actually make a garment he or she could wear using one of these patterns?

These are pieces of art. These historic garments most likely would not fit a person today. These patterns are an historical representation. As a patternmaker, I can take measurements from people today and make the pattern fit by drafting it up using the same lines taken from the original piece. To make a garment that fits based on one of these patterns, you need to know something about patternmaking, and be able to modify the size of the garment in that way.

What did you learn about how the original garments were constructed?

A lot of the clothes were all sewn by hand. The stitches are smaller than what a sewing machine would make today; you can see the incredibly small, beautiful stitches made by expert tailors. When we did a pattern of a boy’s frock we discovered it may have been made by a talented home seamstress; the pieces did not line up exactly, and sometimes the fabric is slightly off-grain. So you look at the pattern, and it’s not exactly square. But we wanted to have an actual historical representation of that piece, so we left it that way and didn’t fix it as I would if I were going to actually sew the garment. If I were going to make the garment I would square the elements so that they hang better.

A famous designer would not take one of these patterns and try to make it in exactly the same way the original garment was created. They would take the original garment as inspiration, and construct something using present-day techniques.

I think patternmaking is a combination of sculpture and engineering. One has to work on the body, but the garment also has to look beautiful and flow around the body. Every human body is different; making each person look his or her best is a challenge that involves many decisions about how a garment is cut and constructed.

Amy Heibel

Guest Post from Steve Roden: when adjacent works converse

January 10, 2011

Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977, which closes this Sunday, is notably free of explanation in its presentation—rather, the artworks are left to speak for themselves. After touring the exhibition, artist Steve Roden imagined what would happen if that were literally the case.

Blinky Palermo, Blue Disk and Staff, 1968, private collection, courtesy Hauser & Wirth (left); Butterfly II, 1969, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt a. M.; former collection Karl Ströher, Darmstadt. Inv. Nr. 1981/36. 1-2.

blue disk and staff (blaue scheibe und stab, 1968): so you are called butterfly 2… you know, every time i hear the word butterfly, especially in german, i can’t help but think of walter benjamin, who wrote about catching them in nets as a child, as well as aby warburg, who spoke to moths and butterflies, telling his troubles to them. he called them his seelentierchen, or little soul animals. i wonder how many viewers have stood here quietly, sharing their troubles with us…

butterfly II (schmetterling, 1969): yes, being pinned to the wall i have heard a lot of things from a lot of different people… but of course, not only troubles…

blue disk and staff: looking at your form, that long stem with one “wing,” looks a bit broken or incomplete… it is no wonder you are unable to fly from the wall. with only one wing you can only fly in circles, like spinning a boat with one oar… have you ever thought about the fact that both of us are made up of two pieces? one of which is a large long “stem”…

butterfly 2: yes, of course, we’ve been staring at each other for some time, and certainly i’ve noticed the similarity of our body forms, but we also have our differences… you are resting on the floor, leaning against the wall, while i am fastened to the wall feeling somewhat crucified. to me, it seems a bit ironic that you are coated entirely in blue like a painting, yet rest upon the floor like a sculpture; while i am painted in such a way that my colored edges can only be perceived when moving around me like a sculpture—while i hang upon the wall like a painting…

blue disk and staff: hmm… well i must say the way your red edges are only revealed from the sides, reminds me of the time i first visited texas in the late summer, when little black grasshoppers reveal a tiny bit of hidden bright orange when they jump into the air. from where i’m resting now i can see your edges as bright red outlines; but if someone would drag me to the wall that faces you straight on, your red lines would disappear, and reappear only on the wall as a faint red aura. it is a beautiful dull reddish glow that follows your stem’s outline. because i am entirely wrapped in blue, my own edges tend to disappear, as my sides and faces have a tendency to fuse into a single flat visual plane…

butterfly 2: something else that i find interesting is that you can glean more about my color and form by moving away from me; while i can only begin to see the pattern and repetition of your blue when i am close enough to touch you. sometimes i wish i were a bit more mobile, so i could place my wing upon my stem, reach over to you, and touch your blue with my black. having looked at you for so long, i would really like to feel the texture of your blue tape-lines repeating beneath my “fingertips.” i have watched how your disk and staff appear as flat smooth monochromes from afar, but the repeated lines, when seen close up, seem to speak so much of activity and repetition, of handwork and wrapping, existing somewhere between the obsessive intuitive repetition of tramp art and the scored repetition of someone like sol lewitt. i also hope you won’t be offended if i tell you that your forms remind me a bit of don quixote…

Blinky Palermo, Blue Disk and Staff, 1968, private collection, courtesy Hauser & Wirth

blue disk and staff: ha ha… yes, i have been told that before. also, because of the feeling of elongation, some have told me i am suggestive of a giaccometti. that may be true in terms of my form, but in terms of my surface, the inconsistent pressing of giacommetti’s thumbs and fingertips hardly resemble my own blue ridged contours, which were built through a continual addition of lines… your contours, on the other hand, seem more organic, like flat edges hand-scraped into curves. i keep thinking how my surface is covered in rigorous repetition, while yours is covered in subtle imperfection… it has taken me ages to notice the very thin, very faint incised white scar near the top of your stem. is it a marker for the height of your wing? or a key suggesting one must mine your surface for other subtle marks and imperfections? because i remain blue at all times, i think my lines suggest the surface of the sea, my skin an ocean of tiny consistent waves…. sometimes your red edges emanate such a deep colored glow, you seem filled with blood… i wonder if from your vantage point i ever seem filled with water… have you noticed that being wrapped in tape gives me a kind of forlorn feeling, a little bit like a broken arm in a cast?

butterfly 2: yes, well you know blue is not just the name of a color…

blue disk and staff: yes, of course… but since we are talking intimately, i want to ask you about your form. i hope you won’t be offended, but i have wanted to ask you this for some time… from my view it seems as if you are missing a wing; but now that we have been talking, i wonder if, perhaps, you are a silhouette with one wing situated behind the other. when i see you as having one wing, i feel sad that you are unable to fly, but when i see you as having two wings closed upon each other, i see you in a kind of space of anticipation, poised to fly away at any moment. this duality of suggestion sometimes makes you seem incomplete—your balance feeling slightly off—but at the same time, you seem visually “right.” i believe that the arrangement of your parts are somehow more sophisticated than mine… and their forms a bit more complex…

Blinky Palermo, Butterfly II, 1969, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt a. M.; former collection Karl Ströher, Darmstadt. Inv. Nr. 1981/36. 1-2.

butterfly 2: well, i have often wondered about a similar tension between the complete and incomplete, as well as balance and imbalance, in my own appearance… clearly we are surrounded by works that suggest both presence and absence at the same time. in you i see a tension that seems to exist between order and happenstance, and i hope you won’t be offended if i tell you that your disc seems less placed than recently fallen… it seems to be so much more bound by gravity than my butterfly wing. also, you maintain a kind of casual-ness, while i maintain a kind of stiffness and immobility. you seem to be resting or sleeping—as if within a pause, awaiting some ritual or battle or other usefulness. my own existence is less like a tool, and more like an icon—continually immobile, static, a graphic at rest… i am an object of perpetual stasis, while you seem to contain a perpetual  potential for motion… as if you are waiting for a call to duty… and one more thing—did you notice when one looks at you straight on, they see your staff and disk meeting on the floor, and your visual form resembles a lowercase “b”?

blue disk and staff: yes, and when i look at you straight on, you look not only a bit like the mast of a small sail boat with a tiny flag, but i can see your stem and wing suggesting the visual form of the number 4.

butterfly 2: well that means that, seen together reading from left to right, our forms form “b4” or “before.”

blue disk and staff: i think you’ve strayed a bit too far toward the interpretive deep end, but just now, while you were talking, i was watching people walk between us. seeing them next to you made me think that, even though we are tall, we are relatively human-scaled. our surfaces, which are far from perfect, reflect a kind of humanness, as their scars, carving, and wrapping reveal a visual history of our forming. our stems are thin and tall like a person, while our second parts could be held in someone’s hands. watching people stop and stand before us, seeing them move slowly around your sides and surface to see the red reveal and disappear, or intimately stooping down to see the linear contour map of my surface, it seems we converse with our audience rather quietly…

butterfly 2: yes, i think we slow them down, perhaps in relation to john cage’s words: “to sober and quiet the mind”… i really do think we do that for people… particularly if they spend enough time looking at us.

If you’d like to talk back to the artworks—or hear others talk about them—filmmaker and artist Morgan Fisher will be at LACMA tomorrow night to lead a tour of the exhibition and talk about Blinky Palermo.

This Weekend at LACMA: Last Chance for Olmec, Roundtable Discussion, New Film Series, and More

January 7, 2011

This weekend is your last chance to see Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico—the exhibition closes on Sunday. The exhibition has been wrapped up in an ongoing debate about Olmec ancestry—are the ancient civilization’s origins tied to Africa? In response to this dialogue, we are holding a free roundtable discussion on Sunday afternoon on this topic. Exhibition curator Virginia Fields will be joined by scholars from CSU Pomona, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Latin American Institute at UCLA, each exploring the various viewpoints surrounding Olmec origins.



Tonight (Friday) our Art Rental and Sales Gallery, located on the lower level of the Bing Center, is hosting an opening reception for its winter exhibition, featuring works for sale (or rental, if you’re a member) by artists Yvette Gellis and Sean Finegan.


Just upstairs from the ARSG, we’re kicking off a new film series tonight: True Grit: The Golden Age of Road Movies. Over the course of its run in January, the series will feature a number of special guests appearing in person. That begins tonight with actress Karen Black introducing the classic Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson’s first starring vehicle following his memorable supporting turn in Easy Rider a year earlier. Both Nicholson and Black were nominated for Oscars for their work in this film, which was also nominated for Best Picture.



The night’s second feature will be 1972’s Play It As It Lays, featuring a script by Joan Didion based on her own best-selling novel. The True Grit series continues on Saturday night with Easy Rider—just $5!—and Zabriskie Point, Michelangelo Antonioni’s follow-up to Blow Up and the only film he shot in the U.S. 


This Saturday we’re excited to open our completely reinstalled galleries for art from the ancient world—Greece and Rome, Egypt, and the ancient Near East. We’ve also just finished reinstalling more of our European art collection, including fifty works of silver and gold, Italian mosaics, and gold boxes on long-term loan from the Gilbert Collection. Expect more on both of these gallery installations on Unframed next week. On the special exhibition front, in addition to Olmec closing this weekend, the William Eggleston and Blinky Palermo exhibitions are also nearing the end of their run—both close next weekend.


Graphic designers and photographers, or lovers of those art forms, will not want to miss the free documentary screening on Saturday afternoon, The Visual Language of Herbert Matter, about the influential designer and friend to Jackson Pollock, Charles and Ray Eames, and others. The documentary’s director, Reto Caduff, will be on hand to discuss the film.



Sunday at the museum is packed with events for people of all ages and interests. All month long our ongoing free Andell Family Sundays are dedicated to the art and poetry of India, in conjunction with India’s Fabled City. Bring your kids down for free art-making activities and learn about textiles, jewelry, and paintings from India. If you’re here with your kids in the afternoon, drop in on the museum store right outside the Boone Children’s Gallery for author Alex Beard’s reading of Monkey See, Monkey Draw—a repeat performance from the author since his last time at LACMA was such a hit with the little ones.


In addition to the Olmec roundtable discussion, we’re also presenting a lecture on gold and silver in Korean art, given by Dr. Choi EungChon from Dongguk University in Seoul. Take a stroll through our Korean galleries before or after the free lecture and pay special attention to the Buddhist sutra paintings on view.


Finally, the weekend concludes with our weekly Sundays Live concert—free!—where the Lyris Quartet returns to LACMA to perform works by Shostakovich and Brahms.  


Scott Tennent

Saving a Deteriorating Quilt

January 5, 2011

Presentation Quilt, 'Oak Leaf and Reel', 1845–50, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, gift of the Betty Horton Collection

This brightly appliquéd red and green quilt looks great from a distance, but up close its age is showing. The iron component of the black dye, used to create fine lines in a few of the red appliqués, has weakened the cotton fabric. The red sections have literally perforated and split—or, even worse, fallen out. This damage is no one’s fault. Conservators have a fancy word for it: inherent vice. Luckily for us, not all black dyes contain iron. The artfully inked signatures on the quilt have survived intact.

Before treatment, detail

Deterioration of the black dye has resulted in splits and losses.

The delicately inked signatures have not deteriorated the cotton fabric.

During treatment, detail. A sheer polyester fabric is placed over the damaged area.

What to do about the damaged appliqués? LACMA Textile Conservator Susan Schmalz chose to stabilize the damages, but left them visible. It takes a sharp eye to see her handiwork. A sheer polyester fabric was cut (or rather melted) using a pyrograph, to the shape of an individual appliqué. Using a surgeon’s fine intestinal curved needle, the sheer fabric was stitched on top with stitches measuring only 1mm long.

After treatment, detail. Stitches around the edge of the appliqué are only 1mm long.

After treatment, detail.

Applying Velcro. Changing the thread to match the fabric on the front makes the stitches nearly invisible.

If it weren’t for the damaging black ink, the quilt would be given a clean bill of health. The other cotton fabrics are sturdy, permitting hanging with Velcro stitched across the top back edge. The hand stitching on the back is made nearly invisible by changing the thread color to match the appliqué on the front.

Installed in the gallery

The quilt was installed last week in the American galleries on the third floor of the Art of the Americas Building. It is safe to say that bits of the quilt will not be littering the bottom of the case.

Catherine C. McLean Senior Textile Conservator

A Public Monument to the Fruit Tree

January 3, 2011

The grass has grown in around a notable project at the northwest corner of campus, near Fairfax Avenue: The Public Fruit Theater, Los Angeles, 2010, designed and built by La Loma Development. La Loma collaborated with artist collective Fallen Fruit to build the theater as part of our year-long investigation EATLACMA, which concluded this past November. The Public Fruit Theater remains, as what landscape architect Marco Barrantes calls “a monument to the fruit tree.”


Photo courtesy of La Loma Development

The fruit tree is surrounded by a garden wall composed of broken concrete from the sidewalks and driveways that paved over Southern California orchards beginning around 100 years ago.  Marco and his partner, Michelle Matthews, often design with broken concrete. “Recycled concrete is perhaps the most local, sustainable, renewable resource at our disposal,” says Marco. “Often it goes into landfill or piles up at recycling facilities.” Instead, La Loma used different forms of recycled concrete for the retaining wall, the base, and for the drainage gravel.

They used a technique, called drystack terracing, to build the garden wall without mortar—a technique that dates back thousands of years. “Drystack terraces were used throughout the Andes, including at at Machu Pichu,” says Marco, who is from Peru, but grew up in Southern California. “Drystacking results in a malleable, adaptable wall. Instead of cracking or settling, it will just adjust to the landscape. If you’re going to do landscaping in the hills, or even in flat areas, like LACMA, it’s a great landscape material—there’s nothing better.” The garden is zero maintenance, due to terraforming and the use of gravel base and backing to prevent water-logged soil and roots from pressing up against the garden wall. “You should be able to enjoy a garden without having to mow or use a leaf blower,” says Marco.

Michelle says the duo takes inspiration from permaculture and land art. “There are connections between land art, or earth works, the landscape and our gardens at home,” says Michelle. “If done right, there can be beauty in retaining walls. Landscape art can be an integral and aesthetic part of the urban fabric.”

This time-lapse video shows the project coming together over the course of ten days. Each piece of broken concrete is hand-picked and chiseled and fit together like a puzzle. John Bowsher, director of special installations at LACMA, helped Marco and Michelle navigate that process in order to realize their vision. “Because people can sit on it, climb on it, and because we called it an amphitheater, the project was subject to some special requirements,” Marco explains.

“While we typically prefer to remove lawns in Southern California, we were delighted to see the monument enveloped by a field of green” says Michelle. “There is a busy bus stop nearby, but the fruit theater is this quiet, meditative place. I hope the public will use it and see it as a place of relaxation and an opportunity to reflect upon our local landscape and how we can make our city more enjoyable, healthy and beautiful through sustainable means.”

Amy Heibel

%d bloggers like this: