This Weekend at LACMA: Steve Wolfe Closing, Jane Fonda Film Series Continues, Sundays Live

February 18, 2011

 If you haven’t had a chance to see some of our current exhibitions, this might be a good weekend to come. Steve Wolfe on Paper is closing on Sunday, and India’s Fabled City is closing next week. (And while you’re here, don’t forget to stop in to the Resnick Pavilion to check out Larry Fink: Hollywood, 2000–2009,  which just opened in the Resnick Pavilion last week.) The shows couldn’t be more different, but they do both contain works that display a fascinating attention to detail. Wolfe, who draws books and albums in the trompe l’oeil technique, renders his subjects so vividly I’ve had half a mind to pull his drawings off the wall and try spinning them on a turntable.

On the other hand I could stare for an hour at a single painting in India’s Fabled City, taking in the many small details captured in the works.  

Attributed to Nevasi Lal, Noblewomen playing chess, c. 1780-1800, Musee national des Arts asiatiques--Guimet, Paris, MA 12112

Meanwhile our tribute to Jane Fonda film series continues, bookended this weekend with a couple of films that saw Fonda team with Robert Redford. First up tonight is the wonderful Barefoot in the Park, featuring Fonda and Redford as newlyweds making a life in Greenwhich Village;  following that is the feminist comedy 9 to 5. On Saturday, Fonda stars in the 1964 thriller set on the French Riviera, Joy House followed by all-star ensemble film The Chase, which sees Fonda at the center of a cast including Redford, Marlon Brando, Angie Dickinson, and more.

Bring your kids to Andell Family Sunday and take in the costumes of Fashioning Fashion.  Perhaps you can take our wigmaking post from earlier this week as inspiration during the family art-making activities.

On Sunday evening you can catch the Young Musicians Foundation Debut Orchestra performing for Sundays Live. The Young Musicians Foundation, now in its 56th year, is made up of 70 Angeleno musicians aged 15–25. Alumni from this orchestra are now members of nearly every major orchestra in the country, as well as some in Europe and Asia, and include conductors such as Andre Previn and Michael Tilson Thomas. This will be a great chance to see some of tomorrow’s stars of the classical music world.

Finally, Monday is a President’s Day—and that means LACMA will be free all day, thanks to Target.  As usual there will be plenty of family activities and live music throughout the day.

Scott Tennent

A Painting, a Journey, a Whole World

February 17, 2011

John Biggers was a muralist before his geometrical phase was to come into promise. He came of age in the era of social realism, a time of the great mural painting led by Diego Revera and the Mexican Revolution. Biggers became the great muralist of the Negro’s movement toward self-realization and self-esteem. This was the time of segregation, the time of Jim Crow. It was a very different world, indeed. Heavy, sad, and palpable fear of the “other” held sway over one’s every action. A time exemplified by Ralph Ellison’s novel, The Invisible Man! A world of “skin,” light and dark! For Biggers, this was not mere art but the narrative journey of a people in a sulphurous atmosphere of oppression, denigration, and paranoia—the other side of the American dream. Racism had left a people in a desperate search of a self-image that honored them, that represented their humanity. And Biggers’s art, along with Charles White, a mentor, and many others, was still feeling the heat of the Harlem Renaissance, a community collective whose self-image had been driven by this blighted thing, this race drama. Though the measure of this could vary to some extent, its presence seems to cast a shadow over all their work.

John Biggers, Shotguns, 1987, courtesy of William O. Perkins III

Biggers would found an art school. He would make a mind-altering trip to Africa and all the elements of Shotguns, this gem of geometrical realism, would have evolved from his earlier work. Biggers vacillated in styles, as if in constant search for that pictorial union of his muralist social realism and the ever-imposing tenets of geometrical modernism, with its undeniable African roots and unspecified spirituality. Shotguns would become a masterpiece of that union.

Today, oddly, in some postmodern parlance the painting may come off as some altered state, a play on pixilated chromatic color or even some mysterious exercise in triangular patterning. Biggers painted Shotguns in his retiring years, and the thread of reconciliation with his immutable past runs constantly through his various mediums of idealized fantasies. Here Africa is the motherland and the women wear white and float through geometrical non-objective atmospheres in some ethereal space. Having evolved from the earlier dense, weighty sadness in the tight grouping of The Cotton Pickers,  like blocks of sandstone, to the later airy, bird-like imagery that seems bound for flight, Biggers balanced his emotional world. And, like William Blake, the awaiting world was upward.

Shotguns has the scale of a moderate-sized painting, but thematically it is a grand mural, evoking an entire world, a Negro world, luminous, colorful, yet somehow natural with weathered wood surfaces dispelling our certainty in the vague “otherness” that Biggers lays before us. A quilted sky and a quilted earth, a patchwork landscape, the stacked empty humble shotgun houses elevated, towering majestically, even the receding shadows, resides in triangular profusion. At their base five women, pillars, possibly symbolic pillars of memory, the three African masked faces, distant, unattainable “past” doors, and the two grandmothers, realistic and maybe even portraits with visible interiors, are somehow recent and accessible. The evil-catching cast-iron pots are circular forms set off in a sea of angles. Biggers imbues every point of the surface with symbolic weight, shedding its light kaleidoscopically; the triangles abound like gems beckoning us. Even the birds, except one, fly upward in this divine shape. Shotguns is a repetitive pulpit visual narrative. John Biggers, being not merely romantic, envisions a quasi-religious ascendancy through the faceted grammar of an existential dream.

Hylan Booker

Fashioning Fashion’s Paper Wigs: How’d We Do It?

February 16, 2011

Since the opening of Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, the Costume and Textiles Department has received many requests to share how we created the paper wigs seen on the exhibition mannequins. The process of hand-crafting the wigs began nine months before the opening of the show as the curators were finalizing their exhibition checklist of fashionable dress and deciding on display methods. While we were very excited to share the fantastic new collection of European clothing with the public, secondary details such as hairstyles and accessories were essential to shaping a stylish, historically correct presentation.

Fashioning Fashion, installation view

In order to accurately recreate hairstyles of the past, we looked at portraits, fashion plates, and photographs corresponding to the historical periods of each ensemble. Factors such as the purpose of the clothing (e.g., court dress, at-home dressing gown) and if the mannequin would be wearing a hat were considered.

An example of the research we used to determine hairstyles for the ensembles. Le Bon Ton, no.868, August 1901, Doris Stein Research Center

Dress, France, c. 1900, 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

Fibre rush, starched buckram, curling iron, and hot glue gun were used to create the wigs.

The buckram was softened with warm water...

...and stretched over a hat block and left to dry into a stiff form.

Once dry, the molded buckram was removed from the form and trimmed into a cap. The cap was the base for building the hairstyle.

Fibre rush, a paper product used in chair caning, was used to create the actual “hair.”

The fibre rush was flattened and cut into narrow strips, then hot glued onto the outside of the buckram cap.

The paper strips were wound around curling irons and pencils to produce curls of various sizes.

The paper strips were manipulated into knots, buns, braids, and waves.

Some of the wigs were filled with padding to maintain their shapes. Ribbons and feathers were added as finishing touches.

Once the wig was completed, it was placed on the mannequin’s head for final adjustments. Et voilà!

Sophia Gan, Installation Assistant, Costume and Textiles

Princess Ka’iulani Slept Here

February 15, 2011

Newly installed in the Art of the Pacific gallery, this unusually large five-layer kapa moe, or bed cover, belonged to Princess Ka’iulani Cleghorn (1875–1899), heir apparent to the Hawaiian throne at the time of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893.  Princess Ka’iulani was the daughter of Princess Miriam Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn, a prominent Honolulu businessman born in Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Barkcloth (Kapa moe), Hawaiian Islands, late 19th century, purchased with funds provided by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation with additional funding by Jane and Terry Semel, the David Bohnett Foundation, Camilla Chandler Frost, Gayle and Edward P. Roski and The Ahmanson Foundation

Princess Ka’iulani became known throughout the world for her intelligence, beauty, and resolve when, following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the eighteen-year-old princess spearheaded a campaign to restore the Kingdom, even speaking before the United States Congress and meeting with Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland.  However, her negotiations could not prevent the eventual annexation of Hawaii to the United States in 1898.  Following a brief illness, Ka’iulani died on March 6, 1899 at the young age of 23.

Princess Ka'iulani, 1897, Hawaiian State Archives, Photograph Collection, PPWD-15

Kapa fabric is typically made from the paper mulberry tree.  The bark is stripped, soaked, and then compressed into sheets with special patterned wooden beaters and finally dyed and decorated.  Kapa cloth was used primarily for clothing like the malo worn by men as a loincloth, and the pā’ū, worn by women as a wraparound skirt. The layered Kapa moe were originally reserved for the ali’I, or chiefly class, and the tradition continued into the late nineteenth century with members of the Hawaiian monarchy.


Like Princess Ka’iulani, this kapa moe combines elements of Hawaiian and European traditions, as the unusual design resembles floral elements from a post-European contact Hawaiian quilt.  Designs on both kapa and Hawaiian quilts hold symbolic information.  Scholar Adrienne Kaeppler noted that the design of this kapa moe may metaphorically incorporate the saying, “He ali’i ke aloha, he kilohana e pa’a ai,” “Love is like a chief, the best prize to hold fast to,” in honor of Ka’iulani.  One corner of an underside white layer of the kapa is signed “Kaiulani.” 

Debra McManus, Manager Art Administration and Collections

A Kiss for My Sweetheart

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day to all the happy couples out there. We saw this article at Flavorwire about the best “art kisses” and thought we would share some favorite smooches from our own collection.

Herbert Bayer, The Kiss, 1932, gift of Sue and Albert Dorskind

Peter Behrens, Untitled, c. 1898, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

Kissing Geese, Japan, 18th century, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection

If you’re looking for a date with your special someone tonight, don’t forget that LACMA is free after 5 pm for all LA County residents. The sun goes down around 5:30 tonight, and Urban Light will be waiting for you.

Scott Tennent

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