Balenciaga: In the Pink

March 31, 2011

Last week the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco opened Balenciaga and Spain. LACMA is contributing five gowns to the show, and it was my job to get them ready for their trip up north.

Cristobal Balenciaga, Women’s Evening Gown and Cape, 1963, gift of Mrs. Edward W. Carter

One of the LACMA-owned dresses in the exhibition is a bright pink silk evening gown with matching cape. Before sending it off, we wanted to know what would happen to the beautiful color while on view. We all know that overexposure to sunlight can be damaging to skin—well, it can harm fabric, too, causing its colors to fade. One way to test the light fastness of an object is to conduct a microfading test. The test uses a strong lamp and fiber optic cable to expose a miniscule area of the object (250 micrometers!) to a very strong ray of light. The exposure is measured, and the results are analyzed to determine how long an object can be illuminated before it begins to show signs of fading.

Here I am adjusting the position of the fiber optic cable prior to testing the gown.

Setup for lamp (on right) and computer with software (SPEC32) to capture measurements.

I tested the gown in several places and compared the results to standardized rates of fading known as the blue wool system. After analyzing the results we cautiously determined that the dress had been exposed to very little direct light in its lifetime (it is an evening gown after all), and can have a maximum exposure of 95,600 hours of UV filtered illumination. This means that in its lifetime the dress can be on display in a museum for 9,560 days, or 2.6 years, before there are perceptible signs of change. Fortunately, the dress will be exhibited in San Francisco for three months, with the lights on only during public hours.

Spectrum depicting fading of colors; the lower curve is the faded curve. This graph shows that the reflectance of the red in the gown’s pink dye will fade the most over time, and the yellow and blue reflectance will increase in visibility.

Armed with this information we will be able to tailor the duration of each future exhibition period, thus ensuring its survival for many generations of museum visitors. 

Nicole Bloomfield, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Textile Conservation

(Many thanks to Frank Preusser, Senior Scientist, Conservation, for his microfading tutelage and invaluable help with analyzing the test results.)

Installing David Smith: Q&A with Brenda Levin of Levin and Associates Architects

March 30, 2011

David Smith: Cubes and Anarchy opens at LACMA this Sunday (on view starting tomorrow for members). Curator Carol S. Eliel calls Smith one of the greatest American sculptors of the twentieth century—we’ll have more from Carol next week on Unframed. First, we asked Brenda Levin of Levin and Associates Architects for a sneak peek at her design for the installation.

David Smith installation at LACMA

In what ways did Smith’s work inspire your design?

Our design was inspired by Smith’s own exploration of space and form. He often layered the placement of his sculptures in relation to each other to create a new art form through photography and what he called collages in space.

Geometry is an important theme in this exhibition. Does it play a role in the installation design as well?

Smith wanted to exaggerate and exploit the pictorial quality of his geometric sculptures when he placed them in groups. We attempted to replicate that experience.

The scrims are a notable feature of the design. How are they intended to affect the visitor’s experience?

The scrims, in effect, create the context of landscape, sky, and light that Smith used to explore these techniques of producing three-dimensional collages, documented in his photography and drawings. We looked at these same
ideas through the use of the translucent scrims in a naturally lit space, creating the illusion of sculptures layered in space.

After having such intimate access to Smith’s work, what’s your impression? Anything you would suggest a visitor look out for?

Make sure you study the photos and drawings… they are a wonderful surprise.

Photos courtesy of Yosi Pozeilov

The Engineer Who Saved Watts Towers

March 29, 2011

One evening last month I drove to a neighborhood near Otis College to visit Bud Goldstone and his wife Arloa in hopes of retracing Bud’s long history with the Watts Towers.  To give you a sense of Bud’s relationship to Simon Rodia and Towers, he is the proud owner of Rodia’s gas fitter pliers, which the artist used to build his sculptures!

Who wouldn’t want to meet a man who concludes every email with the following signature: “Bud Goldstone; OSU, Purdue Aero Engr; AIC Pro. Assoc.-retired; Apollo Engineering, ‘The Los Angeles Watts Towers’, pub by Getty Museum & Conservation Institute; “Secrets of Watts Towers”; SPACES Archives”

Bud Goldstone

In order to understand what all of that means, I sat in their kitchen enjoying Bud’s passion for the history of the Towers. Trained as an aeronautical engineer Norman J. “Bud” Goldstone had been in Los Angeles for about ten years when he read an article in the paper about Rodia’s sculptures. Bud was “not so impressed by the towers” and, at first, didn’t get caught up in their artistic mastery; it was more that the published quotes by his colleagues—other engineers—were to his way of thinking just not accurate. He felt that the engineers “didn’t know what they were talking about,” and he wanted to see for himself what was going on. It was this desire for professional accuracy that first urged him to drive to 107th Street in South Central to see what these monuments were about and what the engineers were saying. Ultimately, he saw ways in which he might make a contribution to the project.

Bud had no idea that this first visit would eventually lead to a lifetime of devoted advocacy and work for Simon Rodia’s environment. Made of concrete, metal, and miscellany, Bud discovered what he likes to call “a three-dimensional doodle.”

During our visit Bud didn’t spend much time talking about his decisive action in 1959 that ultimately saved the Towers and was the primary reason why they are still standing today (recounted in more depth in The Los Angeles Watts Towers). Set by the City of Los Angeles Building and Safety Department for demolition in 1957, by 1959, a grassroots effort was growing to save the Towers. Because Bud had engineering expertise he was pulled into the effort, which comprised artists, community members, students, and activists. On October 10, 1959 a load test was conducted in front of more than 1,000 people; the experimental stress test used 10,000 pounds of pressure to pull down the Tower. The tower bowed, but did not fall, before the truck and the beam involved with the test started to bend and bow. Witnessing that the Towers were not going to be destroyed, the city defined the test a success for the Preservationists. Engineer Bud was the hero of the day!

Bud told us when the Building and Safety Department voted for the load test, fifteen were against and sixteen were for it.

Bud had the honor and distinction, he said while we sat in his apartment, of meeting the artist, Simon Rodia (1879–1965). Bud recalls taking him to dinner on two occasions and that Rodia was “wonderful,” “lovable,” and that the two of them “had a ball together.” I will remember my evening with Bud and Arloa in a very similar light!

Brooke Davis Anderson, Deputy Director of Curatorial Planning

Free Pics

March 28, 2011

At a recent workshop, a group of public school teachers asked me what the museum can do to help them obtain high-resolution images of works of art for use in the classroom. We just launched our new online Image Library and I think they’ll be pleased. We started with 2,000 high-resolution images of works of art that we believe to be in the public domain, to download and use for free. Over time, we look forward to continuing to provide even more public domain images of works in our encyclopedic collection.

Digging around, I found a few highlights.

Manuel de Arellano, Virgen de Guadalupe, 1691, oil on canvas, Purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund, M.2009.61

This Virgin of Guadalupe was a big hit when we announced its acquisition on our blog back in 2009.  Using the zoomify feature, or by exploring the secondary images included in the entry, you can hone in on the amazing vignettes in the corners—at the lower left, for example, the Virgin appears to Juan Diego and fills his cloak with flowers.

detail, Manuel de Arellano, Virgen de Guadalupe, 1691, oil on canvas, Purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund, M.2009.61

Scoot over to the lower right corner and you can see the next chapter of the story.

This sixteenth-century Dutch still life includes tulips, irises, roses, carnations, daffodils, and more.

Ambrosius Bosschaert, Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge, 1619-1620, oil on copper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter

Lest we get caught up in all of that pictorial perfection, the artist also includes some reminders of real life. Zooming in reveals a bug perched on that luscious white bloom at the left, and a nibbled leaf just below. At the foot of the vase, just to the left, there’s a bee. My colleague Mary Lenihan explained to me that the bugs are about decay—a dose of realism and a reminder of mortality.

detail, Ambrosius Bosschaert, Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge, 1619-1620, oil on copper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter

The Image Library allows visitors to explore works of art that are not currently on public view. We constantly rotate works of art from our encyclopedic collection, and at any given time, great works of art are in storage or in our conservation labs.

Anonymous, Shinto Sculpture in the Shape of a Seated Fox, Japan, Momoyama period, 1573-1615, wood with white pigment and sumi ink, Gift of the 1993 Collectors Committee, AC1993.40.1

I love this Shinto fox from the sixteenth century with his expressive face and intelligent eyes. He used to guard a shrine. Apparently, he was thought to have special powers, including the ability to read the secret thoughts of humans. There are also some excellent nineteenth-century Japanese scrolls represented in the Image Library. (One of my favorites depicts two boys in the midst of a prank—grinning so wide, their tongues appear to be hanging out of their mouths.) These works of art are light-sensitive and rotate constantly–so the Image Library is a nice complement to the in-gallery presentation, allowing scholars to take a close look at works that may only occasionally be on display.

Giving away high-resolution images is a new undertaking for the museum, driven by our desire to open up access to great works of art at LACMA.  Please comment and tell us how you are using these images. We’re curious to hear what you come up with.

Amy Heibel

This Weekend at LACMA: Fashioning Fashion Closes, Jordan Belson Films, and More

March 25, 2011

We’ve spent most of this week giving Fashioning Fashion a much-deserved send-off; Sunday is your last chance to see the show! Also closing on Sunday is the installation in the Ahmanson Building, George Grosz, Social Critic, a collection of drawings by the self-described “most depressed man in Europe.”

George Grosz, Coffee House, 1915–1916, the Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

Our weekend film series Classics from La Semaine de la critique (Critics’ Week) concludes tonight with Barbet Schroeder’s 1969 paean to hedonism, More (featuring a psychedelic soundtrack by Pink Floyd!). This is followed by Trash, the second film in a trilogy by Paul Morrissey, who was part of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene.  

Tomorrow night LACMA is screening a collection of shorts by abstract filmmaker Jordan Belson, “His is a cinematic vision encompassing nothing less than the metaphysical as well as physical universe,” says the LA Weekly in a write-up of the screening.  

Jordan Belson, still from Chakra (1972), © Jordan Belson, courtesy Center for Visual Music

This Sunday’s free Andell Family Day gives kids and parents the chance to make art inspired by our European galleries.  

Later in the evening on Sunday, pianist Joel Fan performs works by Nazaret, Villa-Lobos, and Beethoven for our free Sundays Live series in the Bing Theater.  

Scott Tennent

Looking Back on Fashioning Fashion

March 25, 2011

This Sunday marks the last day of Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, which features men’s, women’s, and children’s garments from the Age of Enlightenment to World War I. The content of the exhibition comes from our own permanent collection, and much of it from a major acquisition we made in 2008. This week’s personal recollection from Hylan Booker (who knew we had a couturier in our midst?) and dancer Jean Claude Wouters’ Fashioning Fashion-inspired performance were the last in a long run of great blog posts we’ve run on Unframed about Fashioning Fashion. With so many people involved in assembling this exhibition—curators, conservators, designers, and more—Unframed has been the beneficiary of a rich and diverse number of blog posts about the objects in the show. Before the exhibition closes, we thought we’d look back on some of the great stories Fashioning Fashion has brought to light. (Never mind the many more stories told in the exhibition catalogue!)

Man's Vest, France, 1789-1794, 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

First there were the artists and fashion-world luminaries who responded in one way or another to the show:


Dress, probably India for the Western market, c. 1800, with Shawl, Kashmir, India, c. 1810, Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Collection

Fashioning Fashion was apparently a fun exhibition to prep for, as a few behind-the-scenes posts made clear:

Woman's Dress Ensemble, Portugal, c. 1845, 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

No one seems to have had as much fun as our conservators in preparing the costumes for exhibition.

S. Tuttle Hat & Cap Manufacturer, Man's Top Hat, 1840-1860, 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

And of course there were the stories behind some of the costumes themselves:

  • Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell looked at a woman’s tennis dress from 1885—an enemy to athleticism if ever I’ve seen one.
  • Catherine McLean and Charlotte Eng told the fascinating story of where the phrase “mad as a hatter” came from—mercury poisoning.

Finally, there was our gift to you: if you liked the patterns on view in Fashioning Fashion, and you know your way around costume design, we made patterns from the show available for free download. We talked with Thomas John Bernard, a theatrical costume designer and professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who worked with the curators to create the patterns, about the project. (And one more thing, though not from the blog: the great online kids’ game developed especially for Fashioining Fashion.)

It’s been a thrill and a pleasure to see this show on view in the Resnick Pavilion for the last few months, and to see it met with so much enthusiasm from visitors and staff alike. If you haven’t seen the show yet, you’ve got just a few more days to see it before it’s gone.

Scott Tennent

A Dancer Responds to Fashioning Fashion

March 24, 2011


Jean Claude Wouters, in his studio.

As we bid adieu to Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915, we have one more noteworthy tribute to the sleeper hit of the Resnick Pavilion inaugural season. Jean Claude Wouters, a dancer and artist—whose wife, a fashion journalist, covered the show for the French press—once took part in a ballet in Brussels in which he wore a crinoline very much like those that give structure to some of the garments in our exhibition. Exhibition curators Sharon Takeda and Kaye Spilker invited Wouters to revisit the crinoline and its relationship to the body in a series of exploratory movements, performed in the Resnick Pavilion and documented here.

Jean Claude talked about the experience:

I performed with a crinoline when I was 24. Thirty years later, you can imagine! The body, everything changed.

The crinoline being round creates a trajectory like that of the orbital lines of the planets. I moved first to the east, then the west, then the north, then the south.

I was blindfolded. I didn’t want for the people to see my face, it is like a mask. I wanted to be like a sign in a space, my body and the crinoline – it’s not about the human expression. At the same time being blindfolded, I had to feel the space with my skin and body. It’s like letting yourself fall into the water, to be totally immersed in the space.

I had two black Japanese pebbles in each hand. The sound you hear is the pebbles. That’s why I make certain gestures with my hands. I was making my own music, through the reverberation of the sound in that huge space of the Resnick Pavilion.

I am no longer a dancer and I do not pretend to be one. It had to be very honest and of course human, clumsy, a normal person in a particular situation. At the same time, it felt daring, being a fifty year-old man, in a crinoline, barefoot in a museum, in front of someone filming. It’s something you would not do! But what is a crinoline, how do you move with a crinoline, impose movement on the crinoline? For sure, I wanted to do something with no thought. If I was one of my friends who is a dancer or choreographer by profession, it would have been organized and well-conceived in advance. Me, I came like a crazy wild madman; I have no craziness in me, but it was this kind of thing, like Antonin Artaud, or like Tatsumi Hijikata (initiator of Japanese butoh).

There is a phrase from Wittgenstein that I like very much – I translate it this way: “The human body is the most accurate image we can have of the human soul.”

I also think of this story: in a colloquium on religion, there was a Shinto priest. An American professor asked him, “But ultimately, what is your theology?” The Shinto priest thought about it for a moment, then said, “I think we don’t have theology; we dance.” Dance is a way of being alive, moving, being aware of your surroundings. We all dance all day in this way.

Amy Heibel

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