This Weekend at LACMA: Magna Carta, William Turnbull Documentary, Free Concerts, and More

April 29, 2011

Tonight, Grammy-nominated vocalist Denise Donatelli performs for Jazz at LACMA, our free weekly outdoor concert series. You can hear songs from her latest album, When Lights are Low, at her website.  Enjoy a drink at Stark Bar, a dinner at Ray’s, or just soak up the atmosphere of the museum campus while Donatelli performs. Don’t forget—admission to the galleries is also free (for L.A. County residents) after 5 pm.

As mentioned earlier this week, an original Magna Carta from the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, is on view for a very limited time in the Art of the Americas Building. It went on view on Tuesday and is coming down this Thursday, so this is your only weekend to come see this historic document. Be sure to check out our other exhibitions on view while you’re here.

Tomorrow night, as part of BritWeek, we are premiering the documentary Beyond Time: William Turnbull, which looks at the life and work of this influential sculptor and painter. Filmmakers Alex Turnbull (William’s son) and Pete Stern will be here in person for a Q&A following the screening. Here’s a look:

Starting this weekend our free Andell Family Sundays will take on a new theme, “Build It!” Show your kids some of the furniture on view in our galleries—whether from Korea, Europe, the U.S., or elsewhere—and then take part in art-making activities together to build your own mini-furniture.

On Sunday evening the Young Musicians Foundation Chamber Ensembles will perform works by Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorák, and others during our ongoing Sundays Live free concert series.  

Scott Tennent

Public Fruit Theater: A Conversation with Fallen Fruit

April 28, 2011

Last year the artists collective Fallen Fruit organized the year-long investigation EATLACMA, which included an exhibition, temporary outdoor installations, and a daylong event back in November. One public artwork remained once EATLACMA was over—the Public Fruit Theater, installed near the corner of Fairfax and 6th Street in collaboration with La Loma Development. It will remain in its corner of campus through next Friday, May 6. We asked Fallen Fruit for their thoughts on the theater.  

Public Fruit Theater

What was the original inspiration for the Public Fruit Theater?
We’ve been thinking about public art pieces that engage the city for many years. Citrus orchards once covered vast expanses of Hollywood and Los Angeles. We wanted to address the origins of the city as a site, but also to create a project for another way to see the city of Los Angeles. Most of the parks and public spaces in Los Angeles are very conventional, with no references to what preceded our presence in the city. We always dreamed of creating some kind of park or outdoor site devoted to fruit trees that would be shared by the public. We’ve had a few public fruit parks in development that got arrested at various stages; it’s such a complex process. We’re thrilled at the results on the LACMA campus. The Public Fruit Theater is a space that is both public and agrarian, a way to commemorate what preceded our presence here. In this sense we also see it as a utopian proposal: why can’t our public spaces be productive as well as decorative?

Why did you elect to collaborate with La Loma Development?
Marco and Michelle of La Loma Development came to us highly recommended. We were impressed by their sophisticated design work, and the way in which it addresses both site and sustainability. In particular we were captivated by their choice of material. The chiseled pavement, which is recycled from the city sidewalks, is a material that expresses both a critique of public waste and a hope for a new beginning. The term La Loma uses for this is “Urbanite,” and indeed it reflects the urban character of its origin. They have worked with it for years and the result of our collaboration exceeded our hopes.

What interested you about the site you chose for the Public Fruit Theater?
We wanted the installation to evoke not just the history of this place, but also its utopian ambitions. Think of the old orange crate illustrations with snow covered mountains towering behind the orange trees. We love the sight line of the grass field, the LACMA campus and the Variety building—looming in the skyline above an orange tree in a sort of Meso-American looking amphitheater. The intersection of the past and future, agriculture, art, and Hollywood, seems like an arrow shot through the heart of our city. The whole Hancock Park area was once citrus groves, and the mountains people once saw in the distance have been displaced by enormous buildings. And to cap it off we know through the LaBrea Tar Pits that this area has been inhabited for thousands of years by native people. The orange tree comes from Spain (and originally China) via Mexico, and we wanted to create a set of resonances that involve colonization, settlement, and communal memory.

What do you see as the role of public art?
Public art should create a new public. It should activate the imagination of the people who encounter it. The model of the artist providing some kind of object for the world to behold seems outdated. We wanted to create a space that engaged people as a place to sit still and look at a fruit tree, but the space also asks people to look at each other. It should be a kind of reference point, a connection of past and present, but especially a site in which people have a moment in which to relate to each other. We like the symbol of the orange in opposition to the apple, which references temptation and sin. The orange is a symbol of the sun, of warmth and generosity, and Mediterranean traditions.

How did the Public Fruit Theater change over time?
We saw the “theater” in two senses.  One is in a kind of theatrical space in which the landscape and the trees create a kind of concentrated zone in which a performance, small or large, might happen.  People used this space casually, alone or in groups, and even for improvised or planned performances.  It’s open to everyone.  The other theater we love is the durational performance of the tree itself, the star of the show.  This performance unfolds in a few acts: leafing out, flowering, ripening, and harvesting.   To see the show in its entirety would take a year, a very slow kind of theater, the drama of seasons and nature.  It’s the kind of show no one has time for anymore, but in a way it’s the most important show of all.  The tree stands as a kind of symbol that connects the earth and the sky.  Everything revolves around it.

Did you get a sense of how people used it?
We’ve noticed that people are really using the site as a place to have lunch of hang out, often with a friend or two. It’s meant to be a kind of communal meeting place. We hope people feel a sense of both intimacy and theatricality in our installation. While there’s a nostalgia for a past in which we lived in some kind of Edenic setting, there’s also a promise for the future. Why can’t we live like this? The symbol of the fruit is the core of this installation. We wonder if people will eat the fruit. Nothing symbolizes bounty and generosity like a ripe peach, plum, or orange. We wonder if people watch each other watching the fruit tree. This is something we thought about, a space to get people to both feel contemplative and engaged. In the end the theater is about us and the decisions we make about how our cities will look and how our lives might be lived in the future.

 Scott Tennent

Three Simple Rules for an Eight-Hour Performance

April 27, 2011

You might already be familiar with Brody Condon—three of his video works provide the engaging backdrop for our recently opened Stark Bar.  Tomorrow at LACMA, Condon will present Line-Up (After Trisha), an eight-hour performance inspired by choreographer Trisha Brown’s “Lineup” pieces from the 1970s, with the performers wearing costumes by Rodarte. The performance will begin at noon in the BP Grand Entrance and will last all day long.

Condon has presented versions of the performance at several venues, and at LACMA, he considers the museum’s grid-like outdoor space to create a world—similar to designing a video game—for real-life players to move and interact within. And just like a game, these performers have to adhere to a set of three basic rules:

  1. Each 12′ pole must stay connected at all times
  2. The movers should move slowly and constantly in a circle
  3. Any viewers are to be regarded as ghosts on another plane of existence; they can be seen but not touched or spoken to

In the video below, the artist talks more about the world he’ll create for the performers tomorrow.

Christine Choi, Communications Manager

A Closer Look at the Great Charter

April 26, 2011

Drafted nearly 800 years ago, Magna Carta subjected the king of England’s authority to the rule of law and asserted important individual rights. The historic significance of the Great Charter has been characterized in superlative terms, often described as one of the most important legal documents in the history of democracy. Through the centuries, various nations have invoked the principles embodied in Magna Carta—yet very few of those inspired by its contents ever set eyes on an actual document.  Starting today, LACMA is hosting a ten-day public presentation of an original manuscript of Magna Carta as part of BritWeek.

Magna Carta, Issue of November 1217: the original charter sent from King Henry III to the county of Gloucestershire. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

First granted by King John in 1215, Magna Carta was subsequently reissued five times throughout the century during the successive reigns of Henry III and Edward I. Written close to two centuries before Gutenberg’s invention of movable type, these different issues of Magna Carta were officially transcribed by hand, or “engrossed,” and dispatched to county courts to spread the terms of the new agreement throughout England. Since such manuscript transcriptions of the multiple issues of Magna Carta were prepared for each county court, hundreds of engrossments would have been executed over the course of the thirteenth century. Of these, a mere seventeen are known today. The document on view at LACMA is a manuscript of the 1217 Magna Carta, issued by Henry III.

For all of its celebrated history and remarkable rarity, at first sighting the document itself may appear rather modest in scale. It is written on a single parchment in a dark brown ink, likely made from oak tree gallnut growths, with minimal decorative flourish. Prior to the widespread availability of paper in the fifteenth century, parchment or vellum made from the skin of such animals as calf, sheep, or goat was used as a writing support. Preparation of parchment required stretching, scraping, treating and drying the animal skin. The size of this document on parchment is therefore bounded by the size of the animal (in this case sheep or goat). The 56 lines of Latin text, carefully laid out in a chancery script on the “flesh side” of the parchment, are in heavily abbreviated form to economize space and accommodate the lengthy text—running close to 2,500 words—onto the small surface. The seals at the foot of the document are those of the two guardians of the ten-year-old Henry III, himself too young for his own seal. The document is preserved in excellent condition, the text quite clearly legible to those proficient in this Medieval legal Latin, with only very minor losses at the bottom right edge of the parchment (among suspected culprits of this damage are mice).

Even at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where the document is conserved, Magna Carta is not on regular public display. Indeed, this is a rare chance to scrutinize closely the document’s small script and consider the great impact of its words.

Naoko Takahatake, Assistant Curator, Prints and Drawings

In Celebration of BritWeek

April 25, 2011

BritWeek. Actually, it’s a fortnight (that’s two weeks). Running this year from April 26 through May 11, and now in its fifth year, it highlights and celebrates the many British links with California, including art and design, music, literature, fashion, film and television, business, technology, food, cars, and sport, through a series of events focusing on British excellence in these areas.

Being a Brit, I’ve been discovering how Los Angeles continues to provide opportunity and inspiration to many of us, following a long tradition of British creativity and prominence in the region. Charlie Chaplin came from London, William Mulholland hailed from Belfast, Griffith Griffith of Observatory and Park fame was a Welshman, writers Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, and Evelyn Waugh all wrote about the city or made their home here. One writer closely associated with Los Angeles is Raymond Chandler, who was raised and educated in Britain (born in Illinois, he moved to London as a child with his British mother). Moving to America in 1912, he started a new life in L.A. picking fruit and stringing tennis rackets until he began writing the noir detective fiction he is known for.

Hollywood has of course seen its fair share of Brits too—from Stan Laurel, Cary Grant, and David Niven to Helen Mirren, Christian Bale, and Colin Firth. Over the years, Britain has amassed over 330 Academy Awards, excelling not only in acting, but also in directing, screenwriting, music, costume design, animation, and special effects.

David Hockney, Mullholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980, purchased with funds provided by the F. Patrick Burns Bequest, © David Hockney. All rights reserved.

LACMA’s permanent collections include British works too—my personal favourite is David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio. I used to yearn for the pools and landscapes of Hockney’s California back in my hometown of grey, drizzly London; little did I know I’d be able to see this great painting every day and walk to work down boulevards lined with palm trees (I’m still aspiring to the swimming pool). Works from the British Arts and Crafts movement also feature in LACMA’s collections, as do fine silver and English porcelain.

Here at LACMA we’re celebrating BritWeek by hosting an original Magna Carta from the Bodleian Library, Oxford—the thirteenth-century document that has had such profound influence on political evolution in both Britain and the United States (more on that tomorrow). It goes on view tomorrow for just ten days. On its last day here, May 5, we’ll be screening the premiere of Ironclad, which opens with the signing of the great charter.

This weekend LACMA is also presenting the premiere of a documentary on William Turnbull, recently described as “the most important living British artist.” A celebrated sculptor and painter, over the past sixty years his artwork has helped define modern and contemporary art.

So make yourself a nice cup of tea, or settle down with a pint, and enjoy perusing this year’s offerings from BritWeek.

Miranda Carroll, Director of Communications

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