Ai Weiwei: What’s Old is New

August 31, 2011

At the end of 2003, as Editor-in-Chief of Art AsiaPacific magazine, I wrote of our cover artist for Spring 2004, Ai Weiwei, “well known in Asia, better known in Europe, and barely seen in New York.” Times sure have changed. Today Ai is known the world over as an artist and cultural activist of the highest order. While that article helped serve as one of several to introduce the artist to new audiences, Ai, born in 1957, has been making art since the mid-1970s. And he has been provoking authority ever since as a member of the Stars group, a collective of avant-garde artists based in Beijing in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, installation view, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ai Weiwei, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Known for using ancient pieces of art as readymades to be pierced, altered, distorted, and sometimes destroyed in the name of “making it new,” Ai is a conceptual artist who continuously probes history, using his art as a platform for the discussion of ideas. In 2000, during the Shanghai Biennial, he presented a solo show outside the official exhibition under the title Fuck Off. His work then and now reminds me of other tricksterish artists such as many of the European surrealists, including his hero Marcel Duchamp, or Andy Warhol, and his near contemporaries Jimmie Durham, Bruce Nauman, and David Hammons, born a generation earlier.

Referencing a work of art from the eighteenth century that was made by Chinese with Europeans and subsequently destroyed by Europeans in the Second Opium War in 1860, Ai’s Zodiac, made in China but presented in the Americas and Europe, has many layers of meaning. As an encyclopedic museum where contemporary artists often present works that probe the past and reflect on long histories, where our collection spans thousands of years and all the regions of the globe, we knew Ai’s work would fit right in.  

Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, installation view, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ai Weiwei, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA

Here at LACMA we thought Ai’s work would have a real resonance from the moment we saw the proposal for his first public sculpture, Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, which began touring last fall in São Paulo and now has been seen in New York and London prior to this week’s opening in Los Angeles. His knack for creating powerful images had a link to the group of iconoclasts currently occupying half of the third floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum: Andy Warhol, John Baldessari and Jeff Koons. In addition to those artists, large-scale works of art going up on campus this fall include a new work by Michael Heizer, Levitated Mass, which along with Chris Burden’s Urban Light and Ai’s Zodiac Heads put a focus on public art and its presence here on our campus.

Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art

Asco, Firsthand

August 29, 2011

Recently, we talked to members of Asco, subject of the exhibition opening at LACMA on September 4. Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez, Willie Herrón and Gronk all stopped by during the installation of the show to share memories of the early years of the conceptual art group from East Los Angeles.

One of the events we talked about was the performance recorded in the photograph below. Pattsi, Humberto Sandoval, Willie, and Gronk appear in the midst of an impromptu meal, captured on film by Harry.

Harry Gamboa Jr., First Supper After a Major Riot, 1974, printed 2011. Courtesy of Harry Gamboa Jr.

The riot referenced in the title occurred nearby in 1971, when the Chicano Moratorium held a peaceful demonstration that degenerated into police brutality.

Harry Gamboa Jr.: LA County sheriffs open fired on innocent students and protestors, and wounded and killed many people who were protesting against the war in Vietnam, and were also protesting against police violence, which was followed by a two to three-and-a-half year crackdown on young people gathering on the streets of East Los Angeles.

At the time that we shot [First Supper After a Major Riot], we felt that it had been long enough. It was time for it to be extinguished. And so, we declared it to be a celebration.

Willie Herrón: At the time of the Moratorium, I was in high school. I remember the procession originating at Belvedere Park, protesting the Vietnam War and all the Chicanos that lost their lives.  The police brutality was incredible. It affected me quite a bit and I think it affected all of us. So that’s why Whittier Boulevard became such an important street, and a place for us to conduct our performances and connect them to our community and the way society viewed us at the time.

Gronk: We decided that it was time that we would take action and actually use the streets once again. We would take over a street or a neighborhood and activate it in some way.

Pattsi Valdez: These performances usually happened really quickly. An idea would be sparked and then we’d gather all our stuff and Harry would pick us all up, and we’d put everything in the car, and then we’d zoom off into the city and find the location.

I think it was a combination of performance art and protest. For me, it was very important to try to get noticed because I had things to say. I felt like I had to do it in a big way, so that the viewer would pay attention. The look, the make-up: I needed for you to pay attention, because I had a message.

Harry: I’m behind the camera. I’m kind of pointing and telling people where to go, and actually, I was holding a handful of people at bay from entering into the frame. Because people wanted to join them.

Pattsi: Gronk brought that painting, it was rolled up. And when Gronk unrolled, unfurled that painting and hung it there, I was really amazed by the beauty of that and power of that painting.

Gronk: It is an image called The Truth of the Terror in Chile. That was one of my first paintings. Allende’s government had just fallen and artists in Chile were being taken into the stadium and hands chopped off or tortured. I was reacting to that.

During the performance, people either honked their horns or cheered us on. But also in the back of our minds…at the time a phone call was ten cents, so we all had ten cents in our pocket just in case we had to make that phone call from jail.

We’ll have audio from the interviews here soon.

Amy Heibel

This Weekend at LACMA: Outdoor film screening, three free concerts, and more

August 26, 2011

Enjoy the beautiful summer weather tonight at our final Tim Burton outdoor film screening, Alice in Wonderland. In one of the director’s latest films, an older Alice rediscovers the whimsical world she encountered as a little girl. Stop into the galleries—free after 5 pm (except for Tim Burton) for LA County residents—or grab dinner or drinks at Ray’s and Stark Bar before the free screening starts at 8 pm. Picnics and blankets welcome!

If you’re craving a good old school horror flick, stop by on Saturday for our final Saturday Monster Matinee—Horror of Dracula—which is just $5 (or free if you’re a LACMA member).

We have three days of free concerts, beginning with The Ron McCurdy Collective tonight, Afro-Colombian ensemble Justo Almario Saturday evening, and classical cellist Daniel Rothmuller and pianist Bernadene Blaha on Sunday night. Also on Sunday, join artist James Jean and Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura for a free talk in the Art Catalogues store to celebrate the release of REBUS, Jean’s new book.

If you are looking for things to do with your family, check out Andell Family Sundays and take part in family-friendly art projects, gallery tours, and more. This weekend, get inspired by Mark Rothko and explore color in an artist-led workshop.

Families and adults alike can also enjoy the newly installed Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads by Ai Weiwei. Come marvel at these massive sculptures and take a picture in front of your Chinese zodiac animal.

Installation view, Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, August 20, 2011–February 12, 2012, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ai Weiwei, Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

Installation view, Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, August 20, 2011–February 12, 2012, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Ai Weiwei, Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

Also, for Tim Burton’s birthday yesterday, we asked visitors to take a picture with their birthday wishes for the director. Check out a slideshow of the pics here. We sent Mr. Burton the photos along with a note wishing him a very Happy Birthday from all his fans at LACMA.


Alex Capriotti

Recent Works by David Hammons at LACMA

August 25, 2011

Recently we had the opportunity to add two recent works by David Hammons to our contemporary installation on the 2nd floor of BCAM, on view through August 28. Earlier this year, two early pieces by the seminal artist were showcased in the exhibition Human NatureInjustice Case (1970) and a small watercolor from 1968. Both pieces were made in Los Angeles at a time when Hammons was questioning the meaning of the American flag and views of that flag appear in both pieces.

David Hammons, Injustice Case, 1970, print, body print (margarine and powdered pigments), and American flag, Sheet: 63 x 40 1/2 in., Museum Acquisition Fund (M.71.7), Prints and Drawings Department

David Hammons, Injustice Case, 1970, print, body print (margarine and powdered pigments), and American flag, Sheet: 63 x 40 1/2 in., Museum Acquisition Fund (M.71.7), Prints and Drawings Department

In the same way that a used flag functioned as a found object in Injustice Case, Hammons has consistently sought to make use of found or “poor” materials in his artworks in his days living in Los Angeles after attending Otis Art Institute in the 1960s. Many of Hammons’ artworks of the late 1960s and early 1970s are also created with the easily available means of the body as a paintbrush and grease as paint. Injustice Case is perhaps the most well known of these “body prints.” The image of the contorted and bound figure at the center of the picture appears not to be afforded the ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all symbolized by the flag that frames the picture. As in much contemporary art created in this time period, this piece specifically relates to a specific event: the trial of Bobby Seale, a co-founder of the Black Panthers who was on trial in the wake of the 1968 Democratic convention, charged with conspiracy.

David Hammons, Untitled, 2010, courtesy of the artist and L & M Arts, NY

David Hammons, Untitled, 2010, courtesy of the artist and L & M Arts, NY

Hammons has also made sculptures out of snowballs, elephant dung, hair collected from barber shops, grease from chicken bones, and even light as a material. His most recent exhibition—last spring at L&M Gallery in New York—featured a series of new works in a painterly mode that he has been working with for the last few years, concealed by found material. Using tarpaulin, cloth rags, and even garbage bags, the artist has partially covered large expressionistic paintings on canvas. In this untitled painting, a circular patch is cut through the plastic, and through that hole a glimpse is to be had of sumptuous, bold primary color brushtrokes that look like cumulus clouds or a big 1970s de Kooning canvas. (Though not as colorful as his later work, de Kooning’s abstract expressionist brushwork and that of his friend Franz Kline can be seen in works in the modern galleries).

Obscuring his work with pieces that are sometimes filled with torn or otherwise crudely devised holes, Hammons makes for a certain camouflage, as if the painting needs to be obscured in order to work its magic and thusly function as an object of beauty, albeit a conceptual one, that is as interested in ideas of beauty as it is in function and stealth utility.

A brick is also used to hold the painting “in place” so that it tilts on a diagonal and the upper right corner reaches higher than the left as the piece is propped up against the wall, rather than “hung” on the wall. That placement—testing the museum’s usual structure of vertically placed paintings—also determines the way in which the found piece drapes and affords the painting another layer of structure and meaning. It is tempting to peel back the draping to get a full view of the colorful canvas surrounded by gray materials. But the whole is grater than the sum of its parts; and to take it in from the given vantage point, stymied in your quest to see Hammons in some traditional painterly light, is the best picture.

David Hammons, Untitled (Basketball Drawing), 2006-2007, Courtesy L & M Arts, NY, L.2011.10.2a-c

David Hammons, Untitled (Basketball Drawing), 2006-2007, Courtesy L & M Arts, NY

Perhaps even more indebted to the imprint process of his earlier body prints, Untitled (Basketball Drawing) is a classic example of an ongoing series of works on paper. In each instance, the drawing is made by repeatedly impressing a basketball against the surface of the paper. Hammons adeptly handles the ball and the graphite, which leaves the final mark. Parts of the surface are dark and others barely there, as if he wields the chance material with the precision of a finely sharpened pencil.

Hammons has often invoked sport in his artworks—most often boxing and basketball. One work, Three Mikes, contains references to Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan. A whole series of sculptures, Higher Goals, reference basketball hoops extended far beyond their usual regulation height. For this work—one of the largest of his many basketball drawings—the artist has made a diptych of the images on paper. Thousands of basketball imprints create a cloud of seemingly organic forms. Upon closer inspection the lines of the basketball can be made out and here and there the logo of the National Basketball Association. The sport here has been reduced to the repetitive gesture of passing the ball against a wall over and over again. The monotony suggested has parallels with the process of making art day after day but also the rich possibility of practice potentially leading to perfection.

Franklin Sirmans, Terri and Michael Smooke Curator and Department Head, Contemporary Art


August 24, 2011

While leaving work last week, I stumbled upon the Messiah himself enjoying the sunset on LACMA’s campus.  Strategically placed (he seemed to possess a keen self-awareness) within the illuminated street lights of Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation, Jesus stood waiting, as if informed by some divine foresight that a passing photographer would soon ask, “Hey Jesus, can I take your picture?”

After snapping a shot with my camera phone [insert corporate sponsorship here], the Holy One asked to see the photo and exclaimed simply, “Sweet.”  Clearly he was impressed.

Jesus in front of Urban Light

Jesus with Urban Light

Once my feelings of “OMG, I just took a pic w/ Jesus, LOLZ ROTFL” subsided, I realized that the composition of the photo bore an uncanny resemblance to John Baldessari’s iconic work, Wrong, lauded for its “improper” positioning of a man directly beneath a towering palm tree.

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966-1968, Painting, photoemulsion with acrylic on canvas, 59 x 45 in. Contemporary Art Council (M.71.40)

John Baldessari, Wrong, 1966-1968, Painting, photoemulsion with acrylic on canvas, 59 x 45 in. Contemporary Art Council (M.71.40)

Justin Edwards


An Artist for the Ages

August 23, 2011

While I was vacationing in London this summer, the great American modern painter, Cy Twombly died in Rome just at the time of his Twombly and Poussin exhibition opening at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

At about the age of 17 when I came into consciousness, Abstract Expressionism was at its height. It was the grand expression of modernism, it was where all of history was leading, “the future.” Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and many more were the giants of this apparent Darwinian grand track since the Renaissance. It seemed perfectly natural, perfectly rational where lines and colors lose their known reality and become pure sensation, a vortex of stop-motion emotionality, the future world. But of course there would be many future worlds. And yet for me, Abstract Expression would remain the magnet, the spiritual well that was both irresistible and not truly understood; no, not understood, but embraced. And what is Cy to me? Quite simply, his art was an exquisite resolution.

Cy Twombly managed to bridge these future worlds and even daringly, unflinchingly looked back and did not turn to salt. He instinctively, at a time that seemed out of kilter, devised a craft of seeing and marking like none other. He would defy the critical weight of the ensuing changes and transformations managing to be irreverent, the elusive enfant terrible of late abstract expression movement with the likes of Jasper John and Robert Rauschenberg. Early in his career, Twombly would leave New York for Rome. Remaining essentially an abstractionist with his Greek, Roman and literary references, that enduring shadow over western culture, he would make the past connect. He would lay this history within our aesthetic world, prepared to accept the intrinsic mystery as a living past that remains with us, timeless. Like an errant asteroid, Twombly ricocheted off various contemporary ‘isms’ creating his own vital, electric weather with acts of gestural spontaneity in dreamy cascades of lines erased, smeared; or colors dragged and blotched, canvases lush or nude and sometimes spare, sometimes erotic, cryptic paintings where one is held hostage, so to speak, inside raw skittish paradoxes of paint, pencil and barely discernible words, ingesting myth, history and nature.

My most intimate and enduring impression of Twombly’s paintings was while guarding them during the inaugural opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA in 2008-09. For a year, I lived in a room full of his art, from his earliest paintings all the way up to 2007–many of which are now on view in Cy Twombly’s tribute exhibition at MOCA. All retained that original cryptic impulse with combustible markings, graffiti like, impasto paint exploding on the canvas. So to experience this once again the grand gesture with even bolder literalness and fearless color was to be back almost where I started. The Dulwich show, which went under the title of Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters, was breathtakingly beautiful. In the catalogue, the figures # 38 & #40 had been at the Broad. And at present in LACMA on show in the modern gallery is a work on paper known as Roman Notes, 1970, which would fall under the title of “Anxiety and Theatricality” in the Dulwich show where there were similar works.

Cy Twombly (1928-2011), Roman Notes #3, 1970. Drawing, gouache, oil crayon on paper. Gift of Robert H. Halff through the Modern and Contemporary Art Council (M.2005.38.38)

Even today, after all the gazing, perusing and speculative intellectual dissonance stuff, I am still left with this baffling gap between spectacle and revelation. In spite of Twombly’s hero, Poussin’s fictive landscapes of graceful gods imitating scenes of mythology, I knew all too well that I am capable only of being seduced by the sheer, unadulterated glamour. For its more esoteric emotions and meanings seem out of reach, a cultural leap of pretense, at best. Failing inadequately to find more, to piece together the sensuousness, and the utterly vivacious, beguiling puzzle, I suspect that if one desires to do more than to be merely entertained it is to believe that art is some kind of religion. Maybe this is all Cy Twombly, a visionary giant, could have left us with, a body of gorgeous, voluptuous signs.

Hylan Booker

Here Comes the Clipper

August 22, 2011

Last week, the first work of art entered the gallery inside the Resnick Pavilion where California Design 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way” will open on October 1. It’s a 1936 Airstream Clipper, and it traveled from Northern California on this truck.

Because of its size (19 feet long by 7 feet wide), the Airstream had to come into the gallery before any of the pedestals or platforms were constructed.

As a literal house on wheels, the Airstream is the perfect way to open a show about the freedom and flexibility of California living. The Airstream Trailer Company was founded in 1932 by Wally Byam, who incessantly promoted trailer travel. The Clipper has an aluminum frame riveted together in a process similar to that used for aircraft of the time. It got its name from the celebrated Pan Am Clipper airplanes. The design reflects the vogue for streamlining in the interwar period and was justly aerodynamic. The Clipper was the top of the line model and came with all the latest amenities, including a full galley, a built-in screen door, a double-wide closet, and sleeping space for three. If nature called, though, you would have had to find other facilities, as on-board toilets were not available. Airstream marketed the Clipper as “the ultimate picturization of the streamlined age—and America’s newly discovered freedom in the out-of-doors”—trading on the past and the future at the same time.

In order to get into LACMA’s galleries, the Airstream had to be transferred to a tow truck…

…driven to the Resnick Pavilion loading dock…

…and lowered to the ground.

It was then wheeled through the Tim Burton exhibition…

…and set in place.

Bobbye Tigerman, Assistant Curator, Decorative Arts and Design

%d bloggers like this: