Font Study (TIME): Q&A with Mungo Thomson

September 7, 2011

LACMA recently commissioned artist Mungo Thomson to create a limited-edition artist’s book, Font Study (TIME), which collects drawings of the Time magazine logo as it has evolved over decades. Thomson will be at LACMA on Saturday to discuss his latest work, in conversation with artist Piero Golia. Here, curator Rita Gonzalez asks Thomson about his project.

Mungo Thomson, Font Study (TIME), 2011, © Mungo Thomson

Mungo, you’ve worked with publications in the past that in some sense are standard bearers in their particular field (Artforum for art and National Geographic for popular ethnography and natural science). What drew you to Time magazine?
The idea that it’s a standard-bearer is probably the reason—it’s “The world’s leading weekly newsmagazine.” I’m drawn to things that have accumulated some consensus, some cultural agreement that lends them an ease of reference. Something has to be familiar before you can attempt to defamiliarize it. At the same time I’m very interested in Heidegger’s concept of “the distance of the near”—the way we stop seeing common things.

I used to do graphic design for a living and I am kind of a font nerd. I try to distinguish fonts on signs and in movie credits and so on, and I spend a lot of time trying to match something to an existing font in my work. And in the course of this project I came to realize that Time magazine might have been my introduction to graphic design. My parents had a subscription to Time and I remember it lying around when I was a kid, changing every week. This was the 1980s, and I remember the banners and the folded-over corner on top of the standard framework of the red frame and Time logo—it got very design-dense then and I remember that it was struggling to manage all this information. So it may be that my own visual literacy begins with Time.

There are so many artists in your generation who are working with newspapers and magazines for imagery to recast and/or represent, especially through drawing. What attracted you to the Time masthead—and why did you want to isolate it compositionally?
When I started this project, I was in a moment of transition in my work from thinking mainly about spatial concerns to thinking more about temporal ones, and starting a new project about time using the Time logo was a shorthand, and sort of a dumb and literal, but also amusing and possibly profound, way to do that. It’s sort of like my Negative Space project: I wanted to make work about “negative space” so I started inverting Hubble photos.

The word “recast” seems astute, because the idea was, at least in part, to recast the Time logo as a stand-in for “time” itself—vast, unknowable, cosmic time. To see if I could take the culture out of something—which of course you can’t. So where Time magazine positions itself as possessing authority and certainty (“Why Your Drugs Cost So Much,” “Why Israel Can’t Win,” “The Meaning of Michelle Obama”), as steering things toward literacy and intelligibility, toward a kind of mass-consumption, fine-grain detail, I am interested in steering the whole enterprise toward abstraction and doubt.

As far as isolating the logo in the drawings, the goal was to make Zen conceptual art with more mass-media noise attached. They are like corporate On Kawaras.

Your artist books are conceptually driven and often not retrospective accounts of bodies of work. Why does the book form attract you?
I have actually made a book on my work that looks like Herman Hesse’s paperback novel Siddhartha (CUENCA) and another that looks like a desert field guide booklet (Easy Field Guide to Mungo Thomson), with drawings of my work instead of photos inside. These were monographs and conceptual projects at the same time. I have said that if I could only make one thing it would be books. I like how when you hold a book, it belongs to you, even though there may be many copies. Circulation is a very appealing idea to me, a singular object that can travel light and have many trajectories.

There are other phenomenological qualities that books have that Font Study (TIME) actually revolves around. Following my publication Einstein #1, which was a full-fledged comic book, I became very interested in the way time happens when you read—how the white gutter between panels in a comic equals time passing, and yet how time pauses when you turn a page. There’s this integral interruption. And then there’s simply that it’s later when you put a book down than when you picked it up. This book was designed in part to call attention to all these things, to its form and structure as a book, to how it is handled and read, as well as to the evolution of the Time logo. So it’s a study of time on all fronts.

Pre-order Font Study (TIME) here. Edition of 50, signed and numbered.

Rita Gonzalez, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art

Using LACMA’s Free Image Library

September 6, 2011

At a family wedding in Seattle, I met the grandmother of the bride, Elaine—an artist with a love of European painting. After some small talk, I discovered that Elaine’s daughter-in-law had recently visited LACMA and quickly fell in love with Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet, by Jean-Jacques Henner. Upon returning home, this daughter-in-law found a small image of the painting and forwarded it to Elaine—with the desire to have her paint a full-size oil of it.

Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet, Jean-Jacques Henner (France, Bernviller, 1829 - 1905) , 1879, Oil on canvas

Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet, Jean-Jacques Henner (France, Bernviller, 1829 - 1905) , 1879, Oil on canvas

I was thrilled to hear that she was copying this particular painting (one of my favorites from our collection), and I remembered that the work was included in a recent web project launched by the museum. I explained to Elaine that LACMA has made 2,000 high-resolution, public domain images from LACMA’s collection available to the public free of charge, including this work by Henner. After the wedding, I visited LACMA’s online Image Library and forwarded Elaine a link to the image. I loved her response:

“Thank you…just minutes before you sent me the new high resolution version I had already downloaded it from the [Image Library] website. It is so much better than the one I was working off. I sent the new one to be copied at the one-hour photo [and] I can see so many more details. I have more work to do on it than I thought.”

Copy of Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet, Elaine Bush, 2011, Oil on canvas

Copy of Portrait of Madame Paul Duchesne-Fournet (Detail), Elaine Bush, 2011, Oil on canvas

I asked Elaine to send me a few shots of her painting when she finished and they look beautiful. She explained a few differences between the two paintings, and it made me wonder what others are doing with the additional works of art currently available in the Image Library. How are you using the library and in what ways?

Erin Sorensen, Web Content Manager

LACMA is Free Today!

September 5, 2011

Join us for another popular Target Free Holiday Monday at LACMA. The LACMA campus will be bustling with free admission to all galleries from 12–8 pm (excluding Tim Burton), family art-making activities, gallery tours, a live band, and more.

On the plaza at 12:30 and 2:45, vibrant Los Angeles band La Santa Cecilia will entertain the crowd with their fusion of Latin, rock, and world music sounds. Check out their recent rave review from the Los Angeles Times  and watch their fun video for Chicle (warning: it may make you want to get up and dance!).

From 1:30–3 pm, check out the Latin American gallery in the Art of the Americas Building where gallery educators will be discussing works by contemporary Latin American artists. Families can use the inspiration from the gallery tours and performances to create their own work of art in a family drawing activity on the plaza.

In the galleries, we’ve got quite a few special exhibitions on view. Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972–1987 chronicles the wide-ranging work of the Chicano performance and conceptual art group Asco.

Ricardo Valverde, Termites y Guerrero, 1975, collection of Esperanza Valverde and Christopher J. Valverde, Los Angeles, CA

Ricardo Valverde, Termites y Guerrero, 1975, collection of Esperanza Valverde and Christopher J. Valverde, Los Angeles, CA

The gorgeous and expansive exhibition Gifts of the Sultan: The Arts of Giving at the Islamic Courts ends today! Don’t miss your chance to see opulent gifts and the beautiful Ardibil Carpet.

Sindukht Comes to Sam Bearing Gifts, Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, Iran, Tabriz, 1525–35, 18 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. Aga Khan Museum Collection, Geneva (AKM00496) Photo © Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva.

Sindukht Comes to Sam Bearing Gifts, Folio from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, Iran, Tabriz, 1525–35, 18 3/8 x 12 3/8 in. Aga Khan Museum Collection, Geneva (AKM00496) Photo © Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Geneva.

Also on view are Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, Maria Nordman’s Filmroom: Smoke, 1967–Present, Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited, and much more!

Alex Capriotti

This Weekend at LACMA: Asco, Kienholz, & Nordman Open

September 2, 2011

Summer unofficially ends this weekend, and we’re wasting no time in kicking off a busy fall season of exhibitions at LACMA with three exhibitions opening to the public on Sunday. All three are part of the ambitious Pacific Standard Time  initiative, sponsored by the Getty and Bank of America. Members, don’t forget—you don’t need to wait. You can see all of these exhibitions right now!

Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987  is the first survey of the East L.A. art collective that specialized in hit-and-run performance art and conceptual multimedia pieces.

Asco, Instant Mural, (detail) 1974, courtesy Harry Gamboa, © Asco, photo © 1974 Harry Gamboa, Jr.

Asco, Instant Mural, (detail) 1974, courtesy Harry Gamboa, © Asco, photo © 1974 Harry Gamboa, Jr.

Two smaller exhibitions—each comprised of single artworks—are opening side by side in the Art of the Americas Building. Edward Kienholz: “Five Car Stud” 1969-1972, Revisited  presents Kienholz’s major civil rights work, on view for the first time since its debut at documenta forty years ago. If you missed it, read curator Stephanie Barron’s memory of seeing the chilling artwork as a college student in 1971.  Nearby, Maria Nordman’s Filmroom: Smoke, 1967-Present  is a film shot in Malibu in 1967 on two cameras—one on a tripod, one hand-held. Each version is screened in the room, separated by a wall which creates three different ways of viewing.

That’s not all we have opening this weekend. Now on view in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, Washi Tales: The Paper Art of Ibe Kyoko is an installation of works by contemporary artist Ibe Kyoko, who takes an ancient art form and reimagines it for contemporary times. And of course Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads has only just opened, so check that out if you haven’t yet. If you need more convincing, check out the Los Angeles Times’ review of Ai’s sculptures.


Ibe Kyoko, Japan, Born 1941, Hogosho 08-2, washi (Japanese handmade paper), 175 cm x 400 cm, Collection of the artist, photo by Ibe Kyoko.

Ibe Kyoko, Japan, Born 1941, Hogosho 08-2, washi (Japanese handmade paper), 175 cm x 400 cm, Collection of the artist, photo by Ibe Kyoko.

We’ve got great free concerts all weekend long, including on Labor Day. Tonight, saxophonist Michael Session brings his sextet to Jazz at LACMA. Tomorrow is the final concert in the 2011 season for Latin Sounds, featuring the Afro-Cuban rhythms of Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca. Sunday, the Salastina Music Society and baritone Rod Gilfry will perform Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, among others, during the free Sundays Live concert in the Bing Theater. Finally, Monday is a Target Free Holiday Monday,  featuring a couple of performances by La Santa Cecilia (profiled earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times). In addition to the live music, of course, the galleries are free all day (excluding Tim Burton).


Scott Tennent

Edward Kienholz’s “Five Car Stud”: A Memory from 1972

September 1, 2011

As a college student traveling in Europe during the summer of 1972, I attended my first documenta, the international contemporary art exhibition organized approximately every five years in Kassel, Germany. That year it was organized by the Swiss curator Harold Szeemann. I was slightly overwhelmed by this sprawling exhibition occurring throughout several buildings and gardens in a small town in the middle of Germany about an hour south of Hannover. The exhibition was filled with some remarkable installations—including impressive works by Paul Thek, Mario Merz, and Panamarenko.  Among the works that still remain with me today is Edward Kienholz’s tableau, Five Car Stud.  It was something that I found quite by accident as it was in a separate structure, a kind of supersize tent behind the Fridericianum Museum.

Five Car Stud displayed inside an inflated dome at documenta 5, Kassel, Germany, 1972; photo © Delmore E. Scott

Entering the cavernous, dark space, sinking into the loamy dirt that covered the floor, I was drawn to the horribleness of the scene before me which was illuminated only by the headlights of the five vehicles assembled around the figure of a black man on the ground being attacked by a group of white men. I immediately felt uncomfortable. As an American who had grown up with the civil rights movement, who had acquaintances who had gone on the Freedom Ride in 1961, who had marched in Washington in 1963, seeing this scene was a painful reminder of how conditions had been in the United States.

Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud, 1969–72. Copyright Kienholz. Collection of Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan. Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York

The work left a very strong impression on me. A few years ago I was visiting Hope, Idaho, and had the chance to see the piece while Nancy Reddin Kienholz and her team were restoring it. Even seeing it under work lights and in a much smaller space, the piece continued to haunt me. The chance to present Five Car Stud in 2011 to the Los Angeles public—it opens this Sunday—and to introduce this major tableau which has remained unseen for close to forty years is something I never could have imagined when I first saw the piece during the summer of 1972.

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator, Modern Art

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