Four Questions for Glenn Ligon

October 20, 2011

Glenn Ligon: AMERICA opens to the public on Sunday—and is on view now for members. In anticipation of the opening, we asked the artist a few questions about his first major retrospective.

Glenn Ligon, Self-Portrait, 1996, collection of the artist, courtesy of the artist and Regen Projects, Los Angeles, © Glenn Ligon, photograph by Ronald Amstutz

The word “America” appears in some of your works (including in Rückenfigur, acquired by LACMA in 2010) as well as the title of the exhibition. Why did you choose that for the title of your retrospective?
The word appears in many of the texts I have used in paintings and neons, and American history and culture has long been the subject of the work. Using the word “America” as the title of the exhibition was a good way to sum up that ongoing interest.

Glenn Ligon, Rückenfigur, 2009, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the 2010 Collectors Committee, © Glenn Ligon, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Early in your career, paint on canvas was your medium. What inspired you to eventually move into other mediums, including photography, drawings, sculpture, and neon?
I chose to work in other mediums because they allowed me to more succinctly address the issues I was grappling with in the work. For instance, the piece Notes on the Margin of the Black Book started as a drawing project but I quickly realized that if I was going to comment on Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs it made more sense to use the actual images than to recreate them.

Glenn Ligon, Notes on the Margin of the Black Book, 1991-1993, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; gift of the Bohen Foundation, © Glenn Ligon

Notes on the Margin of the Black Book is a reflection on the cultural debates surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe at the time. What was it about Mapplethorpe, or the greater debate, that compelled you to do that piece?
The debates around those photos were a snapshot of larger debates going on in the culture about representation, sexuality, censorship, the role of art in the culture, etc. The piece was an attempt to broaden the range of reference in my work.

How does it feel, thirty years into your career, to see so much of your work presented in whole? To see your works from the 1980s juxtaposed against more recent works?
Retrospectives are a good way to see what you have done and what you still have to do. It is a fantastic opportunity to see things I have not seen in years.

Scott Tennent

Q&A with Ken Gonzales-Day

October 19, 2011

In anticipation of photographer Ken Gonzales-Day’s lecture on Edward Kienholz’s Five Car Stud this Sunday, we sat down with the recent Photographic Arts Council (PAC) Prize–winner to discuss his work—including Profiled, his 2011 PAC Prize publication—and how it relates to the politically engaged Five Car Stud. In Profiled, Gonzales-Day examines the construction of Western ideas of race and identity from antiquity through the twentieth century by photographing portrait busts. Though the busts themselves are very much relics of previous centuries, Profiled is as much about the present as it is about the past, providing a new perspective on what it means to be profiled in our own time.

What was it about the sculptural bust—perhaps the most unfashionable form of portraiture in contemporary art—that you found so interesting? What did you think you would discover by photographing these sculptures?
While in residence at the Getty Research Institute in 2008, I would see visitors walk past the portrait busts with hardly a passing glance. I wondered why these works had become so illegible to contemporary audiences that they scarcely saw them. At the time, I was doing research on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts dealing with race, as well as texts that included racial depictions. In Profiled, I wanted to try to trace the emergence of racial categories themselves as a scientific “fact.” I had hoped that photographing the busts might give me a new perspective on the research and perhaps provide some new insights that I had missed in the more academic research. I was looking for little clues that pointed to the ideological underpinnings of the work. I wondered what ideas influenced the artists or had driven the commissions in the first place.

Ken Gonzales-Day, Untitled, 2011, featuring Ubangi Woman, Malvina Hoffman Collection, The Field Museum, Chicago; Head of a Woman, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, CA, © 2011 Ken Gonzales-Day

Photography allows you to construct a particular way of seeing these sculptures. How did making use of the “mug-shot” convention add to your thinking about your subject?
Initially I began by shooting everything in profile, as a way of foregrounding the early emphasis on the analysis of the facial profile so favored by the so-called pseudo-scientists [the mug-shot profile was a photographic mode invented in the late nineteenth century to document and categorize criminals and “deviants”], but it was also a play on the idea of “profiling” the museum’s collections themselves. After all, what do these collections reveal about the institutions themselves and their very real origins in the same Enlightenment project that fostered and supported the creation of racial categories—or types—in the first place? They were literally being profiled as a kind of institutional critique—but one that extended beyond any single institution or collection and that strove to provide a critical look at a number of representational strategies (or styles).

Ken Gonzales-Day, Untitled, 2011, featuring Bust of A Young Man, Antico (Pier Jacopo Alari-Bonacolsi), and Bust of a Man, Francis Harwood, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, ©2011 Ken Gonzales-Day

How did producing a book affect the project as a whole? Does the book provide an alternative way of viewing and understanding the body of work in a way that an exhibition or simply viewing the images online might not?
The project evolved as the book evolved. The LACMA PAC Prize provided an amazing opportunity to work on a project in depth. Ultimately, the book project allowed me to place objects together in a way that would never be possible in an exhibition. Certainly, some of the works would never be lent for an exhibition, and many of the works can only be found in storage vaults. In organizing a book, I was able to lay out a visual journal that would be difficult to replicate in a museum space.

Ken Gonzales-Day, Celestial Venus, 2011, featuring a cast from the antique in Uffizi, École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, © 2011 Ken Gonzales-Day

You are about to give a talk at LACMA on Ed Kienholz‘s Five Car Stud as well as your previous work in which you photographed trees that had been the site of lynching. There are clear parallels there. In what ways might you see your work, and Profiled in particular, as akin to Kienholz’s?
Five Car Stud depicts the castration of an African American by a group of presumably white men, as a white woman and a young child look onto the violent scene. The sculptural depiction of a lynching in 1972 is clearly a political statement. For Kienholz, it spoke to the inequality faced by blacks in the United States. Today, it remains a powerful and disturbing work, but it must also be located within the larger discussion of whiteness, and, for me, it must also be located within the larger discussion of racial depictions in sculpture. After all, what is it to see this image—a three-dimensional re-creation of a racist fantasy—in a city where Latinos were lynched more than any other race? Five Car Stud is a sculptural depiction of racial violence, and, as a result, the images of Five Car Stud stand at the intersection between both the Profiled project and my previous work on the history of lynching in California. I am still working though a great many questions around the work, and I am definitely looking forward to hearing what people think about it.

Ryan Linkoff, Ralph M. Parsons Curatorial Fellow, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department

Levitated Mass: Progress Report

October 17, 2011

As you may have surmised from past blog posts or any of the news items already written about Levitated Mass, installing Michael Heizer’s latest artwork is not quite the same as purchasing a painting, shipping it to the museum, and hanging it on the wall. In fact it feels a lot closer to making a building, what with all the construction workers employed both onsite at LACMA, digging the 456-foot-long slot in the earth north of the Resnick Pavilion, and the team from Emmert International building the transporter for the 340-ton megalith currently resting in a Riverside quarry. Just to give you an idea of how complex the project is and how many people are involved in making it happen, check out this video documenting recent progress at the quarry site.

The transportation of the megalith, made possible by Hanjin Shipping Co., Ltd., will happen almost entirely in the small hours of the night over many days. The boulder is scheduled to start moving… well, soon. Once it begins, we’ll be tracking it on the Levitated Mass webpage as well as offering daily updates on Twitter so stay tuned for news of its movement.

Scott Tennent

This Weekend at LACMA: Mural Remix Opens, California Design Talk, Film Club Exclusive, and More

October 14, 2011

This Saturday the fifth and final of our Pacific Standard Time exhibitions opens to the public: Mural Remix: Sandra de la Loza. De la Loza has created a “mashup” of sorts from L.A. murals created in the 1970s. The exhibition  is one of a multi-part exhibition cycle, L.A. Xicano, which also includes Art Along the Hyphen at the Autry, Icons of the Invisible: Oscar Castillo and Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement, both at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, and Chican@s Collect at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Library.

Detail of mural in East Los Angeles believed to be by José A. Gallegos, c. 1975, photo © Sandra de la Loza

Sandra de la Loza,” Mural Remix: Unknown, Believed to be by José A. Gallegos, 1975,” funded by Citywide Murals, 2010, © Sandra de la Loza

The exhibition also ties into our own Asco: Elite of the Obscure, on view in BCAM, which features that collective’s L.A. murals (walking and otherwise).

Harry Gamboa, Jr., "Walking Mural," 1972, printed 2011, © 1972 Asco, photograph © Harry Gamboa, Jr.

In addition to these and many other exhibitions on view, we have our share of other programs happening all weekend too. As usual, the weekend is bookended by a couple of free concerts. Tonight, composer and violinist Lesa Terry joins her quartet on stage for Jazz at LACMA. Sunday night, the chamber trio of Marcia Dickstein (harp), Jenny Olson (flute), and Judith Farmer (bassoon) perform André Jolivet’s Pastorales de Noël and other works to be announced. 

Sunday is a great day to take in the recently opened California Design exhibition, especially is if you can coincide your visit with writer D. J. Waldie’s free talk in the Art Catalogues store, discussing the spirit evoked by mid-century California design, an essence shared by his book Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir.  

Finally, Sunday night concludes with a special screening exclusively for members of LACMA Film Club, Film Independent, and the New York Times Film Club: Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin’s debut feature film which earned him the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Durkin will be in attendance for the screening, along with stars Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, and Sarah Paulson, and producers Josh Mond and Antonio Campos. Not a member of LACMA’s Film Club? Join.  

Scott Tennent

Film Independent at LACMA: Q&A with Elvis Mitchell

October 13, 2011

With tonight’s sold-out premiere of The Rum Diary, the new Film Independent at LACMA Film Series officially launches. The rest of the month sees a range of films, from tonight’s in-person appearance by Johnny Depp to classics like Modern Times to foreign masterpieces like Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film Accatone. Next week sees the debut of a new series, Live Read, in which director Jason Reitman assembles a cast to read well-known and well-loved scripts before a live audience (first up: The Breakfast Club). We talked with film curator Elvis Mitchell about his new job, what audiences can expect from the new series, and the future of film at LACMA.

photo by Marc Goldstein

What can audiences expect from the new series?
Audiences can expect to be welcomed to the Bing and the film series in the same way they always have. That has not changed. There are a few different elements because I’d like to expand the definition of a film series—that it needn’t be limited to movies. Jason Reitman’s Live Read project is just one example—a major director at the height of his powers contributing his time and efforts to increasing the breadth of what a film program is. I can’t think of many cases in which something of this import has happened. And it’s just the beginning—check in with me in a year.

How did the Live Read series come about?
Live Read came from Jason Reitman. When I told him I was coming to LACMA, he told me about this idea he had been nurturing for a while. He grew up attending movies in Los Angeles, and wanted to find a new way to generate the kind of excitement he felt going to the grand—and rapidly disappearing—single screen theaters in Westwood, when film-going demanded a specific kind of decision making. He wants to make attending the film series as compelling and surprising as going to the movies can be in the best of all possible worlds, and he hit upon a terrific way of doing so.

This apparently isn’t your first time working for LACMA—what was your first job at the museum?
My first paying job in Los Angeles was selling tickets at the Bing, when Ron Haver was the director of the film program. He cut an enormous swath through the film world of Los Angeles—everywhere, to be honest. Coming back to LACMA appealed to me as a chance to pick up his mantle: he was a charismatic figure, a showman and entrepreneur—he brings to mind that description Robert E. Howard had of Conan: a man of gigantic mirth and gigantic melancholy. His vitality enabled him to attract audiences and instill in them the same bone-deep affection for movies that they held for him. It’s a tradition I’d like to continue.

How have you adjusted from being a film critic to being a film curator?
I think the adjustment will be ongoing. It’s a unique position I’m in—I was discussing this position with the esteemed film critic Todd McCarthy, and neither of us could think of a case in which a major American museum had brought in a critic to assume the curatorial duties, whereas it’s something that happens as a matter of course elsewhere in the world. I imagine that both disciplines intersect—since, at heart, both are about spotlighting films that deserve further consideration.

What is your take on the news last week of LACMA and AMPAS entering into an agreement to explore plans for the creation of an Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in the LACMA West Building?
It’s the beginning a new world, and the opportunity for Los Angeles to join New York, Paris, and other major cities as a place where film history and film culture can be celebrated in an institution worthy of the medium itself. I’m thrilled to be on the ground floor of this project.

Scott Tennent

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