This Weekend at LACMA: Bruce Nauman Artwork on View, Free Lectures and Concerts, and More

November 18, 2011

Earlier this year you may have read about LACMA’s acquisition of Bruce Nauman’s For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), a large-scale two-channel video depicting the artist’s hands following verbal instructions. That artwork is now on view, in the first level of BCAM.

Bruce Nauman, For Beginners (all the combinations of the thumb and fingers), 2010, image courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York, © 2011 Bruce Nauman / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As usual there is plenty more to see on campus than can be enumerated here, but it’s worth noting that Asco: Elite of the Obscure has only two more weeks left in its run, so if you haven’t seen it yet, now’s the time. (Note: the Asco Mural Tour tomorrow is sold out). Asco is just across the way from Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, while over in the nearby Resnick Pavilion you’ll find California Design and the recently opened Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, among other exhibitions on view now. We also have a number of smaller installations on view—one of which, Washi Tales: The Paper Art of Ibe Kyoko, is also closing at the end of this month.

In terms of programs and events this weekend, we’ve got a handful of free concerts and lectures on offer. On the music front, the Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra performs during Jazz at LACMA tonight, while the Capitol Ensemble will perform works by Mendelssohn and Schubert in the Bing Theater on Sunday.

As for lectures: on Saturday afternoon in the Bing Theater, Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith discuss their new biography, Van Gogh: The Life, followed by a book signing. On Sunday, scholar Pierre Briant discusses the fascinating life of Darius III, the last king of the Achaemenid Empire (aka the Persion Empire, c. 550–330 BC), who battled Alexander the Great and the Macedonian invasion.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Postman Joseph Roulin, George Gard De Sylva Collection

Heads up for families this weekend! This Sunday will be our last Andell Family Sunday before the holiday break, returning on January 8.

Finally, we wanted to congratulate Chef Kris Morningstar and Ray’s for making appearances on a handful of lists touting the best restaurants of 2011—namely in LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and Esquire magazine. In celebration of that latter notice, Kris is getting together with a few other L.A. chefs who made Esquire’s list—Steve Samson and Zach Pollack of Sotto and John Rivera Sedlar of Playa. For three consecutive Mondays, all four chefs will cook together at each other’s restaurants, creating a one-of-a-kind six-course meal. The first instance of this collaboration will happen at Ray’s this Monday, November 21—so get your reservations in (323 857 6180).

Scott Tennent

My Favorite Monet

November 17, 2011

Claude Monet painted thirty different depictions of the Rouen Cathedrals between 1892 and 1894, ostensibly creating the concept of seriality in art. He intended the paintings to be shown as a group, and the repetition (and the nuance) emphasizes the artist’s hand. Certainly that is apparent when you take in the five Rouen Cathedral paintings on view now (two of which, from the Museé d’Orsay, have never been on view in the U.S. before). The impact of seeing them together is powerful. Funny, then, that the longer I stayed, the more I wondered—which one did I like best?

Installation view of "Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals"

Something about this exercise felt wrong. Monet is one of the greatest artists of all time, and his Rouen Cathedrals are among his best-loved. How can you choose? Then again, are you even supposed to choose? If the paintings are meant as a series, is it meaningful to choose one over the others? Well, yes—it’s meaningful because it’s personal. The longer I looked at the paintings, the more invested in their nuances I became… and the more I began to consider my own peccadillos.

The first painting, simply titled Rouen Cathedral, Façade (1894), seemed to me the most rugged. All of Monet’s paintings have a textural quality to them, but to me it was most palpable here. The third painting, Rouen Cathedral, Portal and Tour Saint-Roman, Full Sun, is the starkest. The pure blue of the sky, the pale yellow façade, absent of the blues, purples, and oranges of the other paintings depicting the building in the early morning hours.

But it’s number four, Rouen Cathedral, the Portal and Tour Saint-Romain, Morning Effect (1893), that I like most.

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, the Portal and Tour Saint-Romain, 1893, Museé d’Orsay, Paris, France (Inv. RF2001), photo courtesy Réunion des Musées Nationaux by Thierry Le Mage/Art Resource, NY

Nothing against the other paintings, but it’s settled. Why? What distinguished it in my mind? Perhaps it’s that there are signs of life—a flock of birds clustered around the tower, just taken flight. On my first pass around the gallery I was looking up close, reflexively feeling that if the difference is in the details, one must get close. The top left corner looked to be smudged—I processed it as an error. Why would Monet place these erratic, dark divots in the sky? Only backing away did they reveal themselves to be birds. I sat on the bench in the gallery, about ten or twelve feet away, and stared longer. It was then my eyes went to the portal, detecting the orange of illumination from within—a detail that is absent from the Full Sun painting, and less clear amidst the sunlit glow of the other early morning paintings. The contrast between indoors and out was highest here. Someone was inside. The building was breathing.

Playing favorites among the parts at expense of the sum is arguably a fool’s game. Nevertheless, there it was. “That’s the one I’d take home,” I thought to myself. Perhaps I liked this one best because, frankly, I’d spent the most time looking at it. The birds hooked me; I found a toehold in the painting, something that asked me to make sense of it—to discover its beauty rather than to passively accept that it was beautiful. I looked twice.

And then: “That’s the one I’d take home.” The words I’d just thought to myself were suddenly spoken aloud by a man not two feet away from me, speaking to his wife. I glanced over and caught him pointing to the Full Sun painting—my least favorite! Apparently the question I’d been wrestling with was not uncommon. I listened as he went on about the painting. Then he turned his eyes to the others and started to speak of their differences. “That one is also really great,” he said of another. “Those are the two best.” The more he considered his options, the more difficult it became. Standing before the paintings, he finally summed it up:

“If I could only take two home… I’d take three.”

Me too. Maybe five.

Scott Tennent

Barbie Doll: An Icon of California Design

November 15, 2011

Some of the objects in California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” were available for purchase for as little as $3 when they were new, including an original 1959 Barbie doll and her boyfriend, Ken, introduced in 1961. A popular icon and a lightning bolt of cultural relevance, Barbie was marketed as a “Teenage Fashion Model” doll and an aspirational toy with clothes for any occasion.

LACMA’s Barbie and Ken dolls are gifts of Mattel, Inc., sponsor of California Design. The postwar California success story of Mattel and the design and salesmanship behind the iconic Barbie brand pairs perfectly with the story of innovation inCalifornia consumer goods that is a theme of the exhibition. Barbie embodies the carefree confidence and utter versatility that characterized postwar California. (You can also take  Barbie home with you after seeing the exhibition.)

Formed in 1945 by Harold Matson (Matt) and Elliot (El) and Ruth Handler in a Los Angeles garage, Mattel initially manufactured picture frames but soon found success making toys. Ruth, co-founder and later president of Mattel, had long wanted to create an adult, three-dimensional fashion doll onto which a child “could project her own dreams of the future.” (This was in contrast with the typical baby doll.) The inspiration for Barbie doll came as Ruth watched her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls. Mattel began to develop the design for Barbie with a team led by Jack Ryan, a former missile designer for Raytheon. Barbie doll  debuted at the New York Toy Fair in 1959.


Mattel, Inc., Barbie Teen Age Fashion Model (Barbie #1), 1959, gift of Mattel, Inc.


With cat-eye sunglasses in her vinyl hand, blonde ponytail, and high heels, Barbie exudes modern California style and Hollywood glamour. She models the iconic and sophisticated black-and-white striped jersey swimsuit, black mule shoes, and gold hoop earrings with which she was originally sold. The original Barbie doll also came with a display pedestal with two prongs that inserted into holes in her feet (a feature only seen on the #1 Barbie.

Mattel, Inc., Ken doll, 1961, gift of Mattel, Inc.

Ken doll was introduced in 1961 in response to popular demand for a male companion for Barbie (they have never officially wed despite countless trips to the altar in wedding finery). A rare example with flocked hair (a short-lived design detail because it rubbed off when exposed to water), this Ken doll is also ready for the beach in his red swim trunks, cork sandals, and yellow terry cloth towel.

Barbie doll’s wardrobe was designed by Charlotte Johnson, a freelance fashion designer and teacher at Chouinard Art Institute before she became the director of Barbie wardrobe from 1957 to 1980. Each doll came with a catalogue of fashions that the young consumer could purchase separately. Elliot Handler described this as the “razor and razor blade” marketing strategy, which could turn the $3 doll into a major investment: “You get hooked on one and you have to buy the other. Buy the doll and then you have to buy the clothes.”

The first Barbie commercial premiered on television during The Mickey Mouse Club, which had proven to be a successful advertising platform for Mattel. By summer, she was a sensation; she went on to become the world’s bestselling doll.

Jennifer Munro Miller, Research Assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

The Dashing Second Lieutenant

November 14, 2011

The viewing of art is, in most cases, a deeply private adventure, and so it was for me upon my first time really seeing Baron Antoine-Jean Gros’ Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand. I first viewed the painting not in its majestic place on the third level of the Ahmanson Building but in a small book about Romanticism by Norbert Wolf that I picked up after leaving a wonderful exhibition featuring English Romantic-era painters at the Tate Britain. Not only was Romanticism the most elusive and diffuse of all the art movements, but the word itself fell into a vast no-man’s land. Magically, this is where my adventure began—with the Romantic movement and Baron Gros’ masterpiece.

Antoine-Jean Gros, Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand, c. 1810, gift of California Charities Foundation

Romanticism is the movement that was principally sustained by the belief that unbounded nature and human imagination—and not reason—are the sources of harmony, running contrary to traditional Greco-Roman antiquity. I was somewhat amazed that the Romantic ideals were looking back to the late medieval Gothic fantasies and Renaissance Judeo-Christian themes of love and terror, re-creating an emotional resonance out of a utopian ambition for this harmony. Their strident proclamation for individual creativity as the path to freedom and a reunion with nature was—or should be—humanity’s primary goal. Sometimes referred to as “the Counter-Enlightenment,” Romanticism seemed to become an artistic undercurrent to intellectual and progressive scientific thinking, therefore forging a new visual emotional language.

For me, there was an evocatively haunting presence in the poetry of the time, in the narrative arts that would be the voice behind the paintings, and in the mood that would capture the somewhat subversive glamour that made Romanticism such an engaging and magnetic force. It was the time of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and of course so many more. So, I would return to LACMA and Baron Gros’ Portrait of Second Lieutenant Charles Legrand with new eyes. Perhaps art only surrenders illusions, vague escaping spirits that we animate. Nevertheless, the second lieutenant’s whole persona was given up to poetic allusions—an elegiac muse—for he had not the steely eyes of a warrior but the gentle countenance of a Byronic poet looking elsewhere, having been on his ultimate “grand tour.” His warrior’s metallic chest plate serves to counterbalance the fleshy pink globe of his head and the blond wispy shag of his hair. As though lingering, untried youth reflects back through his soft paleness and the pout of his lips. His dark blue eyes betray another, more melancholic, time in his life. But more interesting, Gros catches the swagger and dash of a hero, propping himself on one leg casually against the hindquarter of his steed, with all the heft his gold suede clenched fist could suggest—while his actual death is merely a footnote to the eternity in oil that Baron Gros would bequeath him. As with all depictions of Romantic heroes, nature is situated in its vastness as a great blue distant sky, as snowcapped mountains, as foreign castles and running falls—as the backdrop to a man’s momentary drama. Lord Byron said it best:

So, we’ll go no more a-roving
     So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
     And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
     And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
     And love itself have rest.

Hylan Booker

This Weekend at LACMA: Pacific Standard Time Focus Weekend, California Design Symposium, and More

November 11, 2011

As mentioned earlier in the week on Unframed, tonight is a fantastic event on the influence of cinema on Asco, including a discussion of their No Movies and a screening of French New Wave director Agnes Varda’s 1981 documentary Mur Murs, about murals is Los Angeles and featuring Asco.

If you haven’t yet experienced some of the many Pacific Standard Time exhibitions at LACMA or nearby, this is a great weekend to do it. We and our Hollywood/Wilshire neighbors are holding a “focus weekend,” with events happening here and elsewhere, including free admission at some institutions (check this pdf for details).

Saturday focuses on architecture and design, with events at exhibitions at the A+D Museum and Craft and Folk Art Museum (both across the street from LACMA), as well as the Fowler Museum, Hammer Museum, LACE, and MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House. The big event at LACMA, in conjunction with California Design, 1935-1960 and as mentioned yesterday, is an all-day program in the Bing: The Legacy of the California Design Exhibitions, which looks at the series of California Design exhibitions held at the Pasadena Art Museum in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Installation view of California Design, 1930-165: "Living in a Modern Way". oreground: Wallace "Wally" M. Byam, Clipper, 1936, Auburn Trailer Collection

Sunday hones in on artists in L.A. who engaged with social and political causes. Here at LACMA that includes Edward Kienholz’s Five Car Stud as well as Asco: Elite of the Obscure and Mural Remix: Sandra de la Loza. Sandra de la Loza herself will be here on Sunday for a free talk in the Bing Theater. She’ll be joined by  Louie Perez of Los Lobos and Tomas Carrasco of the political satire group Chicano Secret Service for a discussion of Chicanos and the counter-culture. Other events happening nearby on this day include a a curator- and artist-led talk at the Fowler Museum for their Mapping Another L.A.: The Chicano Art Movement, a discussion about Watts Towers at the Hammer Museum, and a screening at LACE documenting performance art in L.A. in the 1970s.

Sandra de la Loza and Joseph Santarromana, Action Portraits (installation view), 2011, © Sandra de la Loza, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Of course it’s not all about Pacific Standard Time at LACMA. We also have many other exhibitions on view, including the just-opened Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, Glenn Ligon: AMERICA, and Monet/Lichtenstein: Rouen Cathedrals. On Sunday we also offer our free Andell Family Sunday activities—the perfect time to bring the kids.

Installation view of Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World

As usual, the weekend is bookended with free concerts: tonight, the Ark Sano Trio performs during Jazz at LACMA, while on Sunday the trio of Movses Pogossian (violin), Michele Zukovsky (clarinet), and Antoinette Perry (piano) perform works by Beethoven, Messiaen, and Bartok during Sundays Live.

Scott Tennent

From California Design (1954) to California Design (2011)

November 10, 2011

This Saturday, LACMA will host the symposium The Legacy of the California Design Exhibitions about the important exhibition series organized by the Pasadena Art Museum between 1954 and 1976. Over the last few years, as we formulated our own California Design exhibition, on view now, we returned again and again to this earlier project, which proved to be a bellwether of the state of design and craft in its time.

Exhibition catalogue from the first California Design, 1954

The first of the twelve exhibitions, held in 1954, surveyed the innovative goods produced in the state with a strong emphasis on Los Angeles County. Reflecting the era’s fluid ideas about making that were exemplified in California’s creative environment, the earliest installments freely mixed unique hand-produced crafts with industrially produced designs. The series’s first curator, Clifford Nelson, noted that all of these goods were functional housewares and urged Californians to purchase the best of what the state had to offer.

Sam Maloof, Executive office chair, c. 1962, from California Design 8 (Pasadena: Pasadena Art Museum, 1962), photograph by Richard Gross

Over the run of the series, the landscape of design and craft changed drastically. Curator Eudorah Moore took the helm in 1962 with California Design 8, and quickly revamped the exhibitions to accommodate these changes, boosting the prestige and impact of the shows in the process. She instituted juries of prominent local designers and craftspeople and began to produce beautifully illustrated catalogues. 

In these catalogues, virtuoso examples of man-made goods are elegantly displayed within California’s dramatic natural landscapes. Flipping through these books, we were able to see first-hand how design and craft, which had been so inextricably linked in the 1950s, diverged as craftspeople began to explore more individualistic expressions. Moore’s prescient selections made these distinctions clear, documenting and promoting the changing attitudes around her.  Decades later, as we revisited these themes in our own show, these invaluable sources introduced us to new designers and helped us examine how their work shifted over this critical time period.

Organized with Craft in America, Saturday’s symposium delves deeper into this story. We will bring together Moore and several key collaborators, including Lois Boardman, Bernard Kester, and Richard Amend. A second panel will feature several designers and craftspeople whose work appeared in the original California Design series to discuss how the shows impacted their own careers. 

Staci Steinberger, curatorial assistant, Decorative Arts and Design

Asco’s No Movies

November 9, 2011

Chismearte: What is a No-Movie?
Gamboa: It is perceiving life within a cinemagraphic context.
Gronk: It is thinking of life before the advent of a view finder. It is projecting the real by rejecting the reel.
—“Interview: Gronk and Gamboa,” originally published in Chismearte 1, no 1 (Fall 1976), reprinted in the exhibition catalogue for Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective 1972-1987

As we usher in the last month of the exhibition Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective 1972-1987, two of our upcoming exhibition-related public programs will focus on the role of movies—and “No Movies”—in Asco’s oeuvre. This Friday I will be joined by filmmaker and scholar Jesse Lerner for Asco: Chicano Cinema and Agnes Varda’s Mur Murs. The program is part of Filmforum’s Pacific Standard Time contribution, Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles 1945-1980, an incredible research project that has resulted in a vast archive of oral histories with Southern Californian filmmakers and artists as well as many film programs over the course of the next few months. (The second Asco event this month will be a conversation between Gronk and Marisela Norte on Asco & Cinema.)

Asco, Á La Mode, 1976, photograph by Harry Gamboa Jr., courtesy of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC) Library, from the collection of Patssi Valdez, © 1976 Asco/Photograph Harry Gamboa Jr.

Asco blurred the lines of various media, merging performance, photography, muralism, and film. As was the case for many of the filmmakers presented in Alternative Projections, Asco lived in the shadow of Hollywood, feeding off of its productions but also striving to create a counter-vision out of their own lived realities. Asco’s invention of No Movies, or film stills for non-existent films, allowed the group to appropriate the spectacle of Hollywood even as they critiqued the absence of Chicanos in the mass media. The group did use film occasionally when they had access to Super 8 and 16 millimeter cameras, but their engagement with media was greatly enhanced with the advent of public access media and portable video equipment.

Also part of Friday’s program is a screening of Agnes Varda’s 1981 film Mur Murs. Varda came to Los Angeles to work a film essay that meditates on how muralism allowed the walls of Los Angeles’ barrios and working-class neighborhoods to speak and assert their identities. At Varda’s invitation, Asco created an ephemeral mural and took part in it simultaneous birthing and destruction ultimately realizing the group’s dreams of interjecting themselves into the glamorous and cool aesthetics of French New Wave.

Rita Gonzalez, associate curator, contemporary art

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