Installing the Aztec Eagle Warrior in Contested Visions

November 22, 2011

At the opening of Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World stands the majestic sculpture known as the Eagle Warrior, from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City. This incredible example of Aztec imperial sculpture was discovered in the House of Eagles at the north end of the Templo Mayor archaeological site in 1980. The House of Eagles was used by the Aztec elite for meditation, prayer, and autosacrifice—an act performed to propitiate the deities of the earth and maintain cosmic order. This sculpture was one of two that flanked the main door of the temple that were perched atop banquettes bearing images of warriors in procession marching toward a zacatapayolli, or grass ball into which the instruments of autosacrifice were inserted.

The sculpture portrays a man wearing a helmet in the form of an eagle head, and a costume with stylized wings and talons. It is composed of five hollow ceramic clay parts: the two lower legs below the knees, the thighs and midsection, the winged arms and torso, and the head, which is enclosed in the bird mask. Supported by an internal structure, the sculpture stands just larger than lifesize.

For the installation of this fragile piece, LACMA’s team of art preparators and conservators worked alongside the archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and the chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

View of the current archaeological site of the Templo Mayor with the Cathedral of Mexico City to the west in the background. The Eagle Warrior was discovered on the northern perimeter of the Templo Mayor site within a structure known as the House of the Eagles. After the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521, the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor was razed and, as seen here in this photograph, the colonial city was built atop its ruins. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

LACMA conservators Natasha Cochran and Siska Genbrugge condition report the legs of the Eagle Warrior. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

Archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo Templo Mayor check the stability of the piece before continuing with the installation of the sculpture. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)

Carrizosa Montfort secures the torso of the Eagle Warrior to the sculptures’ mid-section.

Barajas Rocha and Carrizosa Montfort carefully secure the head of the Eagle Warrior before moving it into the galleries.

LACMA’s team of art preparators, led by Jeff Haskin (right), carefully lead the Eagle Warrior into the exhibition space.

The sculpture is placed atop the pedestal.

Final installation view of the Eagle Warrior as it majestically greets visitors into the galleries.

Sofía Sanabrais, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art

Unless otherwise noted, all photos © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA by Yosi Pozeilov

Cast by Kienholz: An Interview with Keith Berwick

November 21, 2011

In 1971, television host Keith Berwick interviewed Edward Kienholz at the artist’s studio during the making of Five Car Stud. During the interview, Kienholz made a plaster cast of Berwick’s body to be used as one of the figures in the artwork. I recently I had the chance to talk with Berwick to learn more about his experience.

Keith Berwick while interviewing Edward Kienholz for "Speculation: The World of Ed Kienholz" (1971), Photograph included in Documentation for "Five Car Stud Tableau and The Sawdy Edition," 1971 © Kienholz, photographs by John Romeyn, Bob Bucknam, Malcolm Lublinder, and Adam Avila

LACMA’s installation of Five Car Stud includes an introductory gallery putting the work in context. You figure into that preamble—a clip of your talk show with Edward Kienholz is prominently displayed.
That’s a great honor, I think! I remember the occasion quite vividly, although it was a long time ago.

How did your interview with Kienholz come about?
The [talk] show that I did at that time was called Speculation, on channel 28. One of the episodes was a program with Claes Oldenburg and Ed Kienholz. Ed was in a very surly mood during that program. He was an old friend of mine—I knew him and Lyn [Kienholz’s wife at the time] quite well—but he had come to the show and was very grumpy. He was not happy with the show. He said, “Look, if you really want to do a program with me, you should come to my studio and see the way I work and do something that’s natural, rather than this, which is very unnatural.” Price Hicks, who was my producer at the time, thought it would be a good thing to do.

We got up [to Ed’s place] very early in the morning and had a whole crew there. We spent the day doing what turned into a one-hour special. We did setups around his studio, and we went out to where he was working on Five Car Stud. By pre-arrangement with my producer, Ed prompted me to offer myself as one of the models. I was totally unaware that that was going to happen. It was a total surprise. I think it contributed to the energy of the occasion and the spontaneity. He had a robe for me; I stripped down and then came out, and he started lubricating me and putting on all this stuff. I was trying, through that impediment, to carry on a coherent interview with him!

Keith Berwick while interviewing Edward Kienholz for "Speculation: The World of Ed Kienholz" (1971), Photograph included in Documentation for "Five Car Stud Tableau and The Sawdy Edition," 1971 © Kienholz, photographs by John Romeyn, Bob Bucknam, Malcolm Lublinder, and Adam Avila

Were you apprehensive when he proposed casting you in his artwork?
My initial reaction was to think that this was a great joke at my expense. I was not accustomed to standing around in my underwear in public! So there was a level of apprehension to it. But on the other hand, I very well understood that this was what we were going to do. I certainly recognized that it was going to be fun to do and that it might even make good television.

What was the nature of interview? Was it about Five Car Stud or was it intended to be more broad?
It was an attempt to allow people to become acquainted with Ed Kienholz as a commentator on the human condition through his craft and through his pack-rat tendencies and bargaining—to reveal the whole repertoire of Ed Kienholz’s idiosyncrasies that made him such a significant force. This was an attempt to simply give him the opportunity to be Ed Kienholz and to reveal himself as fully as he would be willing to do. And if revealing myself in the way that I was doing would help that, I was perfectly willing to do it.

Was Five Car Stud far enough along that you understood what the piece was going to be?
Ed didn’t go in for subtlety. He may have incorporated a lot of nuance, but that piece, like all of his others, was in your face. There wasn’t any doubt about what was being portrayed and what the significance of it was. It was as graphic in its way, and for that message, as Back Seat Dodge ’38 was. Ed was engaging questions of the ugliness of race and racism in ways that others were not at that time.

Edward Kienholz, “Five Car Stud 1969–1972, Revisited,” Installation view (detail), photography by Tom Vinetz, © Kienholz, collection of Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art, Sakura, Japan, courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA and The Pace Gallery, New York

What was your feeling, after having been a participant in the making of an artwork, when you saw the finished product?
Let me just tell you that I was very much dismayed that he had added fifty to seventy-five pounds to the [cast of the] figure that I had portrayed. That was sort of a nasty trick. I didn’t at all mind that my head had been replaced by one his masks, but vanity caused me some dismay over seeing the added weight [laughs].

More to the spirit of your question: I find it a horrific piece, and a very sobering piece. I persist in thinking that it was one of those prods to the conscience that Ed was so gifted at creating, which made him a significant force.

Knowing Ed and his work so well, what is your feeling on the fact that forty years later the artwork is finally being presented to the American public?
I think in one sense that it’s long overdue, which is obvious. But in another sense, I think that it’s peculiarly apposite to the time that we’re in because I believe there is an ugly undertow of racism in society today, which has been particularly evident in the political sphere since the Obama campaign in 2008, and is revealing itself in a lot of ways that makes me acutely uncomfortable. Under the guise of political ideology and a concern for economics, racism is manifesting itself in very ugly ways. I think that the more that can be done to confront us with this and cause us to recognize it and reflect upon it, particularly those people who may be conscious of what you might call “unconscious racism”—people who do not regard themselves as racist but who, in any reasonable determination, are racist. And that includes lots of people who think of themselves as extremely enlightened in these matters.

To be very candid about it, I think that the mission of LACMA is precisely to explore these matters of vital concern to the larger community. I hope that one of the effects of that is to bring to LACMA many people who would not otherwise come.

Scott Tennent

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

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