Collaboration in a Transnational Artistic Network

February 21, 2012

The exhibition Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping features embroidered objects with global themes, inspired by works on paper. Included in the exhibition is LACMA’s Mappa (1979), a work conceptualized by Italian artist Alighiero Boetti and embroidered by Afghan women, which takes the geopolitical map as its subject. From 1971, Boetti’s embroidered world maps were produced serially in Kabul until the Soviet invasion in 1979; thereafter, production shifted to Afghan refugee camps in Peshawar, Pakistan, where it continued until Boetti’s death. In 1990 American photographer Randi Malkin Steinberger travelled to Peshawar to capture the creation of these embroidered artworks. She and Boetti subsequently selected and organized her photographs for a publication, just recently released as Boetti by Afghan People: Peshawar, Pakistan 1990.

Alighiero Boetti, Italy, Mappa, 1979, purchased with funds provided by The Broad Contemporary Art Museum Foundation in honor of the museum’s 40th anniversary

Here, Malkin Steinberger talks about the complex process of making the maps, winning access to the embroiderers in Peshawar, and what it was like to collaborate with Boetti.

In terms of the production of the embroidered maps, how was labor divided between Italy and Afghanistan/Pakistan?

Boetti planned the design and oversaw the transfer of the colored map to the cloth ground. At first one of his assistants projected and hand-drew the outline of the map onto the textile, but by the time I became involved, they were applying color-coded outlines by silkscreen. Once this step was done, the printed cloth was sent from Italy to Pakistan. The embroiderers were just instructed to use simple stitch techniques. Over time, they were free to make some decisions regarding thread selection, particularly when it came to the ocean—some oceans were black, yellow, green, and even pink. He really liked their color sensibility. Each map took a long time to make—from months to years depending on the size—and several women often took turns over the course of its production, or at times two or three worked together on the same map. When the maps were complete, they were inspected by an assistant before leaving Pakistan and finally by Boetti when they returned to Italy.

Randi Malkin Steinberger, Afghan Women Working Together on a Boetti Mappa, 1990, © Randi Malkin Steinberger

What kind of contact did Boetti have with the women who made his artworks?

When the maps were made in Afghanistan, he visited at least twice a year but after the move to Peshawar he no longer had direct contact at all with the women. Things were different there—society adhered to strict Muslim codes of conduct so men had limited access to women in the camps. Boetti’s assistants traveled to Peshawar but they only had indirect access through the women’s male relatives. But there were other small points of contact. The edges of the map intended for Persian text were left blank during the silk-screening process, and Afghan male collaborators could choose their own message—sometimes thanking Boetti or wishing him well, and other times including their signatures as artists, authors of the work. He loved seeing the pictures I came back with because at that point it had been years since he’d seen the women holding the embroideries.

Being a woman, was it easier for you to gain access to the embroiderers?

It was somewhat easier for me than a man, I guess. But the political situation in Peshawar was tense, and camp officials were very suspicious of Westerners so I had to dress in clothing that was typical of the region in order to blend in. I only had two weeks in Peshawar, and I was really anxious to get inside the camps. I finally did, but I had just one day there, so I had to shoot fast.

Luca Pancrazzi, Randi in Peshawar, Pakistan, 1990, © Luca Pancrazzi

The maps were just one of Boetti’s many collaborative projects. Your photographs also resulted from a similar partnership. What was it like to work with him?

He didn’t want to instruct too much. He loved to see what people would do, how they might improvise within certain guidelines. When I first started working with him photographing his studio in Rome, he just said, “Come by any time.” Then one day he said, “You know, it would be great if you could go to Pakistan and take some pictures.” Afterward, I would show him the photographs, and he would pick the ones he liked but didn’t always explain why. Working with him was often very nonverbal. As far as the embroidered maps go, he liked the spontaneity of working from a distance with unknown artisans he’d never met. I’m not sure how the Afghan women felt, since I couldn’t really communicate with them at length, but I could tell they admired him a great deal and appreciated having the opportunity to do the work. I think he saw the embroiderers as his “opposite”—he was fascinated by the concept of twinning and opposites mirroring each other.

Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping is on view in the Ahmanson Building through May 13. Boetti by Afghan People: Peshawar, Pakistan 1990 is available for purchase at Art Catalogues, also in the Ahmanson Building at LACMA.

The Fowler Museum at UCLA is also presenting an exhibition of Boetti’s artistic collaborations with Afghan embroiderers entitled, Order and Disorder: Alighiero Boetti by Afghan Women, featuring several works by Randi Malkin Steinberger as well.

Nicole LaBouff, former Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow, Costume and Textiles

LACMA is Free Today!

February 20, 2012

Thanks to Target, LACMA is free all day today! In addition to seeing many of our special exhibitions (excluding the specially ticketed exhibition In Wonderland) and permanent collection, you can also enjoy a slew of family activities. Rhythm Child, who have played everywhere from the Huntington to the White House, will perform at 12:30 and 2:45 on the Los Angeles Times Central Court, near the Boone Children’s Gallery. (The Boone Gallery is free but we will be issuing timed tickets to be sure everyone has a chance to enjoy the space.) There will also be a special outdoor family art-making activity on the LATCC.

Today is a great day to check out the California Design exhibition—gallery educators will be in the exhibition all day to answer questions and give free tours.

California Design, 1935-1960: "Living in a Modern Way," installation view

Chris Burden’s Metropolis II—all 1,100 cars—will also be running every other hour through the day: 12:30–1:30, 2:30–3:30, 4:30–5:30; 6:30–7:30. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience for old and young alike.

Scott Tennent

This Weekend at LACMA: Common Places Opens, Food Truck Event, Holiday Monday, and More

February 17, 2012

Opening tomorrow is Common Places: Printing, Embroidery, and the Art of Global Mapping, a small exhibition highlighting a common thread between three textiles in LACMA’s permanent collection—Alighero Boetti’s 1979 Mappa, a cigarette silks quilt, and a seventeenth-century valance.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1979, purchased with funds provided by The Broad Contemporary Art Museum Foundation in honor of the museum’s 40th anniversary

The exhibition joins four others currently on view—Maria Nordman FILMROOM: SMOKE, 1969–Present in the Art of the Americas Building; Ellsworth Kelly: Prints and Paintings in BCAM; and In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the U.S. and California Design, 1935–1960 in the Resnick Pavilion.

Mary Ann DeWeese, for Catalina Sportswear, California Lobster Bikini, Man’s Shirt and Trunks, 1949, collection of Esther Ginsberg/Golyester Antiques, © 2011 The Warnaco Group, Inc. All rights reserved. For Authentic Fitness Corp., Catalina Sportswear

As a special event related to California Design, we asked the chefs from five L.A. food trucks to take inspiration from the exhibition and design special menu items on offer this Saturday. All five trucks will be parked in the lot directly across from Urban Light at Wilshire and Ogden.

  • The Lobsta Truck took inspiration from Mary Ann DeWeese’s 1949 two-piece swimsuit
  • No Tomatoes was inspired by Louis Ipsen and Victor F. Hauser’s stacking storage dishes, designed for J. A. Bauer Pottery Company circa 1932
  • Auntie’s Fry Bread chose a screen designed by Greta Magnusson Grossman
  • King’s Corner BBQ chose the beautifully designed Merle Armitage Book of Food
  • Coolhaus picked the Charles and Ray Eames’s living room, which as you may know was disassembled and then recreated entirely for our exhibition
Eames Living Room, as installed in California Design, 1935–1960: “Living in a Modern Way,” installation view, © 2011 Eames Office LLC (

Sunday offers a variety of free activities to choose from: bring your kids for art-making activites as part of Andell Family Sundays. You might also enjoy a free talk on Gustav Klimt’s famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by author Anne-Marie O’Connor, who recently published a book on the story behind painting’s theft by Nazis during World War II and its eventual return, sixty years later following an arduous legal battle. Finally, on Sunday evening you can hear pianist Svetlana Smolina perform pieces by Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Chopin, and more as part of our free Sundays Live concert series.

Lastly, heads up: this is a three-day weekend, which means Presidents’ Day is a Target Free Holiday Monday!

Scott Tennent

Step Across the Line: Mike Kelley, 1954–2012

February 16, 2012

Last week, we installed in the Ahmanson Building two works from our collection by Mike Kelley as a humble tribute to the recently deceased artist. News of Kelley’s passing hit the art scene—here and abroad—with a forceful, unexpected shock. Innumerable artists that I’ve met over the years trace some if not all of their formative interest in art to Kelley. Just this week I spoke with an artist whose allegiance to the written word as a component of her practice was deeply shaped by the artist.

Mike Kelley, Wallflowers, 1988, museum purchase with funds provided by the Awards in the Visual Arts Program

On a personal level, I understand, since it was my experience of Mike Kelley’s Proposal for the Decoration of an Island of Conference Room (With Copy Room) for an Advertising Agency Designed by Frank Gehry (1991), included in the seminal MoCA exhibition Helter Skelter: LA Art in the 90s, that drew me to study art. In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to work for Kelley’s studio. Perversely, it was from Kelley, the artist whose critical engagement with institutions had started me down a path from art making to curating, that I learned firsthand how to work with museums, galleries, and arts organizations.

Digging into our archive, I came across research for an installation the artist did in 1987 for the LACMA exhibition Avant-Garde in the Eighties. Kelley’s site-specific work was originally conceived to connect the museum’s galleries with the loading dock and break room, where visitors would use a battering ram to knock down an “employees only” door to find LACMA’s hidden art treasures: photocopied cartoons and jokes done or exchanged by the staff.

Mike Kelley, Study for "From My Institution to Yours", 1987, gift of the artist

When LACMA’s administration was unable to accommodate Kelley’s request he revised his plan for the piece. Indicative of the artist’s irrepressible humor and anti-authoritarianism, he inserted the following text on the wall: “I am in solidarity with the workers. Climb over the rampart. Batter down the door. Step across the line that separates brother and sister from brother and sister.”

Kelley’s fierce independence, wit, and intelligence are aspects of his character that many will miss, and yet we do have thirty years of his paintings, performances, videos, sculptures, drawings, installations, and writings that will help us both to remember and keep on battering down those doors.

Rita Gonzalez, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art

High School Interns Visit the Studio of Gronk, Asco Co-founder

February 15, 2012

LACMA’s high school internship program gives students the opportunity to work with artists, learn about the art in our galleries, and lead exhibition tours. Our current crop of interns had the opportunity to visit the studio of Gronk, a founding member of Asco, a Chicano performance and conceptual art group that was the focus of LACMA’s recent special exhibition, Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972–1987, which is currently on view at the Williams College Museum of Art.

Visiting an artist’s studio can be an unforgettable experience, especially if that artist is Gronk. Our high school interns had the rare chance to meet the artist and to view his most recent work.  Like the true collaborator he is known to be, Gronk asked the interns to share their ideas about art and a rich conversation ensued.

Here’s what the interns report:

Gronk in his studio

Jelia Saidi: It was an incredible experience meeting someone with so much experience in the realm of art. Talking to him about jazz was one of the highlights of the trip.

Katarina Palermo: Gronk’s studio was creative and perfectly suited for someone with his artistic mind. He inspired us all to work hard and to invest in our favorite artistic expressions, but he also encouraged us to try many different mediums of art.

Gronk in his studio

Marilyn Liu: When I entered into his loft, my eyes could not stop moving around the room. He had art in almost every corner of his home! The interns and Gronk shared a dialogue between our artistic focuses and his. He was such an engaging storyteller that nearly all of us had lost track of time.

Nicole Staake: I found visiting Gronk’s studio to be incredibly inspiring. I really enjoyed hearing about the origins of his work because I think that is something you cannot get from a museum show. He was incredibly welcoming and expressive, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him.

Gronk with LACMA’s high school interns in his studio

Azalie Welsh:  Learning about Gronk’s relationship to art set my own artistic drive burning brighter than it had before! Gronk’s fascinating stories of experimentation and exploration opened my eyes to so many new and different possibilities in the art world. Visiting his studio was an amazing opportunity, and something I know I won’t forget.

Nicole Cooke: My favorite story of Gronk’s was about his dislike of sleeping in beds and how he will fall sleep anywhere but on a bed. I thought that was a very interesting quirk and made me start to notice the cushioned napping areas in his studio.

Harry Park: From set designs to glass blowing, Gronk has done almost every medium or form of art.  Gronk not only took interest and learned about our passion but also taught us more about himself by connecting our experiences with his.

LACMA’s high school interns, compiled and edited by Sarah Jesse, Director of Community and School Programs, and Eduardo Sanchez and Ben Shaffer, Education Coordinators

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