This Weekend at LACMA: New Season of Jazz at LACMA, In Wonderland Final Week, Guy de Cointet Performance, Avant-Garde Animation, and More

April 27, 2012

This is Los Angeles, so there’s no reason to wait until summer to kick off an outdoor concert series: Jazz at LACMA is back for its twenty-first season! Every Friday at 6pm you’ll find excellent jazz right next to Chris Burden’s Urban Light and a stone’s throw from Ray’s and Stark Bar. It’s the perfect way to start your weekend—and it’s free. (Bonus: our galleries are free to all L.A. County residents after 5 pm, excluding In Wonderland.) Tonight the new season kicks off with the legendary Kenny Burrell and the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited. For a preview of the rest of the season, check out this interview with LACMA’s Director of Music Programs, Mitch Glickman on KJZZ.  

As detailed on Unframed yesterday, in the Bing Theater tonight LACMA and the Center for Visual Music present two programs of California mid-century avant-garde animation. First up is a retrospective of films by Oskar Fischinger, followed by a variety of shorts by Fischinger, Jordan Belson, Harry Smith, and more.

Also tonight is a restaging of influential performance artist Guy de Cointet’s Five Sisters, the last performance presented before his death in 1983. The play is presented by Dutch art association If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution, and will be preceded by De Cointet’s 1982 monologue Espahor ledet ko Uluner!, performed by Jane Zingale. The performance is free and takes place in the Art of the Americas Building.

'Five Sisters', 2011, Guy de Cointet, cast: Violeta Sanchez, Einat Tuchman, Adva Zakai, Veridiana Zurita. Wardrobe: moniquevanheist; light and sound: Elizabeth Orr. Photo: Sal Kroonenberg. © If I Can't Dance, Amsterdam

On the exhibition front, you’ve got just one more week to see In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United StatesThe exhibition, which features works by Frida Kahlo, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, and more, closes on May 6.

In Wonderland, installation view

On view in the same building as In Wonderland is Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico. If you picked up the Los Angeles Times today, you saw the fantastic review of the show, where “numerous ‘wow’ moments will be encountered.” We currently have eight special exhibitions on view—find the one that excites you most.  

Bust of Quetzalcoatl, Mexico, 1300–1521, The British Museum, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

Saturday morning in the Bing, check out the classic Indian film Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Joker), directed by and starring the legendary Raj Kapoor. Set in the circus, the colorful musical follows three loves of a clown, Raju, played by Kapoor. The screening is part of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and is free (though reservations are recommended). 

On Sunday, bring your kids to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II and then take part in free family art-making activities as part of Andell Family Sundays

Finally, conclude your weekend with a free Sundays Live performance by Jerome Lowenthal and Nadia Shpachenko, performing works by Debussy and Liszt.

Scott Tennent

Oskar Fischinger and California Abstract Animation

April 26, 2012

Once upon a time, California was home to groundbreaking work in abstract, avant-garde animation. One of the most influential abstract animators was Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967), brought to Hollywood by Paramount from Berlin in 1936, thus becoming the direct link from the European avant-garde film movement to West Coast experimental filmmaking.  Fischinger’s animated films were quite successful in Europe in the 1930s, screening in first-run theatres worldwide. This Friday we explore this rich, pre-digital history of abstract animation and “visual music,” when Center for Visual Music (CVM) and LACMA present “Design in Motion: Oskar Fischinger and Abstract Animation,” a two-part series highlighting California abstraction on film.

The first program, “Optical Poetry: An Oskar Fischinger Retrospective,” includes his famous European work and films made in Hollywood. His films influenced generations of filmmakers, animators, and artists and we’ll see some of their work in the second program.

Fischinger produced more than fifty short films and eight hundred paintings and is recognized as the father of visual music and the grandfather of music videos. Today his films screen worldwide, his paintings are in major museums, and an HD installation by CVM re-creating his early expanded cinema performances, Raumlichtkunst, opens at the Whitney Museum and Tate Modern this June.

Oskar Fischinger, Kreise (still), 1933, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

Fischinger lived and worked in Los Angeles from 1936 until his death in 1967, though his independent artistic vision didn’t mesh well with studio expectations. He resigned from Paramount over creative differences and had difficulty at Disney (where his Fantasia designs were deemed too abstract). He worked briefly for MGM and Orson Welles. With support from the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York (which became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), he bought back his unfinished film from Paramount and completed it in 1943.  The resulting film, Allegretto (screening Friday), is one of the most popular abstract animated films of all time.

Oskar Fischinger, Allegretto (still), 1936–1943, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

In California, Fischinger began painting, and his ties to LACMA go back as far as 1949, when Fischinger’s artwork was included in the California Centennial Exhibition and the 1952 show Artists of Los Angeles and Vicinity.

Oskar Fischinger in his Hollywood Studio with painted panels from his film Motion Painting no. 1 (1947), © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

In the 1940s and 1950s, Fischinger’s studio in his West Hollywood home became a mecca for experimental filmmakers who came to see his films and to show him their own: Jordan Belson, Harry Smith, Maya Deren, the Whitney Brothers, and others. Orson Welles, Paul Hindemith, and many European émigrés visited, as well as Fischinger’s close friends Jules Engel, Galka Scheyer, and Harry Bertoia.

Oskar Fischinger, Muntz TV commercial (still), 1952, © Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music

The final program, “Color and Form: Modernist Animation in California,” features more abstract animation made in California and Fischinger’s Muntz TV ad. In San Francisco, Belson began developing an entirely new abstract language in his films beginning in 1947, and we’ll screen several rarely seen films, including Mandala and Caravan. Also in the Bay Area, Harry Smith produced his first hand-painted animations. In Los Angeles, Engel, emerging from UPA Studios, began making his own personal art films. His Landscape, Play Pen, and Mobiles screen Friday. And in Altadena, Charles Dockum invented a Mobilcolor light projection system, which he performed locally.

Charles Dockum with his Mobilcolor II light projector, in his Pasadena Studio, 1942, © Greta Dockum, courtesy Center for Visual Music

It’s a rare opportunity these days to see so many films in restored 35mm and 16mm original formats. All prints are from the collection of Center for Visual Music; the Fischinger films were restored by CVM, the Academy Film Archive, EYE Film Institute (Amsterdam), and the Fischinger Archive. The films will be screened in the Bing Theater. LACMA members and Film Club members receive discounts on tickets.

Cindy Keefer, curator/archivist, Center for Visual Music

The Center for Visual Music is a non-profit archive dedicated to visual music, abstract cinema, and experimental animation.

New Acquisition: Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in His Study

April 25, 2012

The foremost artistic personality of the German Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer was an accomplished painter, printmaker, draftsman, and art theorist. His pictorial innovation and technical bravura transformed the arts of woodcut and engraving, elevating their status to transcend their craft origins and setting standards rarely matched in the history of printmaking. Three works dating to 1513–14 are singled out as the crowning achievements of Dürer’s illustrious career as an engraver: Knight, Death and the Devil; Melencolia I; and Saint Jerome in His Study. Closely related in size and complexity of execution, these three prints are known as Dürer’s Meisterstiche—or Master Engravings.

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in His Study, 1514, gift of the 2012 Collectors Committee, with additional funds provided by the Prints and Drawings Council and Philippa Calnan

Saint Jerome in His Study evokes an ideal of scholarly and spiritual reflection. Set in the ordered interior of a monastic cell, the learned saint is seen at his writing table. The lion, Jerome’s legendary companion, and the dog blissfully adrift at his feet, contribute an undeniably sympathetic appeal to the tranquil scene. The light-infused setting, cast in a carefully rendered perspective, has been greatly admired by artists, scholars, and collectors, since the sixteenth century. In his 1568 Lives of the Artists, Giorgio Vasari praised the depiction of sun streaming through the bull’s-eye glass windows as having “an effect so natural, it is a marvel,” furthermore claiming that “nothing more and nothing better could be done in this field of art.” Indeed, in its virtuoso handling of light and meticulous description of textures, Saint Jerome in his Study is a demonstration of Dürer’s supreme mastery of the pictorial possibilities of the engraving medium.

This beautiful, rich impression of Saint Jerome in His Study, expertly printed with subtle areas of surface tone, is among the earliest taken from the plate. The careful attention given to the selection of papers and preparation of inks for his engravings strongly suggests Dürer printed his own plates. The artist issued his engravings in limited numbers in response to demand, and as a consequence a qualitative difference can be discerned between various printings. Later impressions can be distinguished from the earliest ones by the progressive dulling of lines and accumulation of scratches in the plate. Here, even the finest and most delicate lines print sharply, rendering a tonal range extending from soft silver to brilliant black to express the play of shimmering light in its most refined nuances.  This sheet is also remarkable for its pristine condition. Its survival through five hundred years guarded from even minimal creases, tears, or stains is testament to the high regard in which it was held by its successive owners.

LACMA’s holdings of Dürer’s prints constitute one of the greatest strengths of the Old Master works on paper collection. The collection includes beautiful, early exemplars of Dürer’s masterpieces of engraving, including Knight, Death and the Devil and Melencolia I, in addition to other important works as Adam and Eve and Saint Eustace.  With the acquisition of this exquisite impression of Saint Jerome in his Study, LACMA now boasts the complete Master Engravings.

Naoko Takahatake, assistant curator, Prints and Drawings

New Acquisition: Two Paintings by Nicolás Enríquez

April 25, 2012

These two oil-on-copper paintings are among the finest by Nicolás Enríquez (1704–c. 1790), a distinguished yet understudied eighteenth-century New Spanish (Mexican) painter. They depict scenes from the life of the Virgin: her marriage to Joseph officiated by the Jewish priest and the adoration of the three kings who kneel before the Christ child as they offer him prodigious gifts. These are history paintings in the grand style (gran maniera), designed to tell a story through complex but clear narrative elements and the forceful expressiveness of the figures. Yet, the profusion of ornamentation, such as the delicate floral motifs that pepper the compositions, reflects a typically New Spanish sensibility. Enríquez was a member of the first academy of painters established in Mexico around 1722 by the brothers Juan and Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez (1667–1734; 1675–1728). A primary goal of this group of cultured painters was to gain recognition of the nobility of their art and to set themselves apart from the mechanical arts.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1749, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

Enríquez developed a great reputation for his highly finished oil paintings on copper, a support that he used extensively throughout his career. The tradition of copper painting first developed in Italy and Flanders in the sixteenth century, and it was quickly introduced to New Spain, where it became more common than in Europe, especially in the eighteenth century. The smoothness of copper allowed for the almost seamless application of paint, creating dazzling visual effects and granting the paintings a jewel-like quality.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Marriage of the Virgin (detail), 1749, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

The rich floral textile in The Marriage of the Virgin, for instance, is a rare pictorial detail despite how prevalent it was to decorate church interiors with imported tapestries and Asian rugs. Equally unusual in New Spanish painting is the detailed architectural rendition of the church. This was a well-established genre in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting, which Enríquez must have known (either through imported paintings or architectural manuals), allowing him to showcase his skill in rendering a realistic illusion of space.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Adoration of the Kings with Donor, 1741, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

In addition, the works are also important art historically. The Adoration of the Kings with Donor is modeled after a painting by the celebrated Mexican painter Juan Rodríguez Juárez in the famous Altar of the Kings of Mexico City’s cathedral, dedicated to the Spanish monarchs in 1737. While in his painting Rodríguez Juárez includes a self-portrait, Enríquez inserts in the lower left the portrait of Mexico City’s Viceroy Pedro de Castro y Figueroa, duke of La Conquista, who arrived in Mexico in 1740 and died tragically of yellow fever a year after taking his post. Standing near a fully decked horse (a quintessential element of the entry ceremonies of incoming viceroys to Mexico), the viceroy is depicted looking out sternly at the viewer. The two kneeling children are in all likelihood portraits of the viceroy’s sons. A remarkable fact is that the viceroy was buried in the Altar of the Kings, which emphasizes his loyalty to the king and makes this posthumous painting particularly poignant. But referencing Juan Rodríguez Juárez’s painting is also an important art-historical gesture: It represents how the tradition of local painting within Mexico itself was as significant as the use of European sources in creating new and vibrant compositions.

Enríquez’s paintings are exceptional because of their unusually large scale (most copper paintings are much smaller) and their excellent state of conservation. The two works will feature prominently in an exciting upcoming exhibition of eighteenth-century Mexican painting that I am organizing with a group of colleagues from Mexico and Spain.

Ilona Katzew, curator and department head, Latin American art

New Acquisition: Fudo Myoo: The Indomitable Foe of Evil

April 25, 2012

Fudō Myōō is known as the Indomitable Foe of Evil in the Buddhist pantheon. Literally, his name means The Undefeatable Enlightened King of Buddhism. In the face of evil and falsehood, he is unyielding, unbeatable, indefatigable, and immovable.

Created in circa 1125 by a master of Buddhist sculpture, Fudō is carved from one solid block of rare Zelkova wood. He holds a sword to cut through illusion and a rope to bind up devils and demons. Amazingly, the arms, hands, and hair braid are all original and unrestored, as can be easily proved by examining the unbroken fine wood grain across the sculpture, down to the tips of the fingers on each hand.

Fudō Myōō: The Indomitable Foe of Evil, Japan, c. 1125, purchased with funds provided by Irene Christopher, Scott M. Delman, and the 2012 Collectors Committee

In Japan, it is extremely rare that a previously unknown and unrecorded twelfth-century wood sculpture comes to light, as this one has in the last year. This has led to speculation by the leading scholars of Japanese Buddhist art that this remarkable image was long hidden away as a “Secret Buddha” (Hibutsu) in an enclosed shrine, which would explain its astonishing condition as well as its unknown provenance. Such Hibutsu are hidden from sight, and light, by virtue of the sacred enclosure in which they are enshrined. Depending on the particular temple for which it was made, a Hibutsu may be shown to temple visitors once a year, once a decade, once a century, or never shown at all!

Fight fire with fire/fight evil with force: that is the message of Fudō’s fierce visage. Fudō is a powerful protective deity, and every painting and sculpture of him share these traits. From the front he is all power and strength, but from the back our Fudō shows a more feminine side—a softer, gentler stance, with flowing tresses. This is the yin-yang of masculine/feminine, force/gentleness, so deeply rooted in East Asian philosophy and art.

LACMA has three magnificent wood sculptures of the twelfth century or earlier—all three of these sculptures have a peaceful countenance in line with their gentler roles in the Buddhist pantheon. This Fudō is the first Japanese Buddhist sculpture at LACMA to show a fierce, protective appearance in line with his role as a foe of evil. Now in Los Angeles, he will surely defend us in the constant battle against evil in the world.

Robert T. Singer, curator and department head, Japanese art

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