High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White Film Series

June 7, 2012

LACMA rounds out its exhibition film series High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White tomorrow and Saturday evenings with four films inspired by the installation of seminal Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama’s work that is on view now through July 31 in the Pavilion for Japanese Art. Moriyama first captured the art world’s attention in the 1960s with his grainy, out-of-focus photos that portrayed the gritty underbelly of Tokyo in stark black and white.

Daido Moriyama, Beauty Parlor, Tokyo, c. 1975, Ralph M. Parsons Fund, © 2012 Daido Moriyama

The films curated for this series were all made in the 1960s and could, hypothetically, be what Moriyama himself would have created had he a penchant for moving images instead. The films, like Moriyama’s photos, offer a glimpse into a nation struggling to create a new world view, to regain some sense of identity, after a massive defeat in World War II.

Friday night’s films feature a Shohei Imamura double bill: Pigs and Battleships, a raucous black comedy that satirizes Japan’s postwar reality, and The Pornographersmaybe one of the greatest films about filmmaking ever made.

Saturday night closes out the series with Funeral Parade of Roses, Toshio Matsumoto’s taboo-breaking film that directly influenced Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and legendary director Akira Kurosawa’s gripping, race-against-time policier High and Low, starring Toshiro Mifune, arguably Japan’s greatest movie star of all time (and frequent Kurosawa collaborator—the actor and director worked together on sixteen feature films).

You can purchase tickets online, at a LACMA Ticket Office, or by phone. LACMA Film Club members get half-price tickets (plus a bevy of other great benefits: exclusive screenings, priority ticketing for films and film-related events [read: Jason Reitman’s popular Live Read series], and much more).

Jenny Miyasaki

From Ancient Mexico to Today: Mole and Mezcal

June 6, 2012

When I first met with Victoria Lyall, associate curator of Latin American art, last year to discuss the exhibition Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico, the topic of food and feasting came up continually. This past weekend, we hosted a mole and mezcal tour in conjunction with the exhibition. We partnered with local food tour company SixTaste and visited two Mexican restaurants—Moles la Tia and Guelaguetza—to see how ancient Mexican food culture has lived on today.

Before the tour, Victoria and I met with Guelaguetza partner Bricia Lopez (referred to as the “Oaxacan Princess” by Jonathan Gold) to talk about the ancient and modern Oaxacan culture of feasting and how Oaxaca traditions live on in Los Angeles.

Bricia Lopez, partner at Guelaguetza, talking about Oaxacan food culture on the mole and mezcal tour, photo by Marian Bacol-Uba.

Alex Capriotti: When Victoria and I started talking about the exhibition more than a year ago, this one image kept coming up. It was a part in the Codex Nuttall where two people were shown bathing in chocolate. Food seemed like such a big part of ancient Mexican culture.  Can you talk more about that?

Codex Nuttall (detail), Mexico, Western Oaxaca, 15th–16th c., The British Museum Library, London, photo © Trustees of the British Museum/Art Resource, NY

Vicotria Lyall: Feasting was the basis of any kind of gathering in the pre-Columbian period and it was the glue that held all of these communities together. And you could find different kinds of feasts and parties. In the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, for example, much more of the feasting was related to weddings. This was mostly because arranged marriages and that kind of festival was how power was exchanged and how people were able to negotiate more land and better access to trade routes. But among the eastern Nahuas, the feasts were actually much more geared toward divination. For them, it was much more about calendrical rituals and communing with the ancestors.

These societies had different relationships with the dead that filtered into their food cultures. The Mixtecs and Zapotecs would bundle their dead. They made them into mummies, attached masks, and put them in caves where they would visit them regularly. But the Nahuas would cremate them. They would burn them and put them in urns and they would turn into deities. So it was kind of a different relationship. A lot of the feasting rituals for the Nahuas related to the skeletal cult because of this. Many of their feasting items have skulls and severed hands. But for the Mixtecs and the Zapotecs, their feasting rituals were much more related to music, dance, and chocolate. For both, it was all ritualized. Feasting happened on very specific times and days.

AC: Bricia, I know that Guelaguetza’s roots are long. You just opened your mezcaleria in the restaurant recently. Does your family have a history with mezcal?

Bricia Lopez: My dad made mezcal, my grandfather made mezcal, my great grandfather grew agave, so mezcal is part of who we are. Now, what we’ve always done is becoming more appreciated. We had a bar in the backroom at Guelaguetza and our bartenders are very well versed in mezcal—where it comes from, what it tastes like. We’ve always sold mezcal, but we’ve never had a forum for people to talk about it.

Victoria Lyall: It seems very timely too. I started going to Mexico city pretty regularly about five years ago. About three years ago, I started noticing that mezcal was what everyone in Mexico City wanted to drink. You building the mezcaleria was perfect timing.

AC: What’s the history of mezcal? Has it always been around?

VL: In the chronicles from the sixteenth century, we found that for the Nahuas themselves, drinking was actually very ritualized and governed. If you were a woman, you weren’t allowed to drink until you were older—till you were beyond the strictures of society. It was looked down upon if you got drunk.

AC: How did that phase out?

VL: I think the alcohol that the Spanish introduced—and the mores they introduced—were very different.

BL: The Spanish introduced liquor to get drunk, rather than liquor as part of ritual and cultural experience. When I give talks about mezcal, that’s what I always say. Mezcal isn’t something you drink to get drunk. Mezcal is something you drink before you eat. It is very traditional that, before you start your meal, you drink mezcal. You start drinking and you start conversing—it warms you up a little. And then from there, the food comes, and it intensifies the flavors in your mouth. Especially if you are eating a Oaxacan meal, it brings out all of those flavors in the dishes. A lot of chiles and smoked foods we use in mezcal have very long finishes. When you combine that with certain dishes, it makes a good pairing. I think the perfect pairing is a mole and a mezcal. It is a completely different experience than just having one by itself.  The chapulines (grasshoppers) also go really well with mezcal.

AC: Does the tradition of eating chapulines go back into ancient Mexican culture as well?

VL: Yes! We have this beautiful piece in the show of a green stone grasshopper with the jewel of Quetzalcoatl.

Carved Insect with Cut-shell Motif, c. AD 1500, Green stone, Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna, Bilimek Collection, photo © Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna

AC: Victoria and I were talking earlier about an article by Jonathan Gold where he talks about how L.A. has so many different culturally specific restaurants, but sometimes they are cooking for themselves and for their people in L.A. But it’s not so much fusing cultures together through food. Is that what you feel like Guelaguetza does—to keep the Oaxacan culture strong and alive?

BL: Yes, my dad from the very beginning wanted to sell food to Oaxacanios. He was never interested in doing the crossover thing. Our goal is for someone from Oaxaca to come and experience Oaxaca away from Oaxaca. Or for someone from L.A. to understand Oaxaca through our food—the colors, the ambiance, the people.

AC: Oaxaca is made up of a lot of different cultures too. Does the food differ a lot between cultures and regions?

BL: We only have food from the Zapotec region at Guelaguetza. We don’t have anything from the other six regions. If your culture is near the coast, you serve more seafood. Certain chiles only grow in certain areas. Moles change from region to region. The Istmo region cooks a lot with iguana. I wouldn’t even know what to do with an iguana.

AC: It’s so interesting because it does go back to the exhibition and what an important role geography plays with certain objects.

VL: In the exhibition, there are vessels from certain regions that would hold the chocolate or that you would drink liquor out of. Every object in the exhibition has a very specific functionality and different cultures had different feasting vessels. And we only know these uses because that is what is pictured in the codices.

Chalice, Mexico, Puebla, Acatzingo, 1521–1600, Staatliches Museum fur Volkerkunde, Munich, photo © Staatliches Museum für Völkerkunde, Munich, by M. Weidner

BL: It’s the same for mezcal. We actually use specific glasses at the restaurant.

Mezcal vessel from Guelaguetza, photo by Marian Bacol-Uba.

AC: Bricia, on your blog, you are doing a video project where you ask the question “What does Oaxaca mean to you?”

BL: When I went to Oaxaca last year, I took a camera, but I didn’t know what to do with it. So I started asking this question to people. And it was so interesting that people took the word Oaxaca very seriously. It was more than just the place they lived, it was where their soul was. It was what feeds them, inspires them, makes them.

AC: What does Oaxaca mean to you?

VL: I had never been to Oaxaca before starting work on this show, and I loved Oaxaca. Everything is just an explosion of creativity. Food, art, music. If you like design, everything is designed. From the food you are eating to the glasses you are drinking from. There’s such a strong connection to craftsmanship. Everything is gorgeous and interesting and diverse. It feels like it is vibrating—like it has a pulse. There is a creative history that pulses there, and it just has never stopped beating.

BL: It’s a place where I go, where I am at one with my soul.

This Sunday, learn more about ancient Mexican culture and food with two great programs. At 2 pm historian Xochitl Flores-Marcial explores the Zapotec tradition of Guelaguetza, which, in addition to being Bricia’s restaurant’s name, is one of several Mesoamerican indigenous rituals of reciprocal gift exchange. And at 3:30 pm, learn more about Oaxacan food culture at a book signing with Diana Kennedy, “the Julia Child of Mexican cooking.” Check out a video of Bricia and Diana Kennedy discussing Oaxacan food culture.

Alex Capriotti

LACMA and Education: Preparing Young Artists for the Next Step

June 5, 2012

On the first day of class, the students cannot sit far enough away from each other. By week two, however, they plan trips to the beach after class, bring in baked goods to share, and openly discuss last night’s homework. These students are enrolled in “Art School Ready: Building Your Art Portfolio,” a course that is geared toward preparing students for the daunting process of applying to art school. They are serious about their art and will spend four weeks of their summer at LACMA cranking out more than one hundred drawings each.

An Art School Ready student works on a charcoal drawing

Art School Ready: Building Your Art Portfolio was designed for LACMA by artist and Otis instructor Michael Wright with LACMA’s Education Department. He’s been teaching the intensive class every summer since its inception in 2003. “It’s a challenging class taught on a college-preparatory level. The kids have to be serious and on-project. The first day homework is due, half the class looks around at the competition around them and says ‘OK, we’ve gotta get serious!’,” Wright says. “We are working with traditional subjects: landscape, still life, portraits, and the figure—and that takes focus and engagement.”

Guest speaker Art Durinski reviews a student’s porfolio

The kids in the class are high school students. They work from life drawing models (yes, nude), nontraditional still lifes (robots, stuffed animals, pirate skulls), and LACMA’s collection. Portfolio classes are taught all over the city, but what sets this class apart from those is that it is taught in a museum environment. Having access to museum-quality work—for inspiration, for study, for building observational skills—is key. The intensity of the class is also important. The growth from day one to day twenty-one is phenomenal due to the fact that the kids are living and breathing art every day (and night, with homework) for a whole month. The energy builds as the class progresses, and the students are completely engaged.

Art School Ready students draw from artworks in LACMA’s Latin American art collection

If you want to go in art or design, you have to have a portfolio. And, art school applications have specific requirements. Guest speakers representing university art and art school programs review the portfolios and provide critical feedback and an insider’s perspective. Some of the students are only high school sophomores or juniors, so college is a few years away, but they will certainly be ready for application time when it comes. Sometimes Wright hears back from former students seeking important letters of recommendation. Over the years he’s heard back from his Art School Ready graduates announcing acceptance letters to UC Santa Barbara, Yale, and Chicago Institute of Art.

Enroll today in Art School Ready—this summer’s session begins June 25.

Karen Satzman, Director of Youth and Family programs

What’s in a Verb?

June 4, 2012

The publicity around Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass got me thinking. Understandably, people sometimes mis-conjugate the verb, calling it “Levitating Mass”, which is sort of interesting, because the mass does appear to be in the midst of rising above the visitor as you pass under it. But the artist’s choice of past tense seems deliberate and pointed: the mass is, already, levitated. Accomplishing that was a major feat of engineering. Now the point is to experience it as such, and to contemplate the tension between those two words, one of which implies weighty noun-ness, the other, a continual act of weightless suspension.

Heizer’s monumental sculpture isn’t the only work of art at the museum titled with a deliberate choice of verb. In contrast to the past tense of Levitated Mass, here’s one that takes the form of simple present or even of a command: John Baldessari’s painting Heel.  

John Baldessari, Heel, 1986, Modern and Contemporary Art Council Fund, © John Baldessari

“Heel” could be a noun, of course: one describing not only a portion of one’s foot, but also (this usage was less familiar to me) a disreputable person, usually a man. But taken as a verb, it means either “to follow”, to tilt to one side (as in a ship) or, less commonly, to dance using the back of one’s foot.  The piece represents all possibilities equally.

To return to creative uses of the past tense, another good noun/verb title, and another work heavily involved with linguistics, is Barbara Kruger’s Untitled (Shafted).  

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Shafted), 2008, gift of Carole Bayer Sager, commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, © Barbara Kruger

To be shafted is to be cheated, swindled, or treated harshly, which one can assume, is part of her point, as one aspect of the piece is the critique of consumer culture and the forces that pressure us into craven commercial pursuits. (Shafted can also mean to push or propel with a pole.) The title is also, of course, a reference to a noun, the elevator shaft, where the piece is installed. But here, the surrounding cacophony of words suggests that the title may be, at least at the first level, a reference to a disempowered position, a state of having been violated in some way: we have been shafted.

I have another favorite use of an active verb, in a more traditional genre: Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British.  

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British, Bicentennial gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Schaaf, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker, and Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr.

The title sticks with me, I think because there is something engaging in the combination of the formality of “Mrs. Schuyler” and the very active destruction described further on that carries through in the picture itself. “Sally Burning Her Wheat Fields” would feel more unhinged. Mrs. Schuyler, hair and dress perfectly in place, is enacting a very deliberate act of violence, burning her own property, whilst maintaining her composure. The gesture she makes with her left hand underscores her assurance, as if she needs to emphasize her own agency! 

And speaking of mothers represented in a moment of dramatic action, take Tsukioka Yoshitoshi’s 1875 woodblock print Chiyokichi’s Mother Identifies Him and Solves a Case of Mistaken Identity.  

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Chiyokichi’s Mother Identifies Him and Solves a Case of Mistaken Identity, 1875, Herbert R. Cole Collection

Talk about active verbs. Here is an exercise in present tense. Often, we use present tense to tell a story, to add drama – and Yoshitoshi does that in visual terms, putting the action of the story right in front of us as if it’s unfolding right now. Clearly, Chiyokichi’s mom has taken command of the scene. “Chiyokichi’s Mother Identified Him and Solved a Case of Mistaken Identity” would make a sleepy story but here she is, in the very moment, as if we are there in the immediate tense, in a way that art is uniquely placed to accomplish.

Amy Heibel

This Weekend at LACMA: California Design and Robert Adams Close, Member Previews for Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol, and More

June 1, 2012

It’s a big weekend for openings and closings at LACMA. Two major exhibitions are in their final days—Sunday is your last chance to see California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way” and Robert Adams: The Place We Live.

Robert Adams, Longmont, Colorado, 1979, Yale University Art Gallery, purchased with a gift from Saundra B. Lane, a grant from Trellis Fund, and the Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

California Design
has been on view for eight months, and that means we’ve gotten a lot of great blog posts out of the show. Here’s a look back at some of our favorites:


Installation view, California Design, 1930–1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” October 1, 2011–June 3, 2012, photo © 2012 Museum Associates/LACMA

In conjunction with California Design’s closing weekend, we’ve got one last film series to go along with it. Grand Designs: Mid-Century Life in the Movies explores modern living through four terrific classics. Friday night it’s Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey in Desk Set followed by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in The Long Long Trailer. Saturday night starts with the rarely screened English version of Jacques Tati’s wonderful My Uncle, followed by the iconic James Dean in Rebel without a Cause.

LACMA members get an added treat this weekend: exclusive access to the new exhibition Sharon Lockhart | Noa Eshkol. Photographer/filmmaker Lockhart photographs and a five-channel film installation on the work of Israeli dance composer and textile artist Noa Eshkol, who developed a unique notation system for dance practice in the 1950s. The exhibition is open to members only on Saturday from 11am–4pm and all day Sunday. It opens to the general public starting Monday. Lockhart will be in conversation with curator and art historian Sabine Eckmann on Sunday afternoon—free and open to all.

Sharon Lockhart, production still from Five Dances and Nine Wall Carpets by Noa Eshkol (detail), 2011, five-channel film installation (35mm film transferred to hd, sound), © Sharon Lockhart, 2012

As with every weekend this summer we’ve also got free concerts every night. Friday it’s Jazz at LACMA with drummer and composer Alphonse Mouzon. Mouzon is a charter member of Weather Report and has also collaborated with titans of jazz like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Sonny Rollins, and more. On Saturday, San Francisco-based Grupo Falso Baiano brings traditional and modern Brazilian choro music to Latin Sounds. And the weekend concludes with UCLA Camarades performing pieces by Schoenberg and Korngold during LACMA’s Sundays Live chamber music series.

Scott Tennent

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