Wu Wei: Independent Thinker (and Drinker) of the Ming Court

April 29, 2013

Wu Wei (1459–1509) is featured in Ming Masterpieces from the Shanghai Museum at LACMA by the hanging scroll titled Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley.  Like virtually all of Wu Wei’s paintings, it is undated, but is a fine example of the style of Wu Wei, as the painting combines landscape and portraiture—two areas of painting in which he excelled.

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley, fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley, fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Wu Wei was a professional painter who worked both in and out of the Imperial Court. In fact, he worked at the Imperial Court several times for several Emperors of the Ming Dynasty, having at times withdrawn voluntarily and at times being handed the pink slip by bureaucrats who disliked Wu because of his disdain for “important people.” This may have been due to his background, having come from a literati family that fell on hard times during his childhood. This caused his training to abruptly stop. However, he was a lucky man who attracted the patronage of a wealthy duke in Nanjing that launched his career as a professional painter.

Wu also had a difficult time adapting to the highly regimented life of the Court. He was a heavy drinker and often showed its effects in rude and unseemly behavior.  In fact, it is thought that his drinking led to his fairly early death, just as he was about to embark on yet another summons by the Court. However, when he was at his best as a painter, he was very good indeed. The Emperor Xiaozong (the Hongzhi Emperor) gave Wu a seal that read “First Among Painters” (hua zhuangyuan). Now that’s a Good Housekeeping seal of approval!

Wu painted both landscapes and figures. Some of his figure paintings depict a meticulousness and exactitude that show off his fine technique. In others, he painted with a “wild brush,” using sweeping and zigzagging strokes in varying pressures to create a highly dynamic quality. In landscapes, he generally favors the dramatic, employing bold brushwork to reflect mountainsides and flora.

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley (detail), fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

Wu Wei, Playing the Zither in a Pine Valley (detail), fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, Shanghai Museum

The Wu Wei in LACMA’s exhibition is a good example of much of his painting style. The landscape around the figure is full of aggressive brushwork that does not depict the rockery and trees as much as it evokes their craggy, gnarled, and wild attributes. On the other hand, the figures are really a blend of his meticulous and delicate style in the rendering of the features and a hint of his more aggressive style in the drapery of the garments. These painting styles were to have a profound influence on many other painters in the early and mid-Ming period (the so-calling Jiangxia school), and equally but later led to criticism by luminaries like Dong Qichang in the late Ming, who criticized his paintings for their lack of delicacy and restraint. Thus the very practices that made Wu Wei famous in his own day were the reasons why the late Ming scholars (and virtually all that followed them up to the twentieth century) castigated his paintings.  Only in the last few decades has our bias in favor of literati styles of Chinese painting made room for Wu Wei, other professionals, and Court painters of the early Ming in the pantheon of respected Chinese painters.

Franklin Tom, East Asian Art Council member

A Collaborative Venture: The Conservation of Morlete’s Ports of France

April 25, 2013

In 2007 we acquired a remarkable group of six paintings by the Mexican painter Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz (1713–1772). This group of works, on view now in our Latin American galleries, is based on engravings after Les Ports de France, an original series of fifteen paintings completed between 1753 and 1765 by the eighteenth-century French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789). Commissioned for Louis XV of France (r. 1723–74) by Abel-François Poisson, marquis de Marigny and brother of Madame de Pompadour, Vernet’s series enjoyed immediate success and was widely disseminated through prints.

Over the past two years the museum’s departments of Latin American Art and Paintings Conservation closely collaborated in studying and restoring Morlete’s paintings. The result is quite mesmerizing. When we acquired the works they were covered with a yellow varnish layer that obscured the contrast and tonality of the original colors and flattened the perspective. Once removed, the illusion of space and depth returned, revealing the work of a thoughtful and highly skilled artist. Careful technical examination also yielded much information about the artist’s technique and use of pigments. This video, narrated by actor Julian Sands, documents the fascinating process of conserving Morlete’s pictures.

Ilona Katzew, curator and department head, Latin American Art

Joseph Fronek, senior conservator and head, Paintings Conservation

Stephen Prina Stumbles Across Inspiration on La Brea Avenue

April 24, 2013

In the video below, artist Stephen Prina talks about stumbling across a bright pink furniture unit by architect A.M. Schindler in a shop window in Los Angeles, a memory that serves as the jumping-off point for Prina’s new installation Stephen Prina: As He Remembered It, on view through August 4th.

Henri Matisse: La Gerbe

April 22, 2013

Now on view at LACMA is Henri Matisse: La Gerbea new exhibition that examines in depth the artist’s final commission, in 1953. The artwork has been permanently on view at LACMA since 2010, but the new exhibition provides context by showing Matisse’s early maquette (on loan from the Hammer Museum) and other works created around the same time, including Madame de Pompadour (1951) and a complete set of his Jazz portfolio (1947). At the time of La Gerbe‘s installation at LACMA in 2010, senior curator and department head of modern art, Stephanie Barron, told the story of how the artwork came to LACMA. In honor of the new exhibition, we re-print that blog post below.

Today [September 23, 2010] is the long-awaited final installation of Henri Matisse’s large-scale ceramic La Gerbe (The Sheaf) (1953), commissioned by Los Angeles patrons Sidney and Frances Brody from the artist in the early 1950s.  The Brodys’ extraordinary collection of modern art, including works by Picasso, Braque, Giacometti, Calder, and Moore, graced their elegant home designed by A. Quincy Jones in the early 1950s.  Intended to occupy a prime position in their new home, the Matisse ceramic became, as Frances Brody would describe it, “the heart of our home.”

La Gerbe installed in Brody residence. Photo courtesy the archives of Frances L. Brody, now at LACMA.

The journey to today has been a long one.  I remember discussing the possibility of this gift to LACMA in 1986 when she indicated that she would be willing to promise it to the museum in honor of our 25th anniversary.  At the time she shared with me the fascinating story of the commission, showed me correspondence about the acquisition, and regaled me with amazing details about meeting Matisse.

In 1952 the Brodys approached Matisse, who at the time was creating colorful paper cut-outs, with the idea of the commission. Matisse expressed interest and worked on several proposals even before knowing the exact size of the wall.  He showed the Brodys a full-scale paper cut-out when they visited him in Cimiez (Nice, France) in May of 1952. They rejected this first design (that cut-out is today in the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; a ceramic version, Apollo, is in the Toledo Museum of Art),  but accepted a subsequent proposal.

Henri Matisse, Apollo, 1953, ceramic tile and plaster, courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art, gift of Edward Drummond Libbey

The Brodys also acquired the full-scale maquette of La Gerbe, which they subsequently donated to UCLA.  The final ceramic, created in fifteen sections, was shipped to L.A. shortly after the artist died in November 1954.

Sadly, in November 2009, Frances passed away at age 93.  As promised, she left the Matisse to LACMA in her will.  She was a remarkable figure in Los Angeles’ history, whose grace, style, erudition, and opinions were truly legendary.

Frances L. Brody

In January we began the adventure of deinstalling this 2,000-pound ceramic wall, which had remained in its original position for more than half a century.  It was, to say the least, a delicate and difficult procedure.  Thanks to the ingenuity of our team, we were able to literally detach the mural from the wall in one piece (it was bolted to the wall) and crane it out over the house and trees to an awaiting flatbed truck.  Watching the Matisse hovering in the air high above the trees was one of the most heart-stopping moments I have ever had as a curator.

La Gerbe in process of being deinstalled from Brody residence

La Gerbe in process of being deinstalled from Brody residence

Safely ensconced in a secure a-frame, the ceramic eventually made its way to the museum. After close examination by our conservation department, the decision was made to do a light surface cleaning and prepare the ceramic for permanent installation in the museum.  A prominent wall in the lobby of the Ahmanson Building was selected as the appropriate permanent location for this monumental Matisse.  The ceramic was carefully rigged, gently positioned on the wall, and attached to a steel structure; a wall was then built around the work.

La Gerbe during installation at LACMA

Frances Brody, cognizant of the commission’s significance, wrote a fascinating account of the commission, which I think best describes the transaction.

La Gerbe installed at LACMA

Stephanie Barron, Senior Curator and Department Head, Modern Art

This Weekend at LACMA: Jazz, Matisse Exhibition Opens, The Clock 24-hour Screening, Earth Day, and More

April 19, 2013

The weekend officially begins with the 2013 season opener of Jazz at LACMA, featuring nine-time Grammy Award-winner Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval is a trumpet master and a protégé of jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie. His dynamic and vivacious style will set the tone for the rest of the weekend–just listen to one of his tracks, Salt Peanuts! (a Gillespie cover), that unpredictably weaves Latin and Swing.

Later in the evening L.A.-based artist Liz Glynn continues her site-specific performance project, [de]-lusions of Grandeur,  in response to monumental sculptures in LACMA’s collection. Tonight she will consider the process of creating, moving, and erecting large-scale sculptures, specifically responding to Alexander Calder’s legacy of kinetic sculptural form through a ballet “mechanik.” The free performance, titled “The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time,” starts at 7:30 pm in the Bing Theater.

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn's "The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time"

Rehearsals for Liz Glynn’s “The Myth of Getting It Right the First Time”

The fun continues Saturday with a special 24-hour screening of Christian Marclay’s The Clock. Beginning at noon and lasting until noon on Sunday, The Clock is a single-channel montage constructed from thousands of moments in cinema and television history depicting the passage of time. The sampled clips come from all genres, time periods, and cultures. The result, a melding of video and reality, unfolds with a seemingly endless cast of cameos. Considered a masterpiece by many, The Clock is enthralling and not to be missed!

This will be the final showing of The Clock by Christian Marclay in the Bing Theater. We are pleased to announce that in the future, The Clock will be shown in the galleries in a space created for the ideal viewing of this artwork.

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Christian Marclay, still from The Clock, 2010, gift of the 2011 Collectors Committee, © Christian Marclay, photo courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

As you find yourself mesmerized by The Clock and begin to yen for sustenance, Patina Restaurant Group will be there to offer a bevy of snack and meal options for all you night owls. The main attraction, RED—A Pop-Up Dinner: Midnight Breakfast, will include a timely four-course meal from executive chef Jason Fullilove. The menu includes house cured gravlax, griddle cakes, smoked pork belly, and chocolate banana french toast. Make reservations for the midnight breakfast and view the full menu on the event page. On top of all that, check out even more Clock-related programming from our neighbors at For Your Art.

On Sunday, LACMA celebrates Earth Day with a full day of programs and activities for children and adults alike. Artist-led workshops, tours of the collection, a nature-inspired poetry workshop, sketching, a musical jam session, and guided walkthroughs of our botanical beauties all will make the LACMA campus teem with a sense of exploration, wonder, and admiration for the planet. In addition to all these events (free with admission to the museum), you can also receive free general admission to the galleries by biking (present your bike helmet) or taking public transportation to LACMA (present your bus pass). View the full schedule here.

A weekend at LACMA would not be complete with taking in art from one of the greats–in this case, Henri Matisse. Our newest exhibition, Henri Matisse: La Gerbe, features his famous large ceramic, La Gerbe (The Sheaf), and places it in context with paper cut-outs he made toward the end of his career. This exhibition will also include the original maquette, on loan from the Hammer Museum, as well as his print portfolio Jazz and other works. This is the first time both maquette and ceramic have been exhibited together.

Henri Matisse, La Gerbe, 1953, installed in the Brody residence, gift of Frances L. Brody in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary, © 2013 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY, photo courtesy of the archives of Frances L. Brody

Henri Matisse, La Gerbe, 1953, installed in the Brody residence, gift of Frances L. Brody in honor of the museum’s 25th anniversary, © 2013 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY, photo courtesy of the archives of Frances L. Brody

Lastly, the weekend ends with Sundays Live and a performance from Emerging Artists from the Young Musicians Foundation in the Bing Theater at 6 pm. If you can’t make the show, you can stream Sundays Live straight from your computer.

Roberto Ayala

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