A Poem, on a Painting

July 31, 2013

When we launched our new collections website, we committed to building out the information that accompanies each work of art. Our goal is to offer the best contextual and interpretive information that we have available, and, over time, reveal the ongoing scholarship that happens here at the museum.

In addition, we want to use our website as a space for more creative interpretation of artworks. And in that spirit, educator Elizabeth Gerber thoughtfully proposed that we invite poet Karen Holden to compose a poem inspired by one of the paintings on view in our Modern Art galleries: Desert Moon, by Lee Krasner.


Desert Moon, Lee Krasner, 1955, M.2000.82

Karen, who has long contributed to education programs here at the museum, addressed the challenge with dedication and originality. (When I met with her to record the reading of the poem below, she was carrying a rigid file box, containing her neatly-stacked papers, her sharpened pencils, and a ruler. Be gone, stereotype of the unruly poet!) Karen talked through her process, both analytical and creative, of deep engagement with the painting. (She visited the museum every weekend for six weeks, to sit with the painting, and write.) Here’s what she said about the process:

HOLDEN: This is not necessarily a painting I would have chosen, as much as I admire Krasner, so it was great to have it assigned. It was a real challenge. The longer I spent with it, the more I saw it. Each time I visited I wondered: Why is it called Desert Moon? Every week, I looked and I wrote, and when it came time to compose the poem, I collaged it from all the responsive writing I had done, adding and stripping away over and over until the poem revealed itself. Just as Krasner had collaged Desert Moon by adding pieces torn from her old paintings to the canvas along with the paint.

I also did a lot of reading about Krasner, and the Abstract Expressionists. I was delighted to learn that Matisse, who I love, was a huge influence on her, especially his painting, The Red Room, which I reference in the poem. And I learned that Krasner would do a painting, and a title would come to her. It wouldn’t necessarily be descriptive or a literal fit.

The four paintings in the gallery that mean a lot to me are the Motherwell, the Rothko, the Krasner, and the Kline. I initially thought the poem might be a conversation between those four paintings, but that wasn’t quite right. Then I thought it might be a conversation between the artists. No, again. Finally I realized it was a quartet. It was about the paintings, and the artists, and Krasner and my response to them all.

The first section, Expectation, is about trying to understand the painting from the title. Conversation is about the painting, and Krasner, in relation to the other paintings in the gallery and artists in her life. Inspiration is about her process, her courage and her value to Abstract Expressionism. The final section, Revelation, was just that. Once I stopped trying so hard to ‘get’ the painting and let myself simply experience it, the last line of the poem arrived.  What a wonderful surprise!

And here is Karen’s poem:

Quartet for Desert Moon

     Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight.

– Orhan Pamuk

I. Expectation

Moon, where are you?

Hidden in one, two, three, stark trees
Filtering through a brutal desert sky, a spiky
Desert washed blood red, torn against sharp
Black stones, in the claret-stained night

No fuzzy thumbprint, no cool clear light

Just hard shards, the sharp shards of a cracked heart
Silence and the dulling absence of reflection
Barren desert of cactus, of stone, red sand, pink
Bloom and the moon, diminished

Where is the moon, desert?

Where is that sober, milky light?
Maybe it’s all moon, scraped and shaped by time
A terrain of absence, of waiting in the quiet
Missing moon, making what is present, alive

II. Conversation

Rothko’s red painting, titled “white”
Absent black, floating red, the canvas sighs

Not harmony, but balance
The bruised red of late apples, persimmon and rose

Voices in a hushed room volley
Across the Hoffman, the Motherwell, the Kline

The memory of Matisse’s red room, his own
Discourse with the moon seeping into everyone

III. Inspiration

Approach is everything
Tear the old to paper the new
It starts with red
And then the darkness follows

Finding something in nothing
Making something from nothing
Relationship is everything
In painting and in life

You taught them all
To be bold, not to lie, to stare
The image straight in the eye
Not to flinch in a fight

From outside to inside, the moon
Slides, lighting the studio, where
Your own hard rhythms rise
The red of blood, not fire, the black of night

IV. Revelation

You must get close, and wait
As close as the sky-hidden moon will allow
A stark red desert, night-folded trees
Invisible force of the wind, blunt light

Burnished, but not bright

Not the cool articulate moon, only moonlight
On serrated stones and what’s missing: morning
Horizon, plain, the rest flat crimson and black
Shooting upward out of the frame

Or simply: Paper. Canvas. Paint.

© 2013 Karen Holden


Amy Heibel

Shaping Power

July 29, 2013

On view now in LACMA’s newly minted African art gallery space, Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa showcases the artistic achievements of the Luba peoples. The traditional style of elegant and organic forms found in Luba artwork reflects the vibrant and robust history of one of the most influential kingdoms from Central Africa. In the video below, curator Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts provides an overview of the exhibition and all that can be learned in this impressive display. 

Roberto Ayala

This Weekend at LACMA: Blade Runner, Art + Film Lab Arrives in San Bernardino, Late Summer Hours, and More!

July 26, 2013

The City of Angels and its evolution are highlighted this weekend in the finale of Los Angeles Past, Present, and Future, the exhibition film series inspired by The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA. Get Out of the Car and Schindler’s Houses play back-to-back on Friday night at 7:30 pm; these two recent films show a modern city sorting out its obstinate history. Saturday, beginning at 5pm, see Miracle Mile and the panic that ensues when an unsuspecting Angeleno at Johnnie’s Coffee Shop receives an alarming phone call about the impending nuclear catastrophe heading to L.A. Then, at 7:30 pm, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi standard Blade Runner—The Director’s Cut offers a strange and frightening vision (perhaps because of its plausibility) of Los Angeles, 2019. Starring Harrison Ford, Blade Runner, with its un-aging special effects, is as dark as it is thought provoking—the type of film best experienced on the big screen.

The Art + Film Lab arrives in San Bernardino on Friday night. This mobile workshop offers free filmmaking lessons and free outdoor movie screenings on weekends from July 26 through August 25. In addition, the Art + Film Lab asks participants to share their personal stories and be a part of an oral history project, providing an opportunity for citizens from each city to preserve a part of their heritage in the museum’s collection. To kick-off five weeks of free programming, LACMA is throwing an Opening Night Celebration on Friday at 6 pm, complete with live music, food and drinks for purchase, and a screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. The San Bernardino Art + Film Lab is supported by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

LACMA 9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

LACMA 9 Art+Film Lab, photo by Duncan Cheng

Closer to home, visit the museum on Friday till 11 pm during Late Summer Hours. Residents of Los Angeles County receive free admission starting at 3 pm and can access galleries on the west side of campus late into the night (tickets and reservations required for James Turrell: A Retrospective). On Sunday, families are invited to participate in Andell Family Sundays and explore Hans Richter’s techniques beginning at 12:30 pm.

In our galleries, we debut Newsha Tavakolian in the Ahmanson Building and her photographic perspective on the changing role of women in Iran. Also, be sure to see the Japanese Painting: Okyo and His School in the bird and Flower TraditionAlia Syed: Eating GrassMasterpieces from the National Museum of Korea, and Unveiling Femininity in Indian Painting and Photography on their final days at LACMA.

Newsha Tavakolian
, Untitled from the series Listen, 2010, purchased with funds provided by the Farhang Foundation, Fine Arts Council and an anonymous donor

Newsha Tavakolian
, Untitled from the series Listen, 2010, purchased with funds provided by the Farhang Foundation, Fine Arts Council and an anonymous donor

Lastly, three excellent musical groups take center stage every evening this weekend at LACMA. First, on Friday at 6 pm at Jazz at LACMA, the Kahn Jazz and Blues Revue performs their signature L.A. jazz sound at the BP Grand Entrance. Next, on Saturday at 5 pm at Latin Sounds, the Lucky 7 showcase their take on classic mambo in Hancock Park. Lastly, on Sunday at 6 pm at Sundays Live, the iPalpiti Artists play movements from Beethoven and Bruckner in the Bing Theater. All concerts are free and open to the public.

Roberto Ayala

Exporting L.A. Art

July 25, 2013

Sunshine blazing, palm trees swaying, beaches teeming, automobiles gleaming: such are the snapshots most commonly attributed to Los Angeles iconography. Sure, those things are nice (although a few less gleaming automobiles would be even nicer), but the city boasts a cultural landscape far more substantial than beautiful scenery.  Case in point: there are so many LA artists and LA-originated exhibitions currently on view worldwide, we can hardly keep track. For starters, there’s James Turrell: the Pasadena born, Pomona-educated artist has three exhibitions on view around the country–here at LACMA, plus the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Guggenheim in New York.

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, Cross Corner Projection, LACMA, partial gift of Marc and Andrea Glimcher in honor of the appointment of Michael Govan as CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director and purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo © 2013 Museum Associates LACMA

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, Cross Corner Projection, LACMA, partial gift of Marc and Andrea Glimcher in honor of the appointment of Michael Govan as CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director and purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo © 2013 Museum Associates LACMA

LACMA alone has four exhibitions spanning several continents, including Asco: Elite of the Obscure, A Retrospective, 1972-1987 at the Museum Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) in Mexico City, which closes this Sunday, July 28; Art Across America, co-organized with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Terra Foundation for American Art, is on view at the Daejeon Museum of Art in Korea until September 1. After that it jet sets to the Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney where it opens on November 8 (under the new name of America: Painting a Nation)Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective is delighting New Yorkers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until September 22; and our neighbors down under are getting a dose of California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way at the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand until September 29 before it travels to Australia’s Queensland Art Gallery (QAGMOA) in November.

Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Photo Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Photo Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

LACMA’s traveling exhibitions are only a sample of LA’s presence in the art world at large.  Leaving its home in the SoCal summer breeze for Washington D.C., The Getty’s Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future, 1940-1990 opens at the National Building Museum on October 20.  Also on the East Coast, the Hammer Museum’s Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 is on display through December 1 at Williams College of Art and Design in Williamstown, MA.

David Hammons, America the Beautiful, 1968. Lithograph and body print. 39 x 29 1⁄2 in. (99.1 x 74.9 cm). Oakland Museum, Oakland Museum Founders Fund. Included in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980.

David Hammons, America the Beautiful, 1968, Oakland Museum, Oakland Museum Founders Fund. Included in Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980.

New York continues to play host to a number of LA-focused exhibitions, celebrating the cultural contributions of the West Coast.  State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, at the Bronx Museum through the beginning of September, brings together 150 works by 60 artists from throughout the Golden State in a presentation of film, photography, artists’ books, drawing, painting, and performance documentation.  If you find yourself on the glamorous Upper East Side of Manhattan between now and August 4, check out the Park Avenue Armory’s WS, a twisted take on classic American pop culture icons and values put together in typical fashion of LA-based artist Paul McCarthy.  Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is complemented by the first-ever presentation of Price’s drawings created over a period fifty years in  Ken Price: Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010 at The Drawing Center through August 18; from there, it travels to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY before heading to the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, NM. Over at the Whitney, Robert Irwin’s Scrim Veil–Black Rectangle–Natural Light is on view for the first time since 1977.

This past weekend Baja California saw a joint exhibition of LA-based artists (along with a handful of their New York-, Mexico City-, and Tijuana-centric counterparts) at the pop-up Art Baja Tijuana, located at the recently constructed minimal-modern Casa GS, designed by Tijuana architect Jorge Gracia.  Along with guided tours highlighting the city’s underground art and architecture scene, visitors took in a kinetic sound installation by Tyler Adams, digital paintings on aluminum by Petra Cortright, abstract paintings representing mathematical concepts (that’s enough to make our heads spin) by Katherine Davis, and a specially commissioned Friday evening musical performance by Timur along with Andrew Lessman on drums and Alex Noice on electric guitar.

Greetings from L.A.: A Novel, 1972, Allen Ruppersberg. Offset lithograph. Self-published book. 8 x 5 1/4 x 11/16 in. The Getty Research Institute, 90-B12310.c1. © Allen Ruppersberg

Greetings from L.A.: A Novel, 1972, Allen Ruppersberg. The Getty Research Institute, 90-B12310.c1. © Allen Ruppersberg

Over in Europe, Berliners got a snapshot of the late-twentieth century Los Angeles art scene when the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970 and Greetings from L.A., Artists and Publics, 1950-1990 made the trip to the Martin-Gropius-Bau.  Another show that with roots in Los Angeles, LLYN FOULKES—originally curated by the Hammer Museum—will continue from the New Museum in Manhattan to Museum Kurhaus in Kleve, Germany, where it will stay from the beginning of December to the start of March 2014.  Meanwhile, Tehran-born, LA-based painter Tala Madani takes on Stockholm at the Moderna Museet with Moment—Tala Madani, an exhibition showcasing her humorous depictions of men behaving badly.

Llyn Foulkes. The Corporate Kiss, 2001, the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, in honor of the San Jose  Museum of Art’s 35th Anniversary (2003.03)

Llyn Foulkes. The Corporate Kiss, 2001, the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, in honor of the San Jose Museum of Art’s 35th Anniversary (2003.03)

Sara Hupp and Stephanie Sykes, Communications

Artist Ryan Griffis on Becoming Movable

July 22, 2013

Under the moniker of Temporary Travel Office, artist Ryan Griffis engages touristic spaces in new ways; he has developed an emergency tourism kit for a city in Norway, and established an embassy for a watershed in Cleveland, among other projects. Recently, we invited him to create something for our website, inspired by a work of his choosing; Becoming Movable is his response to the Fireplace Surround from the Patrick J. King House in Chicago, which is on view in our American art galleries.


Louis Millet (of Healy and Millet), Fireplace Surround from the Patrick J. King House, Chicago, Illinois, 1901, gift of Max Palevsky and Jodie Evans in honor of the museum’s twenty-fifth anniversary

In researching the history of the fireplace, Griffis uncovered ephemera that contributed to our knowledge of its provenance. (A link to Becoming Movable is now part of the record for the fireplace mantle on our new collections website.)


Screen capture from Becoming Movable

Here is what Ryan had to say about the project:

How did you select the fireplace surround? Where did your investigation lead you?

Griffis: It stood out as an odd kind of object to me. The house (now known as the King-Nash House) that it was designed for is not far from me. The neighborhood, East Garfield Park, just west of downtown, has been devastated by economic and political abandonment that began before World War II. The house became an official city landmark close to the same time that the fireplace surround was acquired by LACMA. How did a fireplace from such a notable house in Chicago’s west side end up in a museum in Los Angeles?

There was no readily available answer to this question. I started by contacting some local architectural experts, combing through archives in the Public Library, and searching online. Eventually, this led me to the current owner of the house. It turns out, maybe unsurprisingly, that there were several fireplaces in the house and many other architectural details that all became “independent” objects around the same time. The house, during an extended period of abandonment, was essentially gutted of the details Maher is known for. Scrappers sold these objects to architectural salvage and antique dealers, who in turn sold them (for a much higher amount, one can assume) to collectors and institutions. Through this transaction, these objects became “movable property,” distinct from the “real property” of the King-Nash House and the land it sits on.


Screen capture from Becoming Movable

I became fascinated by a duality of property as both material and discourse. The documents that identify property out of otherwise undifferentiated things are also material things that take up space and have to be maintained, whether that space is occupied by file cabinets or computers. Our reality is tied to both and renders them inseparable in many ways.

In your online project, you point out that the fireplace surround, both as an object and as an image, has dimensions that are comparable to the 4:3 aspect ratio which would become the standard for the television industry in the 1930s. How did you arrive at this realization? 

Griffis: I happened on this realization while sketching out some initial ideas I was using the dimensions of the opening in the fireplace (based on the image on LACMA’s website) as a template for scaling other images and video. In doing so, it became apparent that the aspect ratio was extremely close to that for standard definition NTSC video. It’s not really that odd, considering that the 4:3 ratio (1.33:1) is close to classical proportions, the “golden section,” etc., but it did become a narrative link that usefully bridged a few different threads of my research. I was considering architecture as media, especially Maher’s aesthetics of rhythm, and thinking about this fireplace as a kind of portal through which I was experiencing otherwise unrelated histories.

You amassed a small archive for the fireplace surround. Are there any stories from your adventures researching it that you would like to share?

Griffis: The first thing I always appreciate when doing a project like this one is the generosity of people in sharing their experience and knowledge: in this case, Kathy Cummings (architectural historian and expert on Maher); Donald Aucutt (publisher of Geo. W. Maher Quarterly); Tim Samuelson (Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago); and Vernon W. Ford, Jr. (attorney and current owner of the house) were all especially helpful.

One unexpected thing that I came across in the special collections of the Harold Washington Library was a book about Fifth City, a smaller neighborhood within East Garfield Park. The name Fifth City originated with a utopian community development project that started in the early 1960s and lasted for about a decade, led by a Christian organization called the Ecumenical Institute, which is affiliated with the Institute for Cultural Affairs. It gained some recognition for its early success building of schools and making residential improvements, but seemed doomed in the face of continuing, and violent, racial and economic segregation. I’ve talked to people who have been in the city for a long time and have an interest in community organizing and radical movements, and they knew nothing about this history. Fifth City is only briefly mentioned in the project (through a couple of images from the book), as it’s a bit of a tangent, but it’s something I’m looking forward to researching and learning more about.

Becoming Movable is part of our ongoing Artists Respond series of web-based projects taking as a point of departure a work of art on view at LACMA. Find out more

Joel Ferree

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