Four Photographs, Four Trees, Four Ways of Seeing

November 7, 2013

The exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection presents 220 photographs from the Vernon Collection, one of the most important holdings of photography that spans the history of the medium. The presentation aims to identifying parallels between photography and vision science over time.

Since the invention of photography in the late 1830s, its materials and meanings have evolved in relation to theories about vision, perception, and cognition, which in turn reflect the social, political, and economic priorities of any given time and place. Todayas photographic images proliferate and find their way ever more directly into our consciousness—it seems not only possible but necessary to correlate developments in neuroscience with those in visual culture. This exhibition takes a historical perspective, identifying parallels between photography and vision science during four chronological periods.

We’ll look a grouping of four photographs of trees featured in the exhibition in order to trace the main themes presented. In this grouping, four approaches are considered: descriptive naturalism and subjective naturalism, and experimental modernism and romantic modernism. This gathering shows how standard genres—such as portraiture, still life, and landscape—could be depicted differently, depending on the artists’ priorities and choices.

Andrew Young, Plane at Aberdour. In Old Avenue., c. 1850, printed c. 1850, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Andrew Young, Plane at Aberdour. In Old Avenue., late 1870s, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

The earliest example was made in the 1870s and represents the aims of descriptive naturalism. The photographer (Andrew Young) has tried to show maximum detail and information, framing the tree directly in the center and including small figures for scale. At the same time, in the middle decades of the 19th century, physiological optics concentrated on the eye’s information-gathering capacities, understood through new mechanical devices for measuring and recording the optical system’s response to light.

Robert Demachy, Toucques Valley, 1906, printed 1906, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Robert Demachy, Toucques Valley, 1902, published in Camera Work, 1906, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of the Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © The Estate of Robert Demachy

As the turn of the 20th century approached, both photographers and scientists became more interested in the subjective aspects of perception. Robert Demachy, a French photographer, demonstrates the tendency in subjective naturalism to manipulate the image, either in the camera or on the surface of the print, to evoke a mood rather than simply describe a scene. Similarly in the scientific realm, a new field called experimental psychology emerged, suggesting the role of emotion in perception.

Harry Callahan, Tree, 1956, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © 2013 The Estate of Harry Callahan

Harry Callahan, Multiple Exposure Tree, 1949, printed later, The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin, © The Estate of Harry Callahan; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

With the 20th century came modernism and its revolutionary ideas. One form of modernism in photography, which emerged after World War I in Europe and America, was experimental modernism. This is evident in Harry Callahan’s work with multiple exposure—he is interested in seeing what happens when he moves the camera while the shutter is open. The image of a tree presents a graphic pattern of black lines on a white background, more than a representation of a specific tree in a specific landscape. It is nearly abstract, yet we do recognize it as a tree. This perceptual ability to make sense of minimal visual cues was of interest to the Gestalt psychologists who came to prominence during the period of experimental modernism.

Toward the middle of the 20th century, a more romantic form of modernism can be seen in photography, exemplified in the work of Ansel Adams, who believed strongly in the artist’s special vision while also advocating for technical mastery. In this photograph, Forest, Early Morning, Mt. Rainer National Park, Washington, Adams establishes a subtle range of tone, so as to convey a mood of hushed reverence for nature while also capturing each distinct leaf and texture. The issue of light-and-dark contrasts was of primary concern to both photographers and vision scientists at this time—not only must these contrasts be managed in a photographic print in order for the image to make sense, contrasts in the physical world allow us to locate objects and navigate in our environment.

Britt Salvesen, department head and curator, the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography

Now on View: A New Work by the Great Juan Correa

November 5, 2013

Just last week we acquired our first work by the great Juan Correa (1645–1716), considered along with Cristóbal de Villalpando (circa 1649–1714) to be one of the leading painters of Mexico in the late 17th century. Correa, the son of a famous Spanish surgeon and a freed black woman, was one of the few mulatto artists who achieved fame despite his racially mixed background. (The art of painting was generally considered the purview of white or Spanish masters.) His two mural-sized canvases for the sacristy of the Mexico City’s cathedral (1691–98), for example, are regarded as masterpieces of the Mexican baroque.

Juan Correa, Mexico, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés), c.irca 1670-–1690, oil on canvas, 160 × 107.95 × 2.54 cm. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, oil on canvas, 160 x 107.95 cm

Juan Correa, Mexico, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés), c. 1670–90, oil on canvas, 160 × 107.95 × 2.54 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Our painting depicts an angel standing in a golden cloud carrying a cypress, a symbol associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary. The work probably formed part of a lost altarpiece devoted to the Immaculate Conception. Stylistically, the picture is characteristic of Correa’s work from the period between 1670 and 1690 with its vibrant palette, elegant composition, and overall emphasis on decorative details (e.g., the diaphanous veils and cabochons of the angel’s attire).

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

The figure’s proportions, with prominent muscular white arms, are typical of Correa’s work, as are the finely detailed hands, with elongated fingers. Another element that is characteristic of Correa’s style is the impressionistic detailing of the cypress’s foliage, painted by pressing the tip of the brush against the canvas and then quickly dragging it down.

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

Correa was a master at creating subtle color gradations that provide a sense of iridescence and contribute to the overall mystical effect of the composition (seen here in the wings and the fabric of the angel’s boots).

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

Juan Correa, Angel Carrying a Cypress (Ángel portando un ciprés) (detail), c. 1670–90

Plans are in the works to analyze the painting with our conservators in order to determine the pigments and materials that the artists used, as well as the intricacy of his technique. Correa’s work represents a major keystone of our expanding collection of Spanish colonial art. The painting is now on view in our Latin American art galleries in the Art of the Americas Building.

Ilona Katzew, Curator and Department Head, Latin American Art

A Remarkable Gift in LACMA’s Modern Galleries

November 4, 2013

LACMA has just received the remarkable donation of Max Beckmann’s Bar, Brown (1944), a superb painting by one of the most prominent German painters of the 20th century. This masterful work comes from the most productive period in Beckmann’s career: 10 years spent in Amsterdam that must also be counted as among the most difficult and challenging years of his life. Beckmann had immigrated to Holland in 1937 immediately after Hitler’s speech against “degenerate” artists. Indeed he departed on the opening day of the Entartete Kunst (“Degenerate Art”) exhibition in which his work was vilified by the Nazis. By then there were some 30,000 Jewish and political refugees living or arriving in Amsterdam. His efforts to reach America thwarted, he remained in Amsterdam during the German occupation, departing for America only in 1947.

Max Beckmann in his studio.

Max Beckmann in his studio, © Max Beckmann Estate, photo courtesy private collection/Helga Fietz-Franke

As seen in a photograph of 1938, he was able to paint in his studio during this time and could even exhibit his work in London, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and various other cities throughout the United States, including Santa Barbara (thanks to the efforts of his friend and patron, the writer Stefan Lackner). Yet it was extremely difficult living in the impoverished conditions of occupied Holland. The situation was especially grim when this painting was done in 1944. The Dutch population was anticipating the liberation they had long hoped for now underway, but they also feared the casualties that might result should the battle move to Amsterdam. Bars and cafés provided release and entertainment and had become a frequent subject for Beckmann, what he called the “world theater” after Lackner’s suggestion. But by 1944 few bars were even open in a city where there were constant raids, deportations, changing curfew hours, and even confiscation of bicycles just as public transportation had ground to a halt for lack of fuel. Beckmann refers to having finished a painting called Bar Tivoli in a diary entry of August 8, 1944, and if this is that painting, the scene was probably at the bar at Reguliersbreestraat 26–28, an art-deco building of 1921 that contained the most luxurious cinema in Amsterdam, along with a cabaret and bar. The Tivoli name came from the German occupiers during WWII and provides a possible reason for renaming this location in the painting. The woman looking toward the viewer is certainly Beckmann’s wife, affectionately called Quappi. An aspiring opera singer when Beckmann met her, Mathilde von Kaulbach declined an offer from Dresden State Opera House, to marry Beckmann in 1925. Seated with her is Dr. Helmuth Lüthjens, with whose family the Beckmanns lived after the allied invasion of Holland in June by which time they had become entirely destitute. Representing the Amsterdam branch of Paul Cassirer’s venerable Berlin Gallery, Lüthjens had already brought most of Beckmann’s paintings into his house to protect them from possible confiscation. Many scholars suggest that the profile at the top of the painting may be Beckmann, who often appeared in his own paintings. The identity of the figures below remains mysterious. The brown tonalities are in striking contrast with other bar and restaurant scenes of this time, such as the brightly colored The Oyster Eaters of 1943, which also features Quappi.

Max Beckmann, Bar, Braun, 1944, gift of Robert Looker

Max Beckmann, Bar, Brown, 1944, © Max Beckmann Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn

Yet Beckmann’s broadly brushed paint strokes capture a bright artificial light perhaps originating from below the figures, which lends this striking painting an extraordinary emotional intensity. A certain lack of communication among the figures is typical of many of Beckmann’s bar scenes and may also suggest existential loneliness of the individual in the modern world, a frequent subject for Beckmann from the 1920s onward.

Beckmann’s ambiguous and elastic pictorial space is indebted to Paul Cézanne, whose art he had discovered while visiting Paris in 1903–4. In 1944, Beckmann, aged 60, was a robust painter at the top of his game, able to bring a mythic quality into his paintings that few other painters could match. Here he captured not only the entirely unique mood of Amsterdam at this time, but also something timeless, perhaps the human predicament in the modern world. Among the most directly engaging paintings of this period, Bar, Brown will be a destination painting in our modern galleries, where it now hangs between Beckmann’s bronze Adam and Eve (1936) and his Bridge and Wharf (1945). The painting is given in honor of the late Robert Looker, who served as a trustee from 1998 until his death in 2012 and was an especially astute collector of German Expressionism. The Lookers’ generosity has enriched LACMA and its collections broadly, with particular concentration in the Contemporary and the Costume and Textiles holdings.

Timothy O. Benson, Curator, Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies

This Weekend at LACMA: Two New Exhibitions, World Premiere of Restored “Rebel Without a Cause,” Free Concerts, and More!

November 1, 2013

LACMA will close at 3 pm on Saturday, November 2. Enjoy free general admission from 1 to 3 pm (excludes James Turrell: A Retrospective). Underground parking on Sixth Street will also be closed all day on November 2. Please park in LACMA’s lot located at Spaulding Avenue at Wilshire Boulevard.

Two exciting exhibitions open this Sunday in our galleries: David Hockney: Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, 2011 and Agnès Varda in Californialand. The former displays the work of one the most innovative artists from our time. Hockney took 18 cameras and recorded drives through Yorkshire’s landscape, resulting in a multi-screen grid with multiple perspectives and narratives. The latter is the first U.S. museum presentation of the “godmother of the French New Wave” and includes a new major installation and photographs. Beyond the two new shows, make sure to see See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, which opened only last week and presents a panoramic view of the history of photography. What’s more, we can’t recommend enough the vibrant Under the Mexican Sky: Gabriel Figueroa—Art and Film and the small but powerful Newsha Tavakolian. For a complete listing of everything on view see our list of featured exhibitions and installations.

David Hockney, May 12th 2011 Rudston to Kilham Road 5pm, © David Hockney

David Hockney, May 12th 2011 Rudston to Kilham Road 5pm from Seven Yorkshire Landscape Videos, 2011, courtesy of the artist, © David Hockney

And on our silver screen, a very special presentation of Rebel Without a Cause will take place Friday at 7:30 pm. The story of a rebellious adolescent dealing with bullies in a new town has become legendary due in part to the acting of James Dean, the star of the movie. Tonight’s event features an introduction from a special guest and is the international premier of the 1955 classic which has been recently restored and enhanced to project in 4K digital format. Additional tickets have been released but are in short supply, get yours now.

Finally, take a beat from the hustle and bustle and enjoy free, live music. On Friday Jazz at LACMA presents the Greg Porée Group, lead by the well-known leader whose previous work includes collaborations with Sonny & Cher, Diana Ross, and Gladys Knight. At Sundays Live, violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Eric Le Van come together on stage for a performance that will channel their combined years professional orchestral and studio work. Both concerts are open to the public. By the way, if you’re visiting with your family, stop by this week’s installment of Andell Family Sundays where children and their parents can bring to life animals found in Japanese art in this free artist-led workshop.

Roberto Ayala

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