Calder’s “Hello Girls”: History of a Commission

December 31, 2013

On March 31, 1965, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) opened its doors in a new complex with several large outdoor sculptures, among which was Calder’s monumental Three Quintains (Hello Girls). In 1962 LACMA’s Art Museum Council (AMC) had organized a “fountain committee” to acquire for the museum a significant sculpture for the new Hancock Park location. The AMC (founded in 1952) was LACMA’s first volunteer-support group dedicated to the full range of museum endeavors, including acquisitions. The fountain-committee members researched countless artists before offering Calder the commission (the museum also conferred with sculptor Isamu Noguchi). Calder agreed in June 1964, writing to AMC president Laurelle Burton, “I am, indeed, very much interested in designing you a fountain.” Burton announced the approved commission in a letter to the council: “To have a man of Alexander Calder’s prominence be the first to design a sculpture specifically for the new museum would set the standards for future efforts, on the part of the artists and donors.”

Alexander Calder, Three Quintains (Hello Girls) (pictured in its current location), 1964, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Museum Council Fund

Alexander Calder, Three Quintains (Hello Girls), 1964, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Art Museum, Council Fund, © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

Calder visited the site and consulted with the architects, designers, and museum officials through fall of 1964. The mobiles then were made in Connecticut at the Waterbury Iron Works, one of three iron fabricators he regularly used. They sent mobiles to Los Angeles after Thanksgiving, and Calder revisited the site in mid-December to indicate the mobiles’ placements and oversee their installation. Additionally, at the AMC’s request, Calder designed a poster commemorating the museum’s opening.

Alexander Calder and ironworker Chippy Ieronimo overseeing the installation of Three Quintains (Hello Girls), 1964, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA, photographic archives

Alexander Calder and ironworker Chippy Ieronimo overseeing the installation of Three Quintains (Hello Girls), 1964, © 2013 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, photo © 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA, photographic archives

This poster, <em>Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 1, 1965</em>, was created by Alexander Calder on the occasion of the 1965 opening of the museum.

This poster, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 1, 1965, was created by Alexander Calder on the occasion of the 1965 opening of the museum. Available at the LACMA Store.

As the photographs of the completed work demonstrate, Three Quintains (Hello Girls) is an exuberant fountain, with simple geometric mobile forms floating in the air with four water jets impelling them. The work heralded a new era for Los Angeles as the city grew in population, geography, and cultural sophistication, and marked only the second large public Calder sculpture to be installed in California—and the first on the West Coast to be specially commissioned for its site. The sculpture would become one of very few fountain sculptures that Calder realized during his long career. Three Quintains (Hello Girls) is permanently on view in LACMA’s Director’s Roundtable Garden, on the east side of campus. Its commissioner, the AMC, has provided invaluable support for Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic.

Ilene Susan Fort, Senior Curator and the Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art


Tips for Visiting James Turrell: A Retrospective (Part Three)

December 30, 2013

This fall we shared thoughts from college students who spent the summer conversing with visitors to James Turrell: A Retrospective. (Read part one here, and part two here.) Here is the final part of their conversation:

What tips do you have to offer people who haven’t yet visited James Turrell: A Retrospective at LACMA?

Jackeline Acosta (recent graduate, UCLA): It is a very popular show, and it may be slightly overwhelming. But I urge anyone who hasn’t visited yet to do so, because the works are striking and beautiful.

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, LED light into space, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, M.2013.1, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

James Turrell, Breathing Light, 2013, LED light into space, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Kayne Griffin Corcoran and the Kayne Foundation, M.2013.1, © James Turrell, Photo © Florian Holzherr

Kristen Laciste (senior, UCLA): I would advise visitors to take their time and not rush through the exhibition, to ask any questions about the works they are viewing, and to stay in line and wait to see the remarkable Ganzfeld (an installation designed to eliminate the viewer’s depth perception), Breathing Light.

Jackeline: Patience is key. From the various conversations I was lucky enough to have with exhibition visitors, I found that they all appreciated how the artworks allowed them to slow down and take, for example, those eight to 10 minutes inside the Ganzfeld to really make an experience of it. After all, James Turrell wants viewers to genuinely draw observations from the art and take time to contemplate light and all its possibilities. If you do, the experience you will have at this exhibition will truly be fantastic.

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

Marissa Clifford (senior, UCLA): Yes, I would encourage those who haven’t visited the retrospective to hurry to LACMA to catch it, and I would encourage those who have already done so to visit again. Multiple viewings simply reveal new aspects of the work as readily as Light Reignfall (Turrell’s Perceptual Cell installation at the Resnick Pavilion) changes color.

Aida Lugo (recent graduate, Otis College of Art and Design): To those who have yet to see the exhibit I would recommend doing some research, spending some time in nature, and meditating. The exhibition requires a clear mind, a fresh perspective, and a release of expectations. Turrell does a magnificent job illuminating the overlooked and everyday miracles of light, perception and space, leaving us virtually alone to explore the magic of sight, thought, and reflection. We live on a planet with a complicated observation system in us to analyze the sky, nature, ourselves, and each other. Turrell: A Retrospective is like the Olympics of perception.

Jackeline: The benefits of visiting this exhibit when you really have the time to sit down and look at each piece and contemplate, for example, the tiniest color shifts in lights that occur throughout the exhibit, are wonderful.

Elizabeth Gerber, Education and Public Programs


This Weekend at LACMA: Extended Holiday Hours, Tours of the Collection, and More!

December 27, 2013

Say goodbye to 2013 this final weekend of the year at LACMA. On Friday and Saturday take advantage of extended holiday hours as the west side of campus (Broad Contemporary Art Museum and the Resnick Pavilion) stays open late until 10 pm. That means more time to see favorites like James Turrell: A Retrospective and Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic (both require special tickets) and others you may have not gotten around to yet, like Agnès Varda in Californialand and David Hockney: Seven Yorkshire Landscapes Videos, 2011. Keep in mind, on Fridays L.A. County residents receive free general admission after 3 pm.

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, c. 1850, printed c. 1850, the Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, gift of The Annenberg Foundation, acquired from Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin

Throughout the weekend guests are invited to free, docent-lead tours of our permanent collection and select exhibitions. Friday at 1 pm, take a stroll in the sculpture garden to learn about French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his works and, later at 3 pm, tour the American art galleries, one of LACMA’s strongest collections. On Saturday at noon take a 50-minute tour of the exhibition See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, featuring photos from the inception of the medium and highlighting hundreds of works from hundreds of artists. Lastly, Sunday offers even more tours, with focused 20 minute tours of urban landscapes at 1:30 pm and an overview of the lush Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks from the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Here’s to a great new year.

Roberto Ayala


Design Inspiration

December 26, 2013

Think about it: where do you find your inspiration?

If you’ve ever participated in an art class at LACMA, you know that spending time in the galleries before retreating to the studio is par for the course. Students of all ages at LACMA spend quality time looking at works from the permanent collection or temporary exhibitions to inspire their own studio projects, develop ideas, and spark creativity. They examine the thousands of ways that artists before them have used color and materials, solved problems, and conveyed a message, just as artists and designers have always looked to examples from the past.

Earlier this month, we highlighted Closet to Collection, the first of three videos we created with middle-school students from Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH) and curators from LACMA’s department of costume and textiles. We hope the videos, made possible by a generous grant from the John B. and Nelly Llanos Kilroy Foundation, will help reveal LACMA’s extensive costume and textiles collection to a wider audience.

The second video in this three-part series explores the idea of inspiration. The same students who participated in our Closet to Collection experiment visited the galleries to investigate costumes by Rodarte and textile designs by Elza Sunderland, as we set out to understand what inspires artists working in the world of textiles.

Students discuss the Rodarte gowns, making connections to the adjacent Italian Renaissance paintings.

Students discuss the Rodarte gowns, making connections to the adjacent Italian Renaissance paintings.

The video’s footage was shot last year, when the students visited an installation of gowns designed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the two sisters that make up Rodarte. On a recent trip to Italy, the sisters had encountered art that they had only seen before in books, and were struck by the vibrant but chalky colors in the frescoes that Fra Angelico, a monk who was also an artist, painted on the walls of San Marco, a complex of monasteries in Florence. This experience prompted the sisters to design the Fra Angelico collection, a set of gowns that capture the color palette of the Renaissance period and the drape and flow of the fabric depicted in the paintings.

The dresses were appropriately hung in the Italian Renaissance galleries, on the third floor of the Ahmanson Building, alongside artwork from the period that had inspired them. When the SMASH students met with costume and textiles department curator Sharon Takeda, they were able to compare the paintings and gowns for themselves, and see the Rodarte sisters’ direct source of inspiration. This self-constructed discovery was akin to a playful match-up game supporting hands-on learning.

Takeda also revealed the inspiration for the way the gowns were installed in the gallery: the composition of an Italian painting, Christ on the Cross with Saints Vincent Ferrer, John the Baptist, Mark and Antoninus. In the painting, a group clusters around a central figure, just as in the gallery, a group of dresses surrounded a single dress—a painter from 500 years ago inspiring fashion houses and museum installations today!

Master of the Fiesole Epiphany, Christ on the Cross with Saints Vincent Ferrer, John the Baptist, Mark and Antoninus, c. 1491–95, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

Master of the Fiesole Epiphany, Christ on the Cross with Saints Vincent Ferrer, John the Baptist, Mark and Antoninus, c. 1491–95, gift of the Ahmanson Foundation

The SMASH students also looked to textile designer Elza Sunderland to discover her muse. Curator Kaye Spilker explained that Sunderland was inspired by the climate in California and her childhood in New York, where as a young girl she would visit museums with her mother. Those museum visits stuck with her: the colors and geometry as seen in her textile design “Pampas—Inca” indicates that she most likely had an impressionable visit to New York’s American Museum of Natural History! Other patterns show her interest in cubism, animals, flowers, and even Sunset Boulevard. Sunderland turned nearly everything she saw or experienced into a whimsical pattern, as evidenced by her prolific career, in which she churned out thousands of textile designs.

Elza Sunderland, Pampas—Inca, 1948, © Henry Sunderland

Elza Sunderland, Pampas—Inca, 1948, © Henry Sunderland

Man's Tunic (Uncu) with Tocapu and Stylized Jaguar Pelt Design (double-sided), Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, mid- to late 16th century, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology, New York, © American Museum of Natural History Library, New York

Man’s Tunic (Uncu) with Tocapu and Stylized Jaguar Pelt Design (double-sided), Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, mid- to late 16th century, American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology, New York, © American Museum of Natural History Library, New York

Elza Sunderland, Textile Design, 'Sunset Boulevard' from 'Hollywood' Series, 1946, Elza Sunderland Textile Design Collections

Elza Sunderland, Textile Design, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ from ‘Hollywood’ Series, 1946, Elza Sunderland Textile Design Collections, © Henry Sunderland

Design Inspiration documents this encounter between students and these inspiring—and inspired—artists, and encourages kids, teachers, and families to reflect on their muses.

Stay tuned for our post about the third video in this series, in which the SMASH and other students focus on the idea of collaborative art making.

Karen Satzman, Director, Youth and Family Programs


Winter Wool and Moths: Repairing a Museum-Grade Textile

December 25, 2013

Have you ever pulled your favorite wool coat out of the closet, only to find that some hungry moths had been busily at work during the summer? Given that today is Christmas, and surely the weather is chilly (in other parts of the country, at least), you may have encountered this problem as you’re searching for warm sweaters. And believe it or not, many of the woolen textile objects in LACMA’s collection have suffered the same fate at some point in their history. In fact, there is one such object currently residing in the textile conservation lab: a bright-red military uniform coat from England.

England, Man’s Military Uniform Coat, 1799–1800, purchased with funds provided by Michael and Ellen Michelson

England, Man’s Military Uniform Coat, 1799–1800, purchased with funds provided by Michael and Ellen Michelson

This handsome coat has suffered insect damage in the form of scattered holes and grazing.

damage diagram

Above: Moth larvae damage woolen objects via two main modes of action: 1) by “grazing” across the fluffy top layer of fibers (which often results in a color shift when the underlying fabric is exposed), 2), by concentrating in a single location, which results in a hole as they chew down through the entire depth of the fabric. As the larvae eat, they extrude a casing, which often can be found stuck to the textile near damaged areas.

As a textile conservator, it is my job to stabilize these areas of damage structurally, while also visually compensating for the losses. Recently, the fiber-arts technique of needle felting has been adapted into the conservator’s repertoire, as a way to achieve both of these objectives simultaneously.

tools
Above: The working set up: to the left are coils of wool roving, which are unspun wool fibers that have been dyed red. By blending the two shades of red, an exact match to the coat can be found. On the right are samples of red wool fabric. This is the substrate onto which the wool plug is felted: the fabric is attached on the inside of the coat and holds the fill in place while simultaneously providing support by spanning the damaged areas. In front is a block of gray foam: this is the working surface onto which the felting is performed using barbed needles, below (two can be seen stuck into the foam block).

needles

Close-up view of the barbed needles—along the tips you can see a series of small upward- facing notches: these grab the fibers and facilitate felting as the needles are moved up and down.

Using sharp, barbed needles and wool roving (unspun wool fibers) in the same red as the jacket, I was able to create small felted woolen plugs, each one tailored to fit the exact shape of every hole.

The video above shows felting in action. By repeatedly piercing the fibers with a barbed needle, they enmesh and become entangled, eventually forming a dense felt. The felting is performed onto a fabric substrate, which supports the plug and provides structural support when attached to the inside of the garment. By trimming along the top surface of each plug with a pair of small scissors, any loose fibers are leveled off, allowing the texture of the plug to more closely mimic the dense texture of the fulled wool.

This technique offers many advantages. For one, the fills are reversible and can be easily removed (this is an important tenet of conservation, and allows one to distinguish between the original materials and the work of the conservator). For another, it allows structural support and visual compensation to be achieved at the same time. Needle felting is both satisfying and successful: by imitating the color, texture, and depth of the surrounding fabric, the hole becomes essentially invisible to the naked eye.

hole
underlay
plug
Above, top to bottom: 1) an area of loss; 2) visual compensation using a similarly colored fabric underlay—note the depth of the hole is still visible; 3) the same area of loss filled with a felted plug—note that the plug is able to match the color, depth, and texture of the loss to blend almost invisibly into the surrounding fabric.

You will be able to see the finished product in person when this jacket goes on display for an exciting exhibition about men’s fashion!

felting

Above: Here I am, maneuvering the fiber fill into position. One hole down, just a few more to go!

Anne Getts, Mellon Fellow, Textiles Conservation Center


On View at the Stark Bar: Brian Bress’s “Idiom (Brian, Raffi, Britt)”

December 24, 2013

LACMA’s Rita Gonzalez and Erin Wright recently invited artist Brian Bress to show his work at LACMA’s Stark Bar, which features a rotating program of video and time-based media. The piece, titled Idiom (Brian, Raffi, Britt), is a high-definition three-channel video. Three different “characters” are depicted, which show Bress’s interest in the ambiguous zone between figurative representation and abstraction. The characters fill the screen, slowly emerging and revealing themselves to the viewer.

L.2013.45

Installation image of Brian Bress’s Idiom (Brian, Raffi, Britt) at the Stark Bar at LACMA

Bress plays against the expectations of moving-image work by offering his inventive portraits on flat- screen monitors encased in frames. The slow-motion actions on the screen make his work appear as conventional photographs, or even paintings. Through the use of masks and costumes, Bress’s images depict one or more figures in the abstract. They have been described as inventive, humorous, and “discomfortingly complex.”

Erin Wright and Rita Gonzalez: Let’s start by talking about your studio. You work in a dense, active space in which you’re surrounded by an emporium of the costumes, sculptures, and props that have populated your work over the past almost 10 years of your practice. How has that workspace influenced the choices you’ve made in your videos and installations?

Artist Brian Bress creating Idiom in his studio.

Artist Brian Bress creating Idiom in his studio.

Brian Bress: I’m wrapping up four years in my current studio, and I’m about to move into a larger one, so the idea of how the space I work in changes the work I make has been on my mind. In my current studio, I’ve been mostly restricted to small sets that can contain the upper body of a costumed performer— though like many constraints that artists face, it’s turned out to be a helpful one, as it’s forced me to consider and focus on portraiture and smaller, more intimate performances.

BB1
And keeping the props and costumes around the studio is a way of having a sort of physical timeline of past works sitting on the shelves as a reminder of how things have evolved. That timeline is simultaneously a challenge to try different things and a reminder of solutions and ideas that might be worthy of further exploration.

Wright and Gonzalez: Has knowing that your work would be in such a publicly accessible space had an impact on your approach for this commissioned project?

Bress: The type of broad access that a piece gets in the Stark Bar is different from the type of access it would get only a few feet away inside the walls of the museum. But knowing that the work would be in such a publicly accessible space didn’t change the kind of work I was going to make. There are physical qualities of the space that I took into consideration, however.

BB3

Wright and Gonzalez: How did the idea for Idiom evolve as you went through various scenarios for using the three monitors in the Stark Bar?

Bress: As ideas for the work developed, I began to think about the advantages the three monitors in the bar/cafe setting offered. Initially, I wanted to make a very different triptych that used masks based on collages, with performers wearing the masks while acting out synchronized movements. But the masks for that piece were all a monochromatic grey, and I was afraid the subtlety of the forms and qualities of the masks might be lost in the given context. And the more I noticed the far distance from which you could see the monitors, the more I considered a more graphic approach to the image. I decided I wanted to work with broad shapes that were readable from afar and that revealed the method of their construction not only through the time a viewer spent looking at them, but through the space leading up to the bar as the viewer came closer to the monitors.

Wright and Gonzalez: You mentioned that your recent residency in Rome [at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Roma (MARCO), in the spring of 2013] and the work that came out of it were on your mind as you developed this project. Can you tell us a bit about that body of work?

Bress: That residency was another opportunity for me to make work specifically for a museum context and to know exactly where the work would be seen. It wasn’t quite site specific, but it was in conversation with the space. [At LACMA], I took that attitude about being in conversation with the space of the museum and the existing architecture, and decided to consider elements around the bar and the museum—from the bar’s red and white chairs to the shows that would be up at the museum at the same time.

Wright and Gonzalez: What’s intriguing about Idiom is how the video uses a reverse form of green screen. Rather than keying in a background using green screen technology, you produce a flattened foreground with the reveal being a backdrop that suggests an animated setting. What is your interest in animation and special effects? Can you talk about the process of making these videos and your use of real-time action with costumed performers?

Bress: My background is in animation. I have a love of drawing and watching drawings move on screen, and this piece follows other pieces in which the viewer gets to watch drawings evolve and “animate.”

And it’s really interesting that you mention green screen. That’s a technology to which I’m not a stranger, and that I’ve used a lot in other types of videos. But I’m always trying to figure out how to avoid it—or, more to the point, how to replace it with practical, in-camera effects that could, in the end, be more special and unique to the process than an effect whose “magic” is tethered to a technology that we all know, and whose mystery is, in my opinion, therefore lessened. The other benefit to using practical effects instead of VFX done with a computer is that, for me, there’s a sense that nothing is filtering the experience of the performance, therefore maybe just generating enough trust or interest to keep a viewer invested in watching what feels like an authentic document.

Wright and GonzalezIdiom is up during our Turrell and Calder exhibitions [James Turrell: A Retrospective, through April 6, 2014, and Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, through July 27, 2014]. Did the presence of these exhibitions influence your approach?

Bress: When I shifted to the cutting/more graphic approach to this piece, connections to the work in those shows became obvious. However, I think the approach I took was more allowing those shows to have a passive influence on what I was doing, rather than consciously going through the shows and the works of Turrell and Calder and picking out moments to parrot. And in hindsight, the connections are even clearer than I had imagined they would be when I started.

See Brian Bress’s Idiom (Brian, Raffi, Britt), on view now at the Stark Bar.

Rita Gonzalez, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art
Erin Wright, Director of Artists Initiatives


What’s in a Name? The Story Behind Four Abstract Classicists

December 23, 2013

One of the interesting trends in recent curatorial practice is to restage or revisit important historical exhibitions. These shows typically take one of two approaches: faithfully reconstructing an exhibition from the past (such as New York gallery Zwirner & Wirth’s 2008 redo of Dan Flavin’s 1964 exhibition at Green Gallery), or conceiving of a new project that uses a past exhibition as a conceptual jumping-off point (for example, When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes at San Francisco’s CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in 2012, a contemporary riff on the famous Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form at Kunsthalle Bern in 1969).

Four Abstract Classicists, which opened this past Saturday, organized by curator of modern art Carol S. Eliel, falls somewhere between these two tactics. Taking its title from an exhibition of the same name mounted in 1959 at the Los Angeles County Museum in Exposition Park (the institutional predecessor of modern-day LACMA), the show brings together works by the same four Southern California painters who were in the 1959 exhibition: Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin. Despite the two exhibitions’ shared title and artists, however, the new show is not a reconstruction; in fact, only one painting from the original grouping—Frederick Hammersley’s Around a round (1959)—appears in the upcoming presentation.

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Frederick Hammersley, Around a round, 1959, bequest of Fannie and Alan Leslie, © Frederick Hammersley Foundation

Following the 1959 show, the term “abstract classicism” (a designation meant to signal these painters’ differences from the abstract expressionism of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline) continued to be used in reference to Benjamin, Feitelson, Hammersley, and McLaughlin. Interestingly, however, the question of who actually conceived of the 1959 show and its title has been a subject of some contention.

Lorser Feitelson, Hard Edge Line Painting, 1963, Anonymous gift through the Contemporary Art Council, © The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation

Lorser Feitelson, Hard Edge Line Painting, 1963, Anonymous gift through the Contemporary Art Council, © The Feitelson/Lundeberg Art Foundation

In 1975, an innocuous essay by Paul Karlstrom (who was then the West Coast–area director of the Archives of American Art) for LAICA Journal, a magazine published by the now-defunct Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, mentioned in passing the archives’ acquisition of papers belonging to Jules Langsner, the Los Angeles critic who served as curator of the original Four Abstract Classicists. In response, art historian Peter Selz wrote a letter to Karlstrom asserting it was he, and not Langsner, who initiated the show and suggested its title. Selz’s letter was published in the following issue of LAICA Journal, along with a response by June Harwood, Langsner’s widow (in which she refuted Selz’s claim), and a reprint of a 1959 letter from Benjamin to art critic Sidney Tillim crediting Langsner with forming the idea for the “abstract classicists” group.

Cover of the April­–May 1975 issue of LAICA Journal

Cover of the April­–May 1975 issue of LAICA Journal

Weighing the various claims and counterclaims about who should get credit, art critic Peter Plagens, writing in the same issue of LAICA Journal, offered his assessment—and, it would seem, a final word on the subject:

“Although no one can say for sure who first put the bug in whose ear, especially (and perhaps deliberately) so long after Langsner’s death, it seems “abstract classicism” is nobody’s baby, dating from 1951 or earlier. As to the conception/organization, my understanding is that Karl Benjamin brought Jules Langsner to meet Peter Selz, then teaching at Pomona, and Selz offered the college as a site for the show; Feitelson countered that it ought to be done in a first-class museum in Los Angeles or San Francisco or not at all, the artists agreed, and Selz’s ‘participation’ ended there. As to his conceiving the show, I managed to contact two of the participants, and their answers were, in a word, ‘bullshit!’”

Jennifer King, Wallis Annenberg Curatorial Fellow, Modern Art


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