This Weekend at LACMA: The Sketchbook Project Visits, Curators Talk Chinese Paintings and Fútbol, Fresh Film and Music, and More!

May 30, 2014

Making a two-day stop at LACMA this weekend, The Sketchbook Project is a mobile library filled to the brim with books from an international slew of artists. Search the truck’s catalog by theme, medium, geographic location, and unique tags created by the artists. The Sketchbook Project is free and open on Friday from 4:30 to 8:30 pm and on Saturday from 3:30 to 7:30 pm.

At Friday night’s Jazz at LACMA see a performance from bop jazz vocalist Judy Wexler at 6 pm in front of Urban Light. Following the free concert, the film series Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema continues at 7:30 pm with surrealist The Hourglass Sanatorium and an ethereal study of faith, sin, and redemption in Mother Joan of Angels.

Visitors on Saturday are invited to learn more about the 30 masterpieces from the exhibition Chinese Paintings from Japanese Collections (most of which have never been on display outside of Japan) in a presentation at 2 pm with Stephen Little, Curator and Head of Chinese and Korean Art Department at LACMA. This talk is free and open to the public. Later, in the Bing Theater, The Essential Orson Welles presents The Trial, an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s portrait of paranoia, and Touch of Evil, boasting an impressive array of memorable performances, all beginning at 5 pm. Top it all off with the Afro-Cuban and Brazilian sounds of Soul Sauce (named after the Cal Tjader album) at Latin Sounds also at 5 pm.

At the Compton Art+Film Lab at Lueders Park see a free outdoor screening of My Brother’s Wedding on Friday at 8 pm, take part in a filmmaking workshop on Saturday at noon, and contribute to the city’s narrative during oral history drop-ins on Sunday beginning at 12:30 pm.

John McLaughlin, #5, 1974, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with matching funds of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, © John McLaughlin Estate

John McLaughlin, #5, 1974, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with matching funds of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Modern and Contemporary Art Council, © John McLaughlin Estate

Visit the galleries and see Four Abstract Classicists for a dose of hard, clean edges, John Divola: As Far as I Could Get for a look at a photographic practice, and Pavilion for Japanese Art: Paintings in Celebration of 25 Years honoring a quarter century of architect Bruce Goff’s exemplary building. Come on Sunday for the latest Andell Family Sundays project—Dig It: Egyptian Art—starting at 12:30 pm. Talk sports, soccer, and the U.S. and the world on Sunday at 1 pm during the free panel discussion “The Upcoming World Cup in Brazil: Soccer’s Current Standing in American Sports,” including curator of Fútbol: The Beautiful Game, Franklin Sirmans. Swing by Art Catalogues at 4 pm for a talk between Doug Aitken and Philippe Vergne as they explore ideas and new models for working within and outside of museums. Call it a weekend with classical music from pianist Inna Faliks and violinist Tim Fain at Sundays Live at 6 pm.

Roberto Ayala

Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Behind the Scenes

May 29, 2014

Is there a Van Gogh hiding in this crate? Or maybe a Kandinsky or a Kirchner? It is hard to describe the excitement you feel when you unpack the numerous crates, in which these artworks travel, arriving from major institutions all around the word: New York, Washington, D.C., Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Zurich . . .

Even if you have seen most of these works—paintings drawings and prints—on the walls of museums before, to see them coming out of their crates and waiting to be hung on the wall in the huge exhibition space of the Resnick Pavilion is a very special kind of thrill. It is particularly delightful to discover the bright and bold colors used by painters such as Gauguin, Van Gogh, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, Max Pechstein, Henri Matisse, Paul Signac—something that is often difficult to capture in reproductions. But to see the subtle use of bright greens, white highlights, flamboyant reds and sunny yellows and to notice the vigorous brushstrokes used by painters like Kirchner, Pechstein, or Van Gogh is a very special kind of pleasure.



The reason why we are having all these wonderful pieces coming to LACMA, is the upcoming exhibition Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky. This exhibition will assemble major works by artists from Germany, France, Russia, and other countries, who were seeking a new visual language at the beginning of the 20th century, developing almost simultaneously Expressionism, Fauvism, followed by Cubism. In this attempt, they were looking toward modern masters such as Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne and found inspiration in their bold use of color, the deconstruction of form and space, and in the turn toward a subjective vision of the world. The exhibition is a testimony to this exceptional cultural and artistic dialogue, which took place before World War I between artists based in France and Germany.


The exhibition’s title wall. Photo courtesy of and © Frauke Josenhans

For a major international loan exhibition such as this one, presented at different venues, the workload is quite enormous—the exhibition first opened with a slightly different selection of works at the Kunsthaus Zürich, and it will then travel to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where the exhibition opens in October. The weeks preceding the opening of the exhibition are the busiest; the construction of the gallery space is finished, the walls are painted* and the crates are waiting to get unpacked. New works are being delivered every day, and each day, more and more paintings and prints go up on the wall.

Vincent van Gogh, Pollard Willows at Sunset, 1888, Oil on canvas mounted on cardboard, Kröller‑Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands, Photo Credit: Art Resource, NY.

Vincent van Gogh, Pollard Willows at Sunset (Saules au coucher du soleil, Arles), 1888, Kröller‑Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands, Photo Credit: Art Resource, NY

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Reclining Nude in Front of Mirror, 1909–1910, Oil on canvas, Brücke‑Museum, Berlin © Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Courtesy Ingeborg & Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern Photo © Brücke-Museum, Berlin.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Reclining Nude in Front of Mirror (Liegender Akt vor Spiegel), 1909–10, Brücke‑Museum, Berlin © Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Courtesy Ingeborg & Dr. Wolfgang Henze-Ketterer, Wichtrach/Bern Photo © Brücke-Museum, Berlin

During installation, the exhibition galleries resemble an anthill; art preparators, expert art handlers and paper and painting conservators are being busy making sure that the artworks are handled properly and that they are all in good condition (every move represents a potential danger to the artwork). Electricians are adjusting the lights to the adequate light level, designers are placing the numerous wall graphics and registrars are overseeing everything, making sure that the installation is going according to the schedule and that artworks are delivered and unpacked properly; couriers of the different lending museums are waiting in line to see their artwork safely hung up on the wall. And the curators, well, they place and replace the artworks, making last-minute changes and keeping everyone very busy! Installing an exhibition is a team effort and you will be able to discover the wonderful result of years of work in a few days!


Photo courtesy of and © Frauke Josenhans

*For the design of the show, here is a little bit of insight: you might notice that the walls in the gallery are painted in two different shades: a dark grey and blue. These colors have been chosen very carefully. Indeed echoes of the blue in the central spine—the so-called Paris-spine—can also be found in some of the adjacent galleries. The blue highlights works that were shown in Paris—either in exhibitions or at galleries—and could have been seen by German artists traveling to France.

Frauke Josenhans, Curatorial Assistant, Robert Gore Rifkind Center for German Expressionist Studies



Sketchbooks on Tour

May 28, 2014

The Sketchbook Project, a mobile library filled with thousands of artist sketchbooks, is traveling from Brooklyn, New York, across the country to stop at museums, community centers, and universities to share their collection. Visitors can browse their stacks when it stops at LACMA. You’ll even get your own library card!

Sketchbook image2

Courtesy of the Sketchbook Project

Jessica Sugarman, of Art House Coop—the umbrella for the Brooklyn Art Library and the Sketchbook Project, tells more.

Karen Satzman: How did the Sketchbook Project get started?

Jessica Sugarman: The Sketchbook Project started in 2006 when the project’s cofounders, Steven Peterman and Shane Zucker, met as students at Savannah Collage of Art and Design in Atlanta, Georgia. They were studying printmaking and graphic design respectively, and started forming the idea of doing a creative project that could involve the participation of other people. The project moved up to Brooklyn in 2009 and opened Brooklyn Art Library, the storefront exhibition space for the Sketchbook Project.

KS: Why Sketchbooks?

JS: Sketchbooks weren’t the first platform explored for ways to invite people to create and submit artwork, but ended up really catching on. We’ve seen that a sketchbook is pretty universal—whether you are an architect, screenwriter, professional artist, student, casual doodler, or really anyone, it’s either a format you already use in your practice or would feel comfortable exploring.

The blank pages of these books have not only been filled with sketches but could be memoirs, poetry, printmaking, painting, textiles, photography, or any other medium. Some are interactive, fold out into sculptures, are rebound, etc. Not every book is a defiance of what one might expect to be inside a sketchbook, but when viewing books in the collection you see a really wide range of content, and the format of a sketchbook invites that range or exploration.

Sketchbook image11

Courtesy of the Sketchbook Project

KS: What can we learn from looking at artists’ sketchbooks? 

JS: Looking at someone’s sketchbook is like getting a look inside their life. When checking out books in the Sketchbook Project, the first book you view may be the work of a professional artist or illustrator who did a book as fun side project, and the next book you view might be by a first-time art maker who had never shared their work before doing this project. You might be getting a glimpse inside the mind of a middle school student in Sudan, a mom in Kansas, or a designer in New York. The project has always been open to anyone regardless of age or experience, and we hold that each book tells a story. You might learn that you can relate to people through their sketchbook who you never have imagined having something in common with.

KS: Artist’s sketchbooks can be very personal. Why would an artist give up this personal and revealing piece of themselves to be a part of the project? 

JS: The interesting thing is that someone submitting to the Sketchbook Project is filling their book intentionally knowing that it is joining a collection that will be shared and viewed over and over again. The amount of deeply personal outpourings that have become a part of the project was not something we expected when the project first started—in fact there was more of a straightforward expectation that books would come back filled for the most part with sketches. However, some of the most-viewed books in the collection touch on very personal stories and experiences – there is a book that a participant started on the day she was diagnosed with cancer and then sent in her completed book once she was cured—her story of recovery has connected with a lot of people.

Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and submitting your own book to a collection of now 30,000 sketchbooks and counting allows you to contribute your creative voice to something really special.


Courtesy of the Sketchbook Project

This mobile library of sketchbooks will park on LACMA’s campus on Friday, May 30, and Saturday, May 31. You can search their catalog by artist name, theme, city and country to find a book that might interest you or take a chance on a random pick. If you are inspired to become part of their collection, ask their librarians how you can submit your sketchbook to the project.

Karen Satzman, Director, Youth and Family Programs

LACMA Acquires Its First 19th-Century Mexican Painting

May 27, 2014

Recently, thanks to the generosity of Ronald A. Belkin, LACMA received an important work by the 19th-century Mexican painter Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez (Mexico, Texcoco, 1824–1904). To commemorate the occasion, we invited James Oles to give a lecture on the importance of the work. What follows is a conversation between Dr. Oles and LACMA’s curator and department head of Latin American art Ilona Katzew about this poignant picture, the first 19th-century Mexican painting to enter the collection.

Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, Portrait of a Woman with a Marigold (Retrato de dana con cempasúchil), 1876, Gift of Ronald A. Belkin, Long Beach, California

Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, Indian Woman with Marigold (Mujer indígena con cempasúchil), 1876, Gift of Ronald A. Belkin, Long Beach, California

Ilona Katzew: Jay, you recently published an impressive survey of the history of Mexican art and architecture from the Conquest to the present; in it you feature Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, the artist of the wonderful painting that was recently gifted to LACMA. What can you tell us about Gutiérrez’s training and artistic trajectory?

James Oles: Gutiérrez isn’t so well known today, but he really was a key figure in the 19th century: he was born in Texcoco, near Mexico City. At the not-so-surprisingly young age of twelve he enrolled in the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City and studied there until 1848 when he was invited to Toluca to teach; he then returned to the Academy in 1855 to continue his studies. Actually, for the rest of his career he hardly stayed in any one city for long, traveling all over Mexico, the US, Europe, and South America; he was particularly important in the professionalization of arts education in Bogotá, Colombia, in the 1870s and 1880s. He worked in almost every genre, but while I think his costumbrista images (scenes of everyday life) are really compelling, I only included one work by him in my book, and that was an example of his more serious, earlier academic work, a history painting called The Oath of Brutus of 1857 (Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City), as an example of how neoclassicism, as a style and a theme, had a long life in Mexico’s Academy.

IK: It is interesting that, after Santiago Gutiérrez enrolled in the Academy in 1836, he studied with the Catalan painter Pelegrín Clavé (1811–1880), who had arrived in Mexico in 1846. Clavé, as you know, was one of several European professors charged with reorganizing the school (the Academy was then facing massive financial constraints). He was a highly influential figure, renowned for his portraits that often provide a sense of the psychology of his subjects. The portrait of this woman is somewhat of a mystery. Do you have a sense of who the sitter might be?

JO: Well, the original title is lost, which is a problem–and I wasn’t able to definitively connect this work to a title mentioned in one of the period reviews of his exhibitions; it almost looks like a specific portrait, and Gutiérrez was adept at portraiture, but this is really more of a genre painting, a quite sympathetic representation of a “type” (the pregnant mother) with a moral or allegorical message. She is depicted gazing at a marigold, a flower the Aztecs associated with death and that is still featured on Day of the Dead altars, perhaps as a sentimental reference to infant mortality. There were actually a few paintings done at the time employing similar compositions, of women looking at flowers or empty cribs or other fraught images, though they all tended to be white. I bet he used a live model, perhaps a servant (as Diego Rivera would do later), but at this time, it would have been surprising if he had recorded her name.

IK: Everyday subjects were of particular interest among 19th-century academic artists. How does the picture draw from other local traditions, such as 18th- and 19th-century depictions of racial types and trades, and what elements, in you estimation, sets it apart?

JO: I was interested to discover that Gutiérrez met Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) in Paris in the early 1870s, though I am not sure how close the connection was. This might have sensitized him to debates about Realism, to the idea that one might seek to ennoble the working class. I don’t think this picture has much to do with 18th-century casta paintings (the depictions of racial mixing which today are quite well-known); instead, undoubtedly it was inspired by images of “types,” in which local or national identity was embodied in working class figures, often isolated on the canvas or in a photograph, like the molendera—the woman grinding corn—or the aguador, or waterseller. The date of the picture, 1876, is precisely when the photographers Cruces and Campa were making their famous images of types, some of which included indigenous women. Here the hairstyle and white huipil (a loose blouse with origins in the pre-Conquest period) probably indicates she is an Otomí; another work by Gutiérrez indicates that he painted Otomí Indians in the town of Huixquilucan, which is now a fancy suburb of Mexico City, but was then quite rural and remote. 

IK: Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez, as you noted, was an extremely peripatetic artist. He traveled incessantly in Mexico, the United States, South America, and Europe. His influence and connection with artists in the many cities he visited (including San Francisco and New York) remains a fertile yet largely uncharted chapter of his career. Was this a typical trajectory for a 19th-century Mexican artist? What can you tell us about academic Mexican artists “north of the border?”

JO: Well, most of the leading 19th century Mexican artists went to Europe at some point, with or without a scholarship from the Academy, in order to perfect their studies, though fewer visited the US. The great landscape painter José María Velasco (1840–1912) also got around, for he served as a sort of cultural ambassador during the Porfirian regime, charged with the fine arts displays at the late 19th-century world’s fairs in Paris and Chicago, for example. But Gutiérrez’s frenetic itinerary wasn’t typical, not at all. As for the experience of Mexicans north of the border in the 19th century—and actually, a key figure here is the Cuban poet and art critic José Martí (1853–1895), who worked in both Mexico City and New York—well, there is a lot more research to be done about that, but I’m not surprised someone with formal academic training, like Gutiérrez, would have found patrons in San Francisco in the 1870s: there were a lot of newly rich people there and it was still sort of the frontier. 

IK: Finally, Jay, why do you think the 19th century has been more neglected than other areas in the United States, and why is the acquisition of this painting especially significant for a major US museum?

JO: 19th-century Mexican art is the subject of extensive study in Mexico, as you know, but it is true that it has been generally (despite great work by a few of our colleagues) neglected in the US, in part because there are so few works from this period in this country. There are only three or so paintings by Velasco in US public collections, and he was the most famous artist of his day, but basically, this period just wasn’t appreciated by curators or collectors here. First of all, a lot of it didn’t look very “Mexican,” and there was also a lingering anti-academic prejudice: the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s was predicated on a rejection of most 19th-century art, and that rejection echoed through academia and museums for a long time. And today, great examples rarely come on the market—there are avid collectors in Mexico, and also deep holdings in the national collections. So this work, which might have been exhibited in San Francisco and sold to a local collector soon after it was painted (though that is speculation on my part) is really fantastic, because it serves as a necessary hinge for LACMA, where there is a huge gap between the museum’s rich holdings of viceregal and modern art. To the extent that LACMA hopes one day to provide a sweeping overview, works from the “forgotten century” are going to have to be brought back into the narrative: Flower Day, Rivera’s respectful homage to indigenous culture of 1925, after all, didn’t come from out of the blue.

IK: You make a very good point here. Rivera’s picture draws as much on cubism as on Mexico’s earlier traditions. The 19th century is unquestionably an area that we have our eyes set on for future collecting, which makes the accession of Felipe Santiago Gutiérrez’s painting especially relevant.


Agnès Varda on Los Angeles

May 26, 2014

There’s just a month and a half left to catch the exhibition Agnès Varda in Californialand that pays tribute to the filmmaker and artist’s time in the Golden State. Varda had two productive periods in California, one a bit more sunshine and the other a bit more noir. She took to the long boulevards (Pico and Venice were favorites) and shot a film in a house with a kidney shaped pool and fake plants. Varda also sought out a dynamic cast of characters (against Hollywood type) in her late 1960s and early 1980s sojourns in California.

During the exhibition installation, Varda, in between her guest lectures at CalArts, her hosting of the AFI Film festival, and meetings with young directors who sought out her advice, she sat down with us to discuss the photographs and large-scale installation made for her exhibition. We see Varda’s characteristic charm, wit, and intelligence as she gives us a virtual walk-through of her life in cinema and her cinema in real life.

Artforum and the L.A. Review of Books have written about the exhibition: read about their take here and here.

Rita Gonzalez, Associate Curator, Contemporary Art

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