The Legacy of Joseon: Korea’s Last Dynasty

July 21, 2014

Popular interest in all things Korean has been growing in the United States. Samsung and Hyundai are now familiar household names, South Korea’s rapid economic expansion continues to defy most predictions, and recent reports on the health benefits of Korean food and the overseas popularity of Korean films, soap operas, and K-pop have captured the attention of many, especially those of us living in Los Angeles. But even ardent Korea-philes may be surprised to learn that many of the social customs, beliefs, and traditions still prominent in Korea today can be traced back to the Joseon dynasty.

Unknown artist, Karma Mirror and Stand, 19th century, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

Unknown artist, Karma Mirror and Stand, 19th century, National
Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

The exhibition Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910, which just opened at LACMA on June 29, brings to Los Angeles the art and culture of this last dynasty of Korea. Most of the nearly 150 works in the exhibition, among them national treasures that have never been shown in the U.S., have been generously loaned by the National Museum of Korea as well as other museums and private collections in Korea. This exhibit, which is traveling between the Philadelphia Museum of Art, LACMA, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is part of an important cultural exchange between South Korea and the United States. In 2013, these three museums, along with the Terra Foundation for American Art, sent to Korea the first-ever survey of American art in the exhibition Art across America, which was on view at the National Museum of Korea in Seoul from February 4 through May 19, 2013, after which it traveled to the Daejeon Museum of Art (June 17–September 1, 2013).

Marked by a grand sense of pageantry, a strong sense of morality, and an unwavering reverence for nature—all characteristic of the Joseon dynasty—this exhibition is the first major presentation of traditional Korean art at LACMA. Treasures from Korea is also the third part of a larger effort to share traditional Korean art with the American audience. The two earlier installments, which featured works from the earlier dynasties of Silla (A.D. 57–668) and Goryeo (A.D. 918–1392), were presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, in 2013 and 2003, respectively.

Divided into five themes, Treasures from Korea captures the story of the life of an epic dynasty—its embrace of neo-Confucianism in the belief that the philosophy would sustain the country, how tastes emerged as the upper class developed new ceremonies and events (which then influenced the rest of society), how earlier historic Korean traditions were practiced in the private sphere, and how all these customs and assumptions were tested and reshaped by the pressures of modernization and the infiltration of the West.

The King and His Court

Korea’s Joseon dynasty spanned more than 500 years, overlapping with China’s Ming and Qing dynasties and Japan’s Muromachi, Momoyama, Edo, and Meiji periods. The dynastic founder, Yi Songgye, established Korea’s first secular state based on the principles of neo-Confucianism in a decisive move away from centuries of policies centered on Buddhism. In this revolutionary shift, the long-revered Korean traditions of shamanism (the indigenous religion of Korea), Buddhism, and Daoism, which together had sought to bring understanding to the rules of nature and the cosmos, became absorbed and integrated into a larger order based on China’s Confucianism, a philosophy of attaining social harmony. Altered to suit Korea’s political needs, this version of Confucianism was known as neo-Confucianism.

This was both a radical and conscious shift espoused by the government to start the dynasty anew. (The name Joseon translates to “fresh dawn.”) Although Korea had historically regarded itself as a sovereign state of China, the implementation of neo-Confucian policies was an important step for Korea in its effort to become an independent country with a healthy respect for China. With the fall of the Chinese Ming dynasty to the Manchus in 1644, Koreans regarded themselves as representatives of the last bastion of Confucianism.

Royal Protocol for the Kings’ Portraits, 1902, National Museum of Korea, Jangseogak Archives, the Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, photo © National Museum of Korea

Royal Protocol for the Kings’ Portraits, 1902, National Museum of Korea, Jangseogak Archives, the Academy of Korean Studies, Seongnam, photo © National Museum of Korea

It was of quintessential importance for the newly founded dynasty, with its unfamiliar secular state policies and recently established kingship, to assert its legitimacy. Rituals played a critical role in bringing about a culture of pomp and pageantry thought to ensure continued dynastic prosperity. All festivities demanded a particular presentation and were massive affairs with countless artisans, laborers, and officials engaged in the production of these rituals of the court. The first section of the exhibition, titled “The King and His Court,” showcases the celebration and documentation of important rites of passage for the royal lineage. It illustrates how the birth of a royal was celebrated with large-scale folding screens and placenta jars, how the honoring of new regal progeny included the giving of official titles of rank, and how the welcoming of foreign envoys, royal weddings, and funerals involved colorful, vibrant folding screens and tranquil ceramics. This theme exhibits the regalia and aesthetic tastes of the court, as well as the public life and customs regarded as most important in the life of the king.

Women’s Ceremonial Topcoat (Wonsam), 19th century, Seoul Museum of History, photo © Seoul Museum of History

Women’s Ceremonial Topcoat (Wonsam), 19th century, Seoul Museum of History, photo © Seoul Museum of History

Joseon Society 

The second theme, “Joseon Society,” explores how the royal aesthetic and adherence to neo-Confucian principles manifested itself in the Joseon upper class and trickled down to the rest of Joseon society. The underlying moral and social culture of the court deeply affected the rest of society. While the majority of the different classes of society were based on heredity, officials of the court secured their positions through government examinations that were based on Confucian teachings. With this, the culture of the scholar-official, or literati, was born. What began as a way to gain a court position evolved into a culture that held scholarship in the highest regard.

A consequence of this was the widening distinction between men and women. Women did not have a place in politics or the outside world and were relegated to overseeing the house with the primary obligation of producing sons. We see the difference in their roles manifested in the style of furniture, clothing, and choice of objects used by the male scholar-official as compared to the interests and decorative aesthetics of the female in the Joseon household. Symbols of nature, longevity, and good fortune visually populated the arts as ways to convey, acknowledge, and affirm an understanding of the shared importance of these beliefs.

Box with Ox-Horn Decoration, late 19th century, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

Box with Ox-Horn Decoration, late 19th century, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

In further efforts to promote Confucian studies, a native script known as Hangeul was developed in 1446. It allowed Chinese classics to be translated, but the new invention had a more far-reaching impact by allowing all members of society, including those who were not educated in classical Chinese, to read and write. It immediately generated a new, popular activity of writing personal letters.

Hangeul Letter and Envelope, 1752–59, National Museum of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

Hangeul Letter and Envelope, 1752–59, National Museum
of Korea, Seoul, photo © National Museum of Korea

Preaching Assembly of Amitabha, 19th century, Gyeongju National Museum, photo © 2014 Gyeongju National Museum

Preaching Assembly of Amitabha, 19th century, Gyeongju National Museum, photo © 2014 Gyeongju National Museum

Ancestral Rituals and Confucian Values

The Confucian concept of filial piety made it a moral duty to pay respect to one’s ancestors and, by correlation, to one’s king, making the practice of ancestral rituals an even more pronounced part of Joseon life than it had been in previous times. Korean shaman priests and the Buddhist clergy for centuries practiced respect for, and dedication to, one’s ancestors. Re-envisioned in a new ritualized form, the ceremonies honoring the dead held at the Joseon royal court were believed to control the fate of the country; they were directly linked to proving and protecting the king’s legitimacy and authority. The social obligations expected of every court official quickly relegated these practices to the home, where the precise conduct of the ceremony and the quality of ritual wares used became equated with devotion and respect for one’s ancestors. The exhibition’s third theme takes us into this private realm of ancestor worship.

Incense Container, 19th century, National Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Museum of Korea

Incense Container, 19th century, National Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Museum of Korea

Brass, National Palace Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Palace Museum of Korea

Brass, National Palace Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Palace Museum of Korea

Continuity and Change in Joseon Buddhism

With Confucian state rites replacing Buddhist ones, Buddhism, which had been the moral and religious stronghold for previous Korean dynasties, was relegated to an even deeper private sphere of individual worship among members of the royal court and society when it came to matters of life and death. Paintings and devotional objects were commissioned to support prayer requests for a long and healthy life and wishes for a successful rebirth in the afterlife. But with the obligation to produce a son, women of both the Joseon court and society became the staunchest supporters. In these requests, all earlier Korean traditions were called upon, and Daoist and folk deities were jointly worshipped in the name of Buddhism.

Water Dropper, 19th century, National Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Museum of Korea

Water Dropper, 19th century, National Museum of Korea, photo © 2014 National Museum of Korea

Joseon in Modern Times

Despite a number of major attacks from China and Japan over the years, the dynasty survived centuries of relative political stability. But with the tide of Western influence, all aspects of the Joseon dynasty were brought into question and in many ways were interrupted. Although foreign influences had made their way indirectly to Korea by means of diplomatic missions to China, by and large the Joseon dynasty protected itself with a foreign policy of isolation. By the end of the nineteenth century, however, Korea was forced to open its ports to trade, a decision that prompted a range of responses from those who staunchly believed that Korea’s identity and independence lay in the strict continuation of neo-Confucian ideals to those who, with the changing atmosphere in the world beyond, believed that the future lay with joining the rest of the world. It’s evident that the introduction of electricity and photography and—in an effort to modernize—the declaration of the Korean empire in 1897 brought stylistic changes in art and uniforms as well as royal household items and books in English. From the pomp and pageantry of the king and his court to their influence on the rest of Joseon society, and from expressions of private individuals to their practice of ancestor worship and Buddhism, the seeming end of a dynasty turned out to be a coming of age as the country began to emerge into the modern period.

Korea, Scholar’s Books and Objects (Chaekkeori), Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), 19th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Far East Art Council Fund

Korea, Scholar’s Books and Objects (Chaekkeori), Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), 19th century, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Far East Art Council Fund

Official’s Robe, Trousers, Sword, and Sword Belt, early 20th century, Korean, Museum of Korean Embroidery, Seoul, photo © Museum of Korean Embroidery

Official’s Robe, Trousers, Sword, and Sword Belt, early 20th century, Korean, Museum of Korean Embroidery, Seoul, photo © Museum of Korean Embroidery

It is so often the case: politics affects art. The state policy introduced by early Joseon officials resulted in new artistic production that accommodated the needs of the new dynasty. Largely made by unknown craftspersons and court artists, the art of this period embodied a philosophy and social order that resulted in the longest-running Confucian dynasty in history. And that is a remarkable achievement worth seeing.

Virginia Moon, Assistant Curator, Korean Art

A version of this article originally appeared in the summer 2014 (volume 8, issue 3) of LACMA’s Insider.

This Weekend at LACMA

July 18, 2014

Spend Friday with any of these exciting events ranging from film, art tours and exciting live music. At 7:30 pm, catch Spike Lee’s Malcolm X in the Bing Theater. For a more art filled day, join in on LACMA’s many art tours including John Altoon at 1:00 pm, Art of the Ancient Americas at 2 pm, Modern & Contemporary Art at 2:30 pm, and European Art at 3 pm. End the day with some relaxing Jazz at LACMA music featuring bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin.

Enjoying Jazz at LACMA

Enjoying Jazz at LACMA

Studio Session: Drawing with Color kickstarts this Saturday at 10 am at the Los Angeles Times Central Court; improve your drawing skills while exploring creativity and color. At 5 pm Latin Sounds presents the Cuban sounds of Orquesta Charonga led by Flutist Fay Roberts.

In the Bing Theater, come enjoy the film It Happened One Night at 7:30 pm. Check out some of LACMA’s additional art exhibit tours featuring Arts and Culture of Joseon Korea at noon, Ganesha: Elephant-Headed God at 1 pm, Art of the Pacific at 2:30 pm and many more.

LACMA9 Art+Film Lab photos © Museum Associates/LACMA, by Duncan Cheng

LACMA9 Art+Film Lab photos © Museum Associates/LACMA, by Duncan Cheng

On Sunday, Montebello Art + Film Lab presents a special Free Day at LACMA: Montebello with family fun activities, art gallery tours, and artist Nicole Miller’s film Nicole Miller: Believing Is Seeing at 12:30 pm. Kids can learn more about environment issues with the art course Eco-Friendly Art at 10 am. Stroll through The Work of Diego Riviera at 1 pm and catch Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic before it closes next week on July 27. Other ongoing exhibitions include Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandisnsky at 10:30 am, Art of the Ancient World at noon, and Japanese Art at 2 pm. Finally, there is no better way to end the weekend then with the beautiful opera sounds of the iPalpiti Artists Soprano Disella Lárusdóttir and Counter-Tenor Daniel Bubeck at 6 pm in the Bing Theater.

Lily Tiao

Night in Day

July 16, 2014

The night never wants to end, to give itself over

to light. So it traps itself in things: obsidian, crows.

Even on summer solstice, the day of light’s great

triumph, where fields of sunflowers guzzle in the sun—

we break open the watermelon and spit out

black seeds, bits of night glistening on the grass.

The exhibition Night in Day is named after a Joseph Stroud poem, which describes the dark of night as a powerful force that creeps into everyday objects, refusing defeat. Slivers of night might be found in rounded black watermelon seeds, the wings of crows, or the shimmer of volcanic glass. Black is the remnant of night in our day.

For this exhibition of 11 photographs from LACMA’s permanent collection currently on view in the exhibition, I have selected works by artists who have made the night a central part of their subject. Darkened city streets, glowing suburban structures, and starlit landscapes contain narratives cloaked in darkness, that, when surrendered to the light of day, offer the rare opportunity to grasp their shrouded details.

Larry Clark, Acid, Lower East Side from the portfolio Teenage Lust, 1981, gift of Barry Lowen

Larry Clark’s Acid Lower East Side (1968) is an arresting image of a young man making direct visual contact with the photographer. His white facial makeup and the fringe of his cape reflect the ambient light emanating from the street lamp overhead and shops that line the receding sidewalk. Alone on the cobblestone crosswalk, the man looks fierce, disagreeable, and mildly threatening—sensations that we can voyeuristically observe via the photograph from a distance. For this series, Teenage Lust (and Tulsa just before it), Clark photographed amid his friends and acquaintances, suggesting that this is not a stranger caught unaware, but someone who he was out with one night in 1968 on the streets of New York City.

Lewis Baltz, Night Construction, Reno, 1977, gift of Joe Deal, © Lewis Baltz, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Lewis Baltz, Night Construction, Reno, 1977, gift of Joe Deal, © Lewis Baltz, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne

Nighttime Construction, Reno, taken by Lewis Baltz nearly a decade later, offers the landscape of the American West as it was being transformed by a building boom and the systematic creation of suburbs and sprawl. Most closely identified with New Topographics, Baltz’s work aestheticizes the built environment with a deadpan, unromantic gaze. This is a rare nighttime view of home construction as workers presumably aim to meet a completion deadline. The photograph pictures the house’s plywood skeleton lit by a hidden source of light from within, giving the man-made structure a miraculous glow against the dark, silhouetted ridge.

Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled, 2007, gift of Sheridan Brown, courtesy of the artist; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; and 303 Gallery, New York

Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled, 2007, gift of Sheridan Brown, courtesy of the artist; Blum & Poe, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; and 303 Gallery, New York

Florian Maier-Aichen’s 2007 photograph, Untitled, grants a bird’s-eye view of a mountain landscape woven with wispy clouds. At first glance the dark sky evokes a photographic nocturne, but the brightness of the mountain and reflective nature of the clouds suggest something else at work. From the top of Mt. Baldy, this scene was photographed with 4 x 5 black-and-white infrared film evoking an eerie, unnatural appearance. Commonly referred to as day for night in cinema, this technique is used by filmmakers to simulate a night scene. While the effect is convincing, it simultaneously conveys a level of discomfort difficult to qualify.

Since the invention of photography, artists have been capturing nighttime scenes—drawn to the technical challenge of photographing under low light conditions and to the creative challenge of capturing veiled moments that can easily go undetected. Night in Day offers a glimpse into these shadowy and mysterious narratives.

Rebecca Morse, Associate Curator, Wallis Annenberg Photography Department

Kimono: A Garment of Change

July 14, 2014

In Japan, the kimono is a strong symbol of this extraordinary culture. Kimono, which simply translates to, “a thing to wear,” suggests to some extent how these objects served as important artifacts that tell the narrative of Japanese culture. The current exhibition Kimono for a Modern Age showcases some of the exceptional garments that tell the story of Japan of the early 20th century to the present.

This ancient garment would passively see Commodore Perry’s 1854 gunboat diplomacy end 200 years of self-imposed isolation—a feudal sleep. William Gibson, a passionate fan, would write about kimono in an essay titled “My Own Private Tokyo,” in Wired publication: “the quintessential cargo cult moment for Japan: the arrival of alien tech.” And in less than 14 years, in 1868, the Meiji Restoration would restore Emperor Mikado from the shogun, thus ending the feudal period. By the end of the Meiji in 1912, the garment would see the embrace of the “Industrial Revolution’s full kit,” as Gibson would say, “steamships, railroads, telegraphy, factories, Western medicine, the division of labor—not to mention a mechanized military.”

Woman's Kimono with Geometric Pattern, Japan, mid-Showa period (1926–89), c. 1940, Costume Council Fund, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Woman’s Kimono with Geometric Pattern, Japan, early-Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1940, Costume Council Fund, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

By the time our beautiful kimono appears on the scene between 1910 and 1920, Western culture had infiltrated everywhere. Japan had become thoroughly modernized, and the nation would have a forceful military presence in a different Asia. The cosmopolitan lifestyle of café, cinema, department stores, and art movements, such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Cubism, inspired fresh designs. Even the Expressionist movement would waylay older traditions in the visual profile of the culture.

Woman's Kimono with Mountain Landscape, Japan, Taishō (1912–26)–mid-Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1940, purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Avant, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Woman’s Kimono with Mountain Landscape, Japan, mid-Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1950, purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Avant, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

The industrialization spurred by World War I was background to Japanese life. In the new class systems, women were in the workplace, shops, and schools, and they moved in all aspects and were finding ways to express themselves and their independence. This transformation is told through the voice of our kimono, the boldness of Art Deco represents the independence of the woman who donned these patterns. Gone were handmade kimonos decorated with spring flowers and flowing streams, those delicate pastel iterations that represented the female posture and placement in the context of Zen Buddhism. The Jazz Age of the 1920s had captured the tempo, and it would be the new mood in this urbanized new world.

Woman's Kimono with Mountain Landscape, Japan, Taishō (1912–26)–mid-Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1940, purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Avant, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Woman’s Kimono with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern, Japan, early Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1935, Costume Council Fund, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

The bold kimonos were known as meisen. They were inexpensive and off-the-rack, ready-to-wear kimonos. Parallel to the Jazz Age Moga-modern girl was the West’s gypsy gamine, the flapper, flaunting her drop-waisted styles. And countering the society’s move toward industrial order, the Japanese homegrown Dada movement, known as Mavo (a Futurist group), would attempt to have its voice heard in the maelstrom of change—the boundaries between art and daily life.

The zeitgeist was not unlike the “floating world” of the Edo period, where compelling urges were daring and new, and social norms were pushed. Western culture, particularly that of Europe, were drawing and seducing Japan into the modern world. The Earthquake of Kanto of 1923 killed 150,000 people and destroyed large parts of Tokyo, which was rebuilt along Western styles such as Art Deco. It was a vivid indication of how deep these influences were.

Woman's Kimono with Mountain Landscape, Japan, Taishō (1912–26)–mid-Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1940, purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Avant, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Woman’s Kimono with Large Dewdrops (mizutama), Japan, early Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1935, purchased with funds provided by Grace Tsao, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Upon seeing this bold example of clearly one of Art Deco’s graphic fascination with the Zebra stripes stylized in such a fluid matter, I was quite taken aback. The wavy black stripes on white ground were sometimes, sparingly though, shadowed by a gray stripe, which would end in small red-and-orange rectangles of various lengths. These hints at abstraction were a delightful surprise. And to learn from the didactic, it was a meisen—a ready-to-wear from the 1920s that was really thrilling. In my first collection for the House of Worth, I took the theme of the Japanese kimono and obi as a way of reimaging suits and dresses. Maybe it was all those Akira Kurosawa movies that endeared this dream. There was the Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ran, in which flowing cloth created its own spell, its own dashing drama. These were pure visual thrills. I must confess, I knew little of its history, but saw it as a natural armature to visualize a new look. To trace this history now is a lesson—it’s never too late to know more.

Hylan Booker


This Weekend at LACMA

July 11, 2014

In the Bing Theater the latest film series from Academy @ LACMA, By Any Means Necessary: A Spike Lee Joints Retrospective, continues with She’s Gotta Have It at 7:30 pm and Bamboozled at 9 pm. Celebrating the visual imagination, intelligent discourse on race relations, and edgy style of writer-director Spike Lee, this series includes several special introductions including writer-director Justin Simien and actor-comedian Damon Wayans on Friday night. For live music see Grant Geissman & the Bop! Bang! Boom! Band at Jazz at LACMA at 6 pm.

In Inglewood at the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab see the cultural mashup from 1999, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, featuring a score by RZA and starring Forest Whitaker on Friday at 7 pm. On Saturday at noon participate in a free Composition Workshop and learn how to create an expressive image on film. All levels welcome! The LACMA9 Art+Film Lab resides at the Inglewood Public Library through July 27.

On your visit to the museum on Saturday enjoy any of the free, docent-led tours including a 50-minute walkthrough of South and Southeast Asian Art at 2 pm or the popular Highlights of the Museum tour at 3 pm. In the late afternoon Bobby Rodriguez LatinJazz ensemble performs at Latin Sounds in the outdoor amphitheater behind the museum at 5 pm.

Martinus Rørbye, Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino, 1840, oil on canvas, Gift of the 1990 Collectors Committee

Martinus Rørbye, Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino, 1840, gift of the 1990 Collectors Committee

Sunday, see Visions of the South before it closes. This exhibition presents paintings, prints, and photographs from the museum’s expansive collection to explore the evolution of the concept of the south in European art over centuries. Elsewhere in the galleries, Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic enters its final weeks on view. Iconic works abound in this exhibition designed by architect Frank Gehry. Admission to this special exhibition also grants you access to this summer’s Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Families are invited to Andell Family Sundays at 12:30 pm and a project around Korean treasures. Finally, close out the weekend with a concert from accordionist and composer Nick Ariondo and Friends during Sundays Live at 6 pm. Cheers, it’s the weekend!

Roberto Ayala


Miracle Mile Architecture, circa 2023: Zumthor, Piano…Gehry?

July 10, 2014

For the last year or so there has been a lot of talk about new, major works of architecture proposed for the Miracle Mile—more specifically the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Fairfax to Curson. First to come will be a renovation and new façade for the Petersen Automotive Museum, followed in 2017 by the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures—a design by Renzo Piano making adaptive reuse of the 1939, A. C. Martin–designed former May Company department store. It will be adjacent to two more Piano buildings, LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion and BCAM.

Meanwhile work continues on the development of a new building on LACMA’s campus to be designed by Peter Zumthor. As was detailed in a recent New York Times article, with additional information in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, the Zumthor plan has (literally) taken a new shape since it was unveiled in an exhibition at LACMA last year. In order to preserve areas of future research by scientists at the neighboring Page Museum, Zumthor has smartly moved portions of the building away from the La Brea Tar Pits and instead bridging over Wilshire Boulevard to the land owned by the museum on the southeast corner of Spaulding and Wilshire.

© Atelier Zumthor and Partner

© Atelier Zumthor and Partner

By moving roughly a quarter of the building (about 100,000 square feet) over and across the street, Zumthor’s design lightens the impact on Hancock Park. His design also opens up approximately two acres of new, open park space while improving pedestrian flow. The move also connects LACMA more directly to the vibrancy of Wilshire, with views up and down the boulevard as well as space for public and social activities on both sides of the street.

The building would be comprised of two levels—a large horizontal gallery level, and five pavilions at the park level that support the permanent collection galleries and house a variety of museum programs. Its square footage would be roughly the same as the four current buildings it would replace, but gallery space devoted to LACMA’s collection would increase by about 50,000 square feet (the equivalent of adding another Resnick Pavilion to the campus). That’s not insignificant, especially considering that LACMA has added more than 18,000 artworks to its collection in just the last seven years, including transformative collections of modern art, photography, ancient American art, and European fashion, as well as masterpieces by Thomas Eakins, Maruyama Ōkyo, Henri Matisse, and others.

© Atelier Zumthor and Partner

© Atelier Zumthor and Partner

Zumthor’s design is still in the feasibility phase, meaning there is a long way to go. Elements of the building program are still being fleshed out, as are realistic timeframes, costs, and fundraising plans (all dollar amounts you’ve seen attached to the project, which seem to fluctuate wildly depending on what article you read, are at this point conjecture). That said, the hoped-for timeline would see the building completed by 2023.

Why 2023? Because that is the year the Metro arrives at Wilshire and Fairfax, connecting the Miracle Mile to other parts of Los Angeles as never before.

Which brings us to the latest news published by the Los Angeles Times today—the possibility of a commercial, mixed-use development across the street from LACMA, perhaps designed by Frank Gehry.

The site in question would be on land owned by four parties, LACMA being one. (As the article says, LACMA owns the lot at the corner of Ogden and Wilshire, which amounts to about one-third of the larger site.) Metro will use the entire site—on the south side of Wilshire from Ogden Drive to Orange Grove—for staging the construction of the new station. As with other new stations—for instance, the Hollywood and Highland station and complex which opened in 2000—development of the site will follow. The precise nature of the future development, in terms of its design and program, is very preliminary.

LACMA and our neighbors on the site all agree that the development should be of significant architectural and civic value that will contribute to the neighborhood and Los Angeles. Although no architect has been selected, Michael Govan expressed his hope for Frank Gehry in the article. The two worked together previously on Gehry’s iconic Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, and Gehry has worked with LACMA most recently on the exhibition design for Calder and Abstraction and the 2012 Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective. “That’s my dream,” Govan said in the article. “I’m jealous that New York has a Gehry tower and we don’t.”

All of these projects are long-term endeavors that will surely go through many ups and downs over the next nine years. Ultimately we hope that the Miracle Mile—already known for its history of fantastic architecture—will feature works by three Pritzker Prize–winning architects on one short stretch. It would be an incredible achievement for Los Angeles.

Scott Tennent, Director of Executive Communications


Data as Feminist Protest

July 10, 2014

I am one of the artists participating in this year’s Art + Technology Lab. My project is a robot that puts pie charts onto edible pies. The data on the pie charts depict gender ratios in places where art and technology work happens (tech companies, museums, galleries, festivals, etc.). It is an edible data visualization that protests the lack of women in these fields.

Data and its visualization are important to my work as well as to feminist protest art overall. LACMA and the original Art and Technology program (1967–1971), as well as other museums and galleries, has in the past been subject to feminist-protest art using data. I will give you a (virtual) tour of some of these sites of protest that connect my work with feminist data visualization protest past and present.


Los Angeles Council of Women Artists Report

When I was writing the application for the Art + Tech Lab grant, I consulted the 1971 Report on the Art and Technology Program at LACMA [link] (A&T) to view projects. I was especially interested in women participants. As I read through the list of participating artists, my heart sank with every name that turned out to have a male artist and/or technologist behind it. Much searching revealed Channa Davis (Channa Horowitz), the author of an unsolicited project proposal that was one of many submitted by women but the only one featured in the 1971 catalogue. Her project was never realized within A&T.

In a 2007 publication accompanying an exhibition at Solway Jones Gallery in Los Angeles, Horowitz made the following statement (original text in the LACMA archive):

“Although Maurice Tuchman, the curator of the show, included my proposal in the catalogue because he ‘thought it looked pretty,’ he did not feel it was appropriate for a woman to discuss an engineering project with the male industrial scientists involved with the show.”

Given that no women were included in the almost all-white male cast of A&T, it was a provocation to women artists in Los Angeles that Maurice Tuchman, who co-curated A&T with Jane Livingston, wrote in the introductory chapters of the Report on the Art and Technology Program that he sought “as wide a range of artists as possible” when soliciting proposals. The Los Angeles Council of Women responded immediately by releasing their own report (archived on the Getty website) to contest the assertions that Tuchman made in the exhibition catalogue.

Appendix II of the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists Report, June 15, 1971, Getty Research Institute, 2003.M.46 S ee more at:

Appendix II of the Los Angeles Council of Women Artists Report, June 15, 1971, Getty Research Institute, 2003.M.46. See more at

The report is a seven-page document that includes an impressive two-page appendix of data. In the introductory paragraphs, the authors write: “As many women as men are enrolled in the art schools of this country, but the number of women who achieve recognition is negligible.” The authors then continue to demonstrate the lack of women artists shown at LACMA by thoroughly discussing the data listed in the appendix. The first page of the appendix lists all one-artist shows at LACMA from 1961 to 1971. Out of 53, only one was dedicated to a woman artist.

They also found that only 4% of the works displayed in group shows at LACMA in the same time span were by women artists. On June 1, 1971, the group counted the works on display in the Ahmanson Building and found that less than 1% were by women. The authors then continued to do more quantitative and qualitative analysis of LACMA and specifically the Art and Technology program. They concluded with a 12-point program aimed at reversing the low numbers of women and minority artists at LACMA.

So why is this report important in the context of art? After all, the bone-dry data as presented by the Women Artist Council is more likely to be found in the domain of engineering and technology rather than in art. This is exactly the point: data can be a useful tool for the underrepresented and excluded to subvert curatorial rhetoric and authority and show how far the inequality goes.  

Maurice Tuchman Masks

Maurice Tuchman, the co-curator of the Art and Technology program, was again subject to criticism by women artists in 1981, when he did not include any female artists in the exhibition Art in Los Angeles: 17 Artists in the Sixties. The artists attended the opening of the show wearing masks depicting Tuchman’s face. The protest had a party-like atmosphere; protesters held balloons with the question, “Where are the women and minorities?” By hiding their own diversity behind masks and pretending to celebrate, protesters visualized the disconnect between curator and the audience. 

Protest at County Art Museum, July 16, 1981, photo by Anne Knudsen/Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. See the original here:

Protest at County Art Museum, July 16, 1981, photo by Anne Knudsen/Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. See the original here.

Other Efforts

At other art venues, women artists have been protesting with data as well. The Guerilla Girls, a group comprised of anonymous gorilla-mask wearing avengers, have been protesting the lack of women in the art world, film, and culture at large since 1985. Their work is characterized by slogans and data as typified by the billboard in the image below. This mobile billboard was placed in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2012.

The Guerilla Girls, 2012, [link] Source: 

The Guerrilla Girls, 2012. Source

Another interesting recent project is Gallery Tally, a collaborative project initiated by Micol Hebron. She asks artists worldwide to contribute data visualizations in the form of gallery posters. The posters depict gender ratios in those galleries or the total gender ratio in galleries in specific cities.

What’s Next?

Feminist protest art that uses different forms of data collection, analysis, and visualization has existed for at least 43 years and yet gender parity is not yet reality. This doesn’t discourage me. Rather, I think that a multitude of voices and approaches are needed. Gender data collection, analysis, and visualization needs to be applied to other areas of life as well—in my case, technology creation. My pie visualizations emphasize economic and workplace implications for women working in the art and tech world and in intersections thereof. If you want to follow along as the project develops you can do it here.

Annina Rüst, Art + Technology Lab Grant Recipient

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