Much More than “Paintings on a Wall”

March 29, 2010

What is “new media art”? Recently I asked that question of a group of kids at the new arts high school, Central Los Angeles High School #9. Since January, LACMA educators Elizabeth Gerber and Jane Burrell have been running an after-school course called Art Museum 101. Over the last few months, the students have toured the museum with director Michael Govan, met with president Melody Kanschat to talk about architecture and building projects, and heard from other leaders in the museum on topics ranging from finance to gallery design.

Elizabeth invited me to talk with the class about new media and museums. I showed some examples of the ways that artists use computer code, cell phones, and social media as raw material. The first project I presented was the homepage takeover that was part of last year’s exhibition Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists From Korea. The piece, by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, consisted of a series of paranoid and poetic narratives that unfold in an animation involving text and voice on LACMA’s homepage.

We also looked at Natalie Bookchin’s Laid Off, part of the artist’s Testament series where she uses found videos from YouTube to create a multichannel video installation presented at LACMA.

We talked about how artists use “found” media, how they can provoke a response by interrupting or disrupting an ordinary online experience, and what it means when art exists outside the physical realm of the museum. One student said he’d like to write a bit of code that would cause users’ computers to go dark for a minute; when they come back online, the program would prompt the user to record how they felt during the experience. Another participant said she’d create a faux sidebar ad leading to an online presentation of photography of food made from fantastic ingredients and an interview with a “chef” about seemingly impossible dishes. The kids admitted that museums often seem like a place to see “paintings on a wall,” and the discussion about digital art expanded their view of what art is and can be.

This spring, LACMA will introduce some exciting artist-led digital media projects. Steve Fagin and a small group of fellow artists are creating a piece that will unfold entirely and exclusively via text message. When our exhibition The Fruit of LACMA, curated by Michele Urton and the artist collective Fallen Fruit, opens in June, it will include videos uploaded by the public on the theme of “show us how you eat”—we’ll have more to say about that soon. And we’re already thinking about how to present other web and mobile-based artist projects on campus.

Amy Heibel

Ghosts of Exhibitions Past: My Year in BCAM

December 23, 2009

After a hundred and twenty odd hours on a post—in my case, on the second floor of BCAM—an image can get lodged on the back of the retina, ghostlike—and lovingly so, if you’re lucky. A tale told in a single image can be a haunting affair, and may even become the symbol of that exhibition, intentional or not.

Thus Jean-Michel Basquiat’s untitled head from the inaugural BCAM exhibition flashes its indelible and striking image. In a white gallery, the black spiky skull, bristling with ferocity, jarring color, and a wink of ironic humor, sits iconically in my brain, like the ghost it is.

From there we travel back in time to last winter’s Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures. Hans Grundig’s To the Victims of Fascism is a harrowing painting of two Jews prostrated in dying poses while a red-orange sky is littered with blackbirds soaring portentously overhead. This is but one page of a profound scholarship that traces the pathos of a nation coming to terms with a dark and diabolical past. The idea of a “haunting” may not say enough about this giant of an exhibition.

Hans Grundig, To the Victims of Fascism, 1946/49, © 2009 Hans Grundig Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

But like it or not, the scene changes from World War II’s broken and dark past, and I find myself in Your Bright Future, a new and strange and even somewhat personal construct of another nation’s life. Once more, an emphatic and imposing piece of art becomes a mesmerizing experience. The once small grey gallery morphs into a large white cavernous space, dimly lit. Here a vanity is brought to life as a small Korean house crashes into a larger American boarding house. With Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5, we enter a private metaphor, a dream as it were, in unbelievable detail. The dollhouses are brought to a reality that is indescribable; yet they achieve a demonstrative display of alienation and integration.

Installation view, Fallen Star 1/5, 2008-09, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York

In spite of these hypnotic ghosts, the last exhibit is a form of release, for the images are framed photographs of the delightful and captivating series of The Sum of Myself: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, spanning a hundred and fifty years—of which, from my station, sadly I can only see the sides of frames.

Yes, those past powerful exhibitions are with me still; they are forms of immateriality that give art the hold it has, or can have, on us.

Hylan Booker, Gallery Attendant

The New Homepage

October 2, 2009

I like a spare, reserved homepage as much as the next person, but some time ago I began to wonder whether the LACMA homepage might not be a little too spare and reserved. People would be looking right at the homepage, on which one of the headlines said, “Unframed: The LACMA Blog,” and they would say, “I can’t find the blog.” So that was a problem.

Picture 1


There also seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between the page’s minimalist demeanor and the countless exuberant ways that museumgoers interact with all kinds of art (and with each other) every day at LACMA. The situation was helped a lot by the Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries takeover of the homepage, which was very well received,* but then Your Bright Future ended and so did the takeover. By then, however, we were already working on an evolution of the homepage that we’re happy to be introducing today.

Picture 2


In the new iteration, designed by Seso Media Group and LACMA graphic designer Jin Son, art images abound, social media steps forward (try the Community Twitter feed) and a mini-calendar provides fast access to the latest concerts, films, and conversations. And a small touch, but one I’m fond of: The persistent question of “Where is LACMA?” should be easier to answer, as you only have to click on the address at the top of every page and a map appears.

Tom Drury

* There were several calls informing us that our site had been hacked, but we took those as positive responses as well.

LACMA’s Best Dance Crew

September 9, 2009

Is it a sin for me, an employee of a lofty High Art institution such as LACMA, to admit to loving (gasp!) pop culture? Reality TV, no less? Dance competitions? It’s true: I consider shows like So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew destination television. A love of pop culture is all well and good but does feel a little funny here—this is an office, after all, where a co-worker once uttered the phrase “who’s Snoop Dogg?” in all earnestness.

Maybe it’s not so odd. I’ll find out this Saturday at our next Late Night Art event, Korea: Future/Past, which is a celebration of Korean art and culture happening from 8 to 11 pm (or later if you hit up the After Party). In celebration of our new Korean art galleries—opening tomorrow!—and Your Bright Future, the night will feature plenty of entertainment. Traditional Korean music and dance, readings by author Leonard Chang and Sue Kim, a performance by artist Haegue Yang inside the Your Bright Future galleries, and the thing I’m most excited about—a performance by Korean hip hop crew Last For One. These guys are nuts. For instance, here’s their incredible performance, “Canon in D,” in which they break dance to a traditional Korean music/hip hop mash-up.

Last For One will be performing in the BP Grand Entrance during the Late Night Art event; then, as if to make real my TV fantasies, they’ll be judging a b-boy competition later the same night in the LACMA West Penthouse as part of the Muse ‘til Midnight After Party. These guys know competitions. Here’s the performance that won them the 2005 Battle of the Year championship:

Scott Tennent

Korean Wave

September 8, 2009

As a Korean-American, it’s been especially gratifying for me to work on Your Bright Future, but I had been curious to see what my parents—first-generation Korean immigrants—would think of the show. Both my father and mother graduated from Hongik University in Seoul, Korea—the same school where many of the exhibition artists also received their bachelor’s degrees—with architecture and arts degrees, respectively. They finally had a chance to visit the museum last week and were taken away by the show. Having studied architecture, my dad could not tear himself away from Do Ho Suh’s Fallen Star 1/5, admiring every minute, handmade detail. My mom connected most with Choi Jeong-Hwa’s HappyHappy as she thought it embodies what she considers to be the best kind of art—one that is accessible to those of all ages and backgrounds.


Overall, the observation that continued to come up during my parents’ visit was how Your Bright Future, in a way, reflects how much Korean culture has changed over the past few decades. My parents were in awe of the freedom of form and expression in all of the works—something they did not experience when they were in school. But more generally, viewing a contemporary Korean show in the U.S.—a first for my parents who have lived here for more than thirty years—served as a reminder of how globalized Korean culture has become. This Korean wave may be more prominent in pop culture with musicians and actors making recent debuts in America, and more locally, with Korean restaurants, and even food trucks, springing up outside of Koreatown. And the wave seems to continue here at LACMA, as we reopen our traditional Korean galleries on Sept. 10, host a film series dedicated to contemporary filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, and present a late night event celebrating Korean art, film, music, and dance from all generations.

Christine Choi

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