Art Catalogue Tells All

October 28, 2008
". . . full of gossip and history . . . "

Art and Technology

As noted in Allison’s post of yesterday, the provenance of James Turrell’s Afrum (White) can be traced back to the Art and Technology exhibition of 1971. We’ve recently made it easy to learn about this fabled show by putting its catalogue online. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound that exciting, but trust me. It’s a different kind of catalogue—candid, original, and often very funny. “I loved the catalogue,” the sculptor Claes Oldenburg once said. “It’s full of gossip and history and time passing and attitudes.”

It was written by then-LACMA curators Maurice Tuchman and Jane Livingston and entitled A Report on the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 1967–1971. It tells the story of how LACMA, then around two years old, set out to place artists within high-tech corporations to see what would happen. Two exhibitions resulted, one at the Osaka World’s Fair in 1970 and one at LACMA the following year.

James Turrell and Robert Irwin

What makes the catalogue so compelling is its unconventional tendency to disclose everything: who backed the project and who was skeptical, contracts and letters, successes and dead ends, tales of the mutually beneficial interactions that resulted (notably Robert Irwin and James Turrell’s work with the Garrett Corporation) and of the mutually baffling (see John Chamberlain and the Rand Corporation). And all conveyed in a candid, deadpan style that makes the whole thing pretty charming. Here is the last line of an entry about Donald Judd, who exchanged letters (included) with the curators but did not end up participating: “Judd did not contact us while in California in September, 1969 and we could not locate him.”

Tom Drury

Recent Acquisition: Turrell’s Afrum (White)

October 27, 2008

Every year, LACMA hosts the Collector’s Committee, a group of donors who join together to purchase a handful of objects on our curators’ wish lists. The artworks up for acquisition are installed for the committee’s review; for fun, we staffers get an early look and cast our own ballots ranking favorites. This year, I was the first person in the galleries. I don’t know what I was more excited about—the prospect of basking in James Turrell’s Afrum (White) or the chance to opine on it. You see, I am a Light and Space Fiend. In fact, I even created a Facebook page to celebrate my love. You can thus imagine my jubilance to find that the Turrell made the cut.

James Turrell, Afrum (White), 1966, purchased with funds provided by David Bohnett and Tom Gregory through the 2008 Collectors Committee, © James Turrell, photo by Florian Holzherr

I’m interested in the way Afrum, as with other Light and Space objects, challenges viewers’ perceptions. What appears to be a floating cube is actually projection magic—simply, elegantly, powerfully, a light on the wall. The artist once said, “In working with light, what is really important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself really quite tactile.” That quote leaves me almost as breathless as the object itself. The provenance is an added bonus. Afrum‘s original owner was a Torrance, CA-based aerospace scientist with whom Turrell and Robert Irwin worked from 1968-71 on LACMA’s Art and Technology exhibition. If you don’t know about that pioneering show, check in tomorrow to learn about the unusual collaborations that emerged as a result, as well as the delightfully candid accompanying catalogue.

Allison Agsten

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