William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Henrietta Shore’s “Cactus”

The Huntington’s Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art is showing Henrietta Shore’s Cactus, on loan from a private collector. Dated “before 1927,” it’s one of Shore’s most celebrated works. Christopher Knight called it “outstanding… an eye-grabbing portrait of prickly eroticism.

The “before 1927″ bit owes to the fact that Shore met Edward Weston in February 1927, introduced by Peter Krasnow. In Weston’s daybook he wrote of his first visit to Shore’s studio,

“I stopped short in my tracks silently amazed; here was something outstanding, a notable achievement.…Shores’ work stimulates directly through the senses without intellectual interference… She possessed a technical perfection rarely seen in contemporary art. A small drawing may represent the labor of weeks or even months.”

Perhaps Weston, then little-known, was also describing the artist he hoped to be.  Of Cactus he wrote: “Every time I see that cactus, I have renewed emotion: it is a great painting.” (The Huntington has a room of Weston photos adjacent to Cactus. On view in the Chandler wing is Shore’s color drawing of Cypress Trees, Point Lobos—right, recently acquired by the Huntington.)

Edward Weston, "Two Shells" (c) 1981 Arizona Board of Regents, Center for Creative Photography

Toronto-born Shore had the distinction of being John Singer Sargent’s only private student. She also studied with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Seven years older than Georgia O’Keeffe, she came to explore similar territory: macro-shot still lifes of Western flora and fauna that read as sexual metaphors. It’s not clear whether Shore more influenced O’Keeffe. The showed together several times, and it’s said that critics were more favorable to Shore.

Shore’s 1927 meeting with Weston was certainly decisive for him. He showed Shore some of his  nudes of Bertha Wardell. “I wish you would not do so many nudes,” advised Shore. “You are getting used to them, the subject no longer amazes you—most of these are just nudes.”

Shore was doing paintings of sea shells. Weston did his first shell photo in Shore’s studio, and Shore lent him some shells to photograph. This led to such classic Weston images as Two Shells (1927).

O’Keeffe’s Black Iris, from 1926 (below right), is among the artist’s first to present a still life subject as a metaphor for womanhood. Cactus is something else again. Its Kardashian-esque swellings leapfrog several generations to read as an ironic deconstruction of O’Keeffe’s prefeminist program. The palette is less Canadian than Chicano.

Shore had been painting cacti for some time. Her California Data (owned by the Oakland Museum—the name is prophetic of Silicon Valley) is a c. 1925 exercise in American surrealism. A cactus sprouts out of a calla lily and bears dissimilar blossoms fertilized by a trio of avian weirdos.

By 1930 Shore had a promising career. She moved to Carmel, where Weston had located. Bad career move? Well, O’Keeffe began spending time in the Taos region in 1929 and moved there decisively in 1940. O’Keeffe had a New York gallery. Shore showed in the Carmel region and fell off the national radar.

Shore’s life demands the attention of a serious biographer. What little is known, or said to be known, of her last years is this. Circa 1939, some acquaintances found Shore’s home and studio “messy and deteriorating.” They had her committed to a mental institution. That’s still another parallel to O’Keeffe, hospitalized for a 1933 breakdown. But Shore spent more than two decades in confinement. She died forgotten, at the State Mental Hospital in San Jose, on May 17, 1963.

All of John Baldessari’s Tattoos

Tattoo artists are currently featured in shows at the Japanese American National Museum and the El Segundo Museum of Art. Meanwhile the Hammer Museum is offering a set of five temporary tattoos designed by artists not known for the medium: John Baldessari, Friedrich Kunath, Dave Muller, Laura Owens, and Raymond Pettibon. It’s $100 for the set, with proceeds benefitting the Kid’s Art Museum Project.

Both Baldessari and Pettibon have designed temporary tattoos before. Below is one Baldessari produced for Garage Magazine in 2011.

Disambiguation: Los Angeles Museum of Art

You must have heard that Alice Könitz’s nano-alternative space-decorated shed, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, has won the Hammer’s 2014 Mohn Award. You may be less clear on which of at least three LAMOA avatars is the real thing.

Structurally LAMOA is a 13-foot-long wood framework with corrugated metal roof. That structure (at left) is currently in Pasadena, at the Armory Center for the Arts, in “The Fifth Wall: Tom Friedman, Evan Holloway, Farrah Karapetian, Alice Könitz, Marco Rios, Corinna Schnitt, Artur Żmijewski” (through Dec. 14).

Normally LAMOA is parked outside Könitz’s Eagle Rock studio and filled with minivan-size installations by other artists. Below is LAMOA in situ, with the 2013 installation of Stephanie Taylor’s Three Samoan Proverbs. (Just don’t try to visit now. More attentive readers of the previous paragraph will have noticed that LAMOA is now in Pasadena.)

What is the Hammer Museum showing then? It’s a set of modules that Könitz created for “Made in L.A. 2014″ (top of post, through Sept. 7). They are sized to fit the LAMOA framework and are installed with other artists’ works, chosen by Könitz. The Hammer website wryly compares its presentation of LAMOA to “the precedent of other touring museum collections, such as the Musée d’Orsay and the Barnes Foundation. Typically such exchanges between museums create institutional goodwill and benefit the organizing institution with an additional stream of income while attracting large audiences for the hosting institution.”

Further disambiguation: The Los Angeles Museum of Art is not to be confused with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (a misnomer that occasionally turns up in New York media); Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (this one or the real one); nor the Los Angeles County Fire Museum (in Bellflower, chronicling the history of local fire-fighting).

Huntington Gets Serious About Chinese Art

Hu Zhengyan (1584-1674), The Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Pictures. Photo (c) The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Since the first phase of its Chinese garden opened in 2008, the Huntington has done two shows of Chinese art. Both showed private collections. The Huntington didn’t own any Chinese art aside from a few export porcelains. Last month the institution announced the acquisition of its first major Chinese work, an early, pristine copy of the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Pictures (1633-). An album of 185 prints, it is a compact picture gallery of late Ming painting. The Huntington is planning an exhibition around the book’s publisher, Hu Zhengyan.

The Ten Bamboo Studio Collection is a landmark of color printing technology. It achieved shading and texture rivaling that of painting. The book was so popular that the woodblocks used to print it wore out and were replaced repeatedly over the centuries. The first edition is rare, though there are incomplete examples at the museums of San Francisco and Boston. No copy, even in China, compares to the Huntington’s, said to be the best preserved of all. It has 185 illustration pages and 139 pages of calligraphy (lacking just one of each type). A former owner unfolded the tissue-thin, folded pages and matted them flat into an album that helped preserve them.

The pictures are not by Hu Zhengyan, a publisher and seal carver, but by some of the leading painters of the time. The calligraphy is equally notable. In the 20th century typographer Jan Tschichold judged the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection “perhaps the finest book ever printed in colors.”

Hu Zhengyan (1584-1674), The Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Pictures. Photo (c) The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Where in the World is Judy Chicago?

The Brooklyn Museum’s “Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work, 1963-74″ zeroes in on the transformative years (and transformative city) of first-generation feminism’s crucial artist. It’s not set to travel to L.A., and that’s too bad. Locally Chicago has been shown in historicizing group shows but not in depth. She remains barely represented in Los Angeles museum collections.

Chicago’s big break, careerwise, was “Primary Structures.” That was the Jewish Museum’s 1966 show that helped define minimalism. It was also notable for presenting L.A. artists such as Larry Bell and John McCracken as peers of the New Yorkers. Chicago’s Rainbow Picket (at top), installed in the lobby, was the opening salvo.

Its colors shout a feminist critique of minimalism—as we see things now. Sixties critics noticed Chicago, if at all, as a worthy compatriot of Donald Judd. There was just one other woman in “Primary Structures,” the very different Anne Truitt.

Back in L.A. Chicago threw herself into the plastics-and-automobiles narrative of the Fetish Finishers. She educated herself in plastic molding and auto body painting. Her instructors informed her that works like Birth Hood, 1965/2011 at above left, were too girly for the market demographic. She took up less characteristically L.A. crafts like pyrotechnics and ice sculpture.

Chicago progressed to paintings on acrylic like the Pasadena Lifesavers. They were intended to represent the female orgasm. Others read them as pop art: Lifesaver candies, like something Wayne Thiebaud might have done.

By the end of the Brooklyn show’s chronology, Chicago was doing sublime airbrush paintings such as Through the Flower (1973, right). Only Agnes Pelton dared its blend of hard-edge and lady-parts abstraction.

The Brooklyn galleries, in its Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, circumnavigate Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Created in the artist’s Santa Monica studio from 1974-79, and now on permanent view in Brooklyn, it’s not strictly part of the show yet supplies a de facto exclamation point. With 39—count ‘em—vulvas of females historical and mythical, it left almost every 1970s critic sputtering that it wasn’t art. Within a few years, The Dinner Party’s shock-value identity politics had became a lingua franca of postmodernism.

That makes “Chicago in L.A.” rich in ways you might not expect. The story of how a Second City artist went from minimalism to feminism is one of the more compelling of recent art history. Where in the world is Judy Chicago?

Mohn Award 2.0

Three thoughts about the latest Mohn Awards:

• They’re a significant improvement over the 2012 award (a single prize determined by public vote). The “main” Mohn Award, given this year to Alice Könitz’s Los Angeles Museum of Art, is now chosen by jury. That says something: Whether you agree or disagree with the choice, you at least know who you’re dis/agreeing with. I don’t think the fact that there are three prizes rather than one is confusing or diminishes the prizes. How many Academy Awards are there? We deal with it.

• I’m still not sure I know what the Public Recognition Award (won by  Jennifer Moon) means. This is the one that Hammer visitors vote on. Over 6600 voted this year, more than three times the number in 2012. The winner is guaranteed to be worthy, for all the “Made in L.A.” artists have been chosen by the show’s curators. Is it a “populist” choice? No, not unless you think Hammer visitors are surrogates for Joe and Jane Sixpack. But I don’t know how how closely the voters follow contemporary art; nor how many votes are cast by friends of the artists.

• If this year is any indication, there’s not going to be a whole lot of suspense about the Career Achievement Award. Winners Magdalena and Michael Frimkess are 84 and 77 and have been collaborating for over 50 years. Almost everyone else in “Made in L.A.” is a few years out of art school. That raises a question for strategic Public Recognition Award voters: Is there any point voting for an artist who’s a shoo-in for the Career Achievement Award? (Pictured, a ceramic by the Frimkesses.)

A Thing Is a Hole in a Thing It Is Not

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s escalator promises an expressionist first impression of the Broad, which tweeted this construction photo. Said Carl Andre: “A thing is a hole in a thing it is not.”

“Rococo to Revolution” at the Getty

The Getty’s “Rococo to Revolution: 18th-Century French Drawings from Los Angeles Collections” displays high points of the museum’s drawing collection alongside loans from private collectors. The surprise is how well the loans stand up. There are  privately owned drawings by Watteau (a counterproof of one of the first drawings the Getty bought, in 1982), Boucher, Fragonard, Greuze, and David. There are also sheets by artists lately rediscovered by scholars and collectors. On loan are an impressive Gabriel de Saint-Aubin and a famous François-André Vincent (at top). His trois crayons Bust-Length Study of a Young Woman (1780) was one of the first drawings to be reproduced as a color engraving. In case you missed the memo, Vincent was David’s archrival, husband to Adélaïde Labille-Guiard. The Getty also has an  important Vincent drawing, The Secret.

It remains a secret who’s lending these serious 18th-century French drawings. Most of the private collectors are uncredited. One exception is Ariane and Lionel Sauvage. They have supplied a fantastic Seven Ages of Life by the young Fragonard, created on the cusp of his self-invention as an artist. It was auctioned at Christie’s London last summer for $732,932. Seven Ages of Life had been owned by Estée Lauder, who had a professional interest in the age-and-beauty thing.

“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sunset Boulevard” Cars to Petersen

The Petersen Automotive Museum has recently acquired 19 vehicles for its collection. They include a 1900 Smith made in Los Angeles, Gloria Swanson’s Rolls Royce from Sunset Boulevard, and the VW bus from Little Miss Sunshine.

Last year the Petersen sold nearly one-third of its car collection. This raised eyebrows as it was said that sale proceeds would “fund improvements to the museum, including new exhibits and interactive displays.” AAMD to Delaware: you’re dead to me. For a car museum… eh.

Some of the cars sold had been owned by old-time Hollywood actors or used in all-forgotten TV shows and movie. I figured, fine, they didn’t want to be the automotive Hollywood Wax Museum. (Which has incredibly realistic effigies of The Beverly Hillbillies actors, by the way.) The new acquisitions suggest that the Petersen is still interested in movie cars—it’s across Wilshire from the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures—but it’s making the selection more relevant to 21st-century audiences.

The Petersen also released further details of its $125 million renovation, set to begin this fall and take over a year. The redo envisions three floors of exhibition space focused respectively on cars as art, as technology, and as L.A. history. The technology floor will also have motorcycles and changing exhibitions.

Below is a newly released rendering of the future Petersen’s cars-as-art floor, named for board chairman Peter Mullin and foregrounding his taste for French art deco design. It is to include an immersive video wall recording a 245 mph race. Said F.T. Marinetti: “A racing car… is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”

In October 1908 Marinetti crashed his brand-new Fiat convertible (photo below). The accident inspired Marinetti’s 1909 manifesto of Futurism, the progenitor of almost every modern and postmodern -ism. Now if the Petersen could get that car…

Timken Likes Raphael & Vermeer; Unfriends Turner

The National Gallery, London, is lending Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks—yes, the one the Getty tried to buy a decade ago—to San Diego’s Timken Museum for its 50th anniversary next year. Also on view will be Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (which was at the Getty only last year) from the Rijksmuseum. Equally incredible is what’s not coming: J.M.W. Turner’s Valley of Aosta—Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm from the Art Institute of Chicago. Former Timken director John Wilson negotiated that loan as well, but the new management has decided that the famous Turner just isn’t up to Timken standards.

Those with a low tolerance for eye-rolling may want to avoid the San Diego Union-Tribune’s article on the loans (via @TylerGreenDC).

“’I have to credit John,’ [Timken board president Tim] Zinn said. ‘He did get them [the Vermeer and Raphael], and they are wonderful paintings. His idea was to have three paintings that would come in that were just world-class. We did not — the board and [new director] David Bull — think the third one was world-class in keeping with Vermeer and Raphael, so we are replacing it with the idea of bringing in some of the old paintings that were part of the Putnam sisters’ [the museum’s founders] collection.’”

Here’s the Turner, which many are happy to call a masterwork of the greatest British painter. I gather the Timken people are saying it’s too abstract to please Balboa Park crowds.

Zinn offers this on John Wilson’s sudden departure:

“’John had a particular philosophy in fundraising, and a particular philosophy as to the direction and vision of the museum,’ Zinn said. ‘And it differed quite a bit from the board.’ The Timken’s philosophy going forward, according to Zinn, is for it to be ‘the source of art, energy and fun’ for Balboa Park.”

Whereas Wilson’s philosophy was what—Pez dispensers, apathy, and boredom?

“’We like the idea of bringing fun into the museum…,’ Zinn said.”

So do I, but I sense this is a code word for bring on the Star Wars costumes.

One thing’s for sure: Wilson has mad skills in brokering loans. The biggest coup is that he talked the National Gallery into lending its fragile Raphael panel so soon after its 22 million-pound campaign to prevent it from going to Southern California.

Yet David Bull, Timken’s new director, sounds less enthusiastic than he might be about the little Madonna.

“‘Raphael is also a big name, but somehow with movies like [2003’s] ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ and so on, Vermeer is a bigger name in the public’s awareness.’”

Oh, right. Now that we’ve established it’s all about movies… they are aware that there’s a J.M.W. Turner movie coming this fall?