William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

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?

A Big Diamond, With a Big Price Tag, at NHMLA

The art world looks down on collectors who lend paintings to museums, then send them to auction, their value presumably enhanced with a museum pedigree. Sure, it happens—all the time!—but lenders are expected to be discreet about it. There are fewer inhibitions with lenders to natural history museums. A New York diamond-cutting firm, Cora International LLC, is lending the 12-carat “Blue Moon” diamond to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for several months starting Sept. 12. Cora CEO Suzette Gomes tells Bloomberg Businessweek that, after its museum sojourn, the diamond is expected to sell for “tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars,” (In case you lost count, that’s three “tens.”) The puffy Bloomberg piece adds that Cora has “received unsolicited calls from potential buyers.” I take that to say the diamond already has a “for sale” sign on it, and NHMLA’s Gem Vault is to be the showroom floor.

Rigo 23 at the Fowler

Rigo 23 is a San Francisco street artist who uses the techniques of commercial signage rather than a spray can. His works infuse modernist design with ambiguity about the process of telling anyone what to buy or think. (Imagine a Lester Beale having serious second thoughts about rural electrification.) A small show at the UCLA Fowler Museum, “Rigo 23: From the Heart of Santa Madera,” presents eight canvas murals on the theme of indigenous peoples. It could be described as a thoughtful alternative to this summer’s other art billboard project (both run through Aug. 31).

Fall 2014 Preview

You must have heard that MOCA’s exhibition schedule is “practically blank.” Yes and no: This October MOCA Pacific Design Center will be presenting an anticipated survey of Marjorie Cameron, goddess-mother of the L.A. school. L.A. museums’  fall season is notable for several shows on cult favorites, but there are more universally acknowledged names too. “Marsden Hartley: The German Paintings 1913-1915″ has recently opened at LACMA (through November 30), and a Rubens show will be coming to the Getty. There will be single great paintings or series by Delacroix, Thomas Cole, Manet, and Warhol. Big-picture surveys will treat Samurai armor and the cosmic phase of African art.

Tunic for Shango Priest. National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Franko Khoury

The latter exhibition, “African Cosmos: Stellar Arts” arrives at LACMA from the Smithsonian’s African Art Museum. (Aug. 24-Nov. 30). Shown is a Yoruba tunic for a Shango priest, possibly from the Baba Adesina family workshop.

Also coming to LACMA is “Playthings: The Uncanny Art of Morton Bartlett.” Slotted as an outsider, Bartlett was a commercial artist like Warhol and Rosenquist. In 1936 he embarked on a personal project of creating incredibly lifelike dolls of children, designing clothing for them, and photographing them in that clothing, or else nude. Bartlett has been compared to Lewis Carroll and Henry Darger, implying erotic interest in his effigies. Unlike Darger, Bartlett was no recluse. Friends say he dated women and never had children in his studio. Some believe he intended to market his creations as anatomically correct Barbies and Kens; others, that he was a serious artist who knew exactly what he was doing—creating disturbingly eroto-self-referential photographs in the mode of Paul Outerbridge. The LACMA show will include new prints of recently discovered color slides—such as the one at top right. (Aug. 30 to Jan. 31, 2015).

Another artist’s artist—like Cameron, working the Left Coast, single-name Freaknik territory—was Jess. “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle” comes to the Pasadena Museum of California Art (Sept. 14 to Jan. 11. 2015).

“Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take” runs Oct. 2 to Jan 17, 2015, at the Hammer Museum. Above is “As Close As I Can Get” (1998), a digital simulacrum created with analog Pantone color chips.

MOCA’s Cameron survey is subtitled “Songs for the Witch Woman.” Witch woman is not the nicest thing to call a proto-feminist artist. But Cameron had no problem with the term. She drove a hearse and gave Elvira-style Halloween interviews to L.A. media. She was also a draftsperson, a poet, and a Kenneth Anger superstar; a mystic muse to Wallace Berman and Philip K. Dick and a perp to the LAPD vice squad. At right is a self-portrait, The Black Egg. (Oct. 11 to Jan. 11, 2015).

The Getty Center has organized an exhibition around Rubens’ most ambitious tapestry commission, the Triumph of the Eucharist. Americans want Rubens to be a creator of autograph and not too obscurely religious paintings. The reality is that Rubens was a media-hopping art entrepreneur, deeply Catholic in both senses of the word. The Getty exhibition will present small oil sketches from Rubens’ hand alongside magisterial tapestries. Below is an oil sketch of The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek. (Oct. 14 to Jan. 11, 2015).

“Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Babier-Mueller Collection” stops at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion Oct. 19 to Feb. 1, 2015. It includes the stunning Tengu (crow demon) armor at top of post, from 1854.

Nineteenth-century American paintings from the New-York Historical Society will winter at LACMA in “Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School.” The loan will include Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire, model for Ruscha’s post-industrial series of the same title. Below, Cole’s The Course of Empire: Desolation. (Dec. 7 to June 7, 2015).

Finally, this fall MOCA will present Andy Warhol’s Shadows (from the Dia Art Foundation), LACMA will be showing Delacroix’s Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi (from Bordeaux), and the Norton Simon will entice Rose Bowl visitors with Manet’s The Railway (from the National Gallery of Art).

LACMA Buys a 1963 Studebaker Avanti

LACMA’s “Unframed” blog reports that the museum has acquired its first automobile, a 1963 Studebaker Avanti formerly owned by its designer, Raymond Loewy. Another Avanti, also a creamy white, was featured in the 2011 “California Design” show. The fiberglas Avanti (Italian for forward) was advertised as “America’s Most Advanced Automobile.” Designed in about 40 days at Loewy’s Palm Springs home, it downplayed chrome in favor of space-age styling. The full-size clay model got a standing ovation from the Studebaker board.

Few art museums collect cars, and those that do are highly selective. The Museum of Modern Art bought its first automobile in 1972. That was a 1946 Cisitalia “202” GT. The MoMA collection now has six cars, split evenly between sensible (Jeep, VW Beetle, Smart Car) and sexy (Ferrari, Jaguar).

A block from LACMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum has about 150 cars on display and a similar number in its vault. The white Avanti in “California Design,” formerly owned by Dick van Dyke, had been in the Petersen’s collection until it was sold last year for $29,700. The Peterson has a black 1963 Avanti, factory supercharged, in its vault.

At LACMA the Avanti is likely to be a star of the modern design collection—recognition that posterity may regard cars as the quintessential “decorative art” of the 20th century.

Broad v. the Alter Egos

A recent photo, tweeted by Wilshire Metro Realty, shows that the Broad’s honeycomb “veil” now covers the upper surface. Three of the vertical surfaces remain covered in scaffolding. The back wall, facing the viewer in this photo, is not intended to be honeycombed. Problems in fabricating Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s veil have delayed the museum’s opening by at least a year and occasioned a $20 million lawsuit against the German fabricator Seele (consistently spelled lower-case in the lawsuit).

Did you know you can sue somebody without saying whom you’re suing? You can, and Eli Broad is. He is suing 70 unidentified individuals (“John Does”) who are said to be “alter egos” of each other and minions of Seele/seele.

Sound a little paranoid? That was my thought. Then I figured it must be some kind of “Unreasonable Eli” strategy. Make like the plaintiff is cracking up and get sympathy from the jury.

Elsewhere in the document, the number of John Does increases to 100.