William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

The Dog With the Pink Leg

Move over Wegman Weimaraners and Koons pups. The dog of the moment is skinny and has a hot pink leg. She’s a living conceptual art piece called Human, part of the Pierre Huyghe retrospective that opens Sunday in LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. “Human” was a sensation of Documenta 13 and the subject of countless selfies at the Pompidou and Museum Ludwig. The dog is one reason the museum requires timed tickets to see the show. Here’s all you need to know about Human.

What kind of dog is Human?

Human is an Ibizan hound, bred in ancient Egypt and said to be one of the oldest of surviving breeds. The dog became extinct in Egypt, however, and modern specimens descend from dogs on the Western Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Ibizan (or Pharaoh) hounds have a respected place in art history. They were the presumptive model for depictions of Anubis, jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife. (Shown, a recumbent Anubis from Late or Ptolemaic period, Metropolitan Museum.)

How is Human around large swarms of bees, and museum visitors?

Cool. (Another Huyghe installation involves thousands of bees.) Ibizan hounds are friendly, inquisitive, and intelligent. Videos show visitors petting Human. In previous showings, and probably at LACMA, Human had a sheltered place to go when she needed some quiet time.

What makes Human’s leg pink?

Red food coloring.

Why is Human’s leg pink?

Huyghe said it “breaks the form of ‘dog,’ makes you look at it as something else.” The color “makes me think of the Sex Pistols. It’s very punk, that color.”

What if I want my own Ibizan hound?

Well, be prepared for the lecture on how you shouldn’t get a dog just because you saw it in a relational aesthetics piece. Ibizan hounds require lots of exercise. It’s advised that they need plenty of space to run and an owner who can devote an hour a day to exercising them. There is an Ibizan Hound Club of the United States.

Are there any pictures of Human resting on a mink stole?

Yes.

La Tour’s “Louis XV” at the Getty

The Getty Center is showing three 18th-century French pastel portraits on loan from unidentified collector(s). They include works by Coypel and Perronneau; plus King Louis XV in Armor Before Tournai Cathedral by Maurice-Quentin de La Tour. This is apparently the portrait shown at the Salon of 1745, which led to other court commissions. La Tour did a second Louis XV portrait (1748) at the Louvre—three years older, heavier, more dissipated.

Is Mr. Turner Classy Enough for San Diego?

Last summer the Timken Museum’s visiting director, conservator David Bull, canceled one of the three major painting loans that had been organized for the Timken’s 50th anniversary in 2015. According to Bull, J.M.W. Turner’s famous Valley of Aosta—Snowstorm, Avalanche, and Thunderstorm wasn’t “world class” enough for the small Balboa Park institution. It was unclear whether that was to be taken as a thumbs down on Turner, the preservation of Valley of Aosta, or the appeal of a very abstract landscape.

The Timken’s Facebook page recently posted this photo of Bull… who happens to be shown working on Turner’s Rockets and Blue Lights.

Ghana’s Culture-Clash Cloths at the Fowler

The sleeper show of this fall is the UCLA Fowler Museum’s one-room “Yards of Style: African-Print Cloths of Ghana.” Museum displays of African textiles usually chase the chimera called authenticity. “Yards of Style” is deliriously inauthentic. Everything you see is mass-produced, much of it in China for African tastes. Those tastes embrace Eurotrash bling, World Cup soccer, Madison Avenue illustration, Silicon Valley tech gear (not the latest), and above all a jazzy discord of color and pattern.

Ghana’s printed cloths may be made into clothing, wrapped or tailored; they are also prized as prestige collectables and given as gifts. It’s said that an affluent woman may own over 150 wax-print cloths. That means that an Accra fashionista might have what you see at the Fowler several times over.

Popular designs are given names that carry prestige and may encode multiple levels of meaning. “Cinderella” (above) ought to keep diligent Africanists busy for a while. It’s a Chinese interpretation of a Franco-German-Disney fairy tale. The wand owes something to those in magic kits hawked to American youth. The perfume bottle, not part of the Cinderella or pre-teen magic canon, is out of a luxury ad. The op art ribbon, or whatever it is, must be indebted to Victor Vasarely. Or is the whole thing an atavistic echo of the top hat, magic stars, and trippy patterns of Paul Signac’s Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon?

There is a strictly Afrocentric side to the show. That’s the most outrageous travesty of all. One of the display racks (loosely modeled on those in Ghana’s markets) presents mechanically printed simulacra of handmade Kente and Adinkra cloths. American parallels would be Sherrie Levine’s After Walker Evans and plastic flooring made of laminated photographs of hardwood floors.

The faux-traditional cloths were at least made in Africa, as many of the show’s textiles were not. The globalizing nature of the printed cloth business, and every business, gets retro-infographic treatment in “Handshake.”

Many cloths are political. One 1984 design memorializes Liberia’s 3rd National Redemption Day. It lionizes, within a circle of hippopotami, Samuel K. Doe, the nation’s U.S.-supported (for a while) military dictator.

President and Mrs. Obama made a state visit to Ghana in 2009. Whatever his approval ratings here, Obama remains a hero in the Ghana cloth markets, with many photo-based likenesses on offer. An understated tribute is the enduringly popular pattern known as “Michelle’s Handbag” (made first in Ghana and, in the example below, knocked off in China).

Sturtevant, Barney Coming to MOCA

Though it’s still unofficial, two upcoming MOCA exhibitions have been disclosed. Curator Bennett Simpson’s Facebook page and today’s New York Times are saying that MoMA’s “Sturtevant: Double Trouble” will travel to MOCA March 21 to July 27, 2015. And in a New York Observer piece last month collector and former MOCA board member Maria Arena Bell mentioned an upcoming Matthew Barney show. Finally, it may or may not be meaningful that the Magdalena Fernandez exhibition, planned for 2014, then bumped for Warhol’s Shadows and moved up to 2015, is no longer listed on the MOCA site.

(Tyler Green tweeted the Sturtevant news. Above, Sturtevant’s Haring Tag July 15 1981.)

Sunday in the Park with Phil

Orange County collectors Mark and Janet Hilbert have promised their collection of California Scene paintings and watercolors to Chapman University, along with $3 million to build an 18,000-sq.-ft. eponymous museum to house it. Chapman is in the city and county of Orange, but the gift includes many early views of Los Angeles in both sunshine and noir modes.

At top is Phil Dike’s Sunday Afternoon in the Plaza de Los Angeles (1939). Dike imagines the city’s Garden of Eden as a Depression-era paradise. But most of Dike’s flâneurs have nowhere else to go.

Fletcher Martin’s A Lad from the Fleet (1935) represents a ring on the waterfronts of Long Beach or San Pedro. Below is James Patrick’s Red Cap Gossip, a 1939 watercolor of Union Station, and Millard Sheets’ San Dimas Train Station (1933).

War and Peach

European armor is a decorated shed; Japanese armor is a duck. That’s one takeaway of LACMA’s “Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.” The decoration on European armor is usually a two-dimensional skin on a functional form. In Japan, helmets take on exuberant sculptural forms crafted of papier-mâché, leather, and lacquer. The helmets in “Samurai: Japanese Armor” comprise a wunderkammer of natural forms: a peach, a shell, bamboo, the moon and stars.

Above are helmets shaped like an eggplant and a scallop shell. The scallop is a visual pun. Viewed from the side, it resembles a fish.

This helmet adopts the delicate spiral of a paper nautilus. This is not the chambered nautilus that Edward Weston photographed but the fragile egg case of a mollusk found in Japan (and California).

This helmet has a schematic diagram of the Big Dipper (Hokuto Shichisei, the “Northern Ladle”).

The supernatural imagery of Samurai helmets also has its roots in the natural world. This helmet decoration is a fish-bird hybrid.

One Western parallel might be nose art, which takes the readymade sculptural form of military aircraft fuselages as support for ferocious naturalia. Nose art originated with Italian and German pilots in the first World War and remains an active folk medium.

How the Rat Pack Went Modern

The Palm Springs Art Museum is opening its new Architecture and Design Center with “An Eloquent Modernist: E. Stewart Williams.” Williams’ first Palm Springs commission was a home for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra walked into the office eating an ice cream cone and demanding a Georgian mansion built in time for Christmas (it was May). Williams drew up two designs, one Georgian and the other buoyantly modern. Sinatra chose the modern design, launching Williams’ career as a Desert Modernist.

(Above, a bedroom in Sinatra’s home. Below, an exterior view with piano-shaped swimming pool.)

What Perenchio Could Mean for LACMA

For a century at least, Hollywood actors, agents, and moguls have been buying School of Paris modernism. A few assembled great collections; many more assembled weak ones; and the one constant was hand-wringing over Hollywood’s failure to support L.A. museums. TV and film executive Jerry Perenchio is set to change that paradigm with his conditional bequest of an Impressionist and modern collection to LACMA. (Above, Edouard Vuillard’s “Sacha Guitry in His Dressing Room,” 1912, owned by Perenchio.)

The twist: The museum must fund, construct, and open its planned ($600 million-ish) Peter Zumthor building on schedule (c. 2023)—or else the gift may be rescinded. Back in 1971, Perenchio put up $5 million to get Muhammad Ali into the ring with Joe Frazier. Get ready for the Capital Campaign of the Century.

It’s not just a question of raising the money, formidable as that challenge is. The clock is ticking… Any delay could potentially invalidate the gift: an earthquake, a stock market crash, a construction workers’ strike, fossil discoveries on site, etc., etc. This week every museum director must envy Michael Govan, but they’re also praying their own donors don’t get the idea of gift-wrapping an ultimatum.

What could the Perenchio bequest mean to LACMA? The museum says it’s set to gain “at least” 47 works by 23 artists. It has released images of 10 works, and the press release identifies a few more by name. Some of those works are already well-known, having been lent to exhibitions and widely reproduced. It is possible to say that, in quality, Perenchio’s collection is in a league with those of Norton Simon, Walter Annenberg, and Leonard Lauder. The bequest would give LACMA its only major works by Manet and Caillebotte; its most iconic pieces by Monet, Degas, Bonnard, and Léger. It would double, or nearly so, the museum’s representation of Pissarro and Magritte. A 1909 cubist drawing, Picasso’s Head of Fernande, is one of the choicest of modern drawings, poised on the cusp of art history.

An obvious question is how the Pernechio works relate to the Janice and Henri Lazarof collection, acquired by promised gift and purchase in 2007 and also touted as a game-changer. Chronologically there is considerable overlap between the Lazarof and Perenchio collections. The Lazarof collection is bigger (130 v. 47 works) and ranges well into the mid 20th century. But—going by the images released—Perenchio has more star works, those rivaling the best of their kind anywhere.

Here’s a tentative survey of how the Perenchio bequest could one day augment LACMA’s collection.

Monet: LACMA presently has four Monet paintings. Perenchio would add three, making seven—and the three Perenchio Monets would be the ones visitors remember. LACMA stands to have the biggest and best holding of Monet west of Chicago.

Manet: LACMA has no paintings or drawings by Manet. Perenchio is bequeathing a major pastel portrait of M. Gauthier-Lathuille fils (below left). Because of the pastel medium, it can’t be on permanent view, but it’s a Manet worthy of a great museum. If Monsieur’s face looks familiar, he’s the earnest lover in Manet’s painting Chez Père Lathuille.

Degas: Perenchio proposes to donate two drawings and three posthumous bronzes by Degas. One of the drawings is the widely analyzed and reproduced Au Café Concert: La Chanson du Chien (1876). Though it’s a modest-sized work on paper, it ought to upstage LACMA’s one Degas painting, the Bellelli Sisters. The bronzes would double the museum’s holdings, and one of the Perenchio works is the nude version of the Little Dancer.

Caillebotte: LACMA has nothing by Caillebotte, the once-forgotten Impressionist whose few best works now command eight-figure prices. In 2011 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts paid $16 million for Man at His Bath (selling a Monet, a Renoir, a Gauguin, and five other paintings to defray the cost). Perenchio’s Caillebotte, A Soldier, must be a response to Manet’s Fifer. It might be the third most important Caillebotte in America (after those in Chicago and Boston)?

Pissarro: Perenchio’s three paintings would augment the three in the Lazarof collection and the bird’s eye urban landscape, La Place du Théâtre Français, that the De Sylvas gave the pre-LACMA County Museum. That would make 7 Pissarros in all—not bad, considering that Impressionist-rich Art Institute of Chicago has 10.

Cézanne: Perenchio’s juicy Cézanne landscape, House and Tree (c. 1874) was a stand-out of MoMA’s 2005 “Cézanne & Pissarro” show. So was LACMA’s Sous Bois of the 1890s. Were they one day united at LACMA, they could offer a super-concise survey of Cézanne landscapes, albeit without a Mont Sainte-Victoire. They would join a still life and a figure already in the collection.

Picasso: It remains a scandal that LACMA doesn’t have a cubist Picasso painting. The Perenchio gift won’t remedy that. It does include a painting of Marie Thérèse-Walter and six Picasso drawings, including the key 1909 Head. That relates to LACMA’s bronze Head of a Woman, from an edition cast half a century later. The Perenchio Picassos stand to complement the Lazarof holding of 20 Picasso paintings, drawings, and watercolors. (The museum’s most notable Picasso paintings will likely remain the blue-period portrait from the Bright bequest and the mini-Guernica, Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mitchell.)

Bonnard: LACMA has just one Bonnard painting. Perenchio has two, one of them Après le Repas (1925). It has a fine old Hollywood provenance, having been owned by industry power couple William and Edith Mayer Goetz (Edith was daughter of Louis B. Mayer). When Après le Repas was sold along with most of the Goetz collection at Christie’s in 1988, a LACMA press officer told the L.A. Times: “It was not a collection we were expecting to receive as a gift.”

Léger: Perenchio is bequeathing two figurative Léger paintings and a late ceramic relief. Woman with Bouquet (1924, bottom left) will be the only fully realized example of Léger’s pneumatic-Art Deco style at an L.A. museum. It will complement LACMA’s more cubist Légers such as the 1918 The Disks, from the David Bright bequest, and the 1925 Composition in the Lazarof collection.

Magritte: LACMA has two Magritte paintings; the Perenchio gift would double that to four. Below center and right are Stimulation Objective No. 3 (1939) and Liaisons Dangereuses (1935). Thanks to the preeminent importance of Treachery of Images, already in the collection, LACMA’s representation of Magritte stands to rival MoMA’s holding of seven Magritte paintings.

Bottom line: Compared to other big American museums, LACMA’s holdings of impressionist and modern art have been anemic. That reflects the museum’s relative youth and an ego-driven history in which Norton Simon, J. Paul Getty, and Armand Hammer founded private museums rather than supporting the public one.

The Perenchio bequest won’t put LACMA on a par with Chicago or the great East Coast institutions. It will let LACMA’s early modern collection stand up to those of the Simon and Getty. Unlike those institutions LACMA presents contemporary art in the context of global art history. For that the Perenchio bequest would be pivotal. Today’s transnational postmodernism remains indebted to the avant garde revolution that occurred in Europe during the period that Perenchio has collected.

Preview of LACMA’s Perenchio Collection

Writing in the L.A. Times, David Ng and Suzanne Muchnick have identified the collector promising a major collection to LACMA: TV executive Jerry Perenchio, a founder of Univision. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because of Perenchio’s philosophy: “Stay out of the spotlight. It fades your suit.”

The Times article mentions one major qualification to the promised gift: “The museum must first complete construction of its new building, which is planned for 2023.” On the one hand, that’s one heck of a carrot for Zumthor fund-raising. On the other hand, if for any reason the Zumthor building doesn’t happen, the gift might not happen either.

Among the works promised to LACMA are Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil (top), Léger’s Woman With Bouquet. and Magritte’s Liaisons Dangereuses.