William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Splish Splash

Last night Christopher Hawthorne hosted “A Debate Over the New LACMA” at Occidental College. There was some discussion of the merits (or lack thereof) of William Pereira’s 1965 LACMA complex, which would be razed for Peter Zumthor’s new building. The most memorable analogy was supplied by architect Mark Lee.

“For me Pereira is a bit like the Bobby Darin of architecture. He’ll do something that is really great, like ‘Up a Lazy River’ and ‘Mack the Knife,’ and something really bad like ‘Splish Splash.’ The great ones are like Transamerica Tower and Marineland. LACMA, I have to say, is closest to ‘Splish Splash.’ I think we have to be strategic in terms of what to preserve.”

The debate is archived on the Oxy site.

Huntington Installs a Big Western Landscape

Millard Sheets, Mural for the Home of Fred H. and Bessie Ranke. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Larry McFarland and M. Todd Williamson. Photo: Tim Street-Porter.

The Huntington has installed Millard Sheets’ 1934 Mural for the Home of Fred H. and Bessie Ranke in its new Stewart R. Smith Board Room. Originally the panels covered four walls of a Hollywood Hills dining room (below). The Huntington has reconfigured them as a panorama. That meant omitting sections over doors and windows. Fortunately these showed only blank sky, and the sections stitched together almost seamlessly.

The 46-foot-wide mural represents an idealized Southern California without a trace of human presence. It’s probably the largest painting of local landscape you’re likely to find. (David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, at LACMA, is 20 feet wide.) Poised between art deco and regionalism, it must also reflect Sheets’ interest in Chinese art (the “unrolling” emphasizes a parallel to Chinese scroll painting).

Huntington visitors will have access to the mural. A set of six Calder tapestries have recently been installed too, and Calder’s Jerusalem Stabile and Doyle Lane’s Mural are expected to be on view for the April 4th opening of the Huntington’s new Steven S. Koblik Education and Visitor Center.

U.K. Curbs Its Enthusiasm for L.A. Art

The Spectator (U.K.)’s weekly e-mail promises a feature on “the greatest American painter you’ve never heard of.” Turns out that’s… Richard DiebenkornMartin Gayford’s review of the Diebenkorn show at the Royal Academy offers measured enthusiasm for Diebenkorn, a “lower-voltage talent” who lived in Venice Beach (“a sort of Californian Brighton”).

“During his final decades he was based in southern California, which is in US terms — for painting, rather than movies — a bit provincial. Nonetheless, there were some marvellous artists on the West Coast in the 1960s and 70s. Among these were Ed Ruscha — who once published a photo essay depicting 34 LA parking lots — and James Turrell, who makes art out of nothing but light and coloured air…

“The Ocean Park pictures look splendid in the Sackler Wing, even if, like so much abstract painting, they are repetitions of a single idea. But you don’t yearn to see a larger exhibition of Diebenkorn…  a little goes a long way…”

Sturtevant’s Blurred Lines

Sturtevant was the first and most relentless appropriationist, making a career out of making close copies of other artists’ work. What are we to make of her art? You won’t find any easy answers in MOCA’s “Sturtevant: Double Trouble,” and Sturtevant herself wasn’t one to supply them. (Above, Elastic Tango, 2010.)

Some Sturtevant facts that may or may not be helpful:

• Sturtevant hated the word “copies.” She insisted her works were “replications.” (Left, her version of Jasper JohnsTarget With Four Faces.)

• Sturtevant did a full-size painting of a Roy Lichtenstein print, Crying Girl. It’s like the painting Lichtenstein would have made of the image, except that he never did.

• The level of verisimilitude ranges from that of the Basquiat pastiches to the licensed Kehinde Wileys seen in Empire. There are those who marvel at the exactitude of Sturtevant’s simulacra, and the lengths she went to to make them accurate. Others insist that every copy is subtly “off” and that the experience of Sturtevant’s art requires knowing the models well enough to appreciate the off-ness.

• Sturtevant had an good eye. For the most part, she replicated brand-new works by peers who were only beginning to achieve recognition. This is one difference between her art and that of Sherrie Levine, who mostly mined the textbook art of previous generations. (Both Sturtevant and Levine had a thing for Duchamp and Man Ray, though.)

• There is some analogy between Sturtevant and Jorge Luis Borges’ “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” (1939). The fictional Menard is a 20th-century French writer who “re-creates” Don Quixote, not as an act of plagiarism but of conceptualism. One interpretation of Sturtevant is that she is a Borgesian character defined by the act of replicating other artists’ art.

• Sturtevant asked Andy Warhol for his silk screen used to print Flowers. Warhol said, sure. This is held as evidence that Warhol “got” Sturtevant. Sturtevant downplayed that reading in an W magazine interview shortly before her death: ““Everyone says, ‘So, Andy really understood!’ Well I don’t think so. I think he didn’t give a fuck. Which is a very big difference, isn’t it?”

LACMA Buys a Bernini at TEFAF

The Art Tribune is reporting that LACMA has bought a major Gian Lorenzo Bernini portait bust at TEFAF.

Ursula Schlegel first identified the bust as a Bernini in 1992. It appeared in the Getty’s 2008 Bernini portraiture show. The bust measures 21.5 inches high and is believed to be a late work, dated 1670-75. That would make it roughly contemporary with the hyperreal Bust of Gabriele Fonseca and the (rejected) model for an equestrian statue of Louis XIV.

The Art Tribune’s Didier Rykner praises the bust’s “vivacity of expression and movement.” The sculpture is less finished on the back, implying that it was intended for a niche or tomb monument.

The acquisition promises to be another coup for LACMA’s European art curator J. Patrice Marandel. How many curators in this day and age can brag of adding Bernini, Watteau, David, and Ingres to a collection that didn’t have them? The bust will add star power to an under-appreciated set of Italian baroque sculptures and paintings assembled over the past few decades. As far as I can tell, it will become the only securely attributed Bernini sculpture west of the Kimbell. The Getty’s Boy with a Dragon, bought as a youthful work by G.L. Bernini, is now assigned to his father, Pietro Bernini—presumably in collaboration with his teen-age genius son.

It has been speculated that the LACMA bust is a posthumous portrait of Pietro Bernini. There is no consensus about the sitter, though, and for now it’s being called Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman.

UPDATE. The Los Angeles Times says the bust is a gift of the Ahmanson Foundation, in honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary.

LACMA Is #4, on Instagram

LACMA is  the 4th-most Instagrammed museum in the world. Michael Govan has lately adopted this as a talking point, crediting the public artworks Urban Light and Levitated Mass for the ranking. The Instagram list, based on the most geotagged locations for the photo-sharing app’s images in 2014, runs:

1. Louvre
2. Museum of Modern Art
3. Metropolitan Museum
4. LACMA
5. Hermitage
6. Centre Pompidou
7. British Museum
8. Victoria & Albert Museum
9. Tate Modern
10. Art Institute of Chicago

Most of these institutions have big public artworks or architectural icons, like Pei’s Louvre Pyramid. The current LACMA campus may be a little deficient in Instagram-worthy architecture, but its public artworks result in hundreds of posts each month. Urban Light draws crowds who don’t necessarily know who Chris Burden is but understand it well enough, as a free public stage for enacting dramas of their own devising. Photos of Levitated Mass, on the other hand, tend toward the ridiculous. A large proportion of #levitatedmass shots are goofy images of people holding up the boulder. It’s your call whether that’s a travesty of Heizer’s austere intentions or whether the vernacular photos complete the piece.

In a recent panel of museum leaders at the Music Center, Govan argued that museums’ “digital strategy” need not be limited to apps and websites.  ”When I first came to LACMA… a trustee raised their hand and said, ‘So why then are you spending millions of dollars planting street lamps and trees and moving 350 ton rocks when you can be on digital media?’ I said, ‘Well, you have to take your Facebook picture from somewhere.’”

Hammer to Premiere Mary Reid Kelley Trilogy

This summer the UCLA Hammer Museum will showcase three Mary Reid Kelley videosPriapus Agonistes (2013), Swinburne’s Pasiphae (2014) and, making its world premiere, The Thong of Dionysus. All riff on antique myth as a B&W feminist cartoon. Last year, when Swinburne’s Pasiphae was shown in London, Kelley explained,

“I’m drawn to what I think of as ‘terminal’ artists: artists who carry a style or idea to a point beyond which seems (at least for a while) impossible to go: like Stanley Kubrick or the Ramones or Agnes Martin. Swinburne consumed all of the oxygen in English poetry for a while. And he was, by all accounts, a superbly eccentric character: a red-haired dandy, alcoholic masochist, who read and was influenced by Sade and Baudelaire while the former was illegal and the latter was unknown in England.”

“Zeitgeist” at the Getty

A 2011 Getty Museum show marked the acquisition of a group of 19th-century German drawings. Four years later the Getty is offering “Zeitgeist: Art in the Germanic World, 1800-1900.” It’s not just a retread. Half its objects were not in the previous show. They include a few paintings, a few recent acquisitions, plus loans from local collections. Caspar David Friedrich and Philipp Otto Runge, absent from the 2011 exhibition, each command a wall to themselves (at top, Runge’s silhouette Poppy).

The biggest surprise might be “local collections.” Who in L.A. collects 19th-century German art? (Shown, Joseph Anton Koch’s painting, Landscape with Apollo Among the Shepherds, c. 1836.)

The only lenders mentioned by name on the exhibition’s labels are Eva and Brian Sweeney. The Sweeney’s Germanic art is often on view at the El Segundo Museum of Art. The other lenders go uncredited, but KPCC’s Marc Haefele has identified them as Fiona Chalom and Joel Aronowitz, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist and a Cedars Sinai plastic surgeon (and a couple).

Chalom is on the board of the Wende Museum. The latter’s website says she has “a significant art collection of 19th century German Nazarene painting as well as communist Hungarian and North Korean artworks.” How cool is that?

This Getty show has two paintings and about a dozen drawings by the Nazarenes, described as the German/ Viennese forerunners of Britain’s Pre-Raphaelites. The Nazarenes were an anti-academy movement whose principal members moved to Rome and lived in an abandoned monastery.

Though the Nazarenes claimed to despise neoclassicism, their portrait drawings were very much in the mode of Ingres. At right is Friedrich Preller’s portrait of the Belgian painter Jan Antoon Vershaeren, a gift of Thomas and Gianna Le Claire. It dates from 1829, not long after Ingres’ gig as Grand Tour portraitist in Rome.

The Getty is also showing its first drawings by Friedrich and Carl Gustav Carus, both recently added; the Getty Research Institute’s four-print suite of The Times of Day by Runge; the museum’s two great Klimt drawings in period frames; Frantisek Kupka’s pastel Girl Shading Her Eyes (1908), one of the few strictly modern works in the museum’s drawing collection.

Another loan is a magisterial Friedrich wash drawing, View toward Cape Arcona, Rügen (bottom of post). The subject and medium are similar to the View of Arkona with Rising Moon and Nets that the Getty tried unsuccessfully to buy back in 2001. The latter drawing went to Swiss dealer Jan Krugier, who sold it to the Albertina. The View toward Cape Arcona in “Zeitgeist,” described as the most detailed of the Arkona watercolors, went for $748,000 in 2014. That was the same sale in which the Getty bought Seurat’s drawing of an Indian Man (from the Jan Krugier collection) for $4 million.

Larry Sultan’s Mom Is a Meme

Larry Sultan’s My Mother Posing for Me (1984), in the artist’s LACMA retrospective, has caught the eye of Twitter wit Uncle Dynamite (@UncleDynamite).



SEE ALSO Joseph Ducreux, Master of the Internet Meme

Pride and Prejudice and Earthquakes

Anyone looking to write a sequel to those Jane Austen/zombie mashups might consider earthquakes. An 1750 letter by Austen’s relation James Leigh, part of a group of family letters recently acquired by the Huntington Library, describes Regency England’s fear of the Big One:

“A general panic seems to have taken possession of all here, particularly the female world, and made us all deaf to everything but our own fears. We have already felt two pretty strong earthquakes at 28 days distance. On Thursday, three weeks, it is prophesised we shall have another much more violent than the former, in which London is to share the fate of Lima.”