William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

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Quote of the Day: Charles Gaines

“[I] didn’t rely on Fresno as an art resource. I kept a New York base, which was a good thing because otherwise I would have been dragged into oblivion.’”

—Charles Gaines, in a 1990 feature in The Fresno Bee, “Is Fresno Any Place for an Artist?” The article is on view in the UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989″

Washington & Napoleon, Under the Dome

Earlier this month, the Louvre Abu Dhabi announced the acquisition of an 1822 Gilbert Stuart George Washington that was once in the collection of L.A.’s Hammer Museum. The Stuart was among the 92 objects that the UCLA-run museum returned to the Armand Hammer Foundation in 2007, in order to get out of an inconvenient clause in the founder’s will demanding near-continuous display of Hammer’s uneven collection.

It’s anyone’s guess how well the mild-mannered Stuart portrait will hold up in its new home. The Louvre Abu Dhabi plans to show it next to Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps—on loan from Versailles—and even Napoleon may have trouble competing with architect Jean Nouvel’s numinous dome.

Antonio Mancini, the Last Realist

LACMA has put on view a work by the artist that John Singer Sargent considered “the greatest living painter.” That wasn’t Cézanne, nor even John Singer Sargent. It was Antonio Mancini (1852-1930). The painting at LACMA, Dolce melodia (“Sweet Melody”, 1900), was auctioned at Christies last May and is on loan from an unidentified private collection. It is unusual in subject, paint handling, and format (6.5 feet wide by 20 inches high).

It shows a nude boy reclining on a table or mantle as an elderly violinist plays. There’s a hint of Degas in the violinist’s cropping. Mancini met Degas and Manet in 1870s Paris, and his early, realist works of starving waifs were considered akin the better-known Parisians’ ballerinas and beggars. For later works such as this, Mancini used a self-invented variant of Dürer’s perspective machine. He viewed his subjects though a frame with strings stretched in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal directions. Mancini then painted onto a similar string framework pressed flat against his canvas. The strings left a grid pattern in the sculptural paint surface, proof of the artist’s devotion to absolute realism in paintings that verge on illegibility.

The Superbad Art, and School, of Robert Williams

Robert Williams was the outlier of Paul Schimmel’s “Helter Skelter” (MOCA, 1991)—the only artist for whom low-brow was more than a pose. Williams came out of the hard-knock school of custom automotive grotesquerie. Schimmel’s MOCA exhibition invited reflection on how Williams’ art was or wasn’t akin to art-schoolers like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery is revisiting Williams’ oeuvre in “Slang Aesthetics!: Robt. Williams.” (Above, Death by Exasperation, 2010).

Nominally a one-artist show, “Slang” effectively explores the circle of Robert Williams. It shares gallery space with “20 Years Under the Influence of Juxtapoz.”

That would be Juxtapoz magazine, long a champion of the art of Williams and fellow travelers. The large roster spans Mark Ryman, Shag, Shepard Fairey, Odd Nerdrum—and, yes, Margaret Keane (Flower Heads, 2011, at right). Jon Swihart has portraits, in a magic-realist-Flemish primitive mode, of Williams and Juxtapoz publisher Greg Escalante. Like Williams, many of the artists have a passionate claque that does not usually include the curators of major art museums.

The shows have only a few sculptures, but they’re often among the most memorable pieces. Kazuhiro Tsuji has two hyperreal portraits of Dali and Warhol. They were at the L.A. Art Show, displayed together. They work better at LAMAG, in separate pitch-dark alcoves.

Williams has lately turned to sculpture. I know… doesn’t sound good. René Magritte, another popular punster, sought critical and economic refuge in bronze sculpture late in his career. The two Williams fiberglass sculptures are either the LAMAG show’s best things or worst things. For Williams, that might be the sweet spot.

Artists Support MOCA With $10 Million Auction

The New York Times is reporting that 35 artists will be donating a single artwork each for an auction to support MOCA’s endowment. The sale, to be held at Sotheby’s New York May 12-13, is to include pieces by board members John Baldessari, Mark Bradford, Mark Grotjahn, Barbara Kruger (above, Untitled [Provenance]), and Catherine Opie; former board member Ed Ruscha; and Sam Durant, Elliott Hundley, Jeff Koons, and Liz Larner. The auction house expects to raise about $10 million minus fees. That would add about 10 percent to the current endowment of $100 million — and take it 1/10 of the way to Philippe Vergne’s goal of $200 million.

“The Clock” to Run Overtime

LACMA is planning to show Christian Marclay’s The Clock for two months this summer. The world’s most accessible conceptual video has mostly been shown for its 24-hour running length only. But the Museum of Modern Art had The Clock on display for a month in Dec. 2012 to Jan. 2013. At LACMA The Clock will be on view during regular museum hours in the Art of Americas Building, July 5 to Sept. 7, 2015. Additional screenings will run the full 24 hours.

The Broad, First Impressions

The Broad opened Sunday for a one-day preview, using the raw Diller Scofidio + Renfro space for sound and light installations by BJ Nilsen and Yann Novak. As far as I can tell, everyone adores the interior and its lighting.

The buzz killer for some was the exterior. There have been complaints that the “veil” is less fluid, airy, and open than the early renderings. DS+R now says the veil’s openings were made smaller on the client’s request, to protect the art from direct sunlight (i.e., not because the digital design was physically impossible, or that the fabricator screwed up, or that “Unreasonable Eli” was too impatient to allow everyone to get it right).

From the inside, side views of the city are small and cropped. I’ve no problem with that. The croppings are interesting in their own right.

“Porous” is a word that describes SpongeBob SquarePants better than the Broad’s north side.

My main misgiving is with the Grand Avenue-facing “oculus.” This is a depression that supplies a window feature in a meeting room. The oculus was hard to understand in the renderings and in recent construction photos. It now appears that they are adding veil elements inside the glass, to create the illusion that the depression penetrates the glass skin. So far it looks less magical than anticipated.

OK: Not many people look as good as their Tinder photo, and not many buildings live up to the rendering. In the long run, everyone will forget the rendering. They won’t forget Disney Hall. The real question is how the Broad’s exterior relates to Gehry’s masterpiece. The Broad was pitched as a less flamboyant neighbor whose virtues are on the inside. I doubt the difference between the renderings and reality will matter much in the grand scheme of Grand Avenue.

There are many interesting details that haven’t got much attention, both inside and out. On two Grand Avenue corners the veil lifts up to create entrances. The diagonals are dramatic, and a gap between the veil and the building creates a sheltered space for expected lines of visitors. One entrance points to Disney Hall, the other to MOCA.

The entrances lead to a lobby that Christopher Hawthorne called “a strikingly unusual room, unlike any other in Los Angeles.” It’s almost a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set, a reading that will be enhanced when the trippy escalator and staircase are open (they weren’t for the preview).

Below is the staircase as seen from the main gallery floor.

I’ve noticed that whenever an architectually ambitious building is constructed, comment boards will talk about bird poop. Example, from the L.A. Times:

“I am sure the pigeons will make good use of the many alcoves. . . . I propose a new name, the Pigeon Loft!” (lynnke)

This is evidently how some people articulate their distaste for new architecture. There were similar comments about Disney Hall. Twelve years after opening, Disney Hall gleams like it’s brand new. Seven months before opening, the Broad could use a good scrubbing. A small bird perched with ease on a slanting groove. Obviously some of the grime is due to construction. Still, all buildings get dirty, and cleaning the squeegee-proof veil can’t be a piece of cake. The next-door neighbor sets a high standard.


Wright at Night

The reopening of Frank Lloyd Wright’s newly restored Hollyhock House drew crowds to Barnsdall Park, in part for the novel experience of seeing the home at night. Lines were three hours long through the night. The house remains open for free until Saturday at 4 PM.

Shown: photos from Instagrammers _ch_, amandafgordon, lj, and Bonnie McCarthy.

Barnsdall’s Billboards

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House reopens tomorrow after a restoration that attempts to turn the clock back to when oil heiress Aline Barnsdall lived there. Not restored, however, were one of the site’s most visible and controversial features, the news billboards. In the 1920s and 30s Barnsdall ringed the Olive Hill property with wordy billboards expounding on her leftish political causes. The local bourgeoisie complained, and Lloyd Wright (Frank’s son) redesigned the billboards to make them “less obnoxious.” Above is a photo by Edmund Teske. The billboards brought Barnsdall to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, who had FBI agents track her travels and hair salon appointments for 24 years.

Daniel Naudé Dogs to Getty

The Getty Museum has acquired three prints by South African photographer Daniel Naudé, known for monumental images of animals. The acquisitions depict Africa’s feral dogs, quicksilver-fast and paparazzi-shy, in luminous landscapes.

“People sometimes ask me if I used Photoshop, or if the dog is stuffed,” Naudé told The Guardian in 2013, speaking of a related photo in the Africanis series. “There are specific things about the composition I wanted to achieve: seeing both of the dog’s eyes, and keeping the horizon lower than the dog’s body so he cuts through the landscape. I was influenced by Richard Avedon’s In the American West series–while his portraits of people are taken against a white backdrop, the way they look and the clothes they wear manage to say something about where they come from. With the dogs I shot, the landscape is their clothes…”