William Poundstone
William Poundstone on Art and Chaos

William Poundstone’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire

Keep “Marilyn Forever”—or Good Riddance?

After two controversial years in Palm Springs, Seward Johnson’s three-story-high polychrome sculpture Forever Marilyn is being moved to Johnson’s New Jersey sculpture park, Grounds for Sculpture.

Reports David Ng in the L.A. Times:

“But there is already talk of bringing the blond bombshell back to Palm Springs — permanently. Some local leaders believe the artwork embodies the city’s glamorous history, and they want to purchase it.

“‘We are determined to bring Marilyn back to us “forever.”  It is where she belongs,’ said Aftab Dada, chairman of PS Resorts, a local tourism organization that helped to pay for the sculpture’s visit.

“He is working with the city on the possible acquisition of the artwork, he said. The Sculpture Foundation, the Santa Monica organization that owns the piece, said it is considering selling the work.”

Rent-to-own is starting to become a pattern. Johnson’s Unconditional Surrender (a 25-foot sculpture based on Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo, V-J Day in Times Square) was temporarily installed on the San Diego waterfront from 2007 to 2012. Critics hated it; tourists and the military community liked it. In 2012 the San Diego Unified Port District voted to buy a replacement Unconditional Surrender for permanent display. Three board members resigned in protest and, it appears, disgust.

Your call.

L.A. Loves Mike Kelley

Is it remotely possible that “Mike Kelley” will rival the turnstile of “Art in the Streets”? MOCA Geffen was packed Sunday for a preview open to museum members only. The show opens to the general public Monday. It will surely be mobbed for many weekends to come, and it’s set to run a week longer than “Art in the Streets” did. More to the point: “Mike Kelley” is about as good as it gets.

Kelley was in 20 MOCA shows, starting with 1983’s “The First Show.” He had an early one-artist exhibition  at LACMA. The Ann Goldstein-organized retrospective will nonetheless be a revelation to the majority of L.A. viewers. Over 250 objects span phases of Kelley’s art that have never received museum treatment on the West Coast. “Mike Kelley” overflows the Geffen into a gallery (of 2008-9 paintings) at MOCA Grand Avenue.

One pivotal work didn’t make it to MOCA: Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites. Paul Schimmel wanted to acquire it for MOCA, losing out to the Museum of Modern Art. It was shown at PS1 but is not at the Geffen.

Chuck Jones Show for Academy Museum

The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, set to open in 2017, will be a venue for “What’s Up Doc? The Animation Art of Chuck Jones,” a show debuting at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image this July and set to travel to 13 cities through 2019. Besides the expected roadrunners and grinches, it will feature Jones’ 1965 experiment in abstraction, The Dot and the Line. The title almost rips off Kandinsky, and it shows the influence of Oskar Fischinger as well as 1960s movie titles. Though The Dot and the Line is known only to animation fanboys today, it won an Academy Award—something that eluded Fischinger.

For that matter, Jones never won a short-subject Oscar for his best-known work. The Academy apparently considered Daffy Duck and Roadrunner too lowbrow. It was the “highbrow” abstraction of The Dot and the Line that justified the award. Yet when Fischinger did abstract films 30 years earlier, that was too highbrow for the Academy’s tastes.

The politics of Oscars, or any kind of creative award, are complicated. This raises a still-open question about the Academy Museum’s programming: Will it focus on film artists who won Academy Awards to the exclusion of those who didn’t?

The Stakes Are Low in Autry’s Crowdfunding

Museums have turned to crowdfunding with some successes and many mortifying failures. The Autry’s new Indiegogo campaign, for its exhibition “Route 66: The Road and the Romance,” is unusual in several ways. For one thing: The show opens June 8. Since big exhibitions take years to organize—this one has rare loans like Kerouac’s manuscript of On the Road and Woodie Guthrie’s guitar—there isn’t much suspense as to whether “Route 66″ is going to happen.

The Autry is trying to raise $66,000. So far it’s got $3,147 (which isn’t bad, as the campaign started yesterday). But given that “Route 66″ is a given, what is the motivation to give?

Well, the Autry says that “Funds raised through this campaign will support the exhibition and related programs.” The Autry site lists two related programs, a panel discussion and a screening of the 2006 Pixar film Cars. Both already have dates and times, suggesting that they’re a done deal, too.

By the traditional rules of crowdfunding, the organization must meet its financial goal—or it gets nothing at all. But the Autry campaign uses an alternate system that Indiegogo called Flexible Funding: “This campaign will receive all funds raise even if it does not reach its goal.” So in this case, “crowdfunding” is just the brandy snifter on the piano.

Contribute $66,000 or we might not show this movie. Just kidding!!!—we'll show it.

Koons “Gazing Balls” to Broad

Eli Broad can’t seem to get enough of Jeff Koons, and his foundation has added two sculptures from the 2013 “Gazing Ball” series: Farnese Hercules and Mailboxes. The Broad collection now has about 35 works by Koons, spanning as many years (1979 onward).

East Meets West (& Picturesque) at the Huntington

Despite Robert Adams, there is a Los Angeles spring. This blooming and leafing season, the Huntington has opened two new pavilions in its 21st-century interpretation of a Chinese scholar’s retreat, the “Garden of Flowing Fragrance.” When the first phase of the garden debuted in 2008, the structures looked north across a newly-excavated lake to a raw construction site. Now the architecture and landscaping encompass the lake’s perimeter, offering a self-contained vision.

The new Clear and Transcendent Pavilion is a counterpart to the Huntington’s Shakespeare Garden. Architectural decoration encodes allusions to Tang Xianzu, the poet called the “Chinese Shakespeare.” The Waveless Boat Pavilion simulates a ship and doubles as a gallery of viewing stones.

The garden’s Disney/Vegas moment is the Lingering Clouds Peak Grotto with waterfall.

Ancient gardens, east and west, were organized into a series of views. For most people today, the knee-jerk reaction to such views is to pull out a cell phone. On a busy weekend the Huntington visitor can expect to dodge vernacular photographers’ sight lines; queuing up to enter the grotto and take a best shot. The imperatives of Instagram are changing garden design and the experience of gardens, making the highly photogenic “Flowing Fragrance” a vision of the future as well as the past.

Turner Show Coming to Getty in 2015

The Tate Britain-organized “J. M. W. Turner: Painting Set Free” will travel to the Getty Center next year, running Feb. 24 to May 24, 2015, and then to the De Young Museum, San Francisco. There was a big Turner show not so long ago (2007-8), but it didn’t come to the West Coast. “Painting Set Free” will focus on the artist’s late period (1835-50). Coincidentally, the Getty exhibition will overlap with LACMA’s showing of a famous French Romantic painting, Delacroix’s Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi.

(Pictured, Turner’s Peace—Burial at Sea, from the Tate collection.)

The News in Painting: Ben White’s “Westboro Baptist Church”

Ben White’s Members of Westboro Baptist Church Protest at a Neanderthal Burial Ceremony (2010). The funeral is for Jay Ward’s gender-neutral cartoon character Rocket J. Squirrel (voiced by June Foray).

When Did LACMA Become “LACMA”?

Google has released version 3.0 of its Ngram Viewer, the web app that lets users trace the use of words and phrases in books. I used it to ask: When did L.A.’s encyclopedic art museum become “LACMA”?

When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened in 1965, people didn’t know what to call it. That six-word name did not trip easily off the tongue. A c. 1965 postcard (with the reflecting pools it cannot be much later) calls it the Los Angeles Art Museum. The title of Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (1965-68) is evidence that “Los Angeles County Museum” was another accepted contraction. But as far as I can tell, the acronym LACMA was never used in press coverage of the museum’s opening and early years.

Here’s the Ngram viewer’s chart for “LACMA.”

Evidently “LACMA” hardly existed before the early 1970s, and usage (at least in books) increased steadily through about 2005.

I also tried “Los Angeles Art Museum” and “Los Angeles County Museum.” (Ngram Vewer permits phrases of five words at maximum.) The  chart below suggests that many were calling the institution the “Los Angeles Art Museum” before the widespread adoption of “LACMA.”

Some still find “Los Angeles County Museum of Art” an awkward name, not only for its eleven syllables but for the word county, which American usage links to fairs with pig races and deep-fried Snickers. It seems we’re stuck with “County” because it’s county and not city funds that supplies a large share of LACMA’s budget.

A more graceful name might be the Los Angeles Museum of Art, or LAMOA for short. But both that name and acroynm are already taken by an alternative space in Eagle Rock.

One new feature of Ngram Viewer is that it lets you search for usage just in fiction. Here is a chart of LACMA’s mentions in novels and short stories.

Apparently LACMA had a literary moment around 1990 and has dropped off since. But as far as fiction goes, it can’t compete with a nearby attraction. The Ngram Viewer can’t say whether the rise in fictional mentions of the redundant “La Brea Tar Pits” represents the birth of a postmodern metaphor—or the death of copy editing.

Why Isn’t Every Museum an Artist’s Museum?

John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, and Catherine Opie have rejoined the MOCA board, along with Mark Grotjahn. That brings the number of artist-trustees back to four.

I’ve never understood why the artist-trustee concept hasn’t been more widely adopted—what’s not to like? The Hammer Museum has an Artist Council of 15 artists, plus Kruger and Lari Pittman on the Board of Overseers, and Frank Gehry on the Board of Directors. SFMOMA has Ed Ruscha (he’s MOCA-board diaspora, of course). But artists of this stature are rarely found on museum boards outside of California.

(Shown, Grotjahn’s 1997 Untitled [three-tiered perspective] from MOCA’s collection.)