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Posts Tagged ‘Hammer Museum’

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.

“Apparitions” at the Hammer

The UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now” is grounded in history, yet of the moment. It explores frottage, Max Ernst’s coinage for placing paper over a rough surface and rubbing with a pencil or crayon to get a pattern or aleatoric image.

Ernst didn’t really invent frottage, save for the word and its use in surrealist games. Rubbings were used millennia ago to document Chinese carvings. The invention of photography did not quite make the technique obsolete, as demonstrated by antiquarian rubbings of tomb monuments. Shown at top is a 1959 rubbing of an Angkor Scene from the Ramayana.

Ernst and the surrealists used frottage to free-associate weird pictures. At right is a 1949 Cadavre Exquis, partly by André Breton. There are examples by major and lesser-known surrealists, many of them women. But the show’s revelation is the rich legacy of surrealist frottage in recent decades. Frottage, though not always labeled as such, has been part of the counter-intuitive resurgence of drawing in the digital age.

Michelle Stuart’s #7 Scroll (1973) is a rubbing of the Earth itself. It is frottage’s Great Piece of Turf (though Stuart said she was influenced by NASA mapping of the lunar surface). It’s the map that is the territory, a concept talked up by Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges.

A History of Type Design (2011), by Scott Myles and Gavin Morrison, is a set of lithographs from rubbings of the grave markers of modernist type designers (William Morris, Eric Gill, Stanley Morison). Inevitably the carvings paid homage to the designers’ best-known typefaces.

Tim Hawkinson’s 1987 Untitled (Chair Back) is mesmerizing, though hard to explain. It’s a truncated chair back used a canvas stretcher for a near-monchrome rubbing of the chair’s fretted splat. It’s frottage, it’s assemblage, it’s a painting. It’s a self-referential Kubrick monolith that is also a tombstone.

Tacita Dean’s “J G” to LACMA, Met

LACMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have jointly acquired Tacita Dean’s J G, a film inspired by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and British novelist J.G. Ballard’s short story, “The Voices of Time.” The anamorphic 35-mm film was shown at the Hammer Museum last winter.

On Jan. 17, Dean will discuss her work with Michael Govan and screen her film Manhattan Mouse Museum (2 PM in LACMA’s Bing Auditorium).

Hammer Is Building a Bridge to Itself

The Hammer Museum is building a bridge across its courtyard. It seems that many visitors were missing the permanent collection galleries on the east side of the building’s loop. The bridge, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture and named for former Senator and museum chairman John V. Tunney, is set to open February 2015. The Tunney Bridge will help correct a problem that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Edward Larrabee Barnes’  building has always been confusing to first-time visitors. As a 1991 review in the L.A. Times complained, “The whole way one enters the museum is downbeat and confusing.”

In the Beaux-Arts era museums had grand steps leading up to a grand entrance. There is only one museum like that in the region, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. But its grand entrance has not been an entrance for many years. It leads into a rotunda with no provision for ticketing. NHMLA was built in a genteel age when taxpayer-supported museums were free.

NHMLA is now directing visitors to a flashy new entrance (via a bridge).

The County’s other flagship museum, LACMA, has also accreted entrances over the years. Making sense of its campus is one of the main arguments for the Peter Zumthor redo. The Zumthor building will have multiple entrances by design. One might lead to Chinese galleries, another to American galleries, etc. It remains to be seen whether the public will embrace this clever idea or simply want to know which entrance is “best.”

The Getty Center was built in a single billion-dollar campaign and ought to be perfect. Except… Richard Meier doesn’t like signs. This defensible stance is harder to defend in a big complex combining public and private elements. The Getty has helpful folk greeting tram debarkees—and pointing out which building is the museum. It has recently taken to plastic signage underfoot, nudging visitors to the Exhibition Pavilion.

Ultimately, all of this reflects a prevailing architectural and museologic philosophy. Museums should be non-hierarchical. They should not enforce an Alfred Barr circuit; not privilege one type of art, or one experience of art, over another.

This is a libertarian philosophy (even if most espousing it cringe at the mention of Ayn Rand, or Rand Paul). The visitor is given total, existential freedom to invent his or her own experience. But the human reality is that total freedom is not all it’s cracked up to be. Most of us, most of time, welcome a “curated” heads-up—just as long as we can opt out. The Hammer’s bridge might be a modest step in that direction.

Why Online Museum Ratings Fail

Which is the better Hammer Museum—the one in L.A. that shows art, or the one in Haines, Alaska, that shows actual hammers? There’s an app for that. Several, in fact. Google and TripAdvisor give higher ratings to the Alaska museum, and Yelp! calls it a tie.

That in a nutshell is the problem with crowdsourced museum ratings. Or consider a TripAdvisor press release that was widely reported as news last week. A TripAdvisor algorithm had determined that the best museum in the whole wide world is… the Art Institute of Chicago. The Getty Center came in #4 (#2 in the U.S.), beating the Met, the Musee d’Orsay, and the Prado.

Before anybody gets too excited, the #8 American museum on TripAdvisor’s list was Chilhuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.

TripAdvisor's #4 American art museum presents the art of Dale Chihuly

Okay, right: never mind.

Here are some TripAdvisor reviews of the Louvre: “Huge disappointment and waste of time”…  ”Never want to go back to that place”… “It sucks.”

Whether you think online ratings are worthwhile or not, they’re getting harder to shrug off—especially for museums hoping to court younger audiences.

A couple of issues with online ratings have received much attention. You must have heard that Yelp! is running what some call an extortion racket and that a recent court ruling supported its right to do just that. (“It’s Mafia on the Internet,” griped one of the plaintiffs.) Review sites are also subject to businesses gaming the ratings by encouraging friends and customers to post good reviews (or bad reviews of competitors).

I don’t think either issue is too much of a factor with museums. But from the end-user perspective, the biggest problem with museum ratings may be that every significant museum gets almost the same rating: 4.5 out of 5, plus or minus 0.5.

TripAdvisor gives LACMA 4.5 stars, same as the Louvre and Perez Art Museum Miami. MOCA is a 4. The Huntington, Norton Simon, and Getty are perfect 5s, as are the Met, the Frick, the National Gallery, Crystal Bridges, and the Kimbell.

It should be apparent that most reviewers aren’t trying to compare quantity and quality of art from an global perspective. Probably they shouldn’t: There’s little point in downgrading a Santa Monica restaurant because you think there’s a better one in Tuscany.

Many raters are comparing the experience as much as the collection or exhibitions. That means things like amenities, gardens, admission cost, and not being too crowded. This isn’t unreasonable, and I imagine that it helps L.A.’s sybartic, indoor-outdoor museums.

But… Florence’s Uffizi, being only a palace, gets downgraded for lacking the coffee kiosks and comfy seats Americans expect. Only a few art museums get higher ratings than Disneyland.

Yelp! citizen-reviewer on MOCA: “Who is the guy who thinks this shit is art? I’d like to meet him, shake his hand and then punch him in the face."

How Much Does Free Admission Boost Attendance?

“We’ve noticed a 25 percent increase in attendance since going free,” whispers an unnamed UCLA Hammer Museum source in The Hollywood Reporter. That echoes a July report credited to the Hammer’s Samuel Vasquez, director of events and visitor experience. The Hammer instituted free admission this February. (Above, a Barbara Kruger staircase install at the Hammer).

Those following the free v. fee debate know that a few museums in the U.S. and U.K. have claimed doubled or better attendance after eliminating admission fees. But the effect of going free clearly depends on how high the admission was before. As a university museum the Hammer had already been free to its core audience of UCLA students and faculty. Its $10 admission for others was relatively cheap by L.A. standards.

The Indianapolis Museum is often cited as the great free admission success story. Its attendance doubled after director Maxwell Anderson dropped a $7 admission in January 2007. That factoid merits an asterisk. The IMA had been free from 1941 until 2006, when it began charging $7. Attendance sagged, then rebounded when the admission was eliminated.

I’d bet that the Hammer is a better model than the IMA for shaping realistic expectations about visitor counts following free admission. For those who know how hard it is to move the needle on attendance, 25 percent is a lot.

When Mayberry Had an Arts School

From 1933 to 1957 Black Mountain, North Carolina, had the nations’ most advanced interdisciplinary arts school. Faculty and students of Black Mountain College included Joseph Albers, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Peter Voulkos, and Emerson Woelffer. The UCLA Hammer Museum is to present a show built around Black Mountain’s artistic legacy. Organized by the Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston, and opening there in fall 2015, it will travel to the Hammer and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Disambiguation: Los Angeles Museum of Art

You must have heard that Alice Könitz’s nano-alternative space-decorated shed, the Los Angeles Museum of Art, has won the Hammer’s 2014 Mohn Award. You may be less clear on which of at least three LAMOA avatars is the real thing.

Structurally LAMOA is a 13-foot-long wood framework with corrugated metal roof. That structure (at left) is currently in Pasadena, at the Armory Center for the Arts, in “The Fifth Wall: Tom Friedman, Evan Holloway, Farrah Karapetian, Alice Könitz, Marco Rios, Corinna Schnitt, Artur Żmijewski” (through Dec. 14).

Normally LAMOA is parked outside Könitz’s Eagle Rock studio and filled with minivan-size installations by other artists. Below is LAMOA in situ, with the 2013 installation of Stephanie Taylor’s Three Samoan Proverbs. (Just don’t try to visit now. More attentive readers of the previous paragraph will have noticed that LAMOA is now in Pasadena.)

What is the Hammer Museum showing then? It’s a set of modules that Könitz created for “Made in L.A. 2014″ (top of post, through Sept. 7). They are sized to fit the LAMOA framework and are installed with other artists’ works, chosen by Könitz. The Hammer website wryly compares its presentation of LAMOA to “the precedent of other touring museum collections, such as the Musée d’Orsay and the Barnes Foundation. Typically such exchanges between museums create institutional goodwill and benefit the organizing institution with an additional stream of income while attracting large audiences for the hosting institution.”

Further disambiguation: The Los Angeles Museum of Art is not to be confused with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (a misnomer that occasionally turns up in New York media); Los Angeles County Museum on Fire (this one or the real one); nor the Los Angeles County Fire Museum (in Bellflower, chronicling the history of local fire-fighting).

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.)