William Poundstone
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Posts Tagged ‘Hammer Museum’

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.)

The Biggest Little Museum in L.A.

Here’s one sign of the times: The artist line-up for the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2014″ includes two museums and one radio station. KCHUNG is the real deal, 1630 on your AM dial. The museums need qualification: They’re the Los Angeles Museum of Art (not your mother’s LACMA, in Eagle Rock) and the Public Fiction collective (in Highland Park, one avatar being the Museum of Public Fiction). The Hammer biennial’s embrace of what curator Michael Ned Holte is calling “micro-institutions” acknowledges a subterranean current of L.A. art. Call it institutional critiques masquerading as actual institutions. (Above is the Los Angeles Museum of Art, in its entirety, showing Stephanie Taylor’s 2013 installation Three Samoan Proverbs.)

The Museum of Jurassic Technology must be the nexus of this meme. David and Diana Wilson don’t break the fourth wall and out MJT as fiction or art. LAMOA and Public Fiction are in a sense more earnest. In plain artspeak, they’re alternative spaces.

The Los Angeles Museum of Art is run by German-born, Cal Arts-trained Alice Könitz out of her industrial-park studio in Eagle Rock. It’s the Twitter of museums. Artists are constrained to work in a rectilinear framework measuring 13 feet wide at largest dimension. The given architecture evokes bungalow, gazebo, tea room, car port, containerized storage unit, and A-Z living unit. The corrugated roof is early Frank Gehry, while the exhibition program subverts the Bilbao dictum that mega-spaces inspire mega-art.

Maybe that dictum is a guy thing. Since its 2012 opening, LAMOA has shown five artists, four of them female. The three one-woman-show-a-year average compares favorably to some of the larger institutions.

When a show is up, LAMOA is open Sundays, 1 to 5, at 4328 Eagle Rock Blvd. A Violet Hopkins installation opens Feb. 23, with opening day hours of 3 to 6. The Hammer’s “Made in L.A.” opens June 15.

Eugène Grasset’s Female Trouble

The Hammer Museum is showing a promised gift to UCLA’s Grunwald Center that ranks with its most important ever: the Elizabeth Dean collection of 900 fin de siècle Parisian prints. “Tea and Morphine: Women in Paris, 1880 to 1914″ surveys the period’s big names—Cassatt, Bonnard, Redon, Toulouse Lautrec—along with the second and third tiers.

The most engaging second-stringer must be Eugène Grasset. A Hammer brochure nominates Grasset’s Morphinomane (1897, at top) as “the most shocking image of the late nineteenth century…at least as disturbing as Edvard Munch’s Scream series…” Grasset’s morphine addict/prostitute is edgy thematically and stylistically. The mottled yellow wall at lower left verges on the cellular Sam Francis of a much later Paris.

Grasset was a Swiss-born Parisian who tried just about everything, from painting to designing jewelry. He found his metier in lithographic posters and prints and had some success in the American market. Grassat did a cover for Harper’s magazine, and Tiffany translated one of his illustrations into stained glass. As that suggests he was a exponent of feel-good Art Nouveau, with a few notable exceptions.

Grasset’s other shocker is four years earlier than Morphinomane, in a more posterized style. The Acid Thrower references a spate of crimes in which wronged Parisian women threw acid in the faces of rivals or lovers. Grasset’s virago is Margaret Hamilton green, an Addams Family goof on the period’s posters of bright young things clutching glasses of the finest champagne. But there’s nothing funny about those eyes.

Though Grasset lacked Munch’s genius, his interest in the private agonies of women is notable. Munch’s lone women are heavy-lidded, orgasmic Madonnas. His pictures of women and men together—dancing at a ball, or a feeding on a male vein—are about how women make men feel.

There is an odd connection between The Scream and The Acid Thrower. The August 27, 1883, volcanic eruption of Krakatoa threw clouds of dust into the air, creating blood-streaked twilights around the globe for as much as year afterward. The earliest version of The Scream is from 1893, a decade later, and The Acid Thrower is from 1894. Some historians have argued that Munch drew on memories of the Krakatoa sunsets. Allowing for the difference in media and technique, The Acid Thrower’s fantastic cloudscape seems comparable.

Scream inspired the most meta of pop film franchises. More relevant to Grasset is John Waters’ 1974 Female Trouble, in which an aesthete-villainess throws acid in the face of poor Dawn Davenport (Divine). Embodying the worst of all possible genders, Divine turns assassin, asking her victims, “Who wants to die for art?”

Free Admission (and Candy) Draw Hammer Crowds

The UCLA Hammer Museum drew crowds on Sunday, the first day of its free-admission policy. It was also the opening day of the appropriation/instititutional critique show “Take It or Leave It: Institution, Image, Ideology.” (Which, for the record, also offered free candy, via Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Just keep your hands off the Nayland Blake gingerbread house.)

It’s my unscientific impression that there were several times as many visitors as usual for a Hammer opening day. This was true throughout the museum, even in the permanent gallery of Armand Hammer’s paintings. There was an almost packed house for Kelly Nipper’s Black Forest performance. Videos such Nathaniel Mellors’ The Sophisticated Neanderthal Interview had multiple simultaneous viewers—never a given in the past. There were more families with children (even though accompanied kids had been free under the old policy).

I can’t say whether Sunday’s crowds were a one-time bump or whether attendance might continue to grow as more of the audience learns of the free admission. In any case, the Hammer’s results will be watched closely, as large museums in L.A. and several other cities are studying free admission. (Large museums in New York, not so much.)

Tyler Green wrote in Modern Painters,

“With the exception of tourism-fueled art museums in New York and San Francisco, American museums typically earn only 2 to 4 percent of their operating revenue from general admissions charges. In the year before going free, general admissions brought the [Dallas Museum of Art] $600,000, just 2.6 percent of its $23 million operating budget.

“‘At what point are you going to allow something like 2.5 percent of your revenue to get in the way of mission fulfillment, of serving the fullest potential audience?’ [DMA director Maxwell] Anderson asks.”

Mohn Award v. Income Inequality

As you may have heard, the Hammer Museum’s Mohn Award had been revamped for its second outing this year. The formerly crowd-sourced biennial prize of $100,000 and a publication will now be awarded by a jury. Jay Mohn has kicked in an additional $50,000 for two new prizes, a $25,000 career achievement award determined by the same jury and a $25,000 people’s choice award voted on by Hammer Museum visitors.

I’ve heard several complaints that the new system is like something devised by a committee (which it was, more or less). But hey, it’s only 3 categories, which is 21 less than the Academy Awards have.

That’s not counting the “Mohn Games,” an informal betting pool that attempts to guess the winner(s). Jay Mohn has agreed to contribute $500 for that too. (Left, Tanya Rubbak’s The Mohn Games.)

As I said two years ago, it’s not clear how much the average Hammer visitor knows about cutting-edge art, or whether anyone should care. But “we really wanted to keep the public-participation aspect of the award,” Ann Philbin told the L.A. Weekly. “We can’t pretend that this trend doesn’t exist and doesn’t have significance.”

Another significant trend is income inequality. One way of looking at it is that the new Mohn counters our winner-takes-all world by offering 50 percent more cash to underpaid artists and distributing it to three winners instead of one.

Hammer to Show Lawren Harris

The Hammer Museum is planning a show of mystic Canadian landscapist Lawren Harris (1885-197o) for fall 2015. Harris is a good deal less famous than, well, the exhibition’s co-curator. But if you like Charles Burchfield, Rockwell Kent, or Agnes Pelton, this is a show to put on your calendar.

Winning the Cold War With Orgasms

In the 1950s the CIA and State Department promoted abstract expressionism as evidence of the superiority of the American way. The Hammer Museum’s “Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible” contains a surprising footnote to the Cold War history: A 1955 letter from Bess to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Bess was an idiosyncratic abstractionist who espoused an even more idiosyncratic philosophy of hermaphroditism, body modification, and the “primacy of the urethral orgasm.” His paintings juxtapose genitalia-like imagery with minimalist abstraction. Bess took his own body as canvas, cutting a hole into the base of his penis. He believed this would permit an orgasm so intense as to make him immortal.

Bess doesn’t freak out Ike with the details. He does say that his philosophy

“may be of great value to our government as a psychological means to end the tensions of the collective versus the individual. The Communists would not be immune since they also possess an unconscious mind…”

Bess evidently knew of Eisenhower’s interest in “psychological warfare.” Shortly after taking office, Eisenhower said,

“Our aim in the Cold War is not conquering of territory or subjugation by force. Our aim is more subtle, more pervasive, more complete. We are trying to get the world, by peaceful means, to believe the truth. That truth is that Americans want a world at peace, a world in which all people shall have opportunity for maximum individual development. The means we shall employ to spread this truth are often called ‘psychological.’ Don’t be afraid of that term just because it’s a five-dollar, five-syllable word. ‘Psychological warfare’ is the struggle for the minds and wills of men.”

The Bess letter is on loan from the Meyer Schapiro collection in the Archives of American Art. I assume that’s Schapiro’s tactful note to Bess: “It is possible that it is just as well Ike did not call you in for a conference?”

Below is Bess’ Prophecy (1946). Like most of his paintings it was based on a dream-like vision. At the time Bess described the spiked objects as having something to do with atomic bombs. They more resemble Sputnik, launched 11 years later and disturbing the psychological balance of Eisenhower’s second term.

Christina’s World Revisited

James Welling and Andrew Wyeth might seen an unlikely pairing. But the realist painter was an early idol of Welling,”the artist who opened the visible world to me when I was fifteen years old.”

After Wyeth’s 2009 death, Welling traveled to Chadds Ford, Penna., and Cushing, Maine, to photograph the places that Wyeth had painted. The Hammer Museum’s “James Welling: Monograph” includes a selection of this counterintuitive series.

Some Welling photographs, like Winter Corn, relate to specific Wyeth paintings. Welling’s camera nails the painter’s theme of winter light & decay—arguably better than Wyeth himself did.

The most amazing transformation might be The Revenant. Below is Wyeth’s period-bound (1949) self-portrait, dressed in white, in a dusty mirror. Welling’s monochrome reinvention was taken in the same room, absent the painter, and reversed in the printing.

The Hammer show has Welling’s shot of the Olson House, home of Christina in the iconic MoMA painting. Those who demand Pageant of the Masters literalism will have to try Flickr. Below is sebvidopho’s recreation, one of the many now available online. It’s reported that Christina re-enactors have become a nuisance to cultural tourists expecting deep contemplation, or wanting to do their own reenactments.

Hammer Goes Free, Over Billionaire’s Dead Body

Director Ann Philbin has announced that the UCLA Hammer Museum will drop its $10 admission charge starting in February 2014. That welcome news comes with a dash of irony. Founder Armand Hammer originally pitched his museum as an “entrepreneurial venture” sure to rake in the admission dollars.

It didn’t, of course—neither before or after UCLA’s makeover. It’s not even clear that Hammer ever believed his own hype. He was in hot water with Occidental Petroleum shareholders, many of whom were outraged to learn how much company money had been spent on a museum-monument to Hammer’s ego. Yet even today museum trustees are subject to the myth of an “entrepreneurial” museum. They don’t expect a profit, which would be crazy—admissions average a mere 5 percent of a typical museum’s budget. But trustees imagine that paid admissions are a metric of a museum’s success.

It’s easy to see why business people incline to this way of thinking. Admission charges are revenue, a magical word in the business world. Twitter is no more profitable than the Hammer Museum is, but its slender stream of revenue is enough to hang an IPO on.

Maybe museum trustees should be Ayn Rand in the streets and Vladimir Lenin in the sheets? The concepts that work for a capitalist business aren’t always relevant to a philanthropic nonprofit. Museums have more to gain by expanding access to those who can least afford an admission charge. (Right, Lenin’s autograph dedication “to comrade Armand Hammer.”)

L.A. Fall Preview

Los Angeles’ fall museum season will survey the Silk Road and the Sepik River; feminism and fame; medieval England and Renaissance faces.

The Huntington plans to unveil its refurbished Library gallery, the institution’s museum of books and letters and ideas, on Nov. 9. In this rethinking, the Gutenberg Bible and Canterbury Tales will share space with a selection of letters by pioneering feminist Susan B. Anthony.

The Huntington is also presenting two ambitious loan shows, “Juniper Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions” (through Jan. 6, 2014) and “Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting” (Sept. 28-Jan. 13, 2014). The latter will reunite the greatest Northern Renaissance Painting in the West—Rogier van der Weyden’s Virgin and Child—with its original companion, a Portrait of Philippe de Croy now in Antwerp (top of post). With 29 paintings and six manuscript illuminations, “Face to Face” will boast works by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Pietro Perugino. Not many of the world’s great museums will be topping that line-up this fall.

Also at the Huntington, a focus show will explore the conservation of Sargent Claude Johnson’s 22-foot-long carved redwood relief, created in 1937 and acquired in 2011 (Oct. 12-Jan. 20, 2013). Next summer it will anchor an expanded Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art.

Following up Ken Price, Frank Gehry has designed the installation of LACMA’s marquee fall show, “Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic”  (Nov. 24-July 27, 2014). At left is a Calder mobile to be shown.

LACMA is also offering “John Divola: As Far as I Could Get” (Oct. 6-Feb. 2, 2014), part of a three-museum Divola celebration (along with the Santa Barbara and Pomona College’s art museums); “See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition” (Oct. 27-March 23, 2014), a selection from the Vernon collection that sounds like a perfect amuse-bouche to the long-running James Turrell show; and “Four Abstract Classicists,” an encapsulation of the 1959 show that put West Coast hard-edge abstraction on the map (Dec. 22-June 22, 2014).

The original “Four Abstract Classicists” was held in Exhibition Park at what we now call the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. That institution’s renovation culminates Dec. 22 with the opening of a new temporary exhibition space, showing “Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World.” The exhibition has itself travelled between the West and Asia since its 2009 opening at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.

The UCLA Hammer Museum will feature its second Robert Gober-curated show of a mid-American visionary (after 2009’s Charles Burchfield)—“Forrest Bess: Seeing Things Invisible” (Sept. 29-Jan. 5, 2014). Above is an untitled 1957 Bess painting that mixes up minimalism and juicy anatomy as no contemporary would have dreamed.

The UCLA Fowler Museum will celebrate its 50th anniversary with eight small exhibitions highlighting strong suits of the permanent collection (Oct. 13-Feb. 23, 2014). Pictured is a painted panel to be shown in “From the Sepik River to Los Angeles: Art in Migration.”

MOCA has “Recent Acquisitions and Works from the Collection” (Grand Avenue, Oct. 5-Jan. 12, 2014) and “Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland” (Pacific Design Center, Nov. 2-Jan. 26, 2014).

The Getty Center will show the apex of Romanesque England in “Canterbury and St. Albans: Treasures from Church and Cloister” (Sept. 20-Feb. 2, 2014). Restoration work has coincidentally made available six stained glass panels from Canterbury Cathedral (of Canterbury Tales fame) and the illuminated pages of the St. Albans Psalter (temporarily disbound, with one leaf at left). The 12th-century Psalter is now owned by the church of St. Godehard in Hildesheim, Germany.

The Getty Research Institute is to debut its expanded (more than tripled) exhibition space with “Connecting Seas” (Nov. 26-Apr. 13, 2014), tracing the way that old Europe depicted the good old/bad old days of global exploration. Maps, books, prints, and photos from the 16th to 21st century represent Africa, Asia, and South America.

The Getty Villa will extend its string of hard-to-believe loans with “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning” (Oct. 2- Dec. 2) and “Tiberius: Portrait of an Emperor” (Oct. 16-March 3, 2014).

At the Santa Monica Museum of Art is “Snow: Yukata Sone and Benjamin Weissman” (Nov. 16-Apr. 5, 2014). Paul McCarthy introduced the artist and artist-writer, who first met at Mammoth Mountain. This sparked “a shared mythology based on their mutual passion for snow.” The exhibition will include an “animatronic ski mountain, complete with roving chair lifts and whimsical skiing characters.”

“Fame,” the first collaboration of the El Segundo Museum of Art and the Wende Museum, must also be the first group show to present Jean-Michel Basquiat alongside Neil Armstrong. Opening at ESMoA Sept. 8, it will have “a roller-coaster floor” simulating the ups and downs of celebrity. The Wende is lending the hunting outfit of East German leader Erich Honecker. From the Wikipedia entry: “It is claimed that Honecker was addicted to hunting and was directly involved in the over-hunting of a number of native game species. Such was his passion that animals bred and reared in neighbouring communist countries had to be supplied for his regular hunting parties.”

Below, and out of the late Führer’s cross-hairs, are taxidermy specimens from NHMLA’s “Traveling the Silk Road.”