William Poundstone
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Posts Tagged ‘Hammer Museum’

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.)

Marble? Marlboro?

Gabriel Kuri’s untitled cig butts/carrara white HM01, in “Made in L.A. 2014,” tweaks the Carrara marble façade that Armand Hammer (via architect Edward Larrabee Barnes) used to lend legitimacy to his once-controversial vanity museum. Hammer is credited with opening the Soviet market to American corporations such as Philip Morris, and brands such as Marlboro were “very well received by the Soviet people.”

Kickstarter Potato Salad Museum… Anybody?

You’ve probably heard about that guy who’s using Kickstarter to fund potato salad. I was reminded of him while reading Los Angeles Downtown News article on the Old Bank District Museum that real estate developers Tom Gilmore and Jerri Perrone are planning for Fourth and Main. Gilmore puts the “early price tag” at $25-$35 million and foresees a nonprofit to raise that and “additional funds.”

The article doesn’t do much to explain why we need another contemporary art museum downtown, or to counter a perception of flakiness. It says the museum would focus on downtown L.A. artists. Gilmore “anticipates showing” Robert Reynolds and Tod Lychkoff. “This is going to be one wacky museum,” he says. He also describes it as a “non-museum museum.”

Don’t get me wrong: I like wacky non-museums. Alice Könitz’s Los Angeles Museum of Art is a star of the Hammer’s “Made in L.A. 2014.” Everybody loves the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the El Segundo Museum of Art, etc. But the Fourth and Main project is sounding more like a Kickstarter vanity museum, an idea its promoters are tossing out in the hope that viral mobs, or one kindly gazillionaire, will fund.

“Basically I’m just making potato salad,” runs Potato Salad Guy’s Kickstarter plea. ”I haven’t decided what kind yet.” He asked for $10. So far he’s raised $50,053.

America’s Most Pervy

Days after the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2014″ opened, American Apparel ousted its CEO Dov Charney for “alleged misconduct” including sexual harassment. All of a sudden, American Apparel was a troubled brand and the outspoken Charney was the new Donald Sterling. That was awkward for the Hammer because it had partnered with American Apparel to create a generally well-received line of “Made in L.A.” clothing and gear, some designed by the biennial’s artists.

Who is Dov Charney? Jezebel has an instructive run-down on the “sketchy, scandalous history” of American Apparel’s “pervy madman CEO.” A few bullet points:

• Charney took business meetings wearing nothing but “a garment described as a ‘cock sock.’”

• Charney had a policy of not hiring those who weren’t good looking (“off-brand”). His directive for hiring black women: “none of the trashy kind… try to find some of these classy black girls, with nice hair, you know?”

• “Masturbation in front of women is underrated,” Charney told a Jane magazine journalist (he had masturbated during the interview).

• Here’s a distinction: Charney was sued by a barely legal sex partner and by Woody Allen. Charney had used an Annie Hall still on American Apparel billboards, without bothering to get permission.

The largest harassment lawsuit, for $260 million, was filed by former American Apparel employee Irene Morales, who said that Charney ”dragged her to the bedroom, threw her on the bed, got on top of her and forced her to perform another act of fellatio, nearly suffocating her in the process.”

Hey, did you know that “Made in L.A.” is the first biennial with more women artists than men?

If a screenwriter conceived Dov Charney and his cock sock for Horrible Bosses 3D, nobody would believe it. Is it possible, then, that Dov Charney is a performance-art sock puppet, a walking embodiment of white male privilege, created by… Joe Scanlan?

On second thought, I’m betting he’s an invention of the Yams Collective.

Why Summer Tourists Should Head West

This summer millions of American and overseas visitors will flock to the big museums of the Eastern seaboard. There they will see unparalleled permanent collections and fewer intelligent loan exhibitions than are currently on view in Los Angeles. (Shown, Mike Kelley’s “The Territorial Hound,” part of the MOCA retrospective.)

L.A. has two sprawling shows that could serve as primers of contemporary art—MOCA’s “Mike Kelley” and the Hammer’s “Made in L.A.” Then there are three big exhibitions of classic modernism: “Calder and Abstraction” and “Expressionism in Germany and France” at LACMA and “The Scandalous Art of James Ensor” at the Getty Center. Two shows present hard-to-arrange loans of iconic treasures from centuries past: “Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium” at the Getty Villa and “Chinese Paintings from Japanese Collections” at LACMA. A third such show, “Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910″ opens this Sunday. For a week–until “Chinese Paintings” closes on July 6—L.A. museums will have eight shows of international distinction running simultaneously.

In New York, the marquee attraction is “Jeff Koons,” opening tomorrow at the Whitney. (Left, Split Rocker.) It will join three big retrospectives of contemporary artists (Sigmar Polk and Lygia Clark at MoMA, Ai Weiwei at Brooklyn). There’s Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim and “Lost Kingdoms: Hindu Buddhist Sculpture” at the Met. Count the Met’s fashion show, on Charles James, and that’s seven major exhibitions in New York. IMHO, not only does L.A. have more first-rate exhibitions but they’re less predictable and more relevant.

In D.C., the National Gallery of Art has the predictable crowd-pleaser “Degas/Cassatt.” The Freer/Sackler has a mid-sized show on James McNeill Whistler and the Thames. The Hirshhorn is partly closed for construction.

There are fine small shows in Boston and Philadelphia, though not at this level of ambition. The summer’s biggest tourist magnet in Philadelphia is Vermeer’s worst(?) painting—the Young Woman Seated at a Virginal, below. (The singleton loan to see is in New York, Parmigianino’s Schiava Turca at the Frick Collection.)

Patrons of East Coast museums leave town when the tourists arrive. That’s probably why Eastern museums focus more on a fall-winter season. Maybe some of those summer tourists should try L.A. instead?

Quantum Pataphysics at the Hammer

One slice of gallery 4 in the UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2014″ is about absurdist science with metaphysical dimensions. The artists are Channing Hansen and Devin Kenny, and they differ from each other by at least one standard deviation of the “Made in L.A.” artists.

Hansen teaches the history of science and chaos theory(!)  at Chinatown’s super-cool Mountain School of Arts. He creates “quantum paintings” that, in plain language, are Koogi sweaters woven by spiders on LSD and presented on painting stretchers. Though they look hippie-intuitive, every missed stitch has been dictated by an algorithm that Hansen hand-coded. At top is a small detail of Square Root of Distraction; at right, 42.

Hansen’s paintings fall into a class of philosophical textile art along with the Wertheim sisters’ Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef. Knitters use one-dimensional yarn to create two- and three-dimensional reality. There is at least a superficial parallel to the string theory of physicists, a quixotic attempt to weave the tangible universe out of 11-dimensional strings.

Adjacent to the Hansens is a selection of hardware and software hacks by Devin Kenny. Turn Down for What is a digital clock powered by an energy drink. Aahs, sad feels is a chocolate fondue fountain dripping with magnets and homemade ferrofluid. Several works involve magnets, which our digital age has invested with the godlike power of creating and destroying 1s and 0s. Kenny’s Upper Echelon comes with a label warning pacemaker wearers to stand at least 5 cm. (2 inches) away.