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Posts Tagged ‘LACMA’

LACMA Reveals Resnick, Nathanson Gifts

LACMA has announced major gifts of art from the Resnicks and Nathansons, in honor of the museum’s 50th anniversary. Jane and Marc Nathanson are promising eight blue-chip contemporary works (above right, Warhol’s Double Marilyn, 1962). Lynda and Stewart Resnick will be giving four European pieces, including the Hans Memling Christ Blessing that was a latecomer to the Huntington’s 2013 show of Renaissance portraits. These gifts, along with many others, will be on view in LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion April 26 to Sept. 7.

The Nathanson gifts focus on Pop art and its legacy. They include James Rosenquist’s Portrait of the Scull Family (1962, above), George Segal’s Laundromat (1967-67, below) and Roy Lichtenstein’s Interior with Three Hanging Lamps (1991); plus works by Frank Stella, Gilbert & George, Julian Schnabel, and Damien Hirst. The Rosenquist, Schnabel, and Hirst are the first major works by the artists in the LACMA collection.

The Resnicks are giving Boucher’s Leda and the Swan and Ingres’s The Virgin with the Host. Boucher is not much to contemporary taste, and you may think that L.A. already has plenty. LACMA alone has six Boucher paintings. None are like this one, though. LACMA’s Bouchers are split between oil sketches and irregularly shaped over-doors meant to be viewed from a distance. Leda and the Swan is a finished cabinet painting intended to be inspected closely. The palette is darker and moodier than usual, and the paint handling is worthy of Chardin. If Boucher’s art is treacle, this is its richest, most caramelized reduction.

Until last year, LACMA had no Ingres at all; with the Resnick gift it will have two. The Virgin with the Host, an homage to Raphael, was originally commissioned by czar-to-be Alexander II. Ingres thought it so successful that he regretted it going to Russia, which he regarded as Art Siberia. Ingres ended up making several variations for other patrons (much as he did for his Odalisque). A related painting, without the green curtains and with saints instead of putti, is in the Metropolitan Museum.

Last December I commented on a report that Michael Govan, given his pick of the Resnicks’ sculpture collection, chose “the single-most important thing we have, which is what he should have done.” I speculated that that would be Houdon’s marble  of The Kiss (wrong!) It was a two-foot bronze of Giambologna’s Flying Mercury, his most famous image and also featured in LACMA’s 2010 show of the Resnick collection, “Eye for the Sensual.” My first thought was that the Resnicks own Teleflora, and its competitor, FTD, uses an amusingly bastardized version of Flying Mercury as its logo. I wondered whether they might have bought a Flying Mercury as a joke. Copies of Flying Mercury are legion. They were produced by Giambologna, his studio, and some very talented followers. It is hard for the greatest connoisseurs to tell what’s what—Henry Clay Frick was fooled. “Eye for the Sensual” was a single-collection show, an exercise intended to encourage the sort of donations that have just been announced. In such situations, you have to wonder whether curators tactfully avoid challenging a collector’s cherished attributions. Connoisseurship always offers the cover of ambiguity.

But if Govan is convinced that this is an authentic Giambologna, then that’s prima facie evidence that current scholarship says it is. Flying Mercury is poised to become the museum’s star Renaissance sculpture.

L.A. Catches Up to East Lansing (or Not)

“Los Angeles is finally catching up to East Lansing,” begins a story in the Lansing State Journal. The piece refers to the Broad, understood (in East Lansing) to be a me-too response to the Eli & Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, designed by Zaha Hadid. The article includes an online poll asking “Which Broad Museum design is superior?” The “East Lansing original” is winning by a large margin—not surprising for a Lansing newspaper.

Not mentioned is the context: Some L.A. critics have lately come down hard on Diller Scofidio+Renfro’s veil, claiming the final result compares unfavorably to the digital renderings. Also not mentioned: The one and only original Broad museum, the Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum at LACMA.

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).

LACMA Lends Islamic Collection to King Abdulaziz Center

LACMA will be lending 130 highlights of its Islamic collection to the 2016 opening of the Snøhetta-designed King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The loan, which will include the debut of LACMA’s recently acquired Damascus period room, is to run for two years.

That’s a long time, raising the question of whether the art is being rented out, Boston MFA-style. The King Abdulaziz Center is a private museum funded by the oil company Saudi Aramco—said to be the world’s wealthiest corporation. However, unlike many of the other starchitect-designed museums sprouting in the Middle East, the King Abdulaziz Center doesn’t have a significant permanent collection. Thus LACMA presumably isn’t expecting reciprocal loans. The LACMA press release says that the Damascus room’s conservation is “organized in partnership with” the King Abdulaziz Center.

Assuming the Center opens on schedule, the two-year loan would run through 2018—by which time LACMA could have embarked on its own construction project. It’s possible that LACMA’s historic presentation of Islamic art will be off-view in Los Angeles for quite some time.

Meanwhile on January 31, LACMA’s Islamic galleries will open the first substantial presentation of the museum’s growing collection of contemporary art from the Islamic world. Among the objects is Saudi artist Nasser Al Salem’s neon piece God is Alive, He Shall Not Die (blue) (2012).

“Hollywood Costume” at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Motion pictures are the pre-eminent visual art form (and literature) of our time. How should museums present movies?

Anyone interested in that question should see three current L.A. exhibitions. As it happens, all are presented by or in association with a not-disinterested party, the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. “Hollywood Costume” is the first exhibition on-site at the future home of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. A block away, LACMA, an encyclopedic art museum, is showing “Haunted Cinema: German Cinema in the 1920s.” The Skirball Cultural Center, which focuses on Jewish history and culture, has “Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933-1950.”

The LACMA show is primarily  addressed to those who haven’t seen (m)any German Expressionist films but have intellectual curiosity about them. The films are shown as looping digital clips, some at disappointingly low resolution. Still, that gives you an idea of what The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari looks like. LACMA adds another attraction in the form of  ontemporary architecture. The gallery design by Amy Murphy and Michael Maltzan, which loosely references expressionist stage sets, is worth seeing just for itself.

The Skirball show foregrounds cultural history. Knowledge of Casablanca and Sunset Boulevard is assumed. The exhibition explores how the filmmakers’ personal journeys as German-Jewish exiles informed Hollywood film noir, a language that has come to be understood as characteristically American. (Right, a still from 1944’s Double Indemnity.)

“Hollywood Costume” is the most populist of the three. Curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis for the Victoria & Albert Museum, it is directed primarily to those already familiar with the films referenced. You’ve seen Django Unchained… here is Django’s outfit. You’ve seen The Wizard of Oz… here are the ruby slippers.

With all the city’s wax museums and studio tours, you might think that “Hollywood Costume” would be redundant. It’s not. For one thing studio theme parks and wax museums always seem dated. They have to recoup their investments in displays built around films now half-forgotten. As a temporary exhibition, “Hollywood Costume” can be more of the moment. The show’s 150 costumes span most of the Hollywood film industry’s history, from the 1920s to the present, but most of the older costumes are from films that remain relevant to contemporary tastes. The L.A. presentation includes costumes from a number of 2013 films (The Butler, The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Great Gatsby).

One problem with costume exhibits is the mannequins. They should be neutral frames, but a mannequin that isn’t quite right becomes an exercise in unintended surrealism. The problem is compounded with costumes worn by famous people. “Hollywood Costume” addresses this by showing slow-motion video loops of actors’ heads above the costumes. It must be inspired by GIFs and Bill Viola’s ultra-slow-mo tronies. It doesn’t seem derivative, just apt.

Every museum talks up video screens, interactivity, and social media. “Hollywood Costume” is a museologic future that works. One high-tech cliché is table projections. An image is projected onto a tabletop in a dark room. AMMPAS uses the technology to represent a costume designer sitting around a table with an actor or filmmaker, having a conversation about the creative process. The virtual humans are video interviews projected onto the backs of chairlike forms. The table is a blank (white) slate with a few 3D elements. Above is an installation built around Edith Head’s costume design for Hitchcock’s The Birds, with a Tippi Hedren interview and two shadowy lovebirds.

I don’t believe that museum exhibitions have to educate—which is just as well, for “Hollywood Costume” doesn’t. Oh, it tries to educate. The overriding messages (there aren’t many, for easy memorization) are that every detail of film costume has been carefully considered; that costume design is a collaboration; that film costumes do not have to be “realistic” so much as seem realistic to the audience. I should think that anyone with a Netflix subscription would know or could guess this. Furthermore, the gallery texts (and audio) keep repeating these same soundbites. I suppose this must have been motivated by research showing how little attention the average visitor pays to gallery texts.

You will learn some trivia factoids about specific films and costumes (Meryl Streep studied costume design and gives costumers hell; Quentin Tarantino insisted on Little Joe’s jacket, from Bonanza, for Django.) That’s about it.

“Hollywood Costume” and the LACMA and Skirball shows confront a common paradox. The average feature film runs ~90 minutes. The average museum visitor is willing to look at a given object for ~15 seconds. Dealing with that is a challenge, but the AMMPAS, LACMA, and Skirball shows demonstrate the multiplicity of strategies.

The Broad Goes Big

The scaffolding is now off the Broad’s Diller Scofidio + Renfro building. The latest press release says the Grand Avenue museum will have “more than 50,000-square-feet of public gallery space.” That figure has been creeping upward even during construction. It includes the original, column-free space on the third floor (35,000 sf.) plus another 15,000 sf. now planned for the first floor. The building’s total area is 120,000 sf.

Speaking just of public exhibition space: How big is 50,000 square feet? Well, it’s twice the size of the Broad’s neighbor, MOCA Grand Avenue (which claims 24,509 sf. of “actual exhibition space.”) It’s almost as big as the Geffen Contemporary (about 55,000 sf.)

It’s about the size of Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum, also opening in 2015 and said to be 50,000 sf. The Whitney will have another 13,000 sf. of outdoor exhibition space. The Broad has a 24,000 sf. public plaza, but it doesn’t sound like art will be displayed there.

The Broad’s exhibition space is between that of LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion (45,000 sf.) and Broad Contemporary Art Museum (about 60,000 sf.) It is half the total size of the immense Hauser Wirth & Schimmel commercial gallery space planned for downtown (100,000 sf.—presumably, most of that for exhibitions.)

(Shown: a rendering of Robert Therrien’s Under the Table on the Broad’s third floor; Gary Leonard’s photo of the Broad as it now looks.)

Raymond Roussel, Godfather of Conceptualism

Pierre Huyghe, now subject of a LACMA show, has credited Raymond Roussel (above, 1877-1933) as a key influence on his work. Roussel was an eccentric poet, novelist, and playwright who was much admired by Duchamp and the Surrealists. That connection has received much attention; not so his relevance to conceptualism. Yet it’s easy to see why Huyghe finds him interesting: Roussel’s books are largely descriptions of imagined artworks incorporating living beings.

It was Roussel who conceived (in print) a giant earthworm that plays Hungarian waltzes by hurling droplets of water at the strings of a zither; a wind-powered machine that constructs a mosaic out of human teeth; an aquarium containing the animated head of French revolutionary Georges Danton. Compare that to what you’ll find in LACMA’s Resnick Pavillion: a statue whose head is an active beehive; a film of a monkey, wearing a human mask and wig, acting as a waiter in a post-apocalyptic Japanese restaurant; an aquarium in which a hermit crab inhabits a reproduction of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse.

“Raymond Roussel is the most fortunate young millionaire of Paris,” reported the Cleveland Plain-Dealer in 1910. “He’s so rich he doesn’t know what to do with his money.”

One way to look at it: Roussel was the J. Seward Johnson of French literature. Like Johnson he used his inheritance to pursue his creative ambitions. Unlike Johnson, Roussel was despised by the masses and celebrated by the avant garde.

Roussel’s self-financed 1912 theatrical production of Impressions of Africa provoked riots (the year before Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). One of the attendees was Marcel Duchamp, who later declared: “Roussel showed me the way.”

Giacometti said that his early work, The Palace at 4 A.M. particularly, was directly inspired by Roussel’s novel Locus Solus. For Jean Cocteau, Roussel was “genius in its pure state.”

Roussel didn’t return the affection, complaining, “People say I’m a Dadaist, but I don’t even know what Dadaism is!”

It’s said that literature lags  the visual arts by 20 years. Roussel might have been 20 years ahead—though his appreciation by other authors peaked well after WWII. Roussel was celebrated by Foucault, Robbe-Grillet, and Perec. John Ashbery learned French just to read Roussel.

There is a literary component to Huyghe’s LACMA show. The attentive visitor will encounter books by Joris-Karl Huysmans, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Philip K. Dick (all of whom might be connected to Roussel, though there is no book by Roussel himself, unless I missed it.)

Roussel created words, not objects. Of course, well into the 1970s, conception art was typewritten words on paper, to be realized if and when. Wrote Sol LeWitt, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”

Roussel’s posthumously published essay, “How I Wrote Certain of My Books,” could be considered the first manifesto of conceptualism. In it he revealed the secret formula behind his literary production. Roussel would select two sound-alike words or phrases (like maybe grandfather’s clock and grandfather’s claw) and free-associate a suitably bizarre way of juxtaposing the two. In hindsight, the method evokes the games of  John Cage and Charles Gaines. Roussel’s “novels” are little more than catalogs of wunderkammers of objects inspired by this method. Impressions of Africa and Locus Solus are all description and no plot, and barely even involve the passage of time (an anti-narrative vision that Warhol was to realize in film with Empire).

For his New Impressions of Africa (1928)—a poem having nothing to do with the similarly named novel and play—Roussel hired a detective agency to find a suitable artist to supply illustrations. The agency found Henri-a. Zo, an otherwise forgotten Salon artist and illustrator. Zo was commissioned to create illustrations from Roussel’s cryptic instructions.

The methodology is close to that of John Baldessari’s commissioned paintings of the 1960s. Below is Zo’s response to Roussel’s demand for “A waterskin in the desert, with water gushing from a hole seemingly deliberately made by a traitor’s sword. No people.”

Zumthor on Black and White

“It might not be black. It might even be white. In fact it was white—all last week it was white. But then I woke up one morning, and it was black again. And now I’m pretty sure that’s right.”

—Peter Zumthor on his LACMA building, in a Sarah Williams Goldhagen article in the Architectural Record (behind pay wall)

Palmer Hayden’s Harlem (in L.A.)

LACMA’s Archibald Motley show is accompanied by an installation of related works (“LACMA Collects: Scenes from the Great Migration”). Among them is Young Girl Reading, a late (1960) painting by Harlem Renaissance artist Palmer C. Hayden. Bequeathed by Joan Palevsky in 2006, and shown for the first time, it becomes the museum’s first painting by Hayden.

Hayden was just a year older than Motley and, like him, made an early Paris sojourn into a moveable feast. Hayden and Motley’s most famous self-portraits, from 1930 and 1933, share a similar composition (and berets). Young Girl Reading looks back to the color of Matisse and the slouch of Balthus. LACMA also has a 1968 Hayden watercolor (not on view), another Palevsky gift.

That makes two Haydens at LACMA. Would you believe that another L.A. institution has 40 Haydens, most dating from the apex of the Harlem Renaissance?

They’re at the Museum of African American Art. Disambiguation: not the California African American Museum in Exposition Park. The Museum of African American Art operates on a nano-budget in a Macy’s department store in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The artist’s widow, Miriam, bequeathed 40 Haydens, several iconic (Below, Midsummer Night in Harlem, 1938, and His Hammer in his Hand, 1944-7.)

That was a vote of confidence to an institution founded in 1976 and so-far dependent on a retailer’s largesse. It must have also been a reflection on the disinterest of larger museums in art by blacks. For the most part MAAA shows local artists. Its Haydens deserve to be better known.

A Warhol “Marilyn” & More for LACMA’s 50th

Los Angeles Confidential has a feature on “The Ladies of LACMA.” That would be Lynda Resnick, Jane Nathanson, and Ann Colgin. The interview, by Degen Pener, drops several hints about future gifts to LACMA. In April 2015 the museum is to celebrate its 50th anniversary with an exhibition of 50 art gifts (promised, mainly). That will include works from the conditional bequest of Jerry Perenchio and a lot more besides. Pener asks the three collectors what they’re planning to give and gets a mix of specifics and coyness.

On the specific side, one of the gifts is already on view. Ann Colgin and Joe Wender have promised Mary Weatherford’s love forever (cave) for MW, 2012 (top), a painting in LACMA’s current “Variations: Conversations In and Around Abstract Painting.” It will become the museum’s first work by the California-native artist.

Jane Nathanson says that she and husband Marc “will be donating most of our art to LACMA and we are giving some for the 50th anniversary.” This would be a major win. Jane had been on MOCA’s board and is now on LACMA’s, occasioning much speculation. The Nathanson collection is focused on the pop movement.

“One of the pieces that will be going to LACMA,” says Nathanson, “is a very early Double Marilyn by Andy Warhol.” Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962—during the Ferus Gallery’s show of Warhol Soup Cans. Coincidentally Warhol had just started doing photo-silk screen paintings of Troy Donahue and Warren Beatty. He switched his production to Monroe and did over 20 paintings of her in the following months. All appropriated a publicity still from the 1953 film Niagara.

The only Double Marilyn I found in a quick web search is a 1962 painting sold at Christie’s London in 2008 (right). It’s described as “one of the early images on this theme,” but I can’t say whether it’s the Nathanson one. LACMA has two Soup Cans and a set of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Boxes, but no Marilyn.

Lynda Resnick, to Pener: “I just told Michael [Govan] to come over and pick what he wanted and he did, and then I thought, well, there’s no sculpture represented. So then I said, ‘Michael, pick a piece of sculpture.’ Of course he picked the single-most important thing we have, which is what he should have done and we are thrilled.”

In the past Resnick has spoken of dividing her and husband Stewart’s collection among the Philadelphia Museum of Art, LACMA, and the Getty. If Govan got first dibs, that would be another coup. A highlight of the 2010 LACMA exhibition, “Eye for the Sensual,” was Elizabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun’s Portrait of Marie Antoinette. For what it’s worth, Los Angeles Confidential has a photo of the three art patrons, chez Resnick, with Marie Antoinette as backdrop.

The Resnicks’ tastes have lately moved beyond Rococo. They have added a Hans Memling Christ Blessing (lent to the Huntington for a 2013 show). Jesus or Marie Antoinette? Either would be a fantastic addition to LACMA’s European painting collection.

As to sculptures, my guess for ”the single most important thing” is Houdon’s The Kiss.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that “even Eli Broad doesn’t have a [Warhol] Marilyn.” In fact the Eli and Edythe L. Broad collection contains a 1962 Two Marilyns.