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Posts Tagged ‘LACMA’

Antonio Mancini, the Last Realist

LACMA has put on view a work by the artist that John Singer Sargent considered “the greatest living painter.” That wasn’t Cézanne, nor even John Singer Sargent. It was Antonio Mancini (1852-1930). The painting at LACMA, Dolce melodia (“Sweet Melody”, 1900), was auctioned at Christies last May and is on loan from an unidentified private collection. It is unusual in subject, paint handling, and format (6.5 feet wide by 20 inches high).

It shows a nude boy reclining on a table or mantle as an elderly violinist plays. There’s a hint of Degas in the violinist’s cropping. Mancini met Degas and Manet in 1870s Paris, and his early, realist works of starving waifs were considered akin the better-known Parisians’ ballerinas and beggars. For later works such as this, Mancini used a self-invented variant of Dürer’s perspective machine. He viewed his subjects though a frame with strings stretched in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal directions. Mancini then painted onto a similar string framework pressed flat against his canvas. The strings left a grid pattern in the sculptural paint surface, proof of the artist’s devotion to absolute realism in paintings that verge on illegibility.

“The Clock” to Run Overtime

LACMA is planning to show Christian Marclay’s The Clock for two months this summer. The world’s most accessible conceptual video has mostly been shown for its 24-hour running length only. But the Museum of Modern Art had The Clock on display for a month in Dec. 2012 to Jan. 2013. At LACMA The Clock will be on view during regular museum hours in the Art of Americas Building, July 5 to Sept. 7, 2015. Additional screenings will run the full 24 hours.

Islam Meets Neon

“Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East” surveys LACMA’s collection of contemporary Islamic art, said to be the largest in an American museum. The installation starts with two neon pieces, unrelated yet complementary. Iranian/Parisian artist Arash Hanei’s Too Khali [Void] (2011, above) makes concrete the word for nothing. Saudi artist Nasser Al-Salem’s God is Alive, He Shall Not Die (blue), 2012, is a mirrored box multiplying the name of God to infinity.

The text-based art of the West almost never celebrates the beauty of the Roman alphabet. In the 1960s John Baldessari hired So. Cal. sign painters to achieve typographic banality. The pure beauty of Arabic script remains central to many of the works being produced in the Islamic world.

Groundhog Day

“Los Angeles is knocking hard on the door of the elite club of art-world cities.”

The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2, 2015

“The Broad, sharing the Grand Avenue block with the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Frank Gehry’s shimmering Walt Disney Concert Hall, is not just a $140 million building. It’s at the core of a cultural boom… Long the center of the movie industry, the region is now becoming a magnet for artists, dancers, musicians and a murderer’s row of museum leaders.”

The Washington Post, Oct. 10, 2014

“We used to always be the wild stepchild out in the desert. Now, we’re being adopted.”

Mark Bradford in the 2014 Post article

“It takes time for these things to evolve. And now we’re there.”

Eli Broad in the Post

“Of course, its abundant light and space have always drawn a certain kind of artist—members of the Light and Space movement, for instance… But now… it seems that everyone, major figures and young guns alike, wants to call L.A. home.”

The New York Times, Aug 19, 2014

“[Mat] Gleason sees L.A. finally coming into its own as a place for world-class collectors to buy art.”

San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Aug. 8, 2014

“Cultural leaders in downtown expressed optimism about the role [the Broad] will play in revitalizing the area. Jeffrey Deitch, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art… said the Broad will be ‘transformative’…”

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 8. 2013

“No one is suggesting that Los Angeles is about to supplant New York as an art capital…”

The New York Times, Oct. 12, 2011

“There is no question that Los Angeles has become the contemporary-art capital of the world.”

—Eli Broad, Dec. 6, 2010, in The New Yorker

“…pomegranate-juice magnates, billionaire museum builders and celebrity-packed boards are turning the city into a world-class art center”

The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 29, 2010

“Los Angeles, a city of suburbs in search of a center… came one step closer to finding one.… Whether a single building, however grandiose [Disney Hall], can transform downtown Los Angeles is an open question.”

The New York Times, Oct. 20, 2003

“The Getty Center should make Angelenos in general feel a little better, in part by making Los Angeles seem more like a real city.… obviously, the Getty Center will enable culturally ambitious citizens to weather the Woody Allen jokes.”

The New Yorker, Sept. 29, 1997

“Q. What’s the difference between Los Angeles and a bowl of yogurt? A. Yogurt has a live culture. Time to pension off that oldie…”

Robert Hughes, Jan. 12, 1987, in Time magazine

“The City of Angels used to be a place where culture feared to tread. But today the traffic slowing down to neck-crane along Wilshire Boulevard is not looking for stars but admiring the shimmering complex of pavilions [LACMA] surrounded by a moatlike reflecting pool of vastly more substance and value than was ever to be seen in a DeMille superset.”

Time magazine, April 2, 1965

(Above: A school group at the early LACMA, viewing Norbert Kricke’s Space Sculpture. Top of post: Jordan Wolfson’s Female Figure.)

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.)