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Posts Tagged ‘LACMA’

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.

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.

The Dog With the Pink Leg

Move over Wegman Weimaraners and Koons pups. The dog of the moment is skinny and has a hot pink leg. She’s a living conceptual art piece called Human, part of the Pierre Huyghe retrospective that opens Sunday in LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. “Human” was a sensation of Documenta 13 and the subject of countless selfies at the Pompidou and Museum Ludwig. The dog is one reason the museum requires timed tickets to see the show. Here’s all you need to know about Human.

What kind of dog is Human?

Human is an Ibizan hound, bred in ancient Egypt and said to be one of the oldest of surviving breeds. The dog became extinct in Egypt, however, and modern specimens descend from dogs on the Western Mediterranean island of Ibiza. Ibizan (or Pharaoh) hounds have a respected place in art history. They were the presumptive model for depictions of Anubis, jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife. (Shown, a recumbent Anubis from Late or Ptolemaic period, Metropolitan Museum.)

How is Human around large swarms of bees?

Cool. (Another Huyghe installation involves thousands of bees.) Ibizan hounds are friendly, inquisitive, and intelligent. Videos show visitors petting Human. In previous showings, and probably at LACMA, Human had a sheltered place to go when she needed some quiet time.

What makes Human’s leg pink?

Red food coloring.

Why is Human’s leg pink?

Huyghe said it “breaks the form of ‘dog,’ makes you look at it as something else.” The color “makes me think of the Sex Pistols. It’s very punk, that color.”

What if I want my own Ibizan hound?

Well, be prepared for the lecture on how you shouldn’t get a dog just because you saw it in a relational aesthetics piece. Ibizan hounds require lots of exercise. It’s advised that they need plenty of space to run and an owner who can devote an hour a day to exercising them. There is an Ibizan Hound Club of the United States.

Are there any pictures of Human resting on a mink stole?


War and Peach

European armor is a decorated shed; Japanese armor is a duck. That’s one takeaway of LACMA’s “Samurai: Japanese Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection.” The decoration on European armor is usually a two-dimensional skin on a functional form. In Japan, helmets take on exuberant sculptural forms crafted of papier-mâché, leather, and lacquer. The helmets in “Samurai: Japanese Armor” comprise a wunderkammer of natural forms: a peach, a shell, bamboo, the moon and stars.

Above are helmets shaped like an eggplant and a scallop shell. The scallop is a visual pun. Viewed from the side, it resembles a fish.

This helmet adopts the delicate spiral of a paper nautilus. This is not the chambered nautilus that Edward Weston photographed but the fragile egg case of a mollusk found in Japan (and California).

This helmet has a schematic diagram of the Big Dipper (Hokuto Shichisei, the “Northern Ladle”).

The supernatural imagery of Samurai helmets also has its roots in the natural world. This helmet decoration is a fish-bird hybrid.

One Western parallel might be nose art, which takes the readymade sculptural form of military aircraft fuselages as support for ferocious naturalia. Nose art originated with Italian and German pilots in the first World War and remains an active folk medium.

What Perenchio Could Mean for LACMA

For a century at least, Hollywood actors, agents, and moguls have been buying School of Paris modernism. A few assembled great collections; many more assembled weak ones; and the one constant was hand-wringing over Hollywood’s failure to support L.A. museums. TV and film executive Jerry Perenchio is set to change that paradigm with his conditional bequest of an Impressionist and modern collection to LACMA. (Above, Edouard Vuillard’s “Sacha Guitry in His Dressing Room,” 1912, owned by Perenchio.)

The twist: The museum must fund, construct, and open its planned ($600 million-ish) Peter Zumthor building on schedule (c. 2023)—or else the gift may be rescinded. Back in 1971, Perenchio put up $5 million to get Muhammad Ali into the ring with Joe Frazier. Get ready for the Capital Campaign of the Century.

It’s not just a question of raising the money, formidable as that challenge is. The clock is ticking… Any delay could potentially invalidate the gift: an earthquake, a stock market crash, a construction workers’ strike, fossil discoveries on site, etc., etc. This week every museum director must envy Michael Govan, but they’re also praying their own donors don’t get the idea of gift-wrapping an ultimatum.

What could the Perenchio bequest mean to LACMA? The museum says it’s set to gain “at least” 47 works by 23 artists. It has released images of 10 works, and the press release identifies a few more by name. Some of those works are already well-known, having been lent to exhibitions and widely reproduced. It is possible to say that, in quality, Perenchio’s collection is in a league with those of Norton Simon, Walter Annenberg, and Leonard Lauder. The bequest would give LACMA its only major works by Manet and Caillebotte; its most iconic pieces by Monet, Degas, Bonnard, and Léger. It would double, or nearly so, the museum’s representation of Pissarro and Magritte. A 1909 cubist drawing, Picasso’s Head of Fernande, is one of the choicest of modern drawings, poised on the cusp of art history.

An obvious question is how the Pernechio works relate to the Janice and Henri Lazarof collection, acquired by promised gift and purchase in 2007 and also touted as a game-changer. Chronologically there is considerable overlap between the Lazarof and Perenchio collections. The Lazarof collection is bigger (130 v. 47 works) and ranges well into the mid 20th century. But—going by the images released—Perenchio has more star works, those rivaling the best of their kind anywhere.

Here’s a tentative survey of how the Perenchio bequest could one day augment LACMA’s collection.

Monet: LACMA presently has four Monet paintings. Perenchio would add three, making seven—and the three Perenchio Monets would be the ones visitors remember. LACMA stands to have the biggest and best holding of Monet west of Chicago.

Manet: LACMA has no paintings or drawings by Manet. Perenchio is bequeathing a major pastel portrait of M. Gauthier-Lathuille fils (below left). Because of the pastel medium, it can’t be on permanent view, but it’s a Manet worthy of a great museum. If Monsieur’s face looks familiar, he’s the earnest lover in Manet’s painting Chez Père Lathuille.

Degas: Perenchio proposes to donate two drawings and three posthumous bronzes by Degas. One of the drawings is the widely analyzed and reproduced Au Café Concert: La Chanson du Chien (1876). Though it’s a modest-sized work on paper, it ought to upstage LACMA’s one Degas painting, the Bellelli Sisters. The bronzes would double the museum’s holdings, and one of the Perenchio works is the nude version of the Little Dancer.

Caillebotte: LACMA has nothing by Caillebotte, the once-forgotten Impressionist whose few best works now command eight-figure prices. In 2011 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts paid $16 million for Man at His Bath (selling a Monet, a Renoir, a Gauguin, and five other paintings to defray the cost). Perenchio’s Caillebotte, A Soldier, must be a response to Manet’s Fifer. It might be the third most important Caillebotte in America (after those in Chicago and Boston)?

Pissarro: Perenchio’s three paintings would augment the three in the Lazarof collection and the bird’s eye urban landscape, La Place du Théâtre Français, that the De Sylvas gave the pre-LACMA County Museum. That would make 7 Pissarros in all—not bad, considering that Impressionist-rich Art Institute of Chicago has 10.

Cézanne: Perenchio’s juicy Cézanne landscape, House and Tree (c. 1874) was a stand-out of MoMA’s 2005 “Cézanne & Pissarro” show. So was LACMA’s Sous Bois of the 1890s. Were they one day united at LACMA, they could offer a super-concise survey of Cézanne landscapes, albeit without a Mont Sainte-Victoire. They would join a still life and a figure already in the collection.

Picasso: It remains a scandal that LACMA doesn’t have a cubist Picasso painting. The Perenchio gift won’t remedy that. It does include a painting of Marie Thérèse-Walter and six Picasso drawings, including the key 1909 Head. That relates to LACMA’s bronze Head of a Woman, from an edition cast half a century later. The Perenchio Picassos stand to complement the Lazarof holding of 20 Picasso paintings, drawings, and watercolors. (The museum’s most notable Picasso paintings will likely remain the blue-period portrait from the Bright bequest and the mini-Guernica, Weeping Woman with Handkerchief, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mitchell.)

Bonnard: LACMA has just one Bonnard painting. Perenchio has two, one of them Après le Repas (1925). It has a fine old Hollywood provenance, having been owned by industry power couple William and Edith Mayer Goetz (Edith was daughter of Louis B. Mayer). When Après le Repas was sold along with most of the Goetz collection at Christie’s in 1988, a LACMA press officer told the L.A. Times: “It was not a collection we were expecting to receive as a gift.”

Léger: Perenchio is bequeathing two figurative Léger paintings and a late ceramic relief. Woman with Bouquet (1924, bottom left) will be the only fully realized example of Léger’s pneumatic-Art Deco style at an L.A. museum. It will complement LACMA’s more cubist Légers such as the 1918 The Disks, from the David Bright bequest, and the 1925 Composition in the Lazarof collection.

Magritte: LACMA has two Magritte paintings; the Perenchio gift would double that to four. Below center and right are Stimulation Objective No. 3 (1939) and Liaisons Dangereuses (1935). Thanks to the preeminent importance of Treachery of Images, already in the collection, LACMA’s representation of Magritte stands to rival MoMA’s holding of seven Magritte paintings.

Bottom line: Compared to other big American museums, LACMA’s holdings of impressionist and modern art have been anemic. That reflects the museum’s relative youth and an ego-driven history in which Norton Simon, J. Paul Getty, and Armand Hammer founded private museums rather than supporting the public one.

The Perenchio bequest won’t put LACMA on a par with Chicago or the great East Coast institutions. It will let LACMA’s early modern collection stand up to those of the Simon and Getty. Unlike those institutions LACMA presents contemporary art in the context of global art history. For that the Perenchio bequest would be pivotal. Today’s transnational postmodernism remains indebted to the avant garde revolution that occurred in Europe during the period that Perenchio has collected.

Preview of LACMA’s Perenchio Collection

Writing in the L.A. Times, David Ng and Suzanne Muchnick have identified the collector promising a major collection to LACMA: TV executive Jerry Perenchio, a founder of Univision. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because of Perenchio’s philosophy: “Stay out of the spotlight. It fades your suit.”

The Times article mentions one major qualification to the promised gift: “The museum must first complete construction of its new building, which is planned for 2023.” On the one hand, that’s one heck of a carrot for Zumthor fund-raising. On the other hand, if for any reason the Zumthor building doesn’t happen, the gift might not happen either.

Among the works promised to LACMA are Monet’s The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil (top), Léger’s Woman With Bouquet. and Magritte’s Liaisons Dangereuses.

LACMA Has Big News

On Thursday at 10 AM LACMA is set to announce the “largest gift of art… in its history.” The donor, so far unnamed, is giving works by Manet, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Bonnard, and Picasso.

This comes the day after L.A. County Supervisors agreed in principle to supply $125 million toward the Peter Zumthor redesign.