Posts Tagged ‘Ed Ruscha’
Museum of Contemporary Art
It’s been a long while since we (yes, the royal we) posted about a MOCA exhibition, which is sad since it was the museum that was closest to where I used to live in LA. A lot has happened since Collection: the First 30 Years opened not so long ago. MOCA is under new management, Jeffery Deitch from New York. Changes are afoot, and Deitch wasted no time organizing new exhibitions. The show is curated by (non-MOCA employee) Julian Schnabel, who like Hopper, is also a director slash artist. The show is, of course, Dennis Hopper: Double Standard. The show was being organized while the famous director/actor/artist? was still alive, but sadly Hopper passed before the show opened in the beginning of July. The show is presented at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo.
You enter the space down a flight of stairs and immediately see the ass of a large colorful sculpture of a man in a sombrero. This retrospective is not organized chronologically which I actually don’t mind in the slightest, the groupings are thematic or organized by medium. There is a combination of large-scale sculptures, photographs and other media in the first room—an introduction to all the kinds of media that Hopper dabbled in. As previously mentioned, the first thing you see is the ass of Salsa Man (2000) a massive pop sculpture of a mustachioed man holding a tray. You have to walk around the man to see him frontally which is the kind of curation that demands movement.
This movement gets visitors to the wall text, which is actually chalk full of information, but is still all the info provided for the whole show. Some things at MOCA will never change. Other than thanking the sponsors (duh the Broad Foundation, which doesn’t own any Hopper works), the intro walltext also gives a concise rundown on the works in the show. It explains Hopper’s interest in AbEx, how all but one of his AbEx paintings were destroyed in a fire, which begs to question: Where is this one painting MOCA? It also explains the gap in Hopper’s artistic production from the end of the 60s until ’81.
Salsa Man is paired with a sculpture on the same scale Mobile Man (2000), both face out away from the rest of the exhibition towards the large garage doors of the gallery space. This seemed odd to me, until I looked at photos from the opening reception where the garage door was open and people entered the exhibition that way. This enforces speculations about the purpose(s) of this show, is it really to promote this artist?—Or to be attendance booster? And what kinds of people (Hollywood types) is Deitch trying to get involved with MOCA? Regardless the garage space in interesting considering its similarity to Hopper’s mixed-use home/workshop space out in Venice.
The second room is dominated by Bomb Drop (1967/68/2000); I have no idea what the slash in the date is for (maybe it is a recreated piece) thanks for the explanation MOCA. The piece is very reminiscent of that Oldenberg Swiss Army Knife Boat (that wonderful prop). This is pretty much characteristic of Hopper’s work, it was obviously inspired by other artists, many of whom he was besties with. This room seems to be devoted to Hopper’s dabbling (yes I’m going to use this word multiple times) with Pop Art. A Coca Cola Sign (1962) hangs in this gallery. It is labeled as a “found object,” which begs to question the authorship of the piece, did Hopper even consider this one of his works, or was it something he had in his house that he hung on one of his walls?
The next two rooms, and my favorites, were all about photographs. The curators used the whole length of the walls and hung works on high and on low (much more stimulating than hanging them all in a row at the standard level). The photographs were clustered into themes: Pop Images, Civil Rights, Spain and Bullfighting (very Manet), Celebrity Friends, Artist Friends…Instead of having labels on the wall visitors were provided with laminated cards attached to a ring (kinda cheap) with all the info listed there. It was a fun game (for a while) to focus on one photo and attempting to find its label on the laminated sheets.
The most telling clumping of photos was the ones of Hopper’s celebrity artist friends. Present were: Larry Bell, Bill Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Allan Kaprow, Craig Kauffman, Ed Kienholz, Claes Oldenberg, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol. (Notice a lot of big LA names—who’s looking forward to PST?—I am!) This wall of famous artist friends is very telling about the kinds of people Hopper surrounded himself with, and makes a lot of sense when examining his artistic practices.
Following the two photography rooms, was a room with three humungous paintings. All of them were blown up versions of photographs from the previous room. The title work Double Standard (2009) was accompanied by Biker Couple (2000) from a ’61 photograph, and Rope (2003). I wonder if Double Standard was commissioned specifically for this show, it’s unclear how these works were executed, and whether Hopper actually painted them himself, or if they were just printed on huge canvases. No collection or other notation is mentioned on the labels for these works.
At the back of the gallery is a dark theater with seating where there is a selection of movie clips called “Excerpts on Freedom” edited by Julian Schnabel. It features clips from movies Hopper either acted in or directed: Easy Rider, The American Dreamer, Out of the Blue, Apocalypse Now, Giant, The American Friend, True Romance (damn that’s a lot of imdb links). This theater acts as a kind of footnote: oh yeah and Hopper was an actor and director. But wait, that’s what he is actually most known for, you’re trying to convince me he was an artist remember MOCA.
Another wing of the exhibition features additional large scale photorealistic paintings. Henry Geldzahler (2009) form the Met, and Lichtenstein (2000) no collection mentioned hang with Warhol with Flower (2004) from a ’63 photograph in the other room.
The exhibition as a whole was much better than expected, I thought that the curators might attempt to deemphasize Hopper’s influences (his artist friends) and promote Hopper as more original then he really was. The show is very honest; the writing is on the wall: in the form of Hopper’s portraits of his famous artist friends.
And now for your delight I present a complete waste of money spent shooting and editing a girl flipping through the Hopper exhibition catalogue. Really? Really! Is this necessary for any reason MOCA?
Oh and in case you missed it, MOCA has a blog. Who knew. The curiously titled The Curve looks like it is fairly old, but didn’t go public until fairly recently. And look they do posts just of installation shots (I’m sure a lot of work went into crafting this post). Now you don’t even need to go see the exhibition.
Oh Hammer Museum, I don’t expect your gallery guards to be able to discuss your art like a curator would, but I do expect them to be able to tell me why I can’t take a picture in certain galleries. When asked why I could not take a photo of Out of the Box, I was told, “oh well, this is a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But isn’t this part of your permanent collection? “Uh no, um it isn’t.” Actually it IS gallery guard, the works in Out of the Box were recently acquired jointly with LACMA. When asked why I couldn’t take pictures in Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection: “Oh well it’s a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But the reason why I can’t take photos in here is because some of the works are promised gifts not yet officially part of the collection. Maybe the Hammer should spend some time educating their gallery guards.
Now let’s discuss the summer shows at the Hammer. There is an installation by Greg Lynn, Out of the Box (editions of artists’ prints), a selection from the Armand Hammer Collection, and a selection from the Hammer Contemporary Collection. So that’s three shows/installations of permanent collection works, but I was only allowed to take photos in the Armand Hammer Collection installation. (I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures of the Greg Lynn, it’s out in a public courtyard after all.)
Let’s begin with Greg Lynn’s lovely fountain. LACMA on Fire blog had a fun post about the kitchy work, oh and the blogger doesn’t have a secret identity anymore. (That blog somehow seemed more fun when it was a secret and when it wasn’t hosted on artinfo.) The spurting fountain is made from casts of children’s toys and is an apt summer installation. The work is looking a little dirty though and could use some cleaning, or the Hammer could just dump some bleach into it.
Next up is the installation of works from the Armand Hammer Collection. Yeah, he’s that guy that founded this museum. (That’s right LA, Broad isn’t the first collector to found his museum based on his private collection, oh wait, there’s also the Norton Simon, the Huntington, oh and the Getty, well hmmm.) His portrait bust is right there in the room, just like the creepy J. Paul Getty bust in the Brentwood center. I could swear I’ve seen this room installed this exact way before; do the curators reinstall it the same way every time? So much for enlivening the permanent collection…
The gallery is sliced into three sections. The first section has a row of Van Goghs and some other big name impressionists, and some Rembrandts. Interesting to note that there is no mention of Rembrandt in Southern California, an initiative of several Southern California museums to promote Rembrandts in their collections. Way to be a team player Hammer Museum. And of course the striking Singer Sargent portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) is hung prominently in the first room, as the first work you see. Dr. Pozzi was a pretty sexy guy, and a gynecologist! I learned this fun little fact from the wall label, so yes there is some informative text in this installation.
The next room features a display of works from the museum’s Daumier collection: some great sketches and a slew of bronze caricature busts of famous Parisians. This room is a little dark, and I’m unsure why they displayed the busts in this overly theatrical fashion.
The last room has some smaller impressionist works flung together and hung closely on one wall. The other works are given a lot of space. All the big name works from the Armand Hammer Collection (the ones Ann Philbin decided to keep, not the lesser works the Hammer Foundation took back) are here. A Titian portrait of a man dressed as a soldier looks in need of cleaning, or maybe it’s just significantly darker than a similar work that hangs in the Getty.
Two Gustave Moreau’s hang in the last room next to each other: Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) and King David (1878). These works are absolutely amazing, and you can get up very close to them (the gallery guard didn’t yell at me when I did) to see all the tiny application of bright white paint that Moreau used to achieve his sparkling lighting effect.
Now for the contemporary stuff. This installation is composed of acquired works (bought with that Da Vinci sketchbook deacquisition money perhaps) and promised gifts. The intro wall text thanks the Hammer’s “Board of Overseers for annual contributions to the Hammer Contemporary Collection acquisition fund and to several dedicated donors.” This is the third installation of works from the Contemporary Collection; was the second one Second Nature? No it wasn’t. The two earlier shows were this and this.
A lot of the works in the show come from artists who have been shown at the Hammer, whether in monographic shows, in the Hammer Projects series, or in Hammer Invitationals. No photos from this installation unfortunately, which means you have to go see it for yourself. I was really impressed by how contemporary most of the works are; many of them made in the last five years, and acquired by the museum soon after they were created. The Hammer is doing an impressive job at executing its five-year-old initiative to seriously collect contemporary works. Gold star for you Ann Philbin!
The last of the summer shows (that I’m going to discuss) is Out of the Box: Edition Jacob Samuel, 1988-2010. The collection of prints from the Santa Monica-based EJS studio was jointly acquired by the Hammer and LACMA. I wonder how this joint ownership works. (LACMA jointly acquired an El Anatsui work with another UCLA museum, the Fowler, two years ago.) The list of artists represented in this exhibition is a real who’s-who of the contemporary world; check out the roster below (click to enlarge).
Personally I found the majority of the prints really boring. A series of prints of the number two was less then inspiring. There were few exceptions, but this whole project of prints seemed very elitist and overly self-congratulating. The exhibition design was effective but obvious; to clearly separate the projects of each artist a funny paint job had been devised. Each artist project was demarcated by a band of tan paint that segregated each project from the others. The earthtone paintjob was only about two feet high, and was immediately recognizable as an organizational strategy.
Admittedly I may have been overly critical of the Hammer and its summer shows, but when everyone that works there is so damn smug about themselves I expect the best. Maybe it’s just a slow summer. I’m going to admit that prints are hard to make exciting, and to be fair a lot of the work in the Contemporary Collection installation is really fantastic and warrants a long visit. See, I can be mildly subjective.
Just to make sure you don’t miss any of this great and mediocre stuff here is a rundown of when these shows close:
Greg Lynn: September 26
Armand Hammer Collection: ?
Hammer Contemporary Collection: January 30 (you’ve got a while)
Out of the Box: August 29 (opps you’ve missed it)
de Young Museum
Across from the recently reopened California Academy of Sciences is another new building. The de Young Museum (part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) looks like a beached and rusting submarine, parked awkwardly in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Vestigial elements of the old building remain; a pair of sexy art deco sphinxes mark where the old museum’s entrance used to be (a few hundred feet from where it is now).
Several of the museum’s collections are displayed on the first floor: Alaskan art, some contemporary decorative arts, Pre-Columbian, and modern and contemporary American painting and sculpture. Alaska art (mostly small crafts pieces) leads to the contemporary decorative arts gallery. This room contains a mixture of tacky glass pieces from the 80s (purple and teal color palette dominates), predictable pieces like Chihuly, and a Nick Cave body suite thrown in. The dec arts room leads off in two directions, one to the randomly linked pre-Columbian galleries, the other way along a window-lined hallway to the modern and contemporary galleries.
These collections are given the most real estate—allowing the large sculptures and paintings space to breathe without competing with each other. For example: even though Josaih McElheny’s Model for Total Reflective Abstraction (after Buckminster Fuller & Isamu Noguchi) takes up most of the floor in one room, a hanging fixture of burn wood, Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass, and Al Farrow’s cathedral reliquary made from ammunition are all given their due space.
Several rooms of painting later, was a smaller room with a special curatorial title and wallpanel. Photo / Synthesis features works by eight contemporary artists “who have explored various methods of assembling and organizing photographic images into multifaceted constructions.” Predictably Ruscha is included; in a series of parking lots, and of course Every Building on the Sunset Strip. I was surprised with how awkwardly the accordion book was displayed, it was even worse than how it was displayed in LACMA’s New Topographics. The form of book was completely denied in the de Young’s display, which was laid out in a ring standing up on its side. The display of Every Building that I think was the most successful was how it was displayed in a show at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. In a long display case that reached almost from wall to wall, the accordion book was laid out flat and almost to its full length.
I circled back to explore the Pre-Columbian galleries. Pre-Columbian galleries interest me especially since seeing the Jorge Pardo designed galleries at LACMA. (Look for a post comparing LACMA’s Pre-Columbian galleries to the Natural History Museum’s galleries soon.) Had I come out of the dec art gallery into the Pre-Columbian galleries, the first thing I would have seen would have been the dominating wall mural. This kitchy map of the world displays various flora and fauna, and seems more educational in function than artistic. The de Young sometimes has an odd way of connecting adjacent galleries with seemingly unrelated works. This map is one of those odd ways.
The display of the Pre-Columbian collection is fairly standard, other than being in a glass walled, natural light-flooded room. At the de Young wall cases, and free standing glass vitrines are light naturally, somehow making the objects more relatable and utilitarian, rather than simply being elevated to the level of an art object.
Little explanation is given for many of the objects, especially in the case of the Western Mexican ceramics. These objects are notoriously looted, and became popular with collectors especially in the early half of the 20th century. One of these ceramics even features prominently into an Alfred Hitchcock film. Similar like ceramic objects are gathered into vitrines, one has a cache burnished dogs in various activities, even including copulation.
Another thing that struck me about some of the Western Mexican ceramics was the similarity of works, with ones I have seen in Los Angeles. The female and male burial pair with odd geometric appendages is almost identical to ones found in the Natural History Museum. A figured with a white running geometric design is a twin of one in the Natural History Museum, and a triplet to another at LACMA. These “types” are so prevalent in collections, and yet so little is known about them as they are scavenged from burial sites with no archeological information known about them.
Other works in the de Young’s collection do have a lot of attribution, explanation, and even respectly present this information. One dim room contains a collection of murals from Teotihuacan from the Wagner Collection. The wallpanel is almost apologetic and therefore praiseworthy for its honesty and its explanation about museum collecting practices.
“Owing to the size and importance of the donation and ethical issues regarding cultural patrimony, the museum approached officials in Mexico to discuss a cooperative program of conservation and care and the voluntary return of at least half of the murals to Mexico. After several years of negotiation, an agreement between this museum and Mexico’s National institute of Anthropology was executed, providing for the joint conservation, exhibition and disposition of the collection.”
I am really struck with the honesty of this wall panel, and think that it should be seen as an example of the correct way to handle issues of cultural patrimony, and the transparency of the museum’s wheelings and dealings. Okay, I’m getting a little choked up about the walltext…didactics aside, the murals were in excellent condition, the color looks like it was applied days ago instead of the centuries ago that it actually was.
The last thing of note on the ground floor of the museum was a tiny little annex of a room which contained two mural cycles. The two murals, The Land and The Sea, were painted by Gottardo F.P. Piazzoni between 1929 and 1932. More transparency! The labels for these works say they are a “transfer” from the S.F. Arts Commission and the Asian Art Museum. The two, five-panel murals were painted originally for the Old Main Library, and suggested views that might have been seen through the walls of the building. The murals were removed from the Beaux Arts building when it was converted into the Asian Art Museum. The room in which they are now displayed “was designed to reflect the dimensions and arrangement” of the original location. I have a soft spot in my heart for projects like these since I worked a mural cycle, which had been removed from its original home.
The second floor has galleries reserved for temporary exhibitions, as well as the display of its early American, African, and Oceanic collections. A curatorial trend I’ve noticed with the display of African art is to introduce it with contemporary works. Both in L.A. (at LACMA recently) and at the de Young this took the form of an El Anatsui work. The massive wall hangings, which look like glittering golden weavings by El Anatsui are actually made from recycled metal liquor bottle caps. The works are made in El Anatsui’s native Ghana. The contemporary work which is still craft-based is supposed to related to the more traditional African works in the galleries like masks and ceremonial objects.
Across from the El Anatsui work is the intro walltext for the African galleries. More honesty and transparency:
“The museum’s collection of African art originated in the California Midwinter Exposition of 1894, when exhibits from “the colonies of Africa” and countries around the world were displayed in pavilions in Golden Gate Park. The objects were presented as exotic curiosities in a stereotyped, even racist, manner; few people saw them as works of art.”
It then explains how the collection grew mostly randomly from various sources and that the objects on display are “mostly traditional-based arts,” but that the museum hopes that it will “grow in multitude and dimension in the future.” This declaration for pursuing an increasingly scholarly and serious collection makes the collection more valuable to the public. It also seemed to be a genuine statement of redress .
Linked to the African galleries are the Pacific Island galleries (typical museum strategy for putting the “primitive art” next to one another. The de Young never uses the term “primitive” I should add.) The large wooden vitrines are massive and beautiful in their own right except they seem in desperate need of cleaning. Finger and large handprints were strikingly visible on the glass of the cases, and they seemed neglected. This bothered me mostly because the remedy seems so easy, grad some Windex!
The de Young also has an extensive collection of earlier American art installed on the second floor: painting, sculpture, decorative arts and furniture. One of my favorite installations of objects from the permanent collection was an installation of a slew of various chairs in a skinny corridor. This installation seemed Warholian, and reminded me of Warhol’s curated show Raid the Ice Box at the Rhode Island School of Design. Unlike Warhol’s exhibition, all of the chairs in the de Young display are well conserved, but viewing them like this in one line allows for a visitor to see trends in object-making and compare materials and craftsmanship.
Crowning the museum is an observatory tower whose top floor can be accessed by the public and allows for sweeping views of Golden Gate Park, and on less-foggy days amazing unobstructed views of the city. The de Young also has special exhibition space. The largest of these exhibition spaces is on the lower level of the building. The next post will be a review of Birth of Impressionism, a traveling exhibition of works from the Musee de Orsay.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Right in time for its 30th anniversary, MOCA presents Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, on view through May 3, 2010. The exhibition celebrates MOCA’s collection in a big way: more than 500 works by more than 200 artists. Collection also takes up a lot of real estate and is spread out between MOCA’s two downtown locations. This is why this inquisition will be dished out in two parts. Beginning at Grand Avenue with the 1940s and Abstract Expressionism, the show is organized chronologically. The show continues at the Geffen Contemporary with art from the previous 30 years (check back for part two).
Not only is MOCA showing its much bragged about permanent collection, it actually provides some informative/educational wall texts, or as close to informative/educational wall texts as MOCA would go. Throughout the many galleries, the curators have integrated quotations from the artists on display. The quotes range from remarks on art theory to explanations about artistic process.
The show is curated using several tactics. Two of these tactics were creations of suites of a single artists work, and another was the system of juxtaposing a series of a single artist’s photographs with a sculpture. This second tactics was my favorite and used twice with very successful results.
The first suite of artist work was given to Rothko, a venerable chapel had been created for the massive abstract expressionist pieces. The curators also utilized temporary architectural elements to their advantage in this space (and throughout) to separate rooms into sections, but more importantly to highlight through framing particular works. This was used in the following gallery for a Pollock.
The second major artist suite was organized for Franz Kline. I’ve never seen Kline hung in such a serial way. I didn’t particularly enjoy the suite because it began to look like a herd of zebra.
Then came a room which was installed using the second tactic: the juxtaposition of a photographic series and a sculpture. This one combined a series of photographs from Robert Frank’s The Americans series with the metal sculpture Rayvredd by John Chamberlain. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to snap a picture of this room’s installation, so I made a poor mock-up in my favorite program Microsoft paint. I like this room not just because I am insanely fond about Robert Frank (yes I own the expanded edition of The Americans exhibition catalogue) but because the combination of a multiplicity of photos compared to a single unique, seemingly irreproducible sculpture made me think on implications of media and display of various kinds of media.
This room was followed but another large suite containing MOCA’s extensive collection of varying and impressive Rauschenberg combines. The spacing in this room was effective in that it allowed for a consideration of individual works while still making obvious the trends in Rauschenberg’s work.
Another room that operated similarly in contrasting sculpture and painting was the room with the Oldenberg sculptures from The Store. These garishly painted works were mounted from the walls (like paintings) and set up on a kind of stage that separated them from the viewer’s space. The paintings in this room were Warhol and Lichtenstein. MOCA presented one of each from its own collection; both were in black and white. But full-color works from these two painters were also displayed, a Warhol Campbell Soup Can, and Lichtenstein’s I…I’m Sorry, both borrowed from the Broad Art Foundation.
Wait a second; I thought this show presented works from the permanent collection, to the Broad collection! These two works filled a gap perhaps in MOCA’s collection. (A similar gap must also be in LACMA’s collection since these two works were also borrowed in the inaugural installation of BCAM).
Then came the long corridor. I’ve seen photographs displayed in this space before, but I sadly ignored most of them once I saw what was at the end of the corridor. The florescent bulbs of Flavin’s monument for V. Tatlin beckoned me to the end of the corridor; making breeze past what I’m sure was a treasure trove of photography. Flavin’s work really got me going.
Once I was at the Flavin I realized I’d made my way to a kind of halfway point, since I’d been through half of the cycle of room at Grand Ave. There is a definite suggested route throughout these galleries, counterclockwise following the canon of contemporary art chronologically.
In another room were works all without frames, yes frames my other obsession. The works in this room were by Frank Stella, Bridget Riley, Jo Baer, and Elaine Sturtvant. All of the works were without frames, for various reasons. (I imagine it would be hard to find or created a frame to accommodate the curvilinear sides of Stella’s work.) All of these painting were humungous which made it hard for any one of them to dominate the space. This equality was created by the paintings’ demand for equal amounts of attention.
MOCA aside from the major suites also created mini-suites of a single artist’s work. Two mini-suites were organized for Diane Arbus photographs and another for Smithson works. The Arbus mini-suite contained photographs mostly of pairings of people which was a selective decision on the curator’s part. The Smithson mini-suite showed the variety of media Smithson worked in, from sketches of spiral cinnabars to the row of mirrors hung at floor-level, Mirage No. 1.
The MOCA press release for Collection also mentions a series of special installations. One such installation was Doug Wheeler’s RM 669. A gallery attendant had a constant vigil to remind visitors to remove their shoes before entering the ghostly/heavenly space. Other light and space works were near by which were combined with finish fetish works. I had never realized that the two movements aesthetic both rely on perfection of execution to be really effective.
A series of photographs I didn’t ignore or rush by was Lewis Baltz, his series of structures from Industrial Parks near Irvine. The photos were familiar to me since I had just seen some of them at LACMA in the New Topographics show. LACMA displayed far fewer than MOCA does. I think I favor MOCA’s display because it is so much larger showing how extensive the series really was.
Another special recreated installation was Ed Ruscha’s Chocolate Room. I’m a fan of having my senses (beyond sight) engaged when I visit museums. I like hearing a work of art from rooms away and then gradually finding my way to it. Ruscha’s work engaged another sense, smell. The smell of chocolate wafted through the galleries leading me to the chocolate covered papered walls of Ruscha’s installation. It reminded me of Dieter Roth’s Chocolate Lion Tower that was in LACMA’s Art of the Two Germanys exhibition where you smelled the artwork before you saw it. Both Chocolate Lion Tower and Chocolate Room turned a chalky white once the chocolate began to oxidize in the gallery spaces. The gross white layer was the only thing keeping me from licking the walls.
Another room installed using the tactics of photography series and sculpture combination was a small room hung with a fascinatingly sexy display of Nan Goldin photographs and a Yayoi Kusama sculpture. The work on the walls and the phallic sculpture on the floor made this intimate room feel scandalous, but in a subtle way that I enjoyed. It was probably the smallest room, and also the room I spent the most time in.
A final suite was organized for Eva Mendietta. The two walls of photographs of her her siluetas were the last thing I saw before I was scurried out the door at closing time. I managed to see everything (some things were more actually browsed) in part one of Collection. I must say bravo to MOCA for organizing this show (whatever the reasons). MOCA constantly brags about its monumental permanent collection, but rarely shows it. Well, MOCA finally is actually showing it.
P.S. Check back for part 2, the Geffen Contemporary portion of Collection.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
LACMA’s New Topographics, which runs through January 3, is a recreation (but actually a curation of a curation) of a show that was originally presented in the Rochester New York at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, in 1975. Apparently the originally show drew a limited amount of viewers: it was winter, and there was a lot of snow…The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson decided this show was so pivotal that they wanted to recreate it and bring the show to several venues, one of which was LACMA.
The show at LACMA was curated by Edward Robinson, but Britt Salveson probably had a lot to do with the shows incarnation at LACMA as well. Salveson was the director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography. Somewhere around the time of this show coming into existence Salveson was sucked up into LACMA and is now the head of both the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography and the Department of Prints and Drawings. Check out an interview with Salveson here.
LACMA has spent a lot of time and effort on this show, as is evidence to the mini webpages devoted to each of the ten artists in the show found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Further tribute to the importance LACMA now places on photography is the space that New Topographics inhabits. The second floor of the BCAM is half taken up by New Topographics, the other half photographic self portraits (this is the first time the whole second floor of BCAM has been all and only photography.)
The space is actually immense when considering the size of the exhibition. LACMA brags that the two thirds of total work from the original exhibition is in this reincarnation. This is an impressive number; however LACMA has two times as much gallery space compared to the Eastman House. Yikes, this means a lot of white wall. The many colored walls of Your Bright Future have been reformed back into the blinding white cube.
Despite the several issues with labeling, and the issue of curating an already-curated show, I mush say I think the curator was very creative in dealing with the issue of massive space and a smaller amount of content. In some rooms this was done better than in others.
This room was given to Robert Adams. A single line of same sized photos hugged two walls drawing the eye along from left to right. Several vitrines had an awkward presence in the room. These vitrines were there for context apparently, Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, and several other Rucha books were included to show how the design of these books influenced the exhibition catalogue of the original New Topographics. These vitrines seems like a bad way of filling an otherwise sadly empty room, and the things inside the cases were not clearly defined as not being part of the original exhibition.
This room was very evenly spaced: two walls each for the two artists, Nixon and Gohlke. These photos weren’t in any particular dialogue with one another. I thought the Gohlke spoke more to the Adams in the previous room or to the Wessel in the following room. Nixon’s photographs of Boston were some of my favorite works in the show, clean and new and seemingly promising.
The Gohlke works brought up an interesting point about the information provided. The work below on the right had a caption which said the photo was taken in ’74, and that it was printed in ’75. Was LACMA bragging about having one of the original photographs? I noticed that the curators were irresponsibly inconsistent with providing this information and distinguishing the dates these photos were printed, and informing the viewers what was an original print.
The Wessel photos in the next room spoke volumes to the Gohlke not just because they both featured barren Los Angeles Landscapes. These amused me for a while trying to figure out their locations, they are all so seemingly familiar, and also very nondescript.
Baltz’s work was also in this room across from Wessel. His series of buildings from industrial park in Irvine were clustered together in a grid in the center of the wall, which for a minute almost distracted me from the inappropriately high white ceilings.
The third photographer featured in this room was Shore. These photos stood out because they were the only in the show that were color photographs, and they were big. I was informed that at the time these photos were originally taken such large-sized color photos would not have been possible to print, so clearly these were printed more recently, a fact that LACMA curators did not point out. Nor did they point out the fact that they had changed the scale of the photos which dramatically impacted my reception of the work. Shame shame.
Deal’s many untitled views of Albuquerque attempted to flood an entire wall in this room, barely managing to fill the space. And then finally a successful attempt at filling the space. The curators attempted the same corner-hugging line of installation used in room one with the photos by Schott. These photos were all from a series where Schott documented Motels along Route 66. The crazy architecture of these buildings flows from image to image around the corner like following an arrow-shaped street sign.
This room was entirely used for the husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher, artist nine and ten. The series of mine architecture and coal manufacturing plants were hung in groupings. One of the works in this room was from the original New Topographics (the tarnished silver frame signified this) was actually a series set into a grouping in the same frame. All the other works in addition to being hung on high, stark white walls, were also framed with in white frames. Oh the little details like frames!
After this last official room of the works from the original New Topographics came two other (what LACMA would say were) contextualizing rooms. In the one room with windows opening up onto Wilshire Boulevard were works by Smithson, Graham and my favorite Turrell. The Turrell piece was a sort of ephemera from his Roden Crater project which makes me go crazy whenever I think about it.
In the final room, which was a kind of screening room was the space created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation. On the far wall was projected a commissioned piece about oil and landscape with a bench set in front of it. Along another wall were two computers for viewing the Center’s website. Plastered above the computers where poster for some of the center’s previous exhibitions which looked like a college student’s dorm room. And obnoxiously there was another living room type space. I mentioned this in the Beuys inquisition were LACMA curators set up an awkward sitting area with cushy chairs and reading materials.
So final conclusions: The photographs in the exhibition spoke for themselves; there was no need for all the extra stuff that was supposed there for context. Sure there was a lot of white walls, but if the curators had just embraced the white expanse full heartedly instead of half-heartedly the installation would have been far superior.