Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘exhibition design

Winter BCAM Shows

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Let’s follow up a long discussion of three shows at LACMA with a very brief discussion of three shows at LACMA.  The three winter shows in BCAM are: Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977, William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008, and Color and Form (an installation not exhibition). Let’s make this quick.

Not so much to talk about.

Blinky (yes I’m going to cal him by his first name) is organized by the Dia Art Foundation and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard.  The show’s first stop is LACMA, then it travels east to the Hirshhorn and then north to Dia Beacon.  Interestingly the show is presented by Christies (hmm) and the tour is made possible by Gucci (who knew the Italian fashion house was interested in contemporary art or that the Gucci marketing people are).  Above the entrance to the show is the only semblance of exhibition design, a stupid painted blue triangle.  The only interesting thing to note about this show was that the labels were meticulously hidden in the doorways between each room, limiting distraction.  I think LACMA knows how boring this show is and actually stooped this low in a sad effort to make it interesting.

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Resnick Pavilion Inaugural Exhibitions

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

They paid for the building, they can show their art for three months in it.

Getting Yogurtland was my priority upon landing in LA.  This was followed by a close second priority of seeing the three exhibitions which inaugurated the brand spanking new Resnick Pavilion at LACMA.  The shows opened while I’ve been in Chicago, but I’ve been following the press about the opening of the Pavilion.  Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico was something of a blockbuster loan show, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915 is a presentation of LACMA’s newly acquired costume collection, and Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection was an exhibition of the Resnicks’ collection of European painting and sculpture.  The three shows have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and that’s just the way LACMA director Michael Govan likes it:
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Manly Pursuits: The Sporting Images of Thomas Eakins

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

This is what the fuss is all about.

To my readers: No more posts on LA exhibitions for a while (other than this one and the one to follow); I am now curled up next to a space heater in Chicago, while the rest of you complain about the amazingly hot weather in LA, boohoo.

Admittedly I coerced my best friend to come with me to see these shows (Opie next time) by selling them to him as the “gay shows at LACMA.”  They’re not really “gay” shows, but both have material that might be characterized as homoerotic, and maybe that’s why LACMA curators felt they needed to include the following at the entrance of the Manly Pursuits:

Warning Adult Material. (No joke.)

This begs to question—where!? I don’t see any adult material, unless you mean those paintings and photographs that have naked nude male figures in them.  Is this warning necessary?  Is it there because they’re naked guys? I don’t see labels warning about the naked women elsewhere in the museum.  Where’s the warning sign in the renaissance galleries for that painting of that slut Danae and the golden shower?

Try explaining what a golden shower is to your kids.

Moving on from that unnecessary warning, the always clever exhibition designers at LACMA have come up with inventive signage.  In the entryway a large title banner is hung from a complex rigging of ropes and pulleys.  The didactics in the exhibition are printed on thick canvas (this sailboat not the canvas you paint on), and hung from punctured grommet holes. Very wood shop and very manly I supposed.

Heterosexual exhibition design.

The exhibition is organized into genres of sport: rowing, swimming, hunting and sailing, equestrian, boxing and cycling, and wrestling.  This method is both user-friendly and functionally allowed for smaller and larger spaces.  This is not a full-scale retrospective, but a focused exhibition on one genre of Eakins’s work; this does not mean this is a small show or that it is lacking in works.

The first room, on rowing, had a plentitude of works: completed paintings, preparatory works, and sketches.  Eakins fascination (even obsession) with accurate perspective is evident in these works and the combination of works showcased the artist’s anal-retentive process.

No dick in this pic.

The swimming room is the room that I guess warranted the warning label (maybe also the wrestling room).  There is only one completed oil painting in the room, The Swimming Hole (1884-85), the only Eakins work on the subject matter. The canvas wall text informs that Eakins relied on photographs for this composition; this is obvious since the painting is accompanied in this room by so many photographs.  The photos are of “real” (LACMA’s word choice not mine) naked men, instead of idealized nudes (is that why we need the label?).  All of the photos are preciously small and require close proximity to view them properly.  The photographs come from various places (oh hey a loan from the Getty!) and are labeled as modern inkjets from original glass negatives.  I call them soft-core-porn (kidding, kinda).

Porn so small, you can barely see it.

The main attraction, on loan from the Amon Carter Museum, has chairs placed in front of it (chairs I’m pretty sure came from a conference room inside LACMA).  The wall text also explains that Eakins himself is one of the men in the painting, making this a clusterfuck of viewer-viewed-exhibitionist-voyeur-spectator-participant relationships.  I would like to point out that the finished oil painting has no visible penis in it, so what is the big deal?

Eakins was apparently an avid swimmer, or avid skinny dipper.

I blew through the hunting and sailing room, and the equestrian room, in pursuit of more adult content slash gay porn (still kidding LACMA), which I found in the boxing and cycling room.  This room had more naked photographic studies to satiate my desires (haha) and several large finished works in it including Saltut from the Addison Gallery of American Art (which has been linked to Gerome’s Police Verso which was just in LA), Between Rounds from Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the largest work, Taking the Count from Yale.  Pat on the back for being responsible and looking at where all these loans came from. This room was set with a series of benches arranged as they might be for a spectator sport like boxing (oh yeah that’s the topic of this room).

Art-viewing arena.

On to the wrestling room: This room is organized around LACMA’s The Wrestlers, it is a new acquisition and the central reason why LACMA organized this show.  More chairs from a LACMA conference room were set in this gallery to allow for longer views (also so viewers could get their rocks off) of the works, which include preparatory paintings (one owned by LACMA prior to the acquisition), and more steamy photographs. Damn LACMA I’m all hot and bothered now, all this adult content.

Porn from the permanent collection.

And after I’d already jizzed my pants LACMA really delivered with Tad Beck’s installation Palimpsest.  In a separate room, several works from Beck’s Palimpsest series were displayed, acting in dialogue with Eakins’s work. The subject matter of the male nude (the adult content remember) is not the only similarity Beck explains in an Unframed post.

Palimpsest 1, un(?)arguably homoerotic.

The last room of the exhibition is a reading room.  A really sad little reading room, which had a book on Eakins’s Grafly Album (sexy stuff), some terribly cheap Xeroxed essays, but oh wait, two iPads to read the pseudo-exhibition catalogue on.  This is a big show (in scale and importance), with lots of loans—I can’t believe there isn’t an accompanying exhibition catalogue (is one is in the works?), maybe the organizers didn’t have any funds left for publications.  But they had funds for those iPads…

The unfortunate gift shop and Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape will have to wait for next time.  But believe me the gift shop was UNFORTUNATE and less noteworthy the Opie show did have figures and landscapes (and more gay stuff).

- H.I.

Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention

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Getty Center

I know that this exhibition is already over, but I still think it is worth posting about because it had so many elements involved with the exhibition design.

Somebody save that baby!

The exhibition was located on the terrace level of the west pavilion of the Getty Center. I entered the space by walking down the stairway from the level above, which allowed me a great view of the behemoth horse by Nina Akamu.  The work was a wall mural of a photo of Il Cavallo, which stands in the Parco dell’Ippodromo in Milan.  The contemporary sculpture was inspired by the sketches of Da Vinci, for an unrealized equestrian monument designed for Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  This unrealized sculpture was a big focus of the show, and this photo adhered to the entry wall helped to cultivate the theme of monumentality in Renaissance sculpture. Even though there were few sculptures (and none by Da Vinci) in the show.  The Da Vinci work in this show is made up of sketches, many from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

There were some very significant loan pieces, which is what the Getty does best; the reason to go see a show at the Getty is their ability to negotiate such loans.  (See for example French Bronzes, Bernini, or the display of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.) A major lender in to this exhibition was the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo in Florence.  The very Tuscan, sand-colored rooms of the exhibition are divided into several themes.

He’s been cleaned up since this picture was taken.

Donatello and Da Vinci: This room was a kind of prologue to the show.  One big room, with only one big work: Donatello’s Bearded Prophet.  The huge bronze statue was illuminated by a single window in an upper corner of room.  The starkness of the room highlighted the monumental borrowed work and allowed a visitor to circumvent the entire work, which you wouldn’t have been able to in its original setting—on the campanile of the Duomo.  The wall text explains how Donatello enlarged certain parts of the sculpture because of the perspective of it being seen on high: like the hands and the saint’s head.  This was a technique that was evidently adopted by Da Vinci.

Lots of sketches; thanks QE2!

Da Vinci and the Florentine Tradition: Because this show prominently featured works on loan I was not allowed to take any photographs, and the Getty has a very diligent and dedicated army of gallery guards who promptly tell you to put that camera away, this is why I have no images from this room.  Let me describe it instead:  the second room had an assemblage of pedestals with framed sketches set on top of them.  The Da Vinci sketches looked precariously set on top of the pedestals, as if they would topple over if you bumped into one, which seemed unavoidable in the crowded forest of pedestals.  Wall text contextualized Da Vinci into the Florentine tradition, with its emphasis on disegno—the “masculine style” which the Tuscans thought far superior to the feminine, Venetian style of colorito.

If only my handwriting were this nice, or this legible.

In between the room that focused on Da Vinci’s equestrian monuments and other projects, and the next was a corridor that could have been left empty and unremarkable.  But no, the Getty exhibition designers weren’t going to waste a perfectly good wall.  In this wall way, like beautiful antique wallpaper, was enlarged images of Da Vinci’s handwriting.  I asked a gallery guard permission and was given the okay to photograph.

and a painting…so where’s the sculpture

In the next room, which was almost tucked away, Da Vinci’s St. Jerome (on loan from the Vatican!) was displayed.  The unfinished panel painting was the first work by Da Vinci in the show that wasn’t a sketch, not a sculpture, but still not a sketch.  What this painting was doing in a show about sculpture was rationalized by the curators in that the figure of Jerome was painted in a very sculptural way…I might be oversimplifying, but that’s all the average visitor is going to understand anyway.

Gotcha!

The final rooms were devoted to Giovan Francesco Rustici, an artist I had never heard of before this exhibition.  Apparently he was friends and colleagues with Da Vinci.  Because there are very few confidently attributed Da Vinci sculptures, and those probably are never allowed to move, the Getty provides this analogue (aka replacement) for the lack of Da Vinci sculptures.  Once again there were a lot of loan works, the most glorious of which were the three Rustici sculptures that made up the sculptural group John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee and a Levite, also from the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo.

And a non-blurry version taken in the High Museum.

Again the large works (meant to be seen on the exterior of a public building) were given plenty of room to stretch their large bronze limbs, and basked in plenty of natural sunlight.  The natural light helped to contextualize the works in their original location.  The works were amazing, and would be on their own, even if you ignore the Da vinci-Rustici relationship so hyped in this exhibition.  It really undermined Rustici’s talent as an individual artist, but at the same time exposed me to Rustici for the first time.

The unavoidable gift shop, at the Getty they have their own chain.

After exiting the exhibition, myself and all the visitors were forced into the adjacent retail space.  Yes the Getty has a very large bookstore, but they also set up specialty boutique shops as it were for special exhibitions. It was like strategic planning in a mall, but I did almost buy a street banner from the exhibition.

- H.I.

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