Exhibition Inquisition

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

Art of the Pacific Galleries

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Flute ornament on a maté tea background.

Towards the end of last year LACMA installed a gallery for its newly acquired collection of oceanic art.  This is not your regular exhibition however; LACMA once again solicited the talents of an artist to help out with the exhibition design.  The Austrian artist Franz West was brought on to bring a create edge to the installation.  West had a solo exhibition at LACMA last year, which was interestingly enough installed in the same galleries that the Art of the Pacific now occupies.

Sun-lit galleries, almost like a tropical vacation.

The galleries are on the ground floor of the Ahmanson Building, right as you come in from the BP entry pavilion, you walk under Tony Smith’s Smoke, and make a right.  The galleries are sun-lit because of the large open windows that look out onto the recently opened Cantor Sculpture Garden.

The introductory wall text explains that the way this installation has been organized with “geographic groupings that follow population migration patterns, from west to eat, in the general sequence of the settlements of these Pacific islands.”  A wide range of material culture is displayed, similar items are grouped, and some are highlighted individually.

Primitive pedestals for “primitive” art?

The pedestals in the installation are intentionally crude; small forests of two-by-fours make up the bases that support white-washed wooden slabs.  If the intention was to be primitive, they are successful.

Would you sit here?

The walls of the galleries have been washed in maté tea, a process that was explained on LACMA’s Unframed blog.  The objects on display were set on platforms and pedestals, which were arranged along with bizarre benches.  The benches are unconventional, and verging on the ugly, but are fairly comfortable.  My major with them is that they are distracting; the bight green in them detracts from the art on display, and does little to relate to it.

User-unfriendly identification cards.

No wall labels are used in the installation, which is frustrating.  If you want to know what the object is that you are looking at you have to pick up a huge laminated poster with outlines of the works on display and try to figure it out on your own.  There was a different laminated poster for each room, and you look silly carrying the posters around.

This is this.

The West-created installation follows LACMA’s recent trend of involving artists in installations; Baldessari was brought in to design the 2006 Magritte exhibition, and more recently Jorge Pardo collaborated with the museum on the installation of the much-critiqued Pre-Columbian collection.  I have to say that I think the Pardo-designed galleries are more interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and plain prettier that what West designed for the Pacific galleries.  However this mode of curation is a way of enlivening the permanent collection, which is a vital task for collecting institutions.  LACMA is doing just that, making its visitors rethink the items it has on display.

– H.I.

P.S. Check in soon for developments at LACMA and the reinstallation of their European galleries.

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