Exhibition Inquisition

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

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:

You might come for Olmec but become tempted by the costumes of Fashioning Fashion; or you might want to see the European paintings in Eye for the Sensual but you must pass through Olmec to get there. The hope is that all of the exhibitions will pique your curiosity, regardless of which one you came for. And along with that there will be the energy that comes with all of these exhibitions’ audiences being, basically, in one place together.” (Unframed)

And sure all the Los Angeles art patron news is focused a certain someone else right now, but I’m dedicating this post to Lynda Resnick, or Lynda as I shall refer to her from now on.  This is going to be a long post, but here we go.

One guess: which donor is from Norcal, and which from SoCal.

Fashioning Fashion is just a fraction of the costume collection that LACMA acquired in 2007.  The “museum-changing” (so says LACMA curator Sharon Takeda ) collection was purchased from two European collectors, mostly through the largess of two donors Suzanna Saperstein and Ellen Michelson (above).

The show is organized into several sections: a timeline, textiles, tailoring, and trim.  The timeline section is divided by gender; all the outfits on the female side are white, eliminating distraction, and focusing on evolving silhouettes and shapes.  Alas the men’s side is not all one color, and so the evolution is less powerful, but the gist is still understood.

Evolution without the hairy apes.

The mannequins are framed by shipping crates, faux shipping crates.  All the mannequins seem to be newly emerged from their shipment to LACMA. Two Italian opera artistic directors, Pier Luigi Pizzi and Massimo Gasparon, came up with the exhibition design concepts for Fashion.  The crates are clever for presenting the new collection, but the concept is overly repetitive, especially in one corner where the faux lids from the faux crates have been stacked up against a wall.

Too many fake crates.

Also, a banner of red text:  FASHIONFASHIONFASHIONFASHION runs around the entire space (in a font similar to Vogue’s).   Below each mannequin is a label with educational info and most include an accompanying illustration—a close-up photo of fabric or a drawing from LACMA’s collection. Not all of the works in this show are from the new collection; other works from LACMA’s collection are integrated.  In the trim section, a cashmere shawl from India (a gift from Anna Bing Arnold) is included to illustrate the dialogue between Eastern and Western fashions.

Understated display of wealth.

The organizers of the show saved the best (read: most opulent and distastefully sumptuous) stuff for last.  The section on trim includes bejeweled capes and sequined parasols, along with men’s, Rococo, gilt-embroidered suits, paired with gold purses and opulent turbans.  The highlight of the section just might be a black satin court dress—purportedly worn by Queen Maria II of Portugal.  No one was one-upping the Queen when she was wearing this dress.

Let’s transition from one display of power and wealth (gold embroidery) to another (colossal stone heads).  Olmec was one of Christopher Knight’s 10 Best Exhibitions in Southern California of 2010, and it was pretty good for me too.  Monumental basalt heads were displayed on Michael Heizer-designed, corten steel pedestals along-side vitrines of caches of jadeite figurines.  All the supports for the artwork were in a geometrical asymmetrical style, but only two pedestals were made out of corten steel, the ones for two heads, which immediately created a hierarchy in the display.

What it must cost to ship this thing!

The works loaned shouldn’t be underscored: major loans include Monument Q (colossal head) from Tres Zapotes, Colossal Head 5 from San Lorenzo, and Monuments 7–9 (twin figures and jaguar tableau) from Loma del Zapote-El Azuzul.  Those were the big pieces, but the small artworks also shone.  Jadeite objects were arranged in caches either how they were discovered, or into simpler linear forms.

Hardly colossal.

If Your Bright Future was targeted the Korean community in LA, than Olmec was targeted to the Mexican community.  The organizers provided labels in Spanish as well as English, and placed them side by side, rather than one above the either, how equal. Olmec was organized by LACMA and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in collaboration with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las ArtesInstituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia de México, and is headed off to the De Young as you read this.

Does someone cry when they paint over these puppies?

Another design element of show was the painted replicas of two murals.  One replica was from Las Pinturas in San Bartolo and showed the coronation of an early Maya king, the other was of a mural in Oxtotitlan Cave in Guerrero.  The murals, while executed by well-trained archeologists, immediately tainted the show with an element of kitsch.  I could have done without them is all I’m saying, I’m not intimidated by an expanse of white wall.  Maybe they included the murals because Fashion and Eye for the Sensual were SO dramatic.

Speaking of Eye for the Sensual and speaking of SO dramatic, it’s time.  Pier Luigi Pizzi and Massimo Gasparon (those Italian Opera guys, and you want to click this link) did the design for this show too.  “Since all of the pieces in Eye for the Sensual are part of Lynda and Stewart Resnick’s personal collection, Pizzi and Gasparon wanted the show to look like it was hung in someone’s home; albeit a sumptuous, elegant, palatial home.” And how sumptuous it was!

Lynda’s got groves of fruit trees outside her Sunset mansion as well.

The first room looked like in indoor garden, complete with white nude sculptures and yes, lemon trees (don’t forget Lynda made her money off of fruit).  Behind each statue a huge mirror was placed which allowed for a viewer to see all sides of each statue.  Sure the lemon trees were fake, but the artworks were real.  But who was focusing on art when you had silk wallpaper, mirrors, gilding, pilasters and capitals, but ooh cement floors.  I doubt Lynda has cement floors in her place.  The cement floors were a huge misstep, the only thing that reminded you that you weren’t actually in Lynda’s Sunset mansion.


The second room was as opulent as the first.  Paintings and sculptures lined each wall, and populated the floor.  A painting even soared overhead, hung underneath a baldacchino-like structure.  The show was thoughtfully organized and had surprising moments were sculptures and paintings spoke to each other. Mirrors were everywhere, painting even hung from mirrors. The mirrors weren’t just decoration; you saw yourself in them, could easily imagine yourself, literally see yourself living in this palace. The third room was a full-on Rococo explosion: more mirrors, more pilasters, more silk wallpaper, more gilded frames, more nudes, more cupids, more everything.  I hope this is how Lynda lives, and looking at the exhibition catalogue, which is includes shots of Lynda’s French palace, she does.

Rococo, rococo, rococo.

A fourth room was clad in peach silk wall paper, and had several symmetrical compositions to showcase pairs of paintings or pairs of sculptures, maybe Lynda buys in bulk, maybe she gets a good deal.  (She does, but she’s giving this one to LACMA.)  A fifth much smaller room was draped in deep burgundy silk,  a shrine to Ingres’s Virgin with the Host, complete with a pair of pot pourri vases and gold casket set on an inlaid empire table.  After all of this Rococo madness came a big surprise, the sixth room was electric blue.  It looked like a period 20s room, complete will all-white furniture and accents aka the art.  Lynda is such a complex woman.

Hello, I live here.

I was overwhelmed, as I think a normal person would be after this experience.  It felt a little uncomfortable, like sneaking into someone’s house mansion, but exhilarating because you did not belong there and might at any moment be caught and thrown out.  The maze of rooms is the way I imagine Lynda’s real house, and while some critics might not have liked it, I say thank you Lynda for letting us sneak around your house!  It helped boost LACMA’s attendance, and Eye for the Sensual was LACMA’s highest attended show of 2010.

My apologies for the extensive post, but there was just so much to discuss about these three shows.  All three have made me eager to see what else can be done with the new Resnick pavilion, oh wait, never mind.

– H.I.

P.S. While Olmec and Eye for the Sensual have closed, Fashion has now been extended to March 27.

3 Responses

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  1. first of all, is that THE michelson? I wouldn’t be surprised. also, if you’re here on a thursday, let’s go to the academy


    January 13, 2011 at 1:06 PM

  2. […] Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town.  “Pomegranate Queen” Lynda Resnick is an easy comparison.  Like Broad, Resnick is a long-time donor and trustee of LACMA.  Like Broad, she and her husband provided funds ($54 million) for a Renzo-Piano-designed building at LACMA.  The Lynda and Stuart Resnick Pavilion was part of Phase 2 of LACMA’s Transformation and sits directly north of BCAM.  When the pavilion opened in October of 2010, one of three inaugural shows was gleaned from the Resnick’s private collection. […]

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