Exhibition Inquisition

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

Archive for the ‘Permanent Collection’ Category

Christian Marclay’s The Clock

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LACMA

Last week, I attended (a portion) of LACMA’s 24-hour screening of the museum’s newly-acquired The Clock by Christian Marclay.  I watched the video work from 8:00 until a little after midnight, and LACMA’s Bing Theater was packed the entire time.  People shuffled out at the bottom of each hour, allowing more people in.  When I left at 12:15, there was still a line of eager museum visitors all the way down the side of the Art of the Americas building.  The Clock has been on view pretty much from the time it was acquired back in May, and just closed this past weekend.  If you didn’t get the opportunity to see it, fear not, I’m sure it will be back—it’s a huge crowd pleaser.

The (de)evolution of the leading lady?

The showing attracted a mixed bag of attendees; The Clock is more fun to watch in a diverse group of people.  Older viewers recognized clips I didn’t; there were big laughs for a dinner scene from The Odd Couple, and more laughs for a Vincent Price clip.  I held my own when I recognized a young Catherine Deneuve, a pivotal scene from Hitchcock’s Rope, and Dustin Hoffman in drag in Tootsie.  The oldtimers were stumped by a clip from Sex and the City.  Some clips I wanted to go on longer, but I quickly forgot about them because there were five or more news clips in the next minute. Read the rest of this entry »

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Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve

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Restitution Issue: Norton Simon Museum

Adam and Eve, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in c. 1530, are a pair of panel paintings currently on view in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum.  There hasn’t been an update on the painted pair since October, but the ownership of the Adam and Eve remains an unresolved dispute.  Marei Von Saher is the daughter-in-law of Jacques Goudstikker, a previous owner of the Adam and Eve.  During the 1940s, Goudstikker fled Holland and was forced to sell the panels to the Nazis under duress.  The issue of restitution would seem clear if this case was that simple.  A questionable, century-long provenance and a legal tangle both complicate the case.  Let’s explore.

Adam and Eve have hung at the Norton Simon since 1977.

Norton Simon bought the Cranach panels from George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff , a Russian, in 1971.  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff was the heir of an aristocratic family who claimed to have owned the paintings prior to 1917.  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff received/bought the paintings from the Dutch Government in a restitution agreement in 1966.  The Dutch Government was restituted the paintings (remember Goudstikker fled Holland during WWII) after WWII.  The Nazis forced Goudstikker to sell them in the 1940s.  Goudstikker had bought the paintings from the Soviet government at an auction in 1931.  The Russian government had confiscated Adam and Eve from the family of Stroganoff-Scherbatoff prior to 1917.  Seems like a resolved case of restitution: Russian heir gets stolen paintings back and then sells them to a collector (Norton Simon).

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Cult Statue of a Goddess (aka Aidone Aphrodite, aka Venus of Morgantina)

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Restitution Issue: J. Paul Getty Museum

Sure LA is hot right now with contemporary art, but some of its older holdings are getting a lot of press.  I’ve decided to take a minor tangent from exhibition critique and do a series of posts on issues of restitution in major LA institutions.  Some of these issues have been resolved, some are still being disputed, and some aren’t even creating waves (at the moment at least).

Now you see her, now you see something else.

At the end of 2010, a small party was held at the Getty Villa in Malibu.  This event wasn’t exactly a celebration; it was a farewell party.  The Getty finally had to say goodbye to the now infamous Cult Statue of a Goddess.  The larger-than-life-sized acrolithic sculpture had dominated the “Gods and Goddesses” room of the Getty Villa as long as I can remember.  Even though I knew she’d be gone by the time I got back to LA, I still wasn’t prepared to miss her so much.  In her place the Getty has placed the Mazarin Venus, a smaller and less-clothed sculpture.  While she is pretty, she doesn’t anchor the room quite like Cult Statue of a Goddess did.  This may just be my biased opinion, but the Mazarin Venus just isn’t as demanding a presence.  This will probably be a temporary issue; according to an LA Times piece: “Karol Wight, the Getty’s chief antiquities curator, said Zeus will be promoted to top star of the “Gods and Goddesses” gallery where the cult statue holds sway. Plans call for reconfiguring the room.”

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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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Home for the Holidays

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Art Institute of Chicago

Lances and chainmail have a lot to do with the holidays…

So I know, the holidays are over, and I missed this occasion slightly, but I still wanted to dish briefly, mostly to focus on the massive amounts of advertising the Art Institute did for this campaign.  If you’ve walked in the Loop past a vacant storefront building, you’ve surely seen the massive ads about what’s going on at the Art Institute for the holidays.  Or if you’ve been in a subway car recently you might have noticed.  You know how sometimes a single advertiser will buy out all the ad space in an entire subway car? You could be in a car with only blackberry ads and find yourself really needing the ability to BBM.  Well the Art institute did the same; one night I found myself overwhelmed with ads about something going on at the Art Institute called “Home for the Holidays”—there was even ads for it on the ceiling of the subway car.

Ads on the red line.

The “Home for the Holidays” campaign was a concise (cost effective?) way of promoting several new things at the museum rolled into one campaign.  Those things being: 1-the wreathing of the lions, 2 – the decorating of the Thorne Miniature rooms in holiday décor, 3 – the reinstallation of Chagall’s American Windows, and 4 – the installation of the museum collection of arms and amour.  And although Chagall’s stained-glass windows aren’t so holiday themed, they sure reek of holiday spirit compared to suits of armor and battle axes.

The curtains match the drapes (the ads match the wreaths)—it’s called branding.

The wreathing of the lions is a tradition now in its nineteenth year.  Last year (2009) the Art Institute mixed tradition up a bit and had a design firm create contemporary wreaths for the lions.  This year, the museum commissioned the Chicago-based firm Materious to design the lions’ holiday garb: giant cranberry wreathes. The rich pinks and reds are a strong punctuation on snow-filled Michigan Ave.  (The wreaths also light up at night, and are solar-powered, oh hey!) The wreaths look a whole lot better than what they do to the lions when any local sports team wins a championship, and a whole lot better than the shoddy decorations over at the Field.  Also notice how the wreaths match the graphics in the “Home for the Holidays” ad campaign.

Word doesn’t recognize the word “dreidel,” is word being anti-Semitic?

Be prepared to be underwhelmed with the holiday decoration of the Thorne Rooms.  (Full disclosure, I’ve always disliked the Thorne Rooms, but I know that a lot of people love them.)  Only a measly six of the rooms were decorated this year; the museum says it’s going to make this a tradition so eventually maybe all the rooms will be dressed up. The decorations are tiny (duh) but also very hard to see, the English Victorian Era room has a Christmas tree, and someone decided the rich people who own the midcentury modern California room are Jewish.

Smells like holiday spirit.

The Chagall windows really did come “Home for the Holidays;” they haven’t been seen for five years during the construction of the Modern Wing.  The museum also organized a small exhibition about the legacy of public art in Chicago with models and projects to accompany the windows’ return. The windows also went in for some heavy cleaning, shown in the video below.

The other things that came home (for the holidays) was a selection of the museum’s George F. Harding Jr. Arms and Armor Collection.  The installation is complete with a fully-armed knight on horseback, massive tapestries, and cannon.  While this installation has nothing to do with the holidays (come on, you know it doesn’t), the wall text gives a hint about to exciting things.  It reads: “This temporary installation of arms and armor […] Plans are underway for a larger permanent installation […] This new gallery will be part of a series of galleries that feature the museum’s important collection of medieval and Renaissance Art.”  Clearly some large-scale reinstallations are afoot at the Art Institute, ones that are probably going to affect large portions of its well-loved and loved-to-be-seen permanent collection of European art.  I wonder how this will affect the museum in the coming years.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like a medieval battleaxe.

– H.I.

P.S. This story piqued my interest today.  Starting in June, the Art Institute is getting rid of its free Thursday evening hours, quoting low attendance as a factor.  Ahem, I have class on Thursday evenings across the street and know that the line to get in wraps around the building.  Okay, I’ll be fair: the museum spokesperson said not enough Chicago residents were coming on those evenings and that it was mostly out-of-towners. AKA people the museum wants visiting during regular hours and paying full ticket price.  “Taking free hours off the table was never an option,” said a spokeswoman—well legally you can’t (all museums in Chicago are required to offer 52 free days), so don’t pretend like you do this out of the goodness of your heart.

P.P.S  I’m on break in LA, so expect a full report from the West Coast in upcoming posts.

I Went to Confirm What I Already Feared

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Field Museum

Let’s teach kids about the circle of life!

I felt the need to be a responsible journalist blogger and actually check this place out.  I’m not going to bash a museum for using sponsors (check previous post), but the Field Museum has struck me as a strange place since I came to Chicago.  As a natural history museum I’m unsure as to why they organize pay to have exhibitions about  pirates, mythical creatures, and Jacky O.  The mission of the Field Museum (courtesy of the Field’s website):

The Field Museum is an educational institution concerned with the diversity and relationships in nature and among cultures. It provides collection-based research and learning for greater public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live. Its collections, public learning programs, and research are inseparably linked to serve a diverse public of varied ages, backgrounds and knowledge.”

Nowhere in this mission statement is the word exhibition mentioned; so why does the Field pay so much for these questionable shows?  One argument is that it gets people in the door and that the museum benefits financially from admissions from these shows.  But when admission fees don’t even cover the cost of the crap plastic unicorn, I begin to question the Field, and whether it is actually upholding its mission.

Gold is not free.

The pricey cost of admission was a major factor for why I chose to go on a Free Day.  Museums in Chicago are required by law to have offer 52 free days (12 of which are sponsored by Target), so I decided to take advantage of what the Field is required by law to do.  It’s hard as hell to figure out when these days are because the Field (shockingly) does not advertise them, but I finally found the free days on their webpage.  Also, general admission is free on these days; so don’t expect to be seeing pirates, dragons, or Gold, for free.  If you want to see the special exhibitions you have to pay.

So I didn’t get to see Gold (I kept saying “GOLD!” very dramatically all day long), but there are literally acres of other things to see in the Field Museum, and not just rocks and stuffed animals, although there is a lot of that too.

Holiday decorations—I was surprised they hadn’t put a Santa hat on Sue.

The first thing I saw was Sue.  She’s a T.Rex and she has a twitter.  The Field Museum paid major buckets of ducats to get her, and has since made a pretty penny off of her, from tours to insane merchandise (there is HelloKitty Sue merch). Sue is effing huge, and overshadows the adjacent warring African bull elephant tableau.

It’s hard to know where to begin in the Field, but my friends and I started with the Egyptian tomb which led into the Hall of African Mammals.  The Field museum rationalized this organization because, “Did you know, Egypt is in Africa?” For real there is a text panel that says this.  The rooms of stuffed animals were fun, I love stuffed animals.  Yes, this is a musty natural history museum tradition, but it’s also well loved.  The Field has also put showrooms full of couches all over the place, so if you get tired you can take a load off and watch the baby orangutans play, it’s almost like TV!—except they don’t move.   It’s not all fun and games though, there are some disturbing things happening with the stuffed animals.

This panda is dead, he is stuffed, and he had a name.

For example, there is this taxidermied panda, and we all know how I feel about pandas…and this panda has a name, Sue Lin. I didn’t like that this panda had a name, didn’t like that the label told the story of Sue Lin’s life in a zoo, then Sue Lin died, then Sue Lin was stuffed and put on display in the Field.  Call me crazy, but this is just too personal.

There is also some less disturbing stuff, like the short-beaked echidna.  There are these text panels around the museum that offer facts about the history of the museum, and one of them informed me that the display of Australian marsupials contains some of the original animals from the World’s Columbian Exhibition. The short-beaked echidna has an acquisition number 3. How cool is that!

Entrance to the less-civilized world of Pre-Columbian civilizations

I like to compare how displays of the same kinds of objects from Pre-Columbian cultures are displayed in natural history museums, compared to how they are presented in fine art museums.  LA’s Natural History Museum has a Visible Vault which contains the leftovers of the collection LACMA took when it succeeded.  The Visible Vault couldn’t be more different from LACMA’s Jorge Pardo designed display.  The Field’s Pre-Columbian display is massive and overwhelming, but has several elements that really shine. Like a video that explains through a fictionalized culture the pillars of civilization (faith, military, and money).   The entrance to this display is overly dramatic though; you enter through a curving hallway full of projections of a swamp and with audio of claps of thunder.  How does this mediation preface the information that follows?

OMG Shoes!

Back outside in the main hallway is a floor to ceiling display of shoes, just shoes.  The idea is to show that there are some things that unite all people across all of time.  One of the fundamental elements of the human condition is apparently stylish footwear.  From ancient Egyptian sandals, to Eskimo snow shoes, to ugly bridesmaid heels, to gogo boots, people love them their shoes.

There is a lot to see at the Field, so I can’t really cover it all in one post.  I didn’t even get to cover the Grainger Hall of Gems, the Hall of Jade, the rooms full of American Indian costumes, or the spooky high-ceilinged halls full of Alaskan totem poles.  There are also a lot more things to criticize believe me, but those too probably need another post.

“Research” scrutinizing the temporary exhibition halls.

One last fun thing for this post: There are two drastically different sets of sculptures in the Field.  The first set is actually part of the architecture of the museum.  In the main hall, up above on the second story, in each of the four corners, is a personification.  These four women, called the “Silent Guardians” were commissioned by the museum in 1915, from the artist Henry Hering.  The one pictured above holds a magnifying glass and represents Research.  The other silent guardians represent Record, Dissemination of Knowledge, and Science.  These four ladies are supposed to be representative of the museum’s mission…oh the mission again.

Can you find this sculpture’s erogenous zones?

The other set of sculptures aren’t a bunch of white broads in flowing togas.  The other series of sculptures are bronze ethnographic (read racist) depictions of “primitive peoples” created by Malvina Hoffman.  There is no sign explaining the original purpose of these works, nor anything apologetic. The only sign accompanying these horrid bronzes reads as follows: “Look all you want, but please don’t touch this sculpture.”  A brief glance at the sculptures reveals people don’t give a shit about these signs and are rubbing them a lot.  The bronzes have a dark patina, except in certain places were excessive touching has worn down to reveal the metallic layers beneath.  The sculpture of a female pygmy from Madagascar has clearly been getting a lot of action; her nipples are practically blinding they’ve been rubbed so much.

– H.I.

P.S. Did you know that a group of porcupine is called a PRICKLE of porcupine?—See, this blog can actually be educational sometimes.

This guy also inspired my current haircut.

First Fridays

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Museum of Contemporary Art

One of these things is not like the others.

Well what an unexpected night that was.  Let me just say this event took me by surprise, this event was way more LA than Chicago.  Let me spell it out for you: S-I-N-G-L-E-S N-I-G-H-T.  This was the main reason I insisted my one friend come; she’s been looking for some action lately.  No one goes to First Fridays for the art, and I completely see why.  The DJ playing Daft Punk, the multiple buffets of food, several bars (if you’re lucky you get into the member’s bar), and the slew of sponsor tables make it hard to remember that there is any art here at all.  This event seemed mildly inappropriate for a museum to host, and then I realized First Fridays is like a lot of museum events I’ve been to in LA.  I realized I was totally fine with First Fridays, especially because I had a handful of free drink tickets.

I wasn’t allowed inside Acconci’s clam, should I blame these people?

There are also two big exhibitions currently going on at the MCA: Without You I’m Nothing: Art and Its Audience, an exhibition of audience engaged artworks drawn from the MCA’s permanent collection, and the Luc Tuymans retrospectiveWithout You, was hardly engaging, mostly because the security guards (following someone’s orders) were not allowing people to get busy with the artwork.  The Tuymans show was muted (dare I say bland) in this chaotic nightclub atmosphere. It didn’t help that the art-types that came to this events had probably already seen the shows, and the non-art-types cared more about seeing (hotties) and being seen (by said hotties) than actually seeing art.

I am not going to pretend that I am not guilty of this; I was more concerned with cashing in my drink tickets (and coordinating the rest of the night’s activities; “come meet us at the W!”).  But I also tried to engage with the artworks behind the gallery guards’ backs, but had more trouble forcing myself to look at the halls upon halls of mauve Tuymans paintings.

Koons Selfie.

Some of the highlights of works I engaged with in Without You:  Jeff Koons’s silver Rabbit.  So because it reflects me, it needs me?—I’m going to disagree, and say this bunny doesn’t need me; it needs people like Eli Broad (the bunny is one of Broad’s favorites, although he doesn’t own this one; surprise they are multiples).

Tuymans’s Condi is not happy, but is she ever?

Upstairs is the Tuymans show, which I flew through, hardly noticing the muted colors on the wall.  This is just a personal thing: I did personally enjoy some of his works (especially the large scale paintings at the end of this exhibition), but seeing room after room of paintings that look like the color has been drained or sucked from the neck gets monotonous.

Unruly holiday creature.

Back downstairs, in the huge crowd single guys and gals, frolicked a reindeer-headed creature.  I don’t know if this was a performance piece or what, but it was creepy especially as the creature had no sense of personal space was because he/she/it was wielding a crutch.  The theme (yes every First Friday has a theme) was something to do with the holidays.  (Last month’s theme was Bollywood, and January’s theme is simply called “HEAT.” Oh god, I’m so sad to be missing that.)

Some heat, courtesy of Olafur Eliasson’s heatlamp.

How the sponsors fit into the “theme” is more questionable.  Links of London had a huge table of products and posters featuring spokesmodel Kat Deely (remember her from So You Think You Can Dance?”).  Also present were Crew hair products (not enough SWAG), Francesca’s Restaurants (which was serving something delicious and chocolatley), and it was unclear whether Tanqueray was also a sponsor (but I definitely enjoyed some thank you very much).

In general, this event was ludicrous (but not in a bad way).  I would never go to this event to seriously look at the work and wouldn’t suggest you attempt to do so either, so thumbs down for the event.  I will wager, however, that First Fridays draws in large crowds of people who otherwise don’t visit the museum, so thumbs up for the event.  Another questionable element is this sponsorship thing, but hey if it means the MCA gets to put on these events at less of the cost, then who are you or I to question it.  What’s your bottom line?—Mine is pretty low, but that’s because I come from the world of PR and corporate sponsorship.  So shut up and enjoy your SWAG.

The artwork begged me to dance up against it; without me, it’s nothing.

– H.I.