Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘contemporary art

Chapter 3 (Part 4): The Fishers & San Francisco

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“We don’t have a lot of choices about what to do with the art if you want someone to see it. You can’t make a deal with a museum to guarantee that the public sees it.”[i]Donald Fisher, 2007

Donald and Doris Fisher founded the retail giant the Gap in 1969 in San Francisco, California. The success of their company allowed the Fishers to amass a contemporary art collection of more than 1,000 works from more than 185 artists. The Fishers’ commitment to contemporary art was also philanthropic: both Donald and Doris sat on the board of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the couple often lent large selections of their collection to the museum.

Despite the Fishers involvement at SFMOMA, and because of sentiments as in the above quotation, in 2007, the Fishers announced plans to build an independent museum venue in the city to house their collection. The Fishers desired to build a 100,000-square-foot museum in the historic Presidio area of San Francisco, which once served as a military base but is now a national park, and is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city.[ii] The estimated cost of the project was never given, but the Fishers planned on establishing a family trust, which would donate the funds for the construction of the building, and which in the future would be entrusted with operating the museum and conserving the collection. The museum was to be called the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio, or CAMP. “I want to have a little curatorial fun while I’m living,”[iii] said Donald Fisher, hoping the museum might open by 2010. The project was contingent on the approval of the board of the Presidio Trust, the organization which oversees the Presidio—a board that Donald Fisher had once sat on.

CAMP Rendering: We want more red tile!

CAMP Rendering: We want more red tile!

The public immediately disliked the project.[iv] The vocal historic preservationists of San Francisco were outraged, of course. The modern, glass-dominated architecture presented in renderings was criticized for being insensitive and out of touch with the existing structures of the Presidio. Some complained about the usage of public parklands being given over to private interest, some questioned if the museum project was even legal usage of national parkland. Still others brought up the most pertinent question: why would the Fishers (long-time supporters of SFMOMA) introduce a competitor institution to San Francisco, instead of donating the collection (or a portion of it) to the existing SFMOMA? The argument for CAMP made by few was that a culture capital like San Francisco could surely do with more venues for the arts and culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Chapter 1 (Part 2): LACMA’s BCAM – A Museum Within a Museum

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Even though Eli is not involved with the museum any longer, his name is still on that building. We should have never called it a museum. How can LACMA have a museum? LACMA is the museum.”
Lynda Resnick, LACMA Trustee[i]

In February 2008, the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM) opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The Renzo Piano-designed BCAM is not an autonomous museum; it is one of several buildings on LACMA’s museum campus (the largest American art museum west of Chicago).

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

The original LACMA was not exactly popular. Ed Ruscha’s 1968 vision of the museum.

LACMA was founded in 1961, when it seceded from the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art in Exposition Park.  The new art museum opened in 1965 with three buildings designed by William Pereira: the Bing, Ahmanson and Hammer buildings.  In 1986, the Art of the Americas Building (then the Anderson Building) opened, and was followed in 1988, with the Pavilion for Japanese Art.  The museum continued to grow when LACMA purchased the neighboring May Company department store building in 1994. (LACMA is currently collaborating with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to bring a museum to the vacant building.[ii])  In 2001, plans for a tabula rasa campus designed by Rem Koolhaas were scrapped due to its ambitious scale (all existing buildings would have been raised) and lack of public support (a proposed bill would have provided public funds for the project, but was not passed by voters[iii]).  Then in 2004, the board approved a multi-year capital campaign called Transformation.[iv]

Michael Govan, Wallis Annenberg Director and CEO of LACMA, inherited Transformation when he took LACMA’s helm in 2006 (little more than a year before BCAM’s inauguration). Exciting, high profile, high-cost building projects are Govan’s specialty. Before coming to LACMA, Govan had been the director of the Dia Art Foundation where he oversaw the renovation of an old Nabisco factory in the Hudson River Valley, into Dia Beacon—a gargantuan facility capable of housing many large-scale, contemporary art installations. Before Dia, Govan worked under Richard Armstrong at the Guggenheim Foundation and aided in the realization of the Guggenheim Bilbao.   Govan had the resume required to lead LACMA during Transformation.  Eli Broad was on the search committee that lured Govan to LACMA.[v]

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Chapter 1 (Part 1): One Eli Broad Too Many, Or Not Enough?

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“Eli is not the problem. The problem is that we don’t have enough Elis in Los Angeles to balance out his generosity and the power of his influence.”[i]Ann Philbin, Director, Hammer Museum

A vestigial Victorian on Bunker Hill in 1966.

A vestigial Victorian on Bunker Hill in 1966.

Photographs of Los Angeles from fifty years ago capture an unfamiliar city. In the 1960s, downtown’s Bunker Hill was still occupied by a row of quiet Victorian houses. Since then, the Victorians have been cleared away and the city has experienced a population boom often illustrated as a mushroom cloud-shaped diagram, and now boasts a population of 9.86 million.[ii] While established in many ways, Los Angeles’s philanthropic culture is still in its infancy.  Despite ranking the second most populous city in America, the quantity of powerful philanthropists is insignificant at best.  Those who are active give to educational, environmental, health, and political causes.

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Richard Serra, “Sequence”

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SFMOMA, Cantor Arts Center, LACMA

This week, SFMOMA released additional renderings of its eminent expansion including new views of the interior.  Snohetta (the chic, Norwegian architects) and SFMOMA haven’t been apologetic or really skirted the issue about plans to basically gut the entire existing building, keeping only Mario Botta’s  postmodern façade.  Climbing SFMOMA’s imposing stairs is literally my first memory of being in a museum.  As a kid, I tried to recreate the alternating bands of polished and flame-finished black granite of these stairs with a set of sleek dominoes on my living room floor.   A friend and I lamented the demise of Botta’s staircase the last time we visited SFMOMA and we brainstormed potential artist projects that might utilize the soon-to-be-dismantled stairs.  (The SFMOMA expansion is going to be LEED Certified so maybe some of the black stone will be reclaimed.)

Sequence at SFMOMA of the future.

“Sequence” at SFMOMA of the future.

Alas, the released images show all of this will be eliminated in the expansion, sacrificed for the sake of greater street presence and improved openness to pedestrian traffic flow.  (The $555 million expansion will also double the current amount of gallery space, so there is that.)  New public space includes a multi-storied, glass-fronted gallery open to Howard Street.  In the renderings, this gallery space is filled with a massive Richard Serra corten-steel sculpture.  This isn’t just a filler “scalie” artwork; Serra’s Sequence (2006) will be installed in the new space when the Snohetta expansion opens in 2016.  Sequence is part of the Fisher collection, the donors who generous donated many buckets of ducats for the expansion, and who are kinda-sorta donating their incomparable trove of contemporary art to the museum.

Sequence on Howard Street.

“Sequence” on Howard Street.

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Four Facts: Significant Objects

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Norton Simon Museum

As I was finishing up in this exhibition, I overheard a tour being given to what I presumed was a UCLA summer painting course.  “We have the Getty in our own backyard, but the Getty’s collection kinda sucks.  The Norton Simon’s is the really great collection of LA,” the teacher harped. I am paraphrasing.  While I detest uninformed and unnecessary opinions (especially from arts educators) about which museum has the “best” collection, I can’t deny the Norton Simon has a pretty amazing one, and I don’t even like ImpressionismSignificant Objects: The Spell of the Still Life presents a thematic cross section of the museum’s diverse collections and is an examination of “the ways in which these ostensibly mundane and insignificant subjects [harsh!] portrayed in painting and sculpture and works on paper are indeed significant.” Significant Objects does not present groundbreaking, paradigm shift-type discoveries or research, but is a huge success as a rich, educational opportunity for general audiences utilizing the permanent collection.  Permanent collection show hurray! Here are the facts:

Scholar's books and objects (chaekkeori), Korean, Joseon dynasty, 19th c - LACMA

A Korean wunderkammer lent by LACMA.

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David Walsh & MONA

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Private Collector Museums

As promised, lets explore a series of amazing/crazy collectors around the world who have built museums to house their collections.  First up, David Walsh

Ladies and gentlemen, the eccentric himself, David Walsh.

Let’s begin in a dark corner at the bottom of the world, Tasmania.  It is there that eccentric collector David Walsh (who made his fortunes developing gambling systems) built the Museum of Old And New Art to house his collections of antiquities and contemporary art.  It is the largest privately funded museum in Australia with an $8 million annual operating budget.  The funding comes from Walsh, and from other business Walsh developed on the sprawling Morilla estate where the museum is located.

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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.