Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Eakins

Catherine Opie: Figure and Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

As promised, part two of the “gay” shows at LACMA.  But first, let’s discuss the gift shop that bridges the Eakins exhibition with the Opie exhibition.  LACMA, it seems, has been getting more and more brash with their gift shops, Pompeii’s gift shop was a smorgasbord of Italianate tourist crap, at least the Baldessari giftshop had some integrity with those clever erasers.  Let’s let the pictures speak for themselves.

Porn set or museum gift shop?

Okay I’m not really going to let the pictures speak for themselves; just look at those lockers! This is no longer a museum giftshop but a cheap set from a gay porn that takes place in a lockerroom.  Yes you can buy some related books on the two artists, and yes you can purchase some limited-edition Opie prints, but you can also buy LACMA jerseys and LACMA gym bags (sorry you can’t buy them online).  Why would anyone want to buy these items, especially when they don’t even have Baldessari’s logo on them?  When I asked the giftshop attendant if anyone had purchased a LACMA jersey, she said that to her knowledge no one had.  Hope they didn’t order too many of those LACMA jerseys.

Figure(s) and a landscape.

Out of the gift shop one enters into the Opie exhibition.  I don’t know whether I came in through the end, or should have gone through the other way, but I don’t think it mattered.  The first landscapes I saw were a series of surfers from 2003.  Several large framed photos were hung together to create a long horizon; the images practically disappeared into the muted blue walls of the gallery. In another gallery, sunlight (through glass bricks, a building material I think is SO eighties, but is apparently LOVED here in Chicago) illuminated the space and several river and forest landscapes. Sort of boring, where’s the gay stuff?

Contemporary symbols of masculinity waging battle.

In the last room, a cavernous space in the Art of the Americas building, which is usually arranged with temporary walls, was the “gay” stuff: photographs of football players.  High school football players, so let’s be careful because some of these jocks are still jailbait.  This is the major content of the show.  Wide compositions of helmeted players attempting firstdown look like epic battle scenes in this scale, especially compared to TV coverage of games which is usually areal views.  These large landscapes (with figures in them) are punctuated in the room by close up portraits the young men.

My friend who accompanied me (and who also has a thing for highschool football players) was torn between his attraction to these young men with their virile athleticism, and the fact that most of them had disgusting braces, and bad cases of acne.  I wondered if the subjects of these portraits know who Catherine Opie is, that she’s a lesbian, and that she had turned them into objects of homosexual desire, or at least objects of my friend’s homosexual desire.  Like a good blogger, I also wondered where all these photos had come from.

Hot and on loan: Tyler and Sean J.

Tyler (2007) and his farmer’s tan had come from across town, from the Hammer, many of the photos were here courtesy of the artist and her gallery.  Two of these portraits are on loan from private collectors.  The Justin-Bieber-haired Dusty (2007) had been loaned from Gerry Rich, and the ab-displaying Sean J (2008) had come from Eugene Sadovoy. Here is a funny headline about Rich considering this discussion, as well as some shots of his abode.  And Sadovoy seems to like California artists despite being an Eastcoaster who works for the Guggenheim.

The exhibition was curator by the still-new-ish Wallis Annenberg Photography Department curator Britt Salvesen.  I must say I much prefer this show to some of her previous work at LACMA.  Compared to New Topographics the scale of the works compared to the scale of the space is much more appropriate.  No tiny black and white photos on huge white walls here.

– H.I.

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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.

The Spectacular Art of Jean-Leon Gérôme

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Getty Center

This spectacle is the first retrospective of Gérôme’s work in forty years, which means this is the first time a generation has been exposed to Gérôme like this.   The Getty’s reasons for the show are questionable since the Getty only has two works by Gérôme in its collection.  Whatever the reasons, this show is an amazing spectacle of oriental color and classical characters.  Gladiators, Vestal Virgins, residents of Pompeii, and even Caesar are all here.  This show might even have been appropriately displayed over at the Getty Villa in Malibu instead of the Center.

Look! Some naked women! It’s okay though cause they’re Greek, so we’re not objectifying them.

Other than a major retrospective of French academic painter, the show is an exploration of the gross commoditization of Orientalism in art, showcasing the hypocrisy of European society’s fascination with Eastern culture with its harems and bath houses.  Dialogues on race and culture whether intentional or not, are a major part of this show, from naked little boys to polychrome statues of naked (or is it nude) women.

I mean, come on…

The exhibition rooms are painted in an appropriate “oriental” palette, ruby maroons, and deep aquamarines are as decadent as some of the scenes in Gérôme’s paintings.  The only problem I had with the color scheme was in just one particular instance where The Snake Charmer (1870) was displayed on a aquamarine blue, the clash of the mosaic wall in the painting against the wall it hung on was visual agony.

Not painted from memory, painted from travel photos.

The exhibition runs the length of two large halls, at the end of the first hall in a small separated space of photographs from the Getty Research Institute’s library.  The selection of photographs are ones taken of the during Gérôme’s travels to the Middle East and the Orient.  Some of them directly relate to paintings in the exhibition, a photo of a tiled wall is the background in The Snake Charmer, another one shows the obvious inspiration for The Carpet Merchants (1887).  The Getty Research Institute has been doing a great job at displaying its special collection of photographs, both at the Getty and elsewhere.  There are some photos from the Getty’ collection in the current Eakins’s exhibition going on at LACMA (keep your eyes out for a post on that soon).

Just imagine this crazy thing in his livingroom!

Down the second hall, full of more classical and Eastern scenes, one comes to the last room of the exhibition, which Christopher Knight of the LA times has rightly pointed out as particularly interesting.  The room showcases Gérôme’s later transition to sculpture.  Gérôme’s fascination with the artistic power of sculpture can be seen in his painting of Pygmalion and Galatea (1890).  The myth serves as a theme for the room, which contains some of Gérôme’s sculptures. One of the sculptures is the awkwardly sticking polychrome Corinth (1903-04), from the collection of a certain J. Nicholson.

Distracting pun

The last work in the show is hung by itself: Gérôme’s non-high-art piece, the advertisement Opticien (1902).  The visual pun for “little dog,” in French “petit chien,” being devised here for commercial purposes.  This work, while highly enjoyable and a much needed relief from the much heavier preceding paintings, is problematic for me.  I don’t know how to resolve the fact that I think a retrospective should be a sincere display of the whole range of a single artist, but at the same time this work is soooo out there.  I might have approved of this work had it been snuck into the exhibition somewhere in the middle.  But as it stands at the very end of the exhibition, it draws too much attention to itself, and seems like an insincere inclusion when compared to the tone of the rest of the exhibition.

Museé de Orsay, you are EVERWHERE!

Other noteworthy remarks:  Where did all of these works come from? A major contributor of works was the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the Metropolitan loaned several works, some from personal collections (i.e. J. Nicholson), and of course work from the Museé de Orsay!  As mentioned in the posts about the de Young’s exhibition of works from the Museé de Orsay, congrats once again Museé for effectively getting your pieces out there on display during your construction!

– H.I.

The Tulip Folly (1882), how gay!

And a completely gratuitous additional painting, only because I have an obsession with tulips.