Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘frames

Plants, Flowers and Fruits: Ellsworth Kelly Lithographs

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Norton Simon Museum

As the title suggests, the Norton Simon currently has a display of Ellsworth Kelly lithographs.  The Plants, Flowers and Fruits have been installed into the Norton Simon’s small, first floor, temporary exhibition space.  The room, while only slightly smaller than my studio apartment, is packed full of 20 Kelly lithographs (all from the museum’s permanent collection).

Chaffing frames

On all of the walls the works are hung so close together that the frames literally chaff each other.  The result of this tightness feels like entering into a large coloring book: the stark black lines of the lithographs beg to be attacked by comically large crayons.

Gimme a crayon; I promise to color in the lines.

This coloring book can also seem like stepping into a monumental artist’s book.  The mass of white pages that make up this “book” are balanced out by the wall color: a strong royal blue.  Above each print, in white text, is a label simply stating the flora featured in each work (which is also the title): “Cyclamen I,” “Camellia I” and “Camellia III.”  With the addition of these words the oversized coloring book has been turned into abstracted horticultural study.

An almost-inconspicuous door, can you see it?

It seemed that there was an effort to create a special room for this exhibition, an effort that attempted to remove the room from the viewer’s experience.  The works are so large and packed in so tight, that the room seems to disappear, and one gets lost in blue.  This effort was not done without some fudging.  On the back wall of the room was a door that, along with its molding, had been painted the same royal blue.  This was the only inconsistency in the otherwise uninterrupted experience of the room.

Blue on blue—barely visible leaf

Another design element of the exhibition was the non-distracting, lightly-painted reproduction of leafs from one of the lithograph.  The subtle, barely visible leafs hid behind the white title of the exhibition.

Comparing lemons to lemons

The subject matter of the prints (fruits, plants and flowers) reminded me of the magnificent still lifes elsewhere in the Norton Simon and begged comparison.  A visitor only needs to walk a few steps to see Zurbaran’s Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose from 1633.  Or a few steps in the other direction and see Peter Benoit’s Flowers in a Glass Beaker from 1620.

Trompe-l'œil, or just barely recognizable?

The proximity of these baroque paintings to the Kelly lithographs creates a dialogue about the evolution of the still life in art.  At one end is the almost maniacal urge to render in life-like detail every vein in a petal, and every drop of condensation on a glass vase.  And on the other end are the Kelly lithographs, the subtraction of the baroque elements and the abstraction of the same forms.

– H.I.

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Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Right in time for its 30th anniversary, MOCA presents Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, on view through May 3, 2010.  The exhibition celebrates MOCA’s collection in a big way: more than 500 works by more than 200 artists.  Collection also takes up a lot of real estate and is spread out between MOCA’s two downtown locations. This is why this inquisition will be dished out in two parts.  Beginning at Grand Avenue with the 1940s and Abstract Expressionism, the show is organized chronologically. The show continues at the Geffen Contemporary with art from the previous 30 years (check back for part two).

Not only is MOCA showing its much bragged about permanent collection, it actually provides some informative/educational wall texts, or as close to informative/educational wall texts as MOCA would go.  Throughout the many galleries, the curators have integrated quotations from the artists on display. The quotes range from remarks on art theory to explanations about artistic process.

The show is curated using several tactics. Two of these tactics were creations of suites of a single artists work, and another was the system of juxtaposing a series of a single artist’s photographs with a sculpture.  This second tactics was my favorite and used twice with very successful results.

Suite no. 1: Rothko

The first suite of artist work was given to Rothko, a venerable chapel had been created for the massive abstract expressionist pieces.  The curators also utilized temporary architectural elements to their advantage in this space (and throughout) to separate rooms into sections, but more importantly to highlight through framing particular works.  This was used in the following gallery for a Pollock.

Savanna scene—Kline suite

The second major artist suite was organized for Franz Kline. I’ve never seen Kline hung in such a serial way. I didn’t particularly enjoy the suite because it began to look like a herd of zebra.

Forgot to snap a picture, Frank and Chamberlain

Then came a room which was installed using the second tactic: the juxtaposition of a photographic series and a sculpture.  This one combined a series of photographs from Robert Frank’s The Americans series with the metal sculpture Rayvredd by John Chamberlain.  Unfortunately I didn’t manage to snap a picture of this room’s installation, so I made a poor mock-up in my favorite program Microsoft paint.  I like this room not just because I am insanely fond about Robert Frank (yes I own the expanded edition of The Americans exhibition catalogue) but because the combination of a multiplicity of photos compared to a single unique, seemingly irreproducible sculpture made me think on implications of media and display of various kinds of media.

Rauschenbergs large and small, this one, “Coca Cola Plan,” small.

This room was followed but another large suite containing MOCA’s extensive collection of varying and impressive Rauschenberg combines.  The spacing in this room was effective in that it allowed for a consideration of individual works while still making obvious the trends in Rauschenberg’s work.

Works from “The Store” on the wall and on a stage

Another room that operated similarly in contrasting sculpture and painting was the room with the Oldenberg sculptures from The Store.  These garishly painted works were mounted from the walls (like paintings) and set up on a kind of stage that separated them from the viewer’s space.  The paintings in this room were Warhol and Lichtenstein.  MOCA presented one of each from its own collection; both were in black and white.  But full-color works from these two painters were also displayed, a Warhol Campbell Soup Can, and Lichtenstein’s I…I’m Sorry, both borrowed from the Broad Art Foundation.

Broadworks filling the gaps.

Wait a second; I thought this show presented works from the permanent collection, to the Broad collection!  These two works filled a gap perhaps in MOCA’s collection. (A similar gap must also be in LACMA’s collection since these two works were also borrowed in the inaugural installation of BCAM).

Then came the long corridor.  I’ve seen photographs displayed in this space before, but I sadly ignored most of them once I saw what was at the end of the corridor.  The florescent bulbs of Flavin’s monument for V. Tatlin beckoned me to the end of the corridor; making breeze past what I’m sure was a treasure trove of photography.  Flavin’s work really got me going.

Light at the end of the tunnel, Flavin’s "monument for V. Tatlin"

Once I was at the Flavin I realized I’d made my way to a kind of halfway point, since I’d been through half of the cycle of room at Grand Ave. There is a definite suggested route throughout these galleries, counterclockwise following the canon of contemporary art chronologically.

Unframed room

In another room were works all without frames, yes frames my other obsession.  The works in this room were by Frank Stella, Bridget Riley, Jo Baer, and Elaine Sturtvant.  All of the works were without frames, for various reasons. (I imagine it would be hard to find or created a frame to accommodate the curvilinear sides of Stella’s work.)  All of these painting were humungous which made it hard for any one of them to dominate the space.  This equality was created by the paintings’ demand for equal amounts of attention.

Shoe self-reflection, Smithson’s “Mirage No. 1”

MOCA aside from the major suites also created mini-suites of a single artist’s work.  Two mini-suites were organized for Diane Arbus photographs and another for Smithson works.  The Arbus mini-suite contained photographs mostly of pairings of people which was a selective decision on the curator’s part.  The Smithson mini-suite showed the variety of media Smithson worked in, from sketches of spiral cinnabars to the row of mirrors hung at floor-level, Mirage No. 1.

I didn’t want to remove my shoes, so I didn’t go in, but I could have, and so can you.

The MOCA press release for Collection also mentions a series of special installations.  One such installation was Doug Wheeler’s RM 669.  A gallery attendant had a constant vigil to remind visitors to remove their shoes before entering the ghostly/heavenly space.  Other light and space works were near by which were combined with finish fetish works.  I had never realized that the two movements aesthetic both rely on perfection of execution to be really effective.

Cross-town connection, Baltz’s Industrial Parks

A series of photographs I didn’t ignore or rush by was Lewis Baltz, his series of structures from Industrial Parks near Irvine.  The photos were familiar to me since I had just seen some of them at LACMA in the New Topographics show.  LACMA displayed far fewer than MOCA does.  I think I favor MOCA’s display because it is so much larger showing how extensive the series really was.

I saw, I smelled, but I did not taste

Another special recreated installation was Ed Ruscha’s Chocolate Room.  I’m a fan of having my senses (beyond sight) engaged when I visit museums.  I like hearing a work of art from rooms away and then gradually finding my way to it.  Ruscha’s work engaged another sense, smell.  The smell of chocolate wafted through the galleries leading me to the chocolate covered papered walls of Ruscha’s installation.  It reminded me of Dieter Roth’s Chocolate Lion Tower that was in LACMA’s Art of the Two Germanys exhibition where you smelled the artwork before you saw it.  Both Chocolate Lion Tower and Chocolate Room turned a chalky white once the chocolate began to oxidize in the gallery spaces.  The gross white layer was the only thing keeping me from licking the walls.

Sexy room, Goldin above and Kusama below.

Another room installed using the tactics of photography series and sculpture combination was a small room hung with a fascinatingly sexy display of Nan Goldin photographs and a Yayoi Kusama sculpture.  The work on the walls and the phallic sculpture on the floor made this intimate room feel scandalous, but in a subtle way that I enjoyed. It was probably the smallest room, and also the room I spent the most time in.

Mendietta Silueta Suite.

A final suite was organized for Eva Mendietta.  The two walls of photographs of her her siluetas were the last thing I saw before I was scurried out the door at closing time.  I managed to see everything (some things were more actually browsed) in part one of Collection.  I must say bravo to MOCA for organizing this show (whatever the reasons).  MOCA constantly brags about its monumental permanent collection, but rarely shows it. Well, MOCA finally is actually showing it.

– H.I.

P.S. Check back for part 2, the Geffen Contemporary portion of Collection.

Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s current exhibition: Luis Meléndez: Master of the Spanish Still Life (on view until January 3) has traveled from the National Gallery of Art in D.C. and is currently on view in LACMA’s European painting and sculpture galleries (which are currently closed for reinstallation).  The exhibition was originally organized by the National Gallery to celebrate its new acquisition of Meléndez’s work.  Works from the 18th century Spanish master are on loan from many collections, including the Prado, the Louvre, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum, and a few private collections.  The show at LACMA features 26 still lifes, one self portrait and an odd collection of kitchen artifacts.

Melendez Still Life with Melon and Pears

What nice melons you have.

Because I knew the shorter route to the two galleries the show occupies I initially missed the introductory wall text, so I went back to the front entrance to go through the show the direction in which the curators wanted me to.  The introductory wall text was set on a slab of a wall (on the back of which was hung Meléndez’s self portrait).  A nice gold title seemed fitting for an old master exhibition.  The wall text mostly sang the praises of Meléndez as a mostly-ignored master overshadowed by the formidable Goya.  This show it seems is a way of rediscovering a forgotten master.

walls

LACMA don’t you dare do this to the European galleries

The first thing I noticed about the galleries was the hideous treatment of the walls.  Christopher Knight of the LA Times gave his opinion, as have other bloggers.  And I am not alone in thinking that the walls are only ugly but also out of place in these galleries.  The odd plaster treatment (which LACMA’s Unframed blog claims makes “new walls look old”) are distracting and look like a project on a reality television home improvement show.

Frames

My rendering of the frames, thanks Microsoft Paint

Once I was able to get away from the odd walls, I was able to focus on the numerous still lifes.  What I noticed immediately was that most of the paintings had the exact same frames, gold with a pilaster-look and circles in the four corners.  This frame was used on works from the various collections the exhibition was culled from.  This made me think that most of these works came originally from the same place.

Something that made me aware that these paintings were not all from the same place was the wire partition set in front of only some of the paintings.  The paintings that were “special” enough to warrant the ugly wire partition (same wire from Your Bright Future) were the works from the Prado Museum.  The segments of wire were obnoxious—I felt that if any of the paintings were valuable enough to justify the wire partition they all should have had a partition, just run a wire all around the galleries.  I wasn’t the only one curious about the wire, another visitor asked a gallery guard about it.

Self Portrait_Prado

The Master Himself

The only painting that wasn’t a still life was Meléndez’s self portrait.  The portrait was an amazing addition to the now seemingly generic still lifes.  The self portrait was painted by Meléndez while he was still in school.  It is hung in a way that makes it a real centerpiece of the show, behind the wall with the exhibition title and intro text.  The portrait shows all the skill and technique required of a master painter, and the portrait shows Meléndez’s ambition and genius, which the exhibition claims were never fully realized.

Melendez Layout

I will keep making these diagrams until someone tells me they’re stupid.

The first room of the exhibition features mostly smaller works, and then the second contained both smaller and more extravagant tableaus of apples, grapes, watermelons, cantaloupes, etc.  I did have an issue with the order that one wall was hung.  Two works from the Prado museum, which a wall text clearly said “are probably pendants” were hung at opposite ends of the wall, with two large artichoke works dividing them.  Formally the two works: Still Life with Pomegranates, Apples, Azaroles, and Grapes in a Landscape and Still Life with Watermelons and Apples in a Landscape look like pendants, and I was confused why the curators did not hang the works directly next to each other, there seemed to be no reason why the weren’t.

Still Lifes

So, why aren’t these hung next to each other?

At the end of the second room are two display cases set into the walls of the galleries.  Inside the two cases were objects like wine coolers, chocolate pots, and other vessels which can be seen in the still lifes of Meléndez.

display case

Get it? That’s that thing in that painting.

Through some research I discovered that the addition of these objects was not LACMA’s idea, the curators at the National Gallery are responsible for the inclusion of the objects (however I still don’t forgive LACMA for the walls).  I understand that the objects are there to illustrate the skill required of Meléndez to depict such objects in such a high degree of realism.

more stuff

More stuff from the display cases

This display made me think; well if they’ve included the kitchen objects why not also include fruit from the still lifes in these cases.  This is ridiculous I know, but I think included these objects is just as ridiculous.  A visitor can see that the still lifes in this exhibition are extremely realistic, almost photographic.

Artichokes

Artichokes show the skill of a Master

The skill of Meléndez and this show as a tribute to a forgotten master seems unrealized in the size of this exhibition.  While the collection of paintings from many collections is an impressive feat on its own, I thought that some editing was in order.  Not all of the works in the show were Meléndez’s finest; the show could have been edited down to maybe half the size, with only the best of the works.  Featuring only the best of Meléndez’s work would have done Meléndez more justice, especially when trying to convince an audience that Meléndez is an underappreciated and mostly ignored artist.

Christ in Limbo

Christ in Limbo? What are you doing here?

As a final note, when exiting the Meléndez show one is confronted with LACMA’s Christ in Limbo.  The work, while Spanish, has nothing in common with the Meléndez show.  Christ in Limbo and two other painting remain in the chamber right after the Meléndez exhibition, they are remnants of the reinstallation of LACMA’s European galleries, but no other works are still on view, the curators should really remove the three works as they are out of place and starkly alone.

And please, please LACMA curators do not use the weird plaster technique on the walls in the European galleries once they are reinstalled as you have hinted at, save your money.

– H.I.

Collecting History: Highlighting Recent Acquisitions

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Museum of Contemporary Art

The wording of the title of the show “Collecting History” creates a convenient ambiguity.  Is MOCA presenting the history of its collecting?—probably not, since these are recent acquisitions, and therefore this is not a show displaying its history. More likely MOCA is claiming with this title that through these acquisitions MOCA is collecting (verb) history.

The introductory wall text is the only “educational” anything in the exhibition.  It has a nice tie-in to MOCA’s previous exhibitions, saying the museum acquired works from these amazing shows.  Some of these shows were critically well received, but these expensive shows were also one of the causes of MOCA’s financial problems.  The intro wall text provides catch-all terms such as “significant works,” “historical, mid-career, and emerging artists,” and also “local, national, and international artists.” So basically anything goes.

Titular Image: Öyvind Fahlström, Africa Banner

Titular Image: Öyvind Fahlström, Africa Banner

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