Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Franz West

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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Art of the Pacific Galleries

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Flute ornament on a maté tea background.

Towards the end of last year LACMA installed a gallery for its newly acquired collection of oceanic art.  This is not your regular exhibition however; LACMA once again solicited the talents of an artist to help out with the exhibition design.  The Austrian artist Franz West was brought on to bring a create edge to the installation.  West had a solo exhibition at LACMA last year, which was interestingly enough installed in the same galleries that the Art of the Pacific now occupies.

Sun-lit galleries, almost like a tropical vacation.

The galleries are on the ground floor of the Ahmanson Building, right as you come in from the BP entry pavilion, you walk under Tony Smith’s Smoke, and make a right.  The galleries are sun-lit because of the large open windows that look out onto the recently opened Cantor Sculpture Garden.

The introductory wall text explains that the way this installation has been organized with “geographic groupings that follow population migration patterns, from west to eat, in the general sequence of the settlements of these Pacific islands.”  A wide range of material culture is displayed, similar items are grouped, and some are highlighted individually.

Primitive pedestals for “primitive” art?

The pedestals in the installation are intentionally crude; small forests of two-by-fours make up the bases that support white-washed wooden slabs.  If the intention was to be primitive, they are successful.

Would you sit here?

The walls of the galleries have been washed in maté tea, a process that was explained on LACMA’s Unframed blog.  The objects on display were set on platforms and pedestals, which were arranged along with bizarre benches.  The benches are unconventional, and verging on the ugly, but are fairly comfortable.  My major with them is that they are distracting; the bight green in them detracts from the art on display, and does little to relate to it.

User-unfriendly identification cards.

No wall labels are used in the installation, which is frustrating.  If you want to know what the object is that you are looking at you have to pick up a huge laminated poster with outlines of the works on display and try to figure it out on your own.  There was a different laminated poster for each room, and you look silly carrying the posters around.

This is this.

The West-created installation follows LACMA’s recent trend of involving artists in installations; Baldessari was brought in to design the 2006 Magritte exhibition, and more recently Jorge Pardo collaborated with the museum on the installation of the much-critiqued Pre-Columbian collection.  I have to say that I think the Pardo-designed galleries are more interesting, aesthetically pleasing, and plain prettier that what West designed for the Pacific galleries.  However this mode of curation is a way of enlivening the permanent collection, which is a vital task for collecting institutions.  LACMA is doing just that, making its visitors rethink the items it has on display.

– H.I.

P.S. Check in soon for developments at LACMA and the reinstallation of their European galleries.