Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘John Baldessari

Chapter 1 (Update): MOCA Drama

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When I began writing this update to my previous post, I thought a list of bullets with links to the LA Times would suffice, but then I realized a crazy amount of MOCA drama has occurred in just over a year.  At least Vanity Fair journalists who love to write about the LA art scene have plenty of material.


Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

Eli B. and Tony V. celebrating 4-20 (and MOCA).

It’s easy to make accusations about MOCA’s obsession with celebrity considering the museum’s galas.  Following Francesco Vezzoli‘s Lady Gaga gala in 2009, the museum hosted a gala directed by Marina Abramovic in 2011.  The Abramovic gala drew the ire of some for being exploitative of performers who served as live centerpieces… Debbie Harry also performed, and the whole shebang culminated in Harry and Abramovic hacking into cake-effigies of themselves…  Last this year’s gala happened on 4-20, and was themed appropriately – Cheech Marin attended and guests wore Hawaiian leis for some reason.

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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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Summer Shows

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Hammer Museum

Oh Hammer Museum, I don’t expect your gallery guards to be able to discuss your art like a curator would, but I do expect them to be able to tell me why I can’t take a picture in certain galleries.  When asked why I could not take a photo of Out of the Box, I was told, “oh well, this is a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But isn’t this part of your permanent collection?  “Uh no, um it isn’t.”  Actually it IS gallery guard, the works in Out of the Box were recently acquired jointly with LACMA.  When asked why I couldn’t take pictures in Selections From the Hammer Contemporary Collection: “Oh well it’s a special exhibition.” Yes it is special…But the reason why I can’t take photos in here is because some of the works are promised gifts not yet officially part of the collection.  Maybe the Hammer should spend some time educating their gallery guards.

It’s summer! Let’s play in the fountains.

Now let’s discuss the summer shows at the Hammer.  There is an installation by Greg Lynn, Out of the Box (editions of artists’ prints), a selection from the Armand Hammer Collection, and a selection from the Hammer Contemporary Collection.  So that’s three shows/installations of permanent collection works, but I was only allowed to take photos in the Armand Hammer Collection installation. (I didn’t ask if I was allowed to take pictures of the Greg Lynn, it’s out in a public courtyard after all.)

Let’s begin with Greg Lynn’s lovely fountain. LACMA on Fire blog had a fun post about the kitchy work, oh and the blogger doesn’t have a secret identity anymore.  (That blog somehow seemed more fun when it was a secret and when it wasn’t hosted on artinfo.)  The spurting fountain is made from casts of children’s toys and is an apt summer installation.  The work is looking a little dirty though and could use some cleaning, or the Hammer could just dump some bleach into it.

The man himself.

Next up is the installation of works from the Armand Hammer Collection.  Yeah, he’s that guy that founded this museum.  (That’s right LA, Broad isn’t the first collector to found his museum based on his private collection, oh wait, there’s also the Norton Simon, the Huntington, oh and the Getty, well hmmm.) His portrait bust is right there in the room, just like the creepy J. Paul Getty bust in the Brentwood center.  I could swear I’ve seen this room installed this exact way before; do the curators reinstall it the same way every time? So much for enlivening the permanent collection…

Trust me, I’m a doctor.

The gallery is sliced into three sections. The first section has a row of Van Goghs and some other big name impressionists, and some Rembrandts.  Interesting to note that there is no mention of Rembrandt in Southern California, an initiative of several Southern California museums to promote Rembrandts in their collections.  Way to be a team player Hammer Museum.  And of course the striking Singer Sargent portrait of Dr. Pozzi at Home (1881) is hung prominently in the first room, as the first work you see.   Dr. Pozzi was a pretty sexy guy, and a gynecologist!  I learned this fun little fact from the wall label, so yes there is some informative text in this installation.

Why the theatrics?

The next room features a display of works from the museum’s Daumier collection:  some great sketches and a slew of bronze caricature busts of famous Parisians.  This room is a little dark, and I’m unsure why they displayed the busts in this overly theatrical fashion.

Dark or dirty? Titian.

The last room has some smaller impressionist works flung together and hung closely on one wall.  The other works are given a lot of space.  All the big name works from the Armand Hammer Collection (the ones Ann Philbin decided to keep, not the lesser works the Hammer Foundation took back) are here.  A Titian portrait of a man dressed as a soldier looks in need of cleaning, or maybe it’s just significantly darker than a similar work that hangs in the Getty.

Get up close and personal with this Moreau.

Two Gustave Moreau’s hang in the last room next to each other:  Salome Dancing Before Herod (1876) and King David (1878).  These works are absolutely amazing, and you can get up very close to them (the gallery guard didn’t yell at me when I did) to see all the tiny application of bright white paint that Moreau used to achieve his sparkling lighting effect.

Now for the contemporary stuff.  This installation is composed of acquired works (bought with that Da Vinci sketchbook deacquisition money perhaps) and promised gifts.  The intro wall text thanks the Hammer’s “Board of Overseers for annual contributions to the Hammer Contemporary Collection acquisition fund and to several dedicated donors.”  This is the third installation of works from the Contemporary Collection; was the second one Second Nature? No it wasn’t.  The two earlier shows were this and this.

Elliot Hundley, Pentheus (2010), very contemporary.

A lot of the works in the show come from artists who have been shown at the Hammer, whether in monographic shows, in the Hammer Projects series, or in Hammer Invitationals.  No photos from this installation unfortunately, which means you have to go see it for yourself.  I was really impressed by how contemporary most of the works are; many of them made in the last five years, and acquired by the museum soon after they were created.  The Hammer is doing an impressive job at executing its five-year-old initiative to seriously collect contemporary works. Gold star for you Ann Philbin!

The last of the summer shows (that I’m going to discuss) is Out of the Box: Edition Jacob Samuel, 1988-2010.  The collection of prints from the Santa Monica-based EJS studio was jointly acquired by the Hammer and LACMA.  I wonder how this joint ownership works.  (LACMA jointly acquired an El Anatsui work with another UCLA museum, the Fowler, two years ago.)  The list of artists represented in this exhibition is a real who’s-who of the contemporary world; check out the roster below (click to enlarge).

Some of these names may be familiar.

Personally I found the majority of the prints really boring.  A series of prints of the number two was less then inspiring. There were few exceptions, but this whole project of prints seemed very elitist and overly self-congratulating.  The exhibition design was effective but obvious; to clearly separate the projects of each artist a funny paint job had been devised.  Each artist project was demarcated by a band of tan paint that segregated each project from the others.  The earthtone paintjob was only about two feet high, and was immediately recognizable as an organizational strategy.

Obvious organization.

Admittedly I may have been overly critical of the Hammer and its summer shows, but when everyone that works there is so damn smug about themselves I expect the best.  Maybe it’s just a slow summer.  I’m going to admit that prints are hard to make exciting, and to be fair a lot of the work in the Contemporary Collection installation is really fantastic and warrants a long visit.  See, I can be mildly subjective.

Just to make sure you don’t miss any of this great and mediocre stuff here is a rundown of when these shows close:

Greg Lynn: September 26
Armand Hammer Collection: ?
Hammer Contemporary Collection: January 30 (you’ve got a while)
Out of the Box: August 29 (opps you’ve missed it)

– H.I.


Written by exhibitioninquisition

September 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM

Collection: The First 30 Years – Part 2 (Geffen Contemporary)

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Museum of Contemporary Art

Like the banner says.

After seeing the first part of Collection [link to part one post] at MOCA’s Grand Avenue location I was surprised to see that the seemingly meticulous chronological organization used there, had been abandoned at the Geffen Contemporary portion of the exhibition.  At Grand Ave. a single narrative was created with a series of rooms leading one to another.  The architectural space at the Geffen does not have a series of rooms, and instead has an open floorplan of a warehouse, which does not lend itself to a singular viewing path.  The experience at the Geffen is less rigid but also has little direction.

Burden’s Big Wheel keeps on turnin’.

Because of the lack of a set path, I was free to choose my own, and the first thing I was drawn to was Chris Burden’s Big Wheel.  It’s a large moving object and set right next to the admission counter, so it’s hard not to be drawn to it.  From there I followed a rampway up, passed an awkwardly placed Richard Hawkin’s painting Disembodied Zombie Skeet Pink, and continued on.

(Oh look! A zombie head I completely missed.)

You don’t want this Santa coming down your chimney.

The special installations, like Ruscha’s Chocolate Room at Grand Ave, continued in the second part at the Geffen.  Paul McCarthy’s installation of tarnished Christmas trees festooned in dust-covered flowers and ornaments, along with worktables and photographs of creepy, pervy Santa’s made up the piece Tokyo Santa, Santa’s Trees.

This is not to be looked at, but it kind of is; it’s an exhibition catalogue.

The usage of artists quotes for artworks was carried out again at the Geffen, MOCA’s best attempt at education.  In an additional attempt at education several benches were placed in the galleries with exhibition catalogues.  I wonder how many people actually read a single essay out of the catalogue.  The cover of the exhibition is Baldessari’s work This Is Not To Be Looked At, which is featured at the end of the of the Grand Ave portion of the exhibition.

Varying access to details, from left to right: Hirschorn, Altmejd & Sone.

Large sculptures were placed with enough space for a viewer to completely circumnavigate them.  This was necessary for examining the details of complex works like Thomas Hirschhorn’s Non-Lieux and David Altmejd’s The Egg.  The exception was with the installation of Yutaka Sone’s Hong Kong Island, which was surrounded widely with by black tape and kept the viewer too far to really appreciate the tiny details of the piece.

Outside-in, portals to the video art.

Underneath the platform of the previous galleries one could find creepy little tunnels leading to the video works.  Spelunking into the caves created a sensation of tension that overwhelmed the works; I was more freaked out than really concentrating on the works themselves.

Big, bigger, biggest.

In one room issues of scale were played with.  The attempt to balance large works within the same space, and not have them compete with one another, was successful.  Thomas Struth’s Pergamon Museum II, Berlin seemed large until viewed next to Thomas Demand’s Space Simulator, and that even seemed small with Fred Tomaselli’s Hang Over down the hall. And then the leviathan Khedoori Untitled (Seats) was right next door.

BIGGEST- Khedoori

Certain artists were featured in multiple places in the Geffen.  Baldessari was hung at the very back and also at the very front.  A series of Opie photographs was hung far from another self portrait.  Why do this? The artworks from the same artists did not necessarily speak more to the works they did hang by, and would have been more informative of the artists careers to compare earlier and later works.

Finally, after all of my meanderings, at the end of the exhibition, I came to the introductory wall text.  The bland and uninformative sentences were accompanied by Bruce Nauman’s colorful work Welcome.  The work’s title was appropriate for this placement, but that was about all that was appropriate about it. Now I understood the content warning label at the entry of the exhibition.  I also realized at this point that I had traversed through the show in the wrong direction.

What a Welcome.

I had made it through the show with little direction, which seemed to sum it up.  At the Grand Avenue portion of Collection, it seemed MOCA was presenting a cannon of contemporary art, explicitly creating a narrative.  Where as at the Geffen Contemporary Grand portion, MOCA allowed a visitor to create one’s own narratives.

– H.I.


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.


Joseph Beuys: The Multiples

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

In case you forgot...

In case you forgot...

Continuing their hold of the top floor of LACMA’s BCAM, the Broad Art Foundation presents Joseph Beuys: The Multiples.  A collection of 570 multiples (from 1963-1986) fills the east galleries on the upper-most floor of the citadel for contemporary art. Since the second floor is now a venue for temporary exhibition, it seems the Broad Art Foundation is especially concerned with maintaining their stronghold on the top floor, and since it has been more than a year and a half since BCAM opened, its about time that a new installation of Broadwork was rotated in (at least to half of the floor).

Entry / Image of the artist

Entry / Image of the artist

Up the spider (the red, exterior escalator), and in through the colossal glass doors of the building…The first thing one sees is the Barbara Kruger freight elevator.  To the right are galleries with more Broadworks, Warhols and Koons, and only one Baldessari left.  But to the other direction, to the left, is the exhibition of Beuys multiples.

The first thing one sees is a rack with catalogs of the works in the exhibition.  Honestly, to be up front about it, I think that looking through this nicely designed little book would be more interesting and manageable than this overwhelming exhibition.  And then, Beuys confronts the viewer: an image of Beuys (on of the multiples in the show) is blown up and covers the entire wall leading into the exhibition. The title of the installation is superimposed on this large graphic.  Yes this is an installation and not an exhibition, LACMA has made the distinction. What qualifications make something an installation instead of an exhibition are unclear.

The exhibition installation, was contained in six rooms, which are defined by the pre-existing walls.  The plain white walls from which previously hung Rauschenbergs and Johns have now been painted a very, very dreary shade of grey.  The color is oddly familiar, was it the same color used in LACMA’s Art of the Two Germanys exhibition, those crude metal display cases certainly look familiar from Two Germanys as well.

Diagram, thank you Microsoft paint

Diagram, thank you Microsoft paint

The introductory wall text explains several thing, it explains what a multiple is, and the history of multiples including Marcel Duchamp and his Boite-en-valise.  Then came the rationale behind the organization of all those multiples, as well as some not-so-subtle bragging:

This presentation of the nearly complete set of Beuys’s multiples from the Broad Art Foundation is organized thematically within six rooms. The topics explored include Myth, Fluxus, teaching, environmentalism, political activism and the holocaust, and Beuys in America.

Each of the six rooms came complete with a title in white, an educational paragraph, and weirdly integrated quotes. The format was very thorough. And through all of the piles and masses of multiples, I looked always first for the paragraphs, to get some guiding hand through the many, many, many multiples.  (Do you get the point that there are a lot of multiples?)

MYTH: the paragraph addresses the mythology Beuys created around himself, that he was a pilot in the German air force during WWII and was shot down over Crimea, and then was nursed back to health by the Tartars. Well that was educational.  There was a LOT of stuff. Cases and cases, cases against the walls, lots of stuff hung from the walls, a long case (set on hobby horses) aligned along the hypotenuse of the room to allow for eve more stuff to be cluttered into the room.  There was so much stuff, that really it was the odd piece that stood out.  One such piece was Sled 1699, (which had its own descriptive wall text).  The work was set on a short platform that required some very flattering squatting for closer inspection, and was surrounded by black tape so I wouldn’t squat too close.

Room with a view of Fluxus

Room with a view of Fluxus

FLUXUS and PERFORMANCE: This room had the same format of title and wall text.  The quote that was integrated in: “Actions, Happenings and Fluxus will of course release new impulses which will, we hope, create better relationships in more areas”—a vague quotation.  In this room were also display cases, posters, artifacts of performance art, photographs documenting performances. A major difference from the last room was the tiny video monitor set into a short little pilaster-like architectural element.  Some simple dark wood chairs were set in front of monitor; you had to sit close to really see the video.

Stuff, stuff, lots of stuff own by the Broad Art Foundation

Stuff, stuff, lots of stuff own by the Broad Art Foundation

ENVIRONMENT: If I thought the previous two rooms were crowded, I had no idea what was to come.  The Environment room was the most crowded room, absolutely stuff-full of things. There was very little blank space on the walls, there were so many things hung from the walls that it necessitated a completely separate diagram labeling all of the works.  Some multiples from the same sets hung together, sometimes in rows, sometimes not.  In this room were more of the wooden chairs (no video) just to take in part of the gallery. This room was hung like a Parisian salon; frames rubbing up against one each other.  The work that separated itself from the rest was Hare Stone (1982, Basalt with gold spraypaint), again this piece was displayed on a short platform, but this time was partitioned off with metal wire fence (saw it in the Your Bright Future Show).

Between a rock and a hardplace

Between a rock and a hardplace

TEACHING in the F.U.I.: This was the sparsest room, seemed nicely relaxing on the eyes, especially after the environment room.  This room was nicely packed in, instead of cramped, there was an ease of the packed-in-ness that did not exist in the environment room.

My obsession with seating, some wood chairs

My obsession with seating, some wood chairs

POLITICAL ACTIVISM & The HOLOCAUST: more posters, more cases, more photos, same medium, slightly different subject matter.  The thing that set this room apart was the almost feature on Braunkreuz.  In the 1960s Beuys created this material called Braunkreuz, an opaque reddish-brown medium of paint mixed with other materials. Beuys marks his objects with crosses that allude to the steel cross, reclaiming symbols of Germany and Nazism.  See, I learned so much from the paragraph in that room.  Another video monitor and chairs were in this room in the same configuration as in the Fluxus room.  There was a lot of education in this room, which was really necessary for this exhibition.

I had no idea how high the ceilings were

I had no idea how high the ceilings were

BEUYS in AMERICA:  this room had an ease in the cramped quality of the space as well.  This might have been because the objects hung from the walls utilized the height of the wall: some things high and some things low.  A big banner was one thing displayed awkwardly up on high (like that one photograph in the Collecting History show at MOCA). In this final room was also a wall text likening Beuys to Yves Klein (French) and Warhol (American), claiming all of these artists created a artist-celebrity personality.  This is a nice attempt to create a continuous flow into the corridor which leads to the west-side of the top floor of BCAM.

In the hallway are some photos and objects, displayed in a tall case, from a collaborative project between Beuys and Warhol, but no information in provided, how frustrating. A continual comparison was made between Beuys and Warhol, and then also to Koons.  Two TV monitors with seating, two bookshelves full of books, and more upholstered chairs and a comfy couch created an odd domestic-like space in the cold sterile setting of BCAM.  Continuing with the usage of quotes, the curators include one quote each from Beuys, Warhol and Koons.

At home with Beuys, Warhol and Koons

At home with Beuys, Warhol and Koons

The west gallery on the top floor had been changed from its inaugural form, but only slightly altered and is still full of Broadworks. One wall was removed, which effectively eliminated the space that had previously displayed Baldessari, and now there is only one Baldessari left, on the wall which remains oddly alone in the space. The Koons had been spread out to fill the space. The space behind the lone wall is still only for Warhol: some works have been removed and tons more Kelloggs boxes have added, huge piles of boxes actually, created mountains of faux-cardboard containers.

It is great to see contemporary art in a space that was constructed to showcase exactly that.  The Beuys installation is a fitting example of post war German art because of its nice connection to the Art of the Two Germanys show.  But it also seemed like the installation was a way for the Broad Art Foundation to maintain its claim the top floor of BCAM as exclusive space to display their art. Also the wording of the text seemed to not-so-subtly brag about their near complete collection of Beuys’s multiples.

Some lovely "Urban Light"

Some lovely "Urban Light"

It was also exciting to see LACMA at night, especially the space of BCAM, which is lit so different at night, it really is a must see. Especially when you get to scamper, swing, dance through my favorite public artwork in Los Angeles, Urban Light.

– H.I.