Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Beuys

Winter BCAM Shows

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Let’s follow up a long discussion of three shows at LACMA with a very brief discussion of three shows at LACMA.  The three winter shows in BCAM are: Blinky Palermo: Retrospective 1964–1977, William Eggleston: Democratic Camera—Photographs and Video, 1961–2008, and Color and Form (an installation not exhibition). Let’s make this quick.

Not so much to talk about.

Blinky (yes I’m going to cal him by his first name) is organized by the Dia Art Foundation and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard.  The show’s first stop is LACMA, then it travels east to the Hirshhorn and then north to Dia Beacon.  Interestingly the show is presented by Christies (hmm) and the tour is made possible by Gucci (who knew the Italian fashion house was interested in contemporary art or that the Gucci marketing people are).  Above the entrance to the show is the only semblance of exhibition design, a stupid painted blue triangle.  The only interesting thing to note about this show was that the labels were meticulously hidden in the doorways between each room, limiting distraction.  I think LACMA knows how boring this show is and actually stooped this low in a sad effort to make it interesting.

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New Topographics: Photos of a Man-Altered Landscape

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

LACMA’s New Topographics, which runs through January 3, is a recreation (but actually a curation of a curation) of a show that was originally presented in the Rochester New York at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, in 1975.  Apparently the originally show drew a limited amount of viewers: it was winter, and there was a lot of snow…The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson decided this show was so pivotal that they wanted to recreate it and bring the show to several venues, one of which was LACMA.

The show at LACMA was curated by Edward Robinson, but Britt Salveson probably had a lot to do with the shows incarnation at LACMA as well.  Salveson was the director and chief curator at the Center for Creative Photography.  Somewhere around the time of this show coming into existence Salveson was sucked up into LACMA and is now the head of both the Wallis Annenberg Department of Photography and the Department of Prints and Drawings. Check out an interview with Salveson here.

LACMA has spent a lot of time and effort on this show, as is evidence to the mini webpages devoted to each of the ten artists in the show found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Further tribute to the importance LACMA now places on photography is the space that New Topographics inhabits.  The second floor of the BCAM is half taken up by New Topographics, the other half photographic self portraits (this is the first time the whole second floor of BCAM has been all and only photography.)

The space is actually immense when considering the size of the exhibition.  LACMA brags that the two thirds of total work from the original exhibition is in this reincarnation.  This is an impressive number; however LACMA has two times as much gallery space compared to the Eastman House.  Yikes, this means a lot of white wall.  The many colored walls of Your Bright Future have been reformed back into the blinding white cube.

White cube diagram of New Topographics

Despite the several issues with labeling, and the issue of curating an already-curated show, I mush say I think the curator was very creative in dealing with the issue of massive space and a smaller amount of content.  In some rooms this was done better than in others.

Room 1:

Rows of homes: Adams, “Mobile Homes, Jefferson County, Colorado, 1973”

This room was given to Robert Adams.  A single line of same sized photos hugged two walls drawing the eye along from left to right.  Several vitrines had an awkward presence in the room.  These vitrines were there for context apparently, Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, and several other Rucha books were included to show how the design of these books influenced the exhibition catalogue of the original New Topographics.  These vitrines seems like a bad way of filling an otherwise sadly empty room, and the things inside the cases were not clearly defined as not being part of the original exhibition.

I love you, but why are you here?--Ruscha’s “Every Building”

Room 2:

Modern city: Nixon, “Buildings on Tremont Street, Boston, 1975”

This room was very evenly spaced: two walls each for the two artists, Nixon and Gohlke. These photos weren’t in any particular dialogue with one another.  I thought the Gohlke spoke more to the Adams in the previous room or to the Wessel in the following room.  Nixon’s photographs of Boston were some of my favorite works in the show, clean and new and seemingly promising.

The Gohlke works brought up an interesting point about the information provided. The work below on the right had a caption which said the photo was taken in ’74, and that it was printed in ’75.  Was LACMA bragging about having one of the original photographs?  I noticed that the curators were irresponsibly inconsistent with providing this information and distinguishing the dates these photos were printed, and informing the viewers what was an original print.

Concrete Jungle: Gohlke, “Landscape, Los Angeles, 1974” x2

Room 3:

Freakishly Empty Los Angeles: Wessel, “Hollywood, 1972” x2

The Wessel photos in the next room spoke volumes to the Gohlke not just because they both featured barren Los Angeles Landscapes.  These amused me for a while trying to figure out their locations, they are all so seemingly familiar, and also very nondescript.

Barren landscape: Baltz, “South Corner, Riccar America Company, 3184 Pullman, Costa Mesa,” From the series New Industrial Parks, 1974

Baltz’s work was also in this room across from Wessel.  His series of buildings from industrial park in Irvine were clustered together in a grid in the center of the wall, which for a minute almost distracted me from the inappropriately high white ceilings.

Lying about their size: Shore, “Proton Avenue, Gull Lake, Saskatchewan, August 18, 1974”

The third photographer featured in this room was Shore.  These photos stood out because they were the only in the show that were color photographs, and they were big.  I was informed that at the time these photos were originally taken such large-sized color photos would not have been possible to print, so clearly these were printed more recently, a fact that LACMA curators did not point out.  Nor did they point out the fact that they had changed the scale of the photos which dramatically impacted my reception of the work.  Shame shame.

Room 4:

Not enough views to fill the space: Deal, “Untitled View (Albuquerque), 1974” x3

Deal’s many untitled views of Albuquerque attempted to flood an entire wall in this room, barely managing to fill the space. And then finally a successful attempt at filling the space.  The curators attempted the same corner-hugging line of installation used in room one with the photos by Schott.  These photos were all from a series where Schott documented Motels along Route 66.   The crazy architecture of these buildings flows from image to image around the corner like following an arrow-shaped street sign.

Kicks on Route 66: Schott, “Untitled,” from the series Route 66 Motels, 1973 x3

Room 5:

This room was entirely used for the husband and wife team Bernd and Hilla Becher, artist nine and ten.  The series of mine architecture and coal manufacturing plants were hung in groupings.  One of the works in this room was from the original New Topographics (the tarnished silver frame signified this) was actually a series set into a grouping in the same frame.  All the other works in addition to being hung on high, stark white walls, were also framed with in white frames.  Oh the little details like frames!

Serial photos: Bechers, “Loomis Coal Breaker Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1974”

After this last official room of the works from the original New Topographics came two other (what LACMA would say were) contextualizing rooms.  In the one room with windows opening up onto Wilshire Boulevard were works by Smithson, Graham and my favorite Turrell.  The Turrell piece was a sort of ephemera from his Roden Crater project which makes me go crazy whenever I think about it.

In the final room, which was a kind of screening room was the space created by the Center for Land Use Interpretation.  On the far wall was projected a commissioned piece about oil and landscape with a bench set in front of it. Along another wall were two computers for viewing the Center’s website. Plastered above the computers where poster for some of the center’s previous exhibitions which looked like a college student’s dorm room.  And obnoxiously there was another living room type space.  I mentioned this in the Beuys inquisition were LACMA curators set up an awkward sitting area with cushy chairs and reading materials.

So final conclusions:  The photographs in the exhibition spoke for themselves; there was no need for all the extra stuff that was supposed there for context. Sure there was a lot of white walls, but if the curators had just embraced the white expanse full heartedly instead of half-heartedly the installation would have been far superior.

– H.I.

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.