Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘landscapes

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.

Permanent Collection – Korean Galleries Reinstallation

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art recently opened their new display of the museum’s permanent collection of Korean art.  The new space, on the plaza level of the Hammer Building,  is the largest space devoted to the display of Korean art outside Korea.  The museum used the existing space (which was previously used for temporary exhibition), and made only small changes to the architecture.  The space still exists as a cycle of rooms which are easy and pleasing to traverse.

After entering the double doors of the gallery you are greeted by an opening in the wall, which has been flanked by traditional paper windows, which are opened like shutters.

Highlighting loan pieces

Highlighting loan pieces

The space showcases a loan piece: The Pensive Bodhisattva, which which is graciously being loaned from the National Museum of Korea.  Also in the entry room is an approachable wall text which introduces briefly the historic periods of Korea that the works on display come from.  It also explains that the galleries are organized thematically versus by time period or by region.  This reminded me of the way the Getty Villa organizes its galleries, which I think they do successfully.  On the left side of the entry way there is a large blown-up photograph of a Korean temple, if front of which is a long bench.

Room with a view

Room with a view

The galleries had the same cement floors that previously existed in the space, except in the entry room where new luscious hardwood floors have been installed.  The walls were all a very clean white, which when inspected closer were not painted, but actually crisp rice paper.

The first room had just one object in it: a beautiful painted map of Korea.  The map is also a loan piece, but when it was displayed by itself it served as a nice way to introduce the artistic region of Korea.  Already it was obvious that the loan pieces were being displayed with great respect, and were highlighted throughout the exhibition.  The National Museum of Korea loaned LACMA a selection of 26 artworks for the opening of these galleries.

The second room focus was on painting.  The dimly-lit rooms felt warm dispute the cold cement floors and simple wood benches allowed the visitors to sit down and appreciate the paintings. Large landscapes were displayed on one wall, vertical hanging scrolls on another, and large scale portraits on the far wall.  The way the paintings were displayed in correlation to one another I though was done in a very interesting way.  There seemed to be an effort to not display things in a way that involved symmetry or balance.

Painting gallery – screens & scrolls
DSCN0937 (5-6)

Painting gallery – screens & scrolls

The two landscapes were unbalanced, the hanging scrolls purposely hung to deny bilateral symmetry, and the portraits seemed to be hung left to right in descending order.  On the fourth wall of this room was a display case with smaller scale paintings.  The paintings inside presented a variety of the ways painting could be mounted, on silk, on paper, and even on long scrolls.  A video screen even showed the entire scroll in the case unrolled.  This video was only one of many in the galleries. The didactic videos never had sound and only short snippets of text to read.  In the paintings room there was a video which showed how brush paintings are made and focused on showing technique.

A Queen’s screen

A Queen’s screen

The next room had several areas.  In the first area was displayed the “Women’s Quarters.” This area featured several painted screens which were conveniently displayed on the ground and on angles, to show how the screens actually functioned.  Also in this room were glorious glass display cases containing luxury objects.  Some cases featured only one object and some contained several objects that had similar utilitarian uses. The cases were themselves beautiful modern art objects glittering in their brand-spanking-newness.  The cases were designed by One O One Architects, and fuse contemporary look with traditional Korean materials.

Utilitarian treasures

Utilitarian treasures

On the other side of the room more display cases contained a slew of objects like ceramics, tiles, and hats.  I found the hats particularly interesting because they seemed to be the exact hats that were worn by some of the men in the portraits from the previous painting room.  It was an excellent curatorial choice to display the actual objects is such close proximity to the painted versions.  You had to go back into the painting room to continue on to other rooms, so the comparison and recognition of the objects in the portraits was unavoidable.

I just saw that hat

I just saw that hat

The next thematic room was what I assumed was the religion room.  The room featured sculpture and painting.  A longer video ran on another small discrete monitor which informed in a very subtle way the motifs and subject matter of Korean religious art.  The inclusion of both painting and sculpture was very clever as it invited comparisons about the way the same subject, themes, and story are depicted in various mediums.  Two sculptures were displayed side by side, and a formal comparison of metal and wooden sculpture was displayed.

Religious images, in wood and gold

Religious images, in wood and gold

Then it was onto to see the star of the exhibition, the loan piece of The Pensive Bodhisattva.  The piece is here in America for only a few weeks, and when you view it, you will know why Korea wants it back so quickly.  The sculpture is a masterpiece of the late sixth century.  The gilt-bronze Bodhisattva was cast in a now lost technique, and is uncommonly large in scale.  I noticed that there were cushions or pads in the room.  They were left there after a ceremony in which monks came and blessed the galleries.  The curators decided to leave the pads there for viewers to meditate on.  Or a viewer can simple walk around the Korean treasure and enjoy it in the round.

National Treasure: “The Pensive Bodhisattva”

National Treasure: “The Pensive Bodhisattva”

After this bright room was a dark room which featured works organized thematically around the art of the literati.  Brushes and small works of calligraphy were displayed in one case.  I did not stay long in this room because I was quickly courted on into the next room due to the fact that it was flooded with natural light.

Most beautiful room in LACMA

Most beautiful room in LACMA

I’m not used to seeing natural light flood the space of a gallery, which is only one of the reasons why the ceramics room was such a treat.  The exhibition designers decided to remove the existing wall, and exposed the large floor-to-ceiling windows that were behind the wall.  In front of the window are five large ceramic vessels; behind them through the windows is the green of the bark and large planter boxes full of bamboo.  This room might be the most beautiful room I’ve ever seen in an art museum.

Color-categorized ceramics

Color-categorized ceramics

The display cases in this room were organized by type of ceramic.  So in one case would be only blue and white ceramics made from Kaolin, in another would be only the jade-tone Punchong ceramics, and in another would be a collection of rich green celadon glazed ware.  One case in this room also displayed a collection of lacquer boxes. All of them were ornately decorated in mother-of-pearl inlay.  With all of these cases in the room the small differences were what matter, so in the lacquer boxes only small differences in decorative motif separated the boxes.  The close inspection required to viewer to really look closely at the works on display.

Celedon glazed ware & Turquoise inlay lacquer boxes

Celedon glazed ware & Turquoise inlay lacquer boxes

In the last room was a really innovative installation of objects.  The narrow hall forces a reflection between the grid-like contemporary painting with an innovative display case of ceramic shards.  The shards are a selection from LACMA’s 850 piece Asakawa-Henderson Korean Ceramic Shard Collection.  The collection was created by two Japanese researchers during the 1910’s and ‘20s.  According to the exhibition’s press release, “LACMA is the only institution outside Korea and Japan to hold such a comprehensive collection.”  The shards are displayed in a long case in a color-coded grid.  The accompanying map is the key to the map, where different colors signify Korea’s eight main provincial regions.  The educational tool is functional and really beautiful; a truly innovative way to communicate information to a museum’s public while still being aesthetically pleasing.

Asakawa-Henderson Korean Ceramic Shard Collection

Asakawa-Henderson Korean Ceramic Shard Collection

The reinstallation as a whole is very beautiful, and not just because it is new.  It shows that permanent collections can be displayed in creative ways that aren’t too theatrical or zany (like LAMCA’s Pardo-design Pre-Columbian galleries).  The new display also proves that education can be displayed in a non-distracting way, and that giving the viewer to freedom to choose his or her level of engagement with the educational materials really is the best way to do it.  I can’t wait to return to these galleries, because they are now my favorite in Los Angeles.

Comparison installation

Comparison installation

– H.I.