Posts Tagged ‘Norton Simon’
LA, or certain people who write about the art scene in LA, or people who get quoted about the art scene in LA, seems to have an inferiority complex. Everything that happens in the arts (a new exhibition, a new art fair, a new museum director…) is deemed the thing that will finally turn LA into an/the art capitol. William Poundstone did a survey of this decades-long mentality[ii] this week inspired by an article in The Economist titled, “2014 may prove a turning point for art museums in Los Angeles.”[iii] But come on – LA, people who write about the art scene in LA, people who get quoted about the art scene in LA, and the people of LA have nothing to prove. The Getty squashed that issue a few years ago, didn’t it?
Back in 2011, the Getty’s ten-years-in-the-making endeavor, Pacific Standard Time (or PST as it has come to be known) opened. Over 60 institutions across Southern California presented exhibitions focused on the region’s art scene between the years of 1945 and 1980. The Getty’s goal was to record, preserve, and present the many contributions Southern Californian artists and arts organizations made to contemporary art during the time period. Initial grants were given to arts organizations to catalogue archives from the period, followed by exhibition grants. Some of these exhibitions traveled to other venues in the country and some traveled internationally. Catalogues from these exhibitions were published and quickly integrated into university curriculums. Besides this trove of scholarship, another goal of PST was to present Los Angeles as an artistic capital.
Eli Broad’s power is tolerated because it remains remarkably unchallenged. This seemingly monopoly of philanthropic power led Christopher Knight to compare Broad to another infamous, Los Angeles art patron:
[Norton] Simon’s flirtations with giving [his] collection away (at least seven institutions); distrust of traditional museum management; engineering of a bailout of an artistically adventuresome but financially faltering institution (the old Pasadena Museum for Simon, MOCA for Broad); later deciding to open his own museum, and more…[ii]
Another similarity to Broad: Before Norton Simon’s takeover of the Pasadena Art Museum, Simon had intended to establish his collection as a lending organization. Taking control of the Pasadena Art Museum proved irresistible to Simon, and today the Norton Simon Museum rarely loans works. I seriously doubt unfounded rumors that Broad has some kind of evil master plan to takeover or somehow combine his collections with MOCA.
Broad can also be measured to his contemporaries. Los Angeles is not actually a one-philanthropist town. “Pomegranate Queen” Lynda Resnick is an easy comparison. Like Broad, Resnick is a long-time donor and trustee of LACMA. Like Broad, she and her husband provided funds ($54 million) for a Renzo-Piano-designed building at LACMA. The Lynda and Stuart Resnick Pavilion was part of Phase 2 of LACMA’s Transformation and sits directly north of BCAM. When the pavilion opened in October of 2010, one of three inaugural shows was gleaned from the Resnick’s private collection.
Norton Simon Museum
As I was finishing up in this exhibition, I overheard a tour being given to what I presumed was a UCLA summer painting course. “We have the Getty in our own backyard, but the Getty’s collection kinda sucks. The Norton Simon’s is the really great collection of LA,” the teacher harped. I am paraphrasing. While I detest uninformed and unnecessary opinions (especially from arts educators) about which museum has the “best” collection, I can’t deny the Norton Simon has a pretty amazing one, and I don’t even like Impressionism. Significant Objects: The Spell of the Still Life presents a thematic cross section of the museum’s diverse collections and is an examination of “the ways in which these ostensibly mundane and insignificant subjects [harsh!] portrayed in painting and sculpture and works on paper are indeed significant.” Significant Objects does not present groundbreaking, paradigm shift-type discoveries or research, but is a huge success as a rich, educational opportunity for general audiences utilizing the permanent collection. Permanent collection show hurray! Here are the facts:
Restitution Issue: Norton Simon Museum
Adam and Eve, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in c. 1530, are a pair of panel paintings currently on view in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum. There hasn’t been an update on the painted pair since October, but the ownership of the Adam and Eve remains an unresolved dispute. Marei Von Saher is the daughter-in-law of Jacques Goudstikker, a previous owner of the Adam and Eve. During the 1940s, Goudstikker fled Holland and was forced to sell the panels to the Nazis under duress. The issue of restitution would seem clear if this case was that simple. A questionable, century-long provenance and a legal tangle both complicate the case. Let’s explore.
Norton Simon bought the Cranach panels from George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff , a Russian, in 1971. Stroganoff-Scherbatoff was the heir of an aristocratic family who claimed to have owned the paintings prior to 1917. Stroganoff-Scherbatoff received/bought the paintings from the Dutch Government in a restitution agreement in 1966. The Dutch Government was restituted the paintings (remember Goudstikker fled Holland during WWII) after WWII. The Nazis forced Goudstikker to sell them in the 1940s. Goudstikker had bought the paintings from the Soviet government at an auction in 1931. The Russian government had confiscated Adam and Eve from the family of Stroganoff-Scherbatoff prior to 1917. Seems like a resolved case of restitution: Russian heir gets stolen paintings back and then sells them to a collector (Norton Simon).
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Norton Simon Museum
The “Fierce deities with bared teeth, flame-like tongues, and wicked expressions” of this exhibition are contained to a small concise space, but the show itself is rich and meaningful. The show is unavoidable because of where it is located. At the bottom of the staircase down to the Asian galleries of the Norton Simon, there it is: a nice little alcove of a space, nicely tucked away.
Only approximately 20 works make up the exhibition, most of them are small-scale and necessitate a closer, intimate inspection. The Norton Simon has also done an amazing job with the education of this show. There is a large wall text which nicely explains the items in the exhibition:
“These powerful figures also destroy demons and inner obstacles to enlightenment, such as greed and anger. Their frightening appearance belie the good deeds they perform in protecting individual devotees, monasteries and Buddhist doctrine…In the photo below, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, holding a ritual thunderbolt and bell, performs an initiation ceremony seated in front of a large appliquéd image depicting wrathful gods.”
This wall text was very informative, though some sentences were constructed awkwardly. The mention of the Dalai Lama seemed to be a reference to something from Tibetan culture which perhaps was somewhat recognizable the audience of museum. Along with the introductory wall text, every item in the exhibition had an accompanying wall label with an educational paragraph
Interesting to me was the color chosen in this room. The medium-tone blue paint was too-odd-to-be-a-coincidence similar to the blue-colored walls in LACMA’s Tibetan galleries. To be fare the color was located elsewhere in that level of the museum, but I’m curious as to why this color is so popular in being partnered with Tibetan art.
The museum has provided two small, wooden, yet comfortable benches in the small space. The only medium not present in the small exhibition was stone sculpture, but these works were displayed right outside this space, and were all very large. The show was focused on the close inspection of small intimate objects.
The exhibition was strikingly symmetrical. The C-shaped exhibition was reflective on left and right. Along the right wall were watercolors and small sculptures. One watercolor was framed in a blue mat and ark wood frame, which matched another watercolor across the room which made me think that the works might have been acquired by the same time, or come from the same place.
The display case along this wall contained six objects. The objects are made from a wide range of medium, from different times, but all from Tibet. An accompanying diagram to the right of the case provided the labels for these objects as well as more educational information. This small case was like a treasure chest full of precious objects. The workmanship and the details were beautiful in this case, including the carving of a conch shell, and the small inlaid eyes of a skull.
Another example of small scale details was in another small plexiglass display case. The small bronze sculpture of Chakrasamuara & Vajravarchi (China, lat 18th c.) invited close inspection. The wall text described in detail the gruesome nature of the details: “Each of Chakrasamuara’s four faces has a fierce expression, a fierce eye and a skull tiara. In addition he wears garlands of skulls and severed heads and in his 12 arms holds various attributes: a lasso, and arrows, as well as a thunderbolt and bell.” This description encouraged further investigation of the piece, were those really garlands of heads draped around the figures neck?—Why yes there were, isn’t that precious…
This work led to the central (in terms of location) work of the exhibition. The Mandala of Chakrasamuara (Nepal, Kathmandu, 1648) is a large painting featuring the same demonic character as the sculpture directly to the right. Again, a beautiful description accompanies: “surrounding the palace are eight graveyards, separated by stylized waves representing rivers. These charnel grounds…” All of the wording of these texts is very vivid, and helps to explain not only what we are seeing, but also utilizing colorful language which achieves a grim effect integral to this installation examining violence and demons.
Speaking of violence, the case to the left of the Mandala painting holds some sensational objects, which honestly look like props from a Hollywood movie. The case with ritual weapons holds a Ritual Staff or Club (Tibet 20th c.) and a Ritual Axe (Tibet 20th c.). These objects finalize and literalize the exhibition’s theme of violence.
Among the hall of blue were accent colors. Three items were distinguished by their special mounting in the exhibition. A wooden ritual sword from Tibet, a bronze sculpture of Hayagriva, and a mask of Bhairara were displayed differently from the rest of the works in the room. All of them were displayed in specially made shadow boxes. The frames clearly had been made specially for this exhibition because they were made to look like they were attached to the walls permanently, and painted the same blue color. However, the accent was the orange color used on the interiors of these frames. But why the bright orange color? To admit the first thing I thought of when I saw the color in this context was that it was the color of Buddhist monastic robes (which could be seen in the images of the Dalai Lama in the exhibition). The orange accents did a lot to subtly highlight these works.
These objects fit nicely into the symmetry of the exhibition. All in all the small show was informative and beautiful, showing that even topics of violence can be beautiful.