Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘pedestals

Leonardo da Vinci and the Art of Sculpture: Inspiration and Invention

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Getty Center

I know that this exhibition is already over, but I still think it is worth posting about because it had so many elements involved with the exhibition design.

Somebody save that baby!

The exhibition was located on the terrace level of the west pavilion of the Getty Center. I entered the space by walking down the stairway from the level above, which allowed me a great view of the behemoth horse by Nina Akamu.  The work was a wall mural of a photo of Il Cavallo, which stands in the Parco dell’Ippodromo in Milan.  The contemporary sculpture was inspired by the sketches of Da Vinci, for an unrealized equestrian monument designed for Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan.  This unrealized sculpture was a big focus of the show, and this photo adhered to the entry wall helped to cultivate the theme of monumentality in Renaissance sculpture. Even though there were few sculptures (and none by Da Vinci) in the show.  The Da Vinci work in this show is made up of sketches, many from the Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II.

There were some very significant loan pieces, which is what the Getty does best; the reason to go see a show at the Getty is their ability to negotiate such loans.  (See for example French Bronzes, Bernini, or the display of Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.) A major lender in to this exhibition was the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo in Florence.  The very Tuscan, sand-colored rooms of the exhibition are divided into several themes.

He’s been cleaned up since this picture was taken.

Donatello and Da Vinci: This room was a kind of prologue to the show.  One big room, with only one big work: Donatello’s Bearded Prophet.  The huge bronze statue was illuminated by a single window in an upper corner of room.  The starkness of the room highlighted the monumental borrowed work and allowed a visitor to circumvent the entire work, which you wouldn’t have been able to in its original setting—on the campanile of the Duomo.  The wall text explains how Donatello enlarged certain parts of the sculpture because of the perspective of it being seen on high: like the hands and the saint’s head.  This was a technique that was evidently adopted by Da Vinci.

Lots of sketches; thanks QE2!

Da Vinci and the Florentine Tradition: Because this show prominently featured works on loan I was not allowed to take any photographs, and the Getty has a very diligent and dedicated army of gallery guards who promptly tell you to put that camera away, this is why I have no images from this room.  Let me describe it instead:  the second room had an assemblage of pedestals with framed sketches set on top of them.  The Da Vinci sketches looked precariously set on top of the pedestals, as if they would topple over if you bumped into one, which seemed unavoidable in the crowded forest of pedestals.  Wall text contextualized Da Vinci into the Florentine tradition, with its emphasis on disegno—the “masculine style” which the Tuscans thought far superior to the feminine, Venetian style of colorito.

If only my handwriting were this nice, or this legible.

In between the room that focused on Da Vinci’s equestrian monuments and other projects, and the next was a corridor that could have been left empty and unremarkable.  But no, the Getty exhibition designers weren’t going to waste a perfectly good wall.  In this wall way, like beautiful antique wallpaper, was enlarged images of Da Vinci’s handwriting.  I asked a gallery guard permission and was given the okay to photograph.

and a painting…so where’s the sculpture

In the next room, which was almost tucked away, Da Vinci’s St. Jerome (on loan from the Vatican!) was displayed.  The unfinished panel painting was the first work by Da Vinci in the show that wasn’t a sketch, not a sculpture, but still not a sketch.  What this painting was doing in a show about sculpture was rationalized by the curators in that the figure of Jerome was painted in a very sculptural way…I might be oversimplifying, but that’s all the average visitor is going to understand anyway.

Gotcha!

The final rooms were devoted to Giovan Francesco Rustici, an artist I had never heard of before this exhibition.  Apparently he was friends and colleagues with Da Vinci.  Because there are very few confidently attributed Da Vinci sculptures, and those probably are never allowed to move, the Getty provides this analogue (aka replacement) for the lack of Da Vinci sculptures.  Once again there were a lot of loan works, the most glorious of which were the three Rustici sculptures that made up the sculptural group John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee and a Levite, also from the Museo Del Opera Del Duomo.

And a non-blurry version taken in the High Museum.

Again the large works (meant to be seen on the exterior of a public building) were given plenty of room to stretch their large bronze limbs, and basked in plenty of natural sunlight.  The natural light helped to contextualize the works in their original location.  The works were amazing, and would be on their own, even if you ignore the Da vinci-Rustici relationship so hyped in this exhibition.  It really undermined Rustici’s talent as an individual artist, but at the same time exposed me to Rustici for the first time.

The unavoidable gift shop, at the Getty they have their own chain.

After exiting the exhibition, myself and all the visitors were forced into the adjacent retail space.  Yes the Getty has a very large bookstore, but they also set up specialty boutique shops as it were for special exhibitions. It was like strategic planning in a mall, but I did almost buy a street banner from the exhibition.

– H.I.

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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.

Second Nature: The Valentine-Adelson Collection

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Hammer Museum

Second Nature is a display of a selection of a large gift of contemporary sculpture.  The works were produced from 1995 to the present.  The opening wall text uses several catch-all phrases (my favorite) to describe the collection and the exhibition: “three-dimensional objects” (duh) in a “variety of media.”  So the only think linking these works together is they are all sculpture made in Los Angeles from 1995 onwards. The wall text also explains the importance of the show is being “two fold.”  First is a personal collection vision (important?), and second is a cultural legacy of contemporary Los Angeles sculpture (which is important).

I would like to give credit for the educators of this exhibition for doing the best job they could with the artworks they were working with.  Not every work had an explanative text, but every third work probably did.  Some of the works spoke for themselves, and for the works which did not, the writers did the best they could to make me believe these works were actually interesting.

Pedestal Inquisition: Greely’s “Weaver,” Benson’s “Figure 8” & Ruby Neri’s “Untitled (Lioness)”

Pedestal Inquisition: Greely’s “Weaver,” Benson’s “Figure 8” & Ruby Neri’s “Untitled (Lioness)”

The first room features works of various sizes and mediums, as promised.  What struck me immediately was the various ways of displaying art.  Hannah Greely’s Weaver, was displayed on a very low white pedestal. Next to it was displayed Jonathan Pylypchuk’s Guy Peeing in Heart Plant was displayed hung from the wall, resting on a simple, rough wooden pedestal, which was part of the work.  To add to this assemblage of pedestals were the polished wood of Frank Benson’s Figure 8, and the garish, neon green pedestal on which sat Ruby Neri’s Untitled (Lioness). Both Benson and Neri’s pedestals were part of the artworks. The collection of pedestals was almost distracting, and I focused more on them than I did on the art in the room.

Sculpture not-in-the round: Curry’s “Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing)”

Sculpture not-in-the round: Curry’s “Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing)”

Aaron Curry’s Fragments from a Collective Unity (Standing) is also displayed in this first room.  The work is made up of two parts: a tall wooden abstract sculpture and a movie poster set upside-down against a wall.  I have to say I was disappointed with the way the piece was installed; the wooden piece was set too close to the wall so a viewer could not walk around it or appreciate from all angles.

Concert Hall: Johnson, “The Pianist”

Concert Hall: Johnson, “The Pianist”

A nicely displayed work is Matt Johnson’s The Pianist (Designed by Robert J. Lang, and Folded by Matt Johnson). The large work needs a lot of space, as it is impressively large, and the space was given.  It was set alone in an appropriately-sized room allowing a viewer to completely ambulate around the artwork and appreciate all of its blue folded angles, at all angles.

Color-coded room

Color-coded room

A large room features several works by various artists.  All of the works are unified in color scheme: blacks, beige, and some silver.  The works include Evan Holloway’s Dichotic Sculpture, Sterling Ruby’s 2 Stacks of Husbands, Patrick Jackson’s Black and Midnight Blue, Evan Holloway’s Black to Purple, and Nathan Mabry’s A Touching Moment.  The works are nice together because they invite formal comparisons.  This can be done in peaceful, silent contemplation.  At least until Dichotic Sculpture turns on.  When it started making a horrible, vibrating, electric sound I understood what the ugly black cord connecting the artwork to the wall was for.

Plug it in: Holloway, “Dichotic Sculpture”

Plug it in: Holloway, “Dichotic Sculpture”

The normally pleasing sounds of Pachbell’s Canon started ringing off the metal cans and pots inside the speakers of the work.  This elicited the following reaction from my friend: “We learned how to make speakers out of household items in my physics class too” (said with feigned enthusiasm).  The sound was so assaulting on my ears that it made me forget my formal comparisons and I quickly left the room.

Karaoke Machine: Kersels, “MacArthur Park”

Karaoke Machine: Kersels, “MacArthur Park”

I turned my attention to find the source of more noise: the disco music which had been bouncing off the gallery walls since I entered the exhibition.  (This reminded me of my previous visit to MOCA’s galleries were the sound from an artwork permeated through an entire exhibition.)  I found the source of the disco and was disappointed to see it coming out of Martin Kersels’s MacArthur Park.  Regardless of my disappointment, the sound permeating out of its ugly exposed stereo did draw me to it. I was glad to see that this piece was one of the lucky ones; it had an informative wall label.  From the label I learned the piece mixed low and high forms of art (where the high art aspect was I couldn’t identify) and the piece was also a self portrait…

Literacy Test: Craft, “Untitled (Lazy Daze)”

Literacy Test: Craft, “Untitled (Lazy Daze)”

Another work which I felt rightfully deserved space to circumvent it was Liz Craft’s Untitled (Lazy Daze).  Viewers can walk around the piece and see all of the letters in L-A-Z-Y D-A-Z, with the E being chased off by a little creature.  The effort in viewing the work made it briefly amusing, until I was distracted away by the less-then-amazing works displayed elsewhere in the room.

Swept into a corner & Up in a corner: Lapinski, “Nothings of Such and Such a Sort” & Rocklen

Swept into a corner & Up in a corner: Lapinski, “Nothings of Such and Such a Sort” & Rocklen

Lisa Lapinski’s Nothings of Such and Such a Sort was pushed up into a corner like a heap of trash swept up into a pile waiting to be brushed into the dustpan. While at the same time a work by Ry Rocklen was elevated up on high by a video projector aimed at a corner of the ceiling, placed like a forgotten spider web.

Small-Large-XXL: Greely, “Molly and Johnny,” Ruby “Monumental Stalagmite” and Meadows, “Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive)”

Small-Large-XXL: Greely, “Molly and Johnny,” Ruby “Monumental Stalagmite” and Meadows, “Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive)”

In the following room was the best installation of work.  It combined small approachable works like Hannah Greely’s Molly and Johnny and Paul Seitsema’s sneakers, with large-scale works like Sterling Ruby’s Monumental Stalagmite and Jason Meadows’ Untitled (Picnic Table and Beehive), and then also combined artworks that invited the viewer to interact such as Mateo Tannatt’s Turkish Kitchen (where the viewer was invited to don headphones) and Chris Finley’s Damn Mosquitos (which kindly requested in the wall text a viewer to use a flashlight illuminate the painting on the interior of a wooden box).  The combination of small intimate objects, with overwhelming large objects, and also with interactive art objects made for an actively installed room.

Touch Me: Finley, “Damn Mosquitos” and Tannatt, “Turkish Kitchen”

Touch Me: Finley, “Damn Mosquitos” and Tannatt, “Turkish Kitchen”

The final artwork that caught my attention was in the last room of the exhibition, it was Paul Sietsema’s Rococo Room.  When you approach the work you don’t know what to expect as all you see is a large black box.  Only after circling around the object (thank you to the curators for allowing this space) do you come to a window in the structure to look through. Inside the unrecognizable structure is a luscious miniature Rococo interior.

All the remodel budget went into the interior: Sietsema, “Rococo Room”

All the remodel budget went into the interior: Sietsema, “Rococo Room”

This work was sticking to me because of its extreme attention to detail: from the tiny gilded stucco work to and the crystal chandelier.  The work reminded me of another work I saw recently at LACMA.  In the recent exhibition Your Bright Future, there is a work called Fallen Star by Do Ho Suh.  These works both have a maniacal attention to detail and it was interesting to me to see that sculpture perhaps concerned with similar ideas was being produced by both Los Angeles artists, and Korean artists.

Echoes across LA: Do Ho Sun, “Fallen Star”

Echoes across LA: Do Ho Suh, “Fallen Star”

Leaving the exhibition I felt I did not have a greater understanding about what contemporary Los Angeles sculpture is all about.  If there was a message, theme or statement about sculpture, I’m not sure it was communicated well.  There is not really a curator’s statement since what is on display was not really of a curators choosing.  Instead the statement made is the collector’s statement.  As acknowledged in the opening wall text the vision is all the about the collector’s taste rather then an informed curator’s vision.

– H.I.