Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘thematic organization

Joseph Beuys: The Multiples

with one comment

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.

Advertisements

Permanent Collection – Korean Galleries Reinstallation

leave a comment »

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.