Monday, December 11, 2017

Pacific Asia Museum Reopens, with Friends of Frida

The USC Pacific Asia Museum has reopened after seismic upgrades. Now on view is a reinstalled permanent collection and a ground-breaking PST LA/LA show, "Winds from Fusang: Mexico and China in the Twentieth Century." (Above, Frida, Diego, and friends in a detail of Jingo Sun and Shengtian Zheng's Winds from Fusang, 2017, a mural commissioned for the exhibition.)
For better or worse, art dealer Grace Nicholson's historic 1925 building (by Pasadena architects Marston, Van Pelt and Maybury) hasn't changed too much. It looks virtually the same from the outside and the garden. Inside the rooms were always scaled more to a home than a museum, and so they remain. To regular visitors, each room will be familiar, with new paint but pretty much the same distressed concrete and vintage heating vents.

The biggest upgrade is visitor circulation. You now enter a Visitor Center and proceed clockwise through the permanent collection galleries and then three rooms for temporary exhibitions.
The permanent collection rooms offer a trip through geography, not chronology. First up is the Pacific Islands, and the display is much handsomer than the previous one. But here as elsewhere, the colorful partitions and platforms break up spaces that are small to begin with.
Lighting is hit or miss. That room with a garden view now has five Indian sculptures against shrouded windows. One, a 2nd-century Loving Couple from Uttar Pradesh bought in 2005, is among the earliest Indian works in Southern California.
A large room of Chinese art is annoyingly dark. I guess it's because they're showing light-sensitive textiles and paintings alongside ceramics and bronzes. But more light on the not-so-light-sensitive objects would be welcome.

The next room has a fantastic wall of Japanese prints, headed by Hokusai's Fine Wind, Clear Morning (Red Fuji); a selection of netsuke; two pieces of Satsuma ware created for export to the West. One serves up every stereotype of Japonisme on the half shell.

Best of all is the Kamakura period Amitabha Buddha acquired in 2013. Featured in a focus exhibition before the museum's closure, it assumes its place as a nexus of the permanent collection.
"Winds from Fusang" is the first exhibition to treat a fascinating topic. Mao's China adopted Soviet-style Socialist Realism as it official idiom. But Mexican muralists (Los Tres Grandes) and the followers of Frida Kahlo (Los Fridos) introduced Western modernism into China. China was open to the art of proletarian Mexico as it wasn't to that of the capitalist U.S. The Mexican influence culminated in Beijing's 1956 "National Front of Plastic Arts of Mexico" exhibition, China's Armory Show.
Miguel Covarrubius, the ubiquitous artist, illustrator, and caricaturist, visited Shanghai twice in the 1930s, schmoozing and leaving a following in his wake. The show has several of his witty drawings, such as Chinese Opera Singer (1931), alongside Chinese responses. Covarrubius' sinewy line owes something to Aubrey Beardsley and was surely a point of departure for Al Hirschfeld.
Many of the works shown in "National Front of Plastic Arts of Mexico" are untraceable. An exception is Leopoldo Méndez' 1950 linoleum cut, Fusilamiento (Firing Squad). It seems Méndez had pretty much figured out the whole graphic novel aesthetic.
Arturo Estrada Hernández was a disciple of Frida Kahlo, best known for murals. PAM is showing his 1980 easel painting Life of a Dog. "Winds from Fusang" does what any good exhibition should do: make you want to see more.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Eliasson "Reality Projector" for Marciano

The Marciano Art Foundation has announced an Olafur Eliasson installation for next year. Eliasson will use two spotlights, color filters, and the existing architectural trusses to create an immersive 3D moving abstraction.

It's said that artists respond to big spaces, and art has outgrown the museum. The Eliasson piece will be the size of a small museum, occupying the 13,500-sq.ft. Theater Gallery now showing the multifarious "Jim Shaw: The Wig Museum." That's a lot of real estate for a couple of spotlights.

"Olafur Eliasson: Reality Projector" runs Mar. 1–Aug. 2018. (Shown is a detail of a scale model in Eliasson's studio.)

Friday, December 8, 2017

"I Do Not Like Rats": J. Patrice Marandel's Abecedario

"I do not like rats. Few people do, in fact."
—J. Patrice Marandel

These two lines begin a slim volume published by Art Catalogues and LACMA, J. Patrice Marandel: Abecedario. An abecedario is an alphabetic anthology of otherwise random essays. Art Catalogues has published three so far, as a series in which LACMA curators tell the backstories on works in the collection. There are titles by Linda Komaroff (Islamic art) and Stephen Little (Chinese paintings). Marandel, the recently retired curator of European art, has written the biggest book of the three, though it's still a quick read at 96 pages.

I don't normally do book reviews in this blog. But Marandel's Abecedario has so much that will interest LACM on Fire readers that it rates acknowledgment.

Marandel's first entry is A for "Anonymous" or "Almanach." It describes how he came to buy The Fortune Teller, or Allegory of the Five Senses (c. 1730) a painting that has more rats in it than any painting in Los Angeles. It is to Old Masters what Williard is to cinema. ("All art is popular art," as George Lucas says.)
Rats were once used for divination. The man at the far left of the painting must be a blind seer. He's got a box of live rats and has jauntily draped some of their dead brothers and sisters over his shoulder.
Marandel bought the rat picture as a pig in a poke. The artist was unknown, but its quality and weirdo-novelty intrigued him. He describes how it was later attributed to "Almanach," like Banksy famous via a pseudonym. We don't yet know Almanach's name but we may know his face (via a painting in the National Gallery of Slovenia). The Fortune Teller appears to be the only major Slovenian Baroque painting in an American museum.
Of course, Marandel speaks mainly of his greatest hits, paintings with no rats in them at all. That includes the greatest cheese painting in America, Clara Peeters' Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries. The Peeters is one of the brilliant group of Dutch paintings donated by Edward and Hannah Carter. Marandel covers the Ciechanowiecki oil sketches; pivotal purchases of works by Cima da Conegliano, Honthorst, Sweerts, Watteau, Robert, David, and Ingres (though not Bernini—the book is about the paintings only). He paints Proustian word-pictures of a bygone world of London dealer-hucksters, and of L.A.'s flagship museum before his tenure (V for Valentiner).
Marandel tells of getting a frantic e-mail from a LACMA visitor saying the glass on a painting had been broken. Odd, given that LACMA (unlike the Norton Simon) doesn't glaze its paintings. The e-mail referred to Étienne Mouinneuf's Back From the Market (La Pourvoyeuse), c. 1770. It's a painted illusion of shattered glass over an also-painted replica of a print reproducing a Chardin painting. Long after he laid down his brush, Mouinneuf is punking the 21st century.
I learned about a tiny painting I adore (Peter-Severin Kroyer's Copenhagen: Roofs under Snow, late 19th century) and one I could live without (Sleeping Beauty, by Marie Antoinette Victorie Petit-Jean). Marandel says he was offered the latter because he was in L.A. You know, Walt Disney, Sleeping Beauty?

He passed. But dealer/art consultant Etienne Breton later donated it. It is among the earliest depictions of the fairy tale. Marandel observes that "the princess meets her fate in the midst of an architectural fantasy that, to early twenty-first-century viewers, evokes more Kurt Schwitters's Merzbau than medieval castle."
Speaking of architecture, Marandel ends with—what else?—Z for Zumthor: "The stories I have told belong to yesterday and to the history of the museum. They have been written in the hope that they may help architect Peter Zumthor in understanding just a few aspects of the great collection for which he is designing a home."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Ellen Gallagher's Black Mirror

Ellen Gallagher is having her first one-artist show in Los Angeles at Hauser & Wirth. "Ellen Gallagher: Accidental Records" (through Jan. 28, 2018) centers on a series of 2017 paintings inspired by the slave trade and Melvillian metaphysics. Whale Falls (2017) adds googly eyes to morally compromised vessels.

Meanwhile the Broad is showing a much earlier (2001) painting, bling bling. Gallagher turns rubber, paper, and enamel into a black mirror of American materialism. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

"Cold War Spaces" at the Wende Museum

"Cold War Spaces" opens the Wende Museum's new home in the Culver City Armory. It's partly about the space race but mainly a sampling menu of the Wende's multifarious collection, slotted under free-associated headings such as public space, work space, and secret space.
And outer space. Sputnik became a pop culture phenomenon, as did the unfortunate dogs tapped to become the first cosmonauts. Laika (a Moscow stray who did not come back from her trip to the stars) achieved an afterlife in commemorative porcelain.
Belka and Strelka were the first space dogs to survive their mission. A porcelain rocket has the pair happily poking their heads out the windows. (By the way, you can see M.A. Peers' contemporary paintings of these and other space dogs at the nearby Museum of Jurassic Technology.)

After her 1960 mission, Strelka gave birth (all space dogs were female). Kruschev gifted one of the pups to Caroline Kennedy… whose dad launched the race to the moon.

The notion of a space race predates JFK. At top of the post is a Georgi Lukaschevich conceptual painting for the 1959 Soviet science-fiction film The Sky Calls. The plot envisions a Soviet-US race to Mars. Villainously incompetent Americans screw up and have to be rescued by their USSR rivals. Despite the tensions of the time, American B-movie maven Jack Harris managed to secure rights to the film. He hired Francis Ford Coppola, then a UCLA film student, to recut it for the U.S. market. Coppola's cut was released in 1962 as Battle Beyond the Sun. Coppola renamed the rival nations ("North Hemis" and "South Hemis") and used matting to erase the Cyrillic lettering and USSR signage.
Meanwhile the space dogs' success led to the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. After his 1961 mission Gagarin became a secular saint, represented by a larger-than-life bronze bust at the exhibition's entrance.

It's shown next to a poster created in 1970, the year after America's moon landing. Veniamin Markovich Briskin and Valentin Viktorov I Am Walking on the Moon! defuses the U.S. success through humor. A grinning Soviet robot smokes a cigarette on the moon.
The space age informed Soviet Bloc design of consumer products. Many of the objects on view invite comparison to mid-century California, another center of the aerospace industry.
"Border Spaces" resonates as America contemplates building its own wall. Berlin Wall guards were trained in extreme vetting. Testing materials required guards to decide whether paired images represented the same person. Like much of the collection, it is non-art that weirdly resembles contemporary art.
"Secret Spaces" includes this still-life of secret police tradecraft. Telephones were rare throughout the Cold War era, often limited to one rotary-dial landline per apartment building. It was relatively easy for agents to eavesdrop on the limited volume of phone calls. Today the volume of communications has grown exponentially, but algorithms do the eavesdropping, raising the question: Are we more surveilled than East Germans once were?
The Wende's painting collection is distinguished by its otherness. It mostly defies connections to the art history that Westerners consider significant. Many Socialist Realist paintings, such as In the Meadows (1967) by P.V. Alexeev and B.I. Kaloev, draw on French painting of the previous century. While French realism favored downtrodden workers, Socialist Realism turns the frowns upside-down. Happy workers clock in for a new workday of boundless quotas.
By the 1970s some artists found more ambiguity in utopia. Lothar Gericke's Cityscape with Love Couple (1978) has parallels in American Precisionism, George Tooker, and even Norman Rockwell.
Stanislav Molodykh's The Asylum (1982) is Goya-inspired gulag. Molodykh voluntarily checked in to a mental hospital for treatment of his alcoholism. There he found a motley group of political prisoners, who were perfectly sane, and others who were not. The faces are amazing, worthy of close inspection. Many pairs of eyes confront/implicate the viewer. The Asylum was recently donated by the Abby J. and Alan D. Levy Family.
P.S. Since last month's post the Wende has installed its open storage spaces. Below is a Stalin bust among depictions of the worker; toys; ceramics and glassware. 

The Wende's evolving sculpture garden now has walkways and seating. 
The Wende's new logo is handsomer than many a larger museum's.

Friday, December 1, 2017

King Tut, Minus Mask, Coming to L.A.

"Come experience these priceless treasures before they return to Egypt forever," says the California Science Center website. "Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition!"

They're speaking of the upcoming "King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh," to open in Exposition Park March 24, 2018. It won't include Tut's gilded death mask (top of post), considered too fragile to travel. Thus it's a little like a "Treasures of Mona Lisa" show that doesn't include that painting of her.

Mask or no mask, King Tut has been a cash cow for the Egyptian Antiquities Department. There have already been two Tut exhibits in this millennium, "Tutankaman and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" (nine cities, including L.A., 2004–2011); and "Tutankaman: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" (eight cities, 2008–2013). Neither included the mask.

"Once in a lifetime?" Eh. There has been a King Tut show touring somewhere, 8 of the 17 years of this century. From 2009 to 2011 there were two Tut shows simultaneously touring U.S. cities.

(Below, Tut's Wishing Cup in the Form of an Open Lotus, a work that will be in the CSC exhibition.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

More Hockney for 2018

Two David Hockney shows have just closed at the Getty, and a major retrospective has opened at the Met. Still another Hockney exhibition comes to Los Angeles next year. "82 Portraits and 1 Still-Life," a show of recent work organized by the Royal Academy, London, will appear at LACMA Apr. 1–July 29, 2018.

Shown, Hockney's John Baldessari, 13th, 16th December, 2013.