Monday, March 27, 2017

African-Print Fashion at the Fowler

In 2014 the UCLA Fowler Museum did a small show of printed cloths from Ghana. The museum has just opened a much larger exhibition, "African-Print Fashion Now!: A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style," exploring how print textiles are used in clothing at all price and taste points.
The printed cloths of African markets are known generically as "Dutch wax." It's a wax-printing process, pioneered by Dutch textile firms. Today such prints and their successors are considered quintessentially African, though many are made in China, from Dutch designs, drawing on American pop culture. Below is Obama's Key to Success, a paean to consumption that Americans would read as more Trump than Obama.
Those who think fashion shows dull will find that the colors, patterns, and sculptural qualities put this exhibition in a class of its own. Shown are Nigerian women's outfits by an unknown designer/seamstress of Lagos and Regina Chinwe Uchechukwu of Onitsha (2016); a black-tie ensemble by Walé Oyéjidé, for the Philadelphia-based Ikiré Jones label. 
Also on view is a selection of vintage African studio photography, which celebrates print fashions in black and white, and a collage-painting by Njideka Akunyili Crosby, whose explorations of African hybridity are especially relevant.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spaghetti Sculpture's Post-L.A. Gig Is a Castle on the Hudson

Jesús Raphael Soto's Penetrable, a.k.a. the "Spaghetti Sculpture," was long LACMA's most kid-friendly work. It was a temporary loan from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros' collection of Latin American abstraction. The Soto has recently gone off view and will next be lent to Olana, the house-museum of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church. The Penetrable will be shown outside in the midst of Olana's spectacular Hudson River views. 
Olana State Historical Site. Photo by Netniks, CC BY-SA 4.0
It will be part of “OVERLOOK: Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana, running May 14 through Nov. 5, 2017. Fernández will install Hudson River School works against Latin modernism from the Cisneros collection. Church often looked to the grandeur of South American landscape. His South American works include Heart of the Andes at the Met and Chimborazo at the Huntington
Bell Tower at Olana. Photo by Andy Wainwright

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Twittering Machine

A colony of birds has adopted Nancy Rubins' "Airplane Parts" sculpture as a roost. The chirping on MOCA Grand Avenue's plaza is loud enough to add an acoustic element to the sculpture, causing visitors to look upward and pull out cameras. Public sculpture is the art of unintended consequences.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Huntington Buys Lee Mullican's "Peyote Candle"

The Huntington has acquired a much-exhibited Lee Mullican, Peyote Candle (1951). Mullican was inspired by the peyote rituals of the Native American Church, which uses the psychedelic cactus to produce hallucinations and synesthesia. Acquired via funds from the Estate of Kendrick Schlatter and the Virginia Steele Scott Acquisition Fund, Peyote Candle joins recently added paintings by West Coast modernists Henrietta Shore and Agnes Pelton.
The Scott Galleries have also taken a leap into our century and decade with an untitled 2013 acrylic painting by David Rhodes. It's a gift of the Alex Katz Foundation. Rhodes is a British-born New Yorker, also known for his art criticism in The Brooklyn Rail.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Did Moholy-Nagy Phone In These Paintings?

László Moholy-Nagy was a pioneer of multi-media art. He's often credited as a conceptualist too, largely on the strength of the so-called Telephone Paintings of 1922. Three (out of five), each titled Construction in Enamel, are in the retrospective at LACMA, "Moholy-Nagy: Future Present."
As Moholy told it in 1944,

"In 1922 I ordered by telephone from a sign factory five paintings in porcelain enamel. I had the factory's color chart before me and I sketched my paintings on graph paper. At the other end of the telephone, the factory supervisor had the same kind of paper divided in to squares. He took down the dictated shapes in the correct position. (It was like playing chess by correspondence.)"

This was long before Donald Judd and Sol LeWitt's plans for art to be executed by someone else. It's also long before the L.A. brand of not-so-minimal conceptualism. But Moholy's tale has been contested. In a 1972 book the artist's first wife, Lucia, said that László went to the sign factory in person to place the order. He told Lucia, "I even could have done it by telephone."
Early abstractionists have been accused of backdating non-objective works in order to stake a claim for art-historic priority. But Moholy couldn't have wanted to forge conceptualist credentials in the 1940s. Conceptualism wasn't a thing. My guess is that Moholy embellished the truth for the sake of good story. Not in dispute is that Moholy hired a commercial sign painter to create works from his instructions, which he then displayed as "art." That was insane for the time, and it's one reason that Moholy resonates today.
The telephone paintings invite comparison to Pasadena Museum curator Walter Hopps' account of Ed Ruscha's poster for "New Painting of Common Objects." Hopps wrote,

"Edward Rusha designed the poster by calling up a commercial printer who made posters for concerts and boxing matches. Ruscha dictated all the copy over the phone, and his only directions on the type and style were to 'make it loud!'"
The telephone paintings also resonate with the conceptualism of John Baldessari's commissioned paintings (shown, Baldessari's Commissioned Painting: A Painting by Edgar Transue, 1969) and Martin Kippenberger's billboards commissioned from commercial painters.
Somewhere after Kippenberger, digital technology replaced sign painters. The commercial was no longer conceptual. It was just cost-effective. Today artists routinely use digital sign makers to produce work on a big scale. MOCA Grand Avenue is currently sheathed in a commercially produced vinyl reproduction of a Jonas Wood painting, Still Life With Two Owls. Wood did a billboard for New York's High Line, and Henry Taylor is doing another.
Moholy-Nagy's telephone paintings also anticipate the Internet painting mills that will copy any painting, at any size. The Chinese factory knocks off Moholy-Nagy telephone paintings in seven sizes, more that Moholy-Nagy offered.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Budget Threatens Loan Exhibitions

Donald Trump's budget would cut one of the most cost-effective government programs: The Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program. It's administered by the National Endowment for the Arts and would presumably go away if the that agency does. The Indemnity Program offers liability insurance for American museums organizing loan exhibitions. It applies to artifacts from overseas (the program basically started with King Tut in the 1970s) but also to artworks lent by American Museums (Grant Wood's American Gothic was covered when lent by the Chicago Art Institute to the Des Moines Art Center).
The possible loss of the Indemnity Program isn't getting much attention, and there are valid political reasons for that. We're a populist nation with a would-be populist President. It's easier to talk about Sesame Street and art classes for rural seniors than it is about loans of art and the scholarly catalogs accompanying them. But as a blog about the experience of visiting museums, it's worth pointing out how important the little-known Indemnity Program is.
In recent years artworks have become fantastically expensive. This applies not just to "priceless" antiquities but to the work of many living American artists. Museums need to insure against loss in order secure loans, and private insurance companies charge sky-high premiums. Just as it's hard for museums to raise money to pay the light bill, it's hard to convince philanthropists to pay for an insurance premium.
That's where the Indemnity Program comes in. It provides an indemnity for possible losses, backed by the faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. The Indemnity can be large, up to $1.8 billion for a single exhibition. (Many shows now brush up against that limit.) It's not a rubber stamp. The indemnity Program vets each artwork by its importance, condition, and the security protocols. Works that aren't judged worth the risk are rejected.
It's estimated that Indemnity Program loans save museums $300 million in private insurance premiums a year (assuming the museums were able to pay that, which they aren't). In the 40 years the program has been in effect, there have only been three losses. Two minor paintings were stolen en route to a lender in Israel, and a Jean Arp sculpture was damaged and had to be restored. The total cost was $104,700.
What about the free market? If the losses have been that small, why don't private insurers lower their rates? A big part of the answer is that private insurers have to limit their exposure. They prefer to take lots of little risks rather than a few big (or correlated) ones. Chubb, which insures some of the art at TEFAF Maastricht, was sold for $28 billion in 2015. But only a tiny slice of that is the art insurance operation. Chubb's art division would be in no position to risk a billion-dollar claim. They might be willing to insure one van Gogh loan a year, for 40 years… but not an exhibition that places 40 van Goghs together at once, potentially subject to the same set of risks.
In short, there are some things government is better able to do than private firms are. Insuring museum exhibitions is one of them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Photo by @musekooo
Anyone who's visited the Broad knows how tough it is to score a few seconds inside Yayoi Kusama's infinity mirrored room. How in the world are they going to show six infinity rooms?
The six rooms are in "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors," now at the Hirshhorn and coming to the Broad in October 2017. See reports on the show's crowd control in the Washington Post and New York Times; photos tagged #InfiniteKusama.
During this week's blizzard, the Hirshhorn discontinued walk-up passes, lest people in line die of exposure.
From the Times:

“Keep it moving,” guards yelled as visitors lingering in front of Ms. Kusama’s canvases of hypnotic nets and dots.
Visitors who had stood for hours in lines looping around the building discovered more of the same inside.
Some scrolled through their phones. A cry of outrage came from one woman in line, snugged against a wall with diminished cellphone service. “I can’t even get on Instagram,” she wailed.…
Ms. Donnally, 61, and her husband, from Washington, were turned away from the show on their first try. On their second attempt, they arrived more than an hour before the museum opened at 10 a.m. They did not get all the way through “Infinity Mirrors” until 4 p.m.
“I hadn’t realized it would take all day,” Ms. Donnally said.