Monday, August 21, 2017

California's First Great Woman Artist

"Why have there been no great women artists?" asked Linda Nochlin in 1971. Her essay invoked Rosa Bonheur, the 19th-century French painter who dressed in male drag to compete in a man's man's man's art world. Bonheur has a 20th-century counterpart in E. Charlton Fortune, subject of a retrospective that has just opened at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. (Shown, Fortune's 1921 Edinburgh Castle.)

Born in Marin County in 1885, Fortune found fame as a woman artist who painted like a man, dressed like a man, and was often assumed by critics to be a man. The E. stood for Euphemia.

PMCA's "E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit" traces her career, starting with studies in San Francisco and New York (under Arthur Frank Matthews and William Merritt Chase, respectively). Fortune did the Paris bit, soaking up Monet, Cezanne, and Picasso. She sojourned in the art colonies of Woodstock, St. Ives, and Monterey (where she lived from 1927 on). Monterey was also the home of Henrietta Shore, the Canadian-born modernist who is better known today. Almost certainly a lesbian, Fortune was known for her corduroy suits and affection for a pupil, Ethel McAllister.

By about 1920, Fortune's bold brushwork and subtle cubist influences had elevated her to an advanced circle of American painters. Fortune's most challenging works are often small oil sketches signed to indicate they're finished. Below is Scavengers, St. Ives, 1922. The modern British seacoast is Bodega Bay. The birds are pecking out Monet's eye—but what an eye!
The Depression that ruined many an American fortune ruined Fortune's. Her broad-brush empiricism was thereafter considered dated, lacking the social relevance of the American Scene. She turned to religious painting for churches. In this too she was successful, but the church paintings undercut what remained of her avant-garde reputation. Fortune got a medal from the Pope in 1955 and died forgotten in Carmel, in 1969.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rauschenberg's "Mud Muse"

The most Instagrammed work in the Museum of Modern Art's current Robert Rauschenberg show must be Mud Muse (1968-71), created as part of LACMA's (original) Art and Technology Program. Rauschenberg collaborated with a team of engineers from Teledyne, the aerospace firm that also produced the Water-Pik. Mud Muse is a sound-activated vat of gurgling mud. Responding to tape-recorded sound, a refrigerator-size electronic brain triggers a pneumatic device to pump air up through synthetic mud, producing a medley of glops and splattering those who stand too close.

Today Mud Muse must be read in the scatological spirit of Paul McCarthy. But in the late 1960s it was understood to be about love. Critic David Antin described it as an "interactive work of art conceived as the perfectly responsive lover." Rauschenberg said he hoped viewers would "get involved with Mud Muse on a really physical, basic, sensual level." They did. At the first viewing visitors couldn't resist touching the mud, playing with it, and making a big mess. Thereafter it was closely monitored by a guard.

MoMA, which tends to think that all art produced in L.A. has to do with cars and surfboards, discerns a different inspiration here.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Fall Preview 2017

Ken Gonzales-Day's Danny (2016) is the best photograph of a painting of Danny Trejo you'll see in any Jewish museum this fall. Its presentation at the Skirball Center is part of the multifarious, Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA (website here). Larger exhibitions will span ancient gold, Spanish colonial painting, Latin-American modernism, and numerous phases of contemporary art, Latino and Angeleno. Outside the PST umbrella are shows ranging from Giovanni Bellini to Yayoi Kusama.

("Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark-Making in LA" runs at the Skirball Oct. 6, 2017–Feb. 25, 2018. The Danny Trejo mural, at Van Nuys Blvd. and Telfair Ave, Pacoima, is by Levi Ponce.)
Institute of Contemporary Art LA
Start with the new kid on the block. The Santa Monica Museum of Art has reinvented itself in DTLA as the Institute of Contemporary Art LA. It will open with 12,700 square feet of wHY/Kulapat Yantrasast-reconfigured exhibition space and a Mark Bradford-designed logo.
The marquee exhibition is "Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation" (Sep. 9–Dec. 31, 2017). The ambient culture has tagged Ramírez as immigrant, insane, outsider, and genius. He spent his art career at the Army's DeWitt General Hospital, Auburn, Calif., diagnosed as schizophrenic and working with scrap paper, matchsticks, crayons, and mashed potatoes. The ICA exhibition will show a unique 18-foot scroll. Above is Parade Horn and Rider with Bugle and a Flag.
Francisco Artigas and Fernando Luna, Residence in El Pedregal de San Angel , Mexico City, 1966. Photograph © Fernando Luna. 
Two big PST shows are already up: "Home—So Different, So Appealing" (through Oct. 15, 2017) and "Playing with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz" (through Dec. 3, 2017). Coming soon is "A Universal History of Infamy" (Aug. 20, 2017–Feb. 19, 2018). The title is from Borges; the theme is Latin American art, in any medium, that subverts the concept of Latin American art. This is the show that will include the crowd-funded journey-performance of a replica of Guatemala's NuMu ("the egg museum").

Many Americans don't even know that Mexican mid-century modern was a thing. "Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985" (Sep. 17, 2017–Apr. 1, 2018) ought to change that. Exploring the connections between West Coast and Mexican modernists, it should draw on the popularity of LACMA's 2011 "California Design, 1930-1965."

Spanish Colonial painting has only lately entered the vocabulary of North America's encyclopedic museums. LACMA, and curator Ilona Katzew, have played a significant role in that. This fall's "Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexico" (Nov. 19, 2017–Mar. 18, 2018) promises over a hundred works, many never published or shown off-site before.
Numerous works have been restored for the show. Here is a pre-restoration view of a cathedral painting by Nicolás Enríquez. It's a weird hybrid of the Catholic baroque, Rococo frivolity, and the Protestant minimalism of Saenredam. The disturbingly beige floor contained figures that had been painted out. They have been uncovered by conservators and will make their debut in "Painted in Mexico."
"Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld" (Aug. 20, 2017–Feb. 4, 2018), surveys the nuanced Pictures Generation artist who explored themes of doubling and the uncanny. (Shown, Figures, 1983.)

LACMA will roll out its two world-class Persian carpets, rarely shown. The Ardabil Carpet (small detail below) runs Sep. 17, 2017–Feb. 18, 2018. It will be followed by the Coronation Carpet, Feb. 25, 2018–Sep. 8, 2018. Both are Safavid from the early 16th century, an abstract Renaissance contemporary with Europe's.

Getty Center
"Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas" is among the Getty's most ambitious loan exhibitions outside of its European comfort zone. With 300 objects, from 1000 BC to Columbus, from Mexico to Peru, it draws heavily on new archeological finds. Above is a Moche (Peru) Octopus Frontal dated 300–600 AD. It is gold with inlays of chrysocolla (a turquoise-like stone) and shell. "Golden Kingdoms" rethinks bling. What we call semi-precious stones, of the Jewelry Channel sort, were once valued more than gold or platinum; as were certain seashells and feathers. (Sep. 16, 2017–Jan. 28, 2018.)
Willys de Castro’s Objeto ativo (cubo vermelho/branco), Active object (red/white cube), 1962. The Museum of Modern Art. Promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Tomás Orinoco Griffin-Cisneros
"Making Art Concrete: Works from Argentina and Brazil in the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros" features geometric abstraction from that esteemed collection without borders. It was de Cisneros who lent the "Spaghetti sculpture" to LACMA.
As far as I can tell, the most significant Old Master exhibition on any American museum's fall schedule is "Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice" (Oct. 10, 2017, to Jan 14, 2018). The Getty does not have any Bellini paintings, but curator Davide Gasparatto has pulled together loans such as the London St. Jerome Reading in a Landscape, early 1480s.
"Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960-1985" is another biggie: 260 works by a hundred-plus artists from 15 nations. The Hammer describes it as "the first genealogy of feminist and radical art practices in Latin America and their influence internationally." Shown is Teresinha Soares' Lovemaking Box, 1967. (Sep. 15, 2017–Dec. 31, 2017.)

"Axé Bahia: The Power of Art in an Afro-Brazilian Metropolis" might be a sleeper. It's a survey of the fascinatingly hybrid art scene of Salvador, Brazil, since the 1940s a melting pot of African and global influences. For most Americans it will be terra incognito. (Sep. 24, 2017–Apr. 15, 2018.)
No mirror-room selfies for you, unless you log on to the Broad site promptly at noon Sep. 1 for tickets to "Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors." That'll be $25, thank you much. (Oct. 21, 2017–Jan. 1, 2018.)
Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas, who did this year's Met Roof Garden installation, will occupy the Geffen Oct. 22, 2017–Feb. 26, 2018. The MOCA site has a long description that doesn't say much about what to expect. Villar Rojas will create "dramatic architectural and aesthetic shifts" drawing on "technologies used in Hollywood special effects" and recycling "petrified wood from Turin, stratified columns from Sharjah, and silicone molds from Istanbul.” The Geffen installation with be called "The Theater of Disappearance," a title the artist has given to other installations and to a film trilogy that will be screened at MOCA. Shown is a "Theater of Disappearance" in Bregenz, Austria. Expect something completely different.
José María Velasco, Valle de México (The Valley of Mexico), 1877. Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City. 
"Visual Voyages: Images of Latin-American Nature from Columbus to Darwin" encompasses the Huntington's mix of art, nature, history, and science. It will include The Valley of Mexico by José María Velasco, a revered landscape painter who was contemporary with the Hudson River School. The exhibition will present the Velasco alongside Frederick Church's Chimborazo. Think Wu-Tang vs. the Beatles (Sep. 16, 2017–Jan. 8. 2018).

The Scott Galleries will ofter another American dichotomy: hard-edged Frederick Hammersley and biomorphic Louis Comfort Tiffany. "Tiffany Favrile Glass: Masterworks from the Collection of Stanley and Dolores Sirott" runs Oct. 7, 2017–Feb. 26, 2018.
Tiffany Studios, Cypriote Vase and Flowerform Vase. Collection of Stanley and Dolores Sirott. © David Schlegel, courtesy of Paul Doros. Image courtesy of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Gene Autry's  cowboy museum has discovered Indians, and this fall it discovers Chicanos. "La Raza" features the photojournalism of the bilingual newspaper of the 60s and 70s. "Harry Gamboa Jr.: Chicano Male Unbonded" catches up on the artist's ongoing series of nighttime portraits of creative Latino dudes. (Shown, Geraldo Velázquez, Synthesized Music Composer.) Both shows run Sep. 16, 2017–Feb. 10, 2018.

Pomona College Museum of Art
Pomona College's claim to art-history fame is José Clemente Orozco's Prometheus (1930). It was the first mural by one of Los Tres Grandes in the U.S., predating Diego Rivera in Detroit and Rockefeller Center. Pomona's "Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco" has Asa Carrillo, Adela Goldbard, Rita Ponce de León, and Naomi Rincón-Gallardo doing related installations (Aug. 29–Dec. 16, 2017).

Long Beach Museum of Art
Though not a PST show, "Rafael Soriano: The Artist as Mystic" will end in cross-border detente. The Cuban abstractionist fled the Castro regime and spent most of his career in Miami. The multi-city tour, now at the Long Beach Museum of Art through Oct. 1, will end up in Havana for the first Cuban showing of Soriano's mature achievement. Shown, The Night, 1970.
UPDATE. Just announced is that the Marciano Art Foundation will participate in LA/LA with an installation of the collection's works from Latin America. The interesting news here is that the Marciano has enough Latin American art to do a show. The Broad, I'm pretty sure, doesn't.

This installation, on the Marciano's third floor, is to run Oct. 19, 2017–Jan. 20, 2018. Below is Jose Dávila's Esfuerzo común (Common Effort), 2014.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Lucas Could Upstage Academy Museum

Writing in Mashable, Josh Dickey offers an interesting theory: that the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures could open about the same time at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. That's an outcome that neither presumably would want, as it would deprive each of their moment in the undivided spotlight.

As things stand now, the Academy Museum is slated to open in 2019 and the Lucas in 2021. But big museum construction projects never open on time. The Academy Museum's opening has already been pushed up from 2017. The odds are the Lucas timeline will slip too.

Dickey's premise is that the Academy Museum is facing stiffer headwinds than the Lucas is. The Lucas has a single client to please, and he's putting up all the money. The Academy must placate many stakeholders, most of them egotistical. Fund-raising has stalled while the budget has increased from $250 million to $400 million. This past April Variety quoted an unnamed "Academy insider": "We are really concerned right now that we won’t have enough money. This could be a catastrophic situation."

So it's not inconceivable that the Academy Museum could lose most or all of its two-year lead on the Lucas. The worst-case scenario for the Academy Museum might be to open just after the Lucas. "Movie museum? Another one?"

(At top, a bit of narrative art from the Lucas collection: John Phillip Falter's Sunday Gardening, 1961.)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Gods and Gold at the Getty Villa

Several new loans have gone on view at the Getty Villa, now in the midst of reinstalling its collection. One is an extraordinary gray marble Mithras Sacrificing a Bull (Roman, late 2nd century AD) from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Mithras, the Persian sun god, inspired a mystery cult in Rome. Adherents underwent a series of theatrical initiations (not unlike the Freemasons). The subject, known in about 700 surviving examples, shows Mithras stabbing a bull as a dog and snake lap its blood and a scorpion stings its testicles. Though the god's head is missing, this is one of the best-preserved and most artistically accomplished of its type.
A Belgian collection has lent a bronze Head of a Youthful Bacchus, Roman and dated 100 BC to 100 AD. Dionysus/Bacchus had his own cult. The early Greeks envisioned a bearded elder. From Hellenistic times onward he was conceived as young and gender-neutral.
Two Greek gold pieces, 2nd century BC, are anonymous loans. One is  a satyr's head, made as a bracelet terminal. The other is an emerald mounted in a granulated gold ring.

Mithras Sacrificing is in a second-floor hallway newly installed with 2nd century Roman philosopher-types—the first phase of the museum-wide chronological installation set to debut next year. Speaking of loans, the Art Newspaper reported that the first installation of the planned Ancient Cultures in Context room will feature Palmyra, with objects from Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Frederick Hammersley and the Computer

An upcoming Huntington show will touch on Frederick Hammersley's role as pioneer and prophet of digital art. After moving to New Mexico, Hammersley produced a group of 70-some "computer drawings" with Art1, one of the first software applications for artists. It ran on an IBM mainframe, with the artist supplying instructions on punch cards. As Hammersley told Lawrence Weschler,

"I would write out what I wanted to be done, and then I would go to the computer center and look at the information and then type it out, resulting in the punched cards. I’d give it to the little man behind the door, and five minutes later, I’d get this drawing back. I’d sit down and make a change and give it to him…. It was like eating peanuts. I mean, one thing would lead to another, and you just kept on chewing."

The computer drawings are ASCII art, as we'd call it now. Ironically they seem less hard-edged than Hammersley's hand-made paintings.  The painter achieved shimmering, trippy effects from a meager palette of periods, apostrophes, dashes, underscores, and O's.
Frederick Hammersley, JELLY CENTERS, #31, 1969, from one incomplete set of the series of 72, computer-generated drawing on paper, 11 x 15 in. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, gift of the Frederick Hammersley Foundation. © Frederick Hammersley Foundation
Did his experiment with computers affect his better-known output? There should be cause to ponder that as "Frederick Hammersley: To Paint Without Thinking" (Oct. 21, 2017– Jan. 22, 2018) will include paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, lithographs, and color swatches. The show will have a catalog.
Frederick Hammersley, Like unlike, #6, 1959, oil on linen, 49 × 40 in. Private collection. © Frederick Hammersley Foundation

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Art Riddle Answer

Answer to yesterday's question: Claire Falkenstein.

The sculpture, owned by and on view at the New York Guggenheim, is Set Structure with Cylinders (1944), made of poplar with stain and pigmented lacquer. Last year's Pasadena Museum of California Art retrospective presented Falkenstein as a multifarious artist, but I don't recall seeing anything like this.

Solomon R. Guggenheim's art advisor Hilla Rebay judged Falkenstein a "very gifted sculptress." Peggy Guggenheim commissioned the artist to produce the doors for her Venice (Italy) house-museum.