Monday, November 20, 2017

Getty Adds Roman Relief

The Getty Museum has acquired a Roman Relief with Theatrical Masks. Formerly owned by French novelist and playwright Henry de Montherlant, it was auctioned for 629,000 Euros, ten times the estimate, on Nov. 7. The auction house (Artcurial, Paris) dated it 2nd-3rd Century AD. The Getty now identifies it as a first-century work, of a type used in the decoration of Pompeian gardens. It will be displayed in the Getty Villa's newly installed room devoted to "The Roman Villa."

Just over a foot wide, the marble sculpture shows two actors wearing masks. The opposite, low-relief side depicts a Silenus.
Similar reliefs were displayed outside in gardens, supported by carved pilasters. Below is an example at Pompeii's House of the Golden Cupids (Stanley A. Jashemski photo, 1968). 
Such works must have demonstrated their owners' appreciation for the deceptions of art and life. Epicurus wrote: "We are all play-acting to each other and need no larger theater."

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

UC Irvine Lands Buck Collection of California Modernism

UC Irvine has announced it will be home to the 3200-piece collection of California modernism assembled by Newport Beach real estate developer Gerald Buck. Buck died in 2013, leaving the fate of his collection a mystery. At top is Roger Kuntz' Santa Ana Arrows.

The Orange County Register reports that Buck had intended to donate the collection to the Huntington. Then art historian Johnathan Fineberg talked him out of it. "I think you'll be making a mistake giving this to the Huntington Library," Fineberg says he told Buck. "The five most famous will end in a gallery and the rest will end up in a basement."

I wouldn't take that literally. The Buck collection has scores of quintessential works by big names of California art: Agnes Pelton, Henrietta Shore, Oskar Fischinger, Knud Merrild, Helen Lundeberg, Lorser Feitelsen, Ruth Asawa, Richard Diebenkorn, Sam Francis, Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, Joan Brown, David Park, Robert Irwin, Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, Wayne Thiebaud, Carlos Almaraz, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari. Though few have seen the collection as a whole, the Buck Collection credit is familiar to anyone who reads exhibition labels.
Maurice Braun, Springtime. The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
Just last year it was announced that Joan Irvine's 1200-work collection of California Impressionism was coming to UCI, contingent on construction of a new museum. At the time I was skeptical of how they'd get a "world-class museum" from California Impressionism alone. The good news is that they're not building two museums. The Irvine and the Buck collections will be housed in the same building, to be called the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art. They ought to fit seamlessly. Irvine bought some of her plein air paintings from Buck, after he decided to concentrate on modernism. Together the collections will span California art from about 1890 to nearly the present.
Lorser Feitelsen, Magical Space Forms. The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
Helen Lundeberg, Self-Portrait. The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
Richard Diebenkorn, Albuquerque. The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
Carlos Almaraz, Car Crash (Wipe-Out on Pacific Coast Highway). The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
Peter Alexander, Thrasher. The Buck Collection at the UCI Museum and Institute for California Art.
See also: A Modest Proposal: Move Pereira LACMA to Irvine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Christie's Rips Off Bill Viola for "Spooky Jesus"

Christie's has released a promotional video for the Leonardo Salvator Mundi (a.k.a. "Spooky Jesus") that rips off Bill Viola's slow-motion video works such as Quintet of the Astonished, 2000. Ad agency Droga5 produced the video.

The titles for the Christie's video look like someone used iMovie to copy those in The Da Vinci CodeA Christie's spokesman called that "entirely coincidental."
On the evidence of the video, then, Christie's believes that whoever will pay $100+ million for this painting may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. It's said the face of Christ is largely restoration, a feature shared with another beloved Renaissance painting.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Wende Museum Preview

The Wende Museum of the Cold War opens Nov. 19 in its new home, Culver City's Armory. The inaugural shows are being installed even as the last phase of construction clean-up continues.

The building. Culver City's National Guard Armory opened in 1949. It was later used as a homeless shelter. The Wende acquired the structure in 2012. Paravant Architects has transformed the space into an exhibition hall, offices, and collection storage. The new building more than doubles the exhibition space at the Wende's previous site, in a Culver City industrial park.

The entrance leads to a lobby and museum shop. The shop will be glad to take your money, but admission is free.
The main hall is a big rectangle. Two-dimensional works are hung on low-tech plywood partitions, the wood adding a lukewarm accent to the Cold War gray walls. Paravant has added tubular skylights and clerestory windows. At the far end there is a projection screen for showing films and a window looking out into the garden.

The collection. Founder Justinian Jampol began collecting East German material in the mid 1990s. The Wende collection, now 100,000 objects and archives from East Germany, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and other Eastern Bloc states from the late 1940s to about 1990, is the largest of its kind in the world. Eastern Europe views this period with ambivalence, and many of the objects here were on the verge of being discarded. George Orwell's memory hole has become Culver City.

Exhibitions. Opening exhibitions are "Cold War Spaces" (main exhibition gallery); "The Russians" (photographs by Nathan Farb); and "Vessel of Change" (installation by Bill Ferehawk). Wende curator Joes Segal plans an ambitious exhibition program, and has scheduled shows through 2019. They span "Socialist Flower Power: Soviet Hippie Culture" to ballet, TV, and psychological warfare. All the main spaces will be devoted to changing exhibitions.
Open storage. On either side of the main exhibition hall are high, narrow corridors for open storage of the collection. On the outer side are bookshelves; on the inner is glass-enclosed storage of objects such as Lenin busts or secret police gear. The building will show/store about half the growing collection, with the rest stored offsite.
A Millennial museum. Jampol, above, was 24 when he founded his museum. J. Paul Getty was 62, Norton Simon was 67, Henry Huntington was 69, and Eli Broad was 77. Unlike the latter, Jampol did not put his name on the building. "Wende" is a German word for "turning point" that has has been applied to the time around the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). It's pronounced WEN-da.
Duck and cover. The building contains two Cold War bomb shelters, repurposed for collection storage. One contains the original air filter for screening out deadly isotopes and an intercom for post-apocalyptic communication.
Sculpture garden. Publisher Benedikt Taschen donated the mature palm trees. They evoke a mid-century suburbatopia, though the plantings will be mostly xerophytic. When fully installed, the garden will be a gesamtkunstwerk incorporating sections of the Berlin Wall, an air raid siren, and a secret police guard house. Stop and smell the totalitarianism. Ian Hamilton Finlay would have approved.
The Wende Museum is at 10808 Culver Blvd., Culver City. Starting Sunday Nov. 19, it will be open three days a week, Friday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM, extended to 9 PM on Fridays.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Anti-Gent Protestors Crash Laura Owens' Whitney Debut

Anti-gentrification activists from Boyle Heights protested the opening of Laura Owens' show at the Whitney Museum, New York. They are demanding that Owens leave her studio and gallery space, 356 Mission, out of concern that artists such as Owens raise rents in the working class neighborhood. Hyperallergenic has an interview with a protestor. (At top, ubiquitous Boyle Heights activist Angel Luna.)

The New Yorker's recent profile of Owens offers this context:

[Owens] wrote to me, “I have conducted myself and lived my life as an engaged citizen in my city and my various communities,” and she has empathy for victims of displacements that are “tragic and very real.” Last spring, she sought and got a meeting to discuss the situation with members of the activist group, who proved unbending. “Their single and inflexible demand is that we hand over the keys of the space to them and end 356. It is also very important to them that I ‘leave graciously’ by signing a document saying I agree with all their ideas and I have learned from them.” Subsequently: “All of the staff and our friends have talked this over, asked community members, done research and do not believe we have found any evidence this will result in the reversal of gentrification.” It’s a fact of experience that the appearance of artists and galleries in low-income areas reliably portends rising real-estate values, with dire consequences for many residents. What’s rare in the case of 356, which owns no property and has no monetary investment in Boyle Heights, is the sensitivity of its leader, on the horns of an irremediable dilemma. An adage about the inevitable fate of good deeds springs to mind.

Below, a 2015 painting from the Whitney show, made from printing plates Owens found in her studio, a former printing plant.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Richard Prince at LACMA

Another late addition to a busy exhibition eason is "Richard Prince: Untitled (Cowboy)," opening at LACMA Dec. 3. That means the museum will be featuring two Pictures Generation artists concurrently. "Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld" continues through Feb. 4, 2018.

Shown, Prince's Untitled (Cowboy).

Monday, November 6, 2017

Malibu Rethinks Rome

The Getty Villa is replacing its thematic, "lions and bears" installation with a more chronological one. It is now about halfway through the changeover, set to be completed in early 2018. The upper floor, showing Roman art, has been fully reinstalled. A new first floor gallery of Neolithic and Bronze Age Greek art is also open.

Themes v. Chronology. When the Getty Villa reopened in 2006, rooms were organized around populist themes like wine, women, and monsters. This was (take your pick) "accessible" or "dumbed down."

Antiquities curator Jeffrey Spier's new Roman rooms are both an improvement and not all that different in general effect. Though more chronological, they too are built around easy-to-understand themes—a "Roman Treasury," "Collecting Antiquities," the "Roman Villa," etc. The large rooms that were "Men in Antiquity" and "Women and Children" are now co-ed. One is labeled "Early Roman Sculpture" (installation view at top), and the other is "Later Roman Sculpture."

The former installation had rooms on Cycladic sculpture, Greek and Roman Glass, and Roman Egypt. The new install has very similar rooms, edited, and some have been moved around.
Miss the lions and bears? A small room has a bear and two elephants. That should satisfy anyone's desire for a Roman zoo. As to the lions, you just have to hunt for them.

Pantone 2018. The bear-and-elephants room is painted a ripe cranberry. Overall, the wall color choices will please any hipster home flipper.
The Villa of Numerius Popidius Florus. The Getty has put on view fresco wall paintings from the Villa of Numerius Popidius Florus in Boscoreale, the hard-working Oxnard to glittery Pompeii's Malibu. (Vesuvius made no social distinctions and buried both in red-hot ash.) Florus was a gentleman farmer who could afford to decorate his home in the fashionable Third and Fourth Styles of wall painting. The Getty paintings are well-documented and come from two known rooms in Florus' villa. Long in storage, they are now shown with candelabra and other objects recovered from the same site.
Roman Treasury. A small room of gold, silver, and gems incorporates loans from other collections. Among them are sets of Roman coins and medallions, the mini-portraits that inspired Pisanello. Touch screens convey information about each famous (or notorious) overlord.

A Lady and a Prince. On view for the first time is a "new" statue of a Roman aristocrat, assembled from a head the Getty bought in 2016 and matched to a headless figure long in the collection (at right above). The woman has not been identified but must have been of considerable status. She's shown next to the Getty's statue of Faustina the Elder, wife of Emperor Antonius Pius (left). The unidentified portrait is more compelling, raising the question: Who was she?
And who was he, the third-century Imperial Prince? It's a Roman "Getty Bronze," acquired in J. Paul Getty's time but not shown in recent decades. 
Collecting Antiquities. Anchored by the statue of a Satyr Pouring Wine, from the Chigi collection, this room shows works from historically famous collections. The collectors range from Lorenzo de Medici to Lord Elgin. Most jaw-dropping is Adolf Hitler, who acquired a bronze statuette, now identified as Luna, for his planned museum in Linz, Austria. It was restituted to the Netherlands and passed through several collections, including the Fleischmans', before being acquired by the Getty in 1996.

Late Antiquity. Chronologically the new installation ends with a small but powerful gallery on "Late Antiquity." It shows loans of early Byzantine art from the James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell collection. A sixth-century Byzantine Head of an Emperor, perhaps Justinian, has a stare unlike any work in the collection.