Thursday, April 20, 2017

Autry Plans 9-Day Show for Southwest Museum

Mount Washington residents have been clamoring for the Autry to bring more programming to the Southwest Museum. The latest development is "For the Love of the Arroyo," an exhibition of landscapes by local artists running May 21 to June 18. The Southwest will be open Saturdays and Sundays during the show's short run. (It's four weeks but really only 9 days.)
It's unusual for a museum to go to the trouble of organizing an exhibition, only to have it up such a limited time. It sounds like the Autry is more interested in proving it did a community-friendly show than in having very many people see it.
Shown is The Devil's Gate by Michael Egede-Nissen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Könitz Invents World's Most Counterintuitive Chair

Museum seating has become a thing. Roy McMakin's chairs were singled out for praise in reviews of LACMA's John McLaughlin retrospective. The Heatherwick Studio's Spun Chairs have become the Hammer Museum's most family-friendly offering. Downtown L.A.'s Beta Main is due to get its own trademark seating. Alice Könitz has designed two chairs that debut May 7. Shown is a prototype Circle Chair (2017). It's something in the spirit of the Eames' House of Cards, but you can sit on it (if you can figure out how). The museum praises "the intimate environments they create both for looking and conversation, as well as their sculptural beauty."

Also opening at Beta Main May 7 and running through July 23, 2017, is "Star Montana: I Dream of Los Angeles."

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Elephant in MOCA's Room

MOCA Geffen's "Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1959-2010" is spectacular. But its brilliance is overshadowed by a widespread conviction that Andre killed his wife, Ana Mendieta, in the early hours of Sep. 8, 1985. Andre was acquitted of second-degree murder. It is the art world's O.J. Simpson case, and more than that. Mendieta was herself a major artist, and interest in her achievement grows three decades after her early death, at age 36.
Organized for the Dia Art Foundation by Philippe Vergne and Yasmil Raymond, "Carl Andre" debuted in Beacon, NY, in 2014. It has toured Madrid, Berlin, and Paris. Andre's industrial aesthetic is a perfect match to the Geffen. But every venue of show has seen protests, including Los Angeles. Nor is the Andre "problem" limited to this one exhibition. Last year there was a protest at London's Tate Gallery over the fact that its refreshed permanent collection installation included Andre but not Mendieta.
Demonstrators protesting Tate Gallery's showing of Carl Andre's art, 2016. Photo: Charlotte Bell
Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta met in 1979, via mutual artist friends Leon Golub and Nancy Spero. They had a 6-year courtship and an 8-month marriage. Shortly before her death, Mendieta told her sister that she was going to divorce Andre because of his infidelity. She said she had hired a detective to follow Carl around.

''My wife is an artist, and I'm an artist, and we had a quarrel about the fact that I was more, eh, exposed to the public than she was. And she went to the bedroom, and I went after her, and she went out the window.''

That was Andre on the 911 call reporting the death of Mendieta. There were no eyewitnesses. Mendieta had fallen from the one bedroom of the couple's 34th floor apartment in Greenwich Village. Her body was found on the roof of a deli. A doorman said he heard a woman screaming "No, no, no, no," and then a thud.

Forensics showed a significant amount of alcohol in Mendieta's system. Andre had scratches on his arm and nose. He told police that Mendieta had gone to bed, and later he discovered she was not in the apartment.

The American legal system contemplates that some guilty parties will go free, in order to minimize wrongful convictions of the innocent. I believe Andre's acquittal was the correct verdict, given that the prosecution was unable to exclude "reasonable doubt." But American society has no good way of dealing with acquitted accused whose guilt or innocence remains ambiguous.

So what is the proper reaction to a museum show of an artist who might have committed a terrible act but might not have?

• One reaction is cynicism. Caravaggio was a murderer, and Richard Wagner was an antisemite. Great artists are not always nice people (duh). In the words of Mike Kelley, you pay for your pleasure.

• Related is "museums aren't courts of law." In 2011 Philippe Vergne told The New Yorker's Calvin Tomkins:

"Carl broke something, and he was ostracized, and it’s part of the story. But the work is there. We are a museum, not a court of law, and he is one of the most important artists of our time."

Museums aren't courts, but surely rap sheets count for something. Andre has not had a major single-artist museum show since 1970 (at the Guggenheim) and Mendieta's death is almost certainly a factor. (Andre's art is also featured in LACMA's "Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971.")

• Maybe museums, like public speakers, should acknowledge the elephant in the room. Actually, I'm not sure anyone believes this helps much, but it's something museums do. The Smithsonian put up disclaimers after two dozen women accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them: "The museum in no way condones this behavior." Uh-huh. For what it's worth, the MOCA show's gallery texts have no mention of Andre's prosecution.
Ana Mendieta, from Silueta Works in Mexico. MOCA collection
• It's OK (or not as bad) to show Andre as long as museums show Mendieta as well. This has become the "pragmatic" talking point of some Andre protestors. Museums are not going to write Andre out of art history, but they have great power to shift the conversation to under-recognized women artists such as Mendieta. (Longtime MOCA curator Alma Ruiz pitched two Mendieta shows, with no luck.) There are many reasons for showing Mendieta, but the least of them is as an "indulgence" for the possible sins of her husband.

I don't think any of these reactions address the sense of existential misgiving. It is awful to think that Andre might have killed his wife, and awful to think that he may have been unjustly blamed for her death. So… Anybody?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Quote of the Day: Alex Mesrobian

"It’s almost as if they received an MRI of Charlie Sheen’s head, and they were like, 'Let’s make that.'

"This building is so ugly King Kong wouldn’t climb it.

"The structure houses cars, which is ironic considering you should drive as far away from it as possible."
—Alex Mesrobian, on the Petersen Automotive Museum

Comedian and writer Alex Mesrobian roasted the Petersen in an October performance. For more zingers, see Jenna Chander's article in Curbed Los Angeles

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Zumthor's Sideways Light

Museum designs have traditionally favored filtered overhead light. Horizontal light—from vertical windows—changes throughout the day. In morning and evening it is harsh in light-blasted Southern California, as 10 and 101 commuters well appreciate. Peter Zumthor's LACMA design bets everything on horizontal light. It essentially has no other kind, save for artificial. Even the "tower" galleries will be lighted by clerestory windows and not open to the blue-sky zenith.

More is riding on the "meander" galleries. This refers to space around the margins, next to the curving horizontal windows. As Christopher Hawthorne wrote, "in certain ways the success of the building as a whole will depend on how they turn out. They may feel like an exciting new hybrid of gallery, public space and viewing platform looking down on Wilshire Boulevard. Or they may suggest a crowded hallway where some art has been stashed for lack of proper space elsewhere."

In the rendering at top, Helen Lundeberg's Linear Torso, no. 4, an acrylic painting, is potentially subjected to the rays of the setting sun. The rendering also shows two partial remedies: a roof overhang and curtains. Modernists despised curtains, and they are rare in American museums. But Zumthor has used them to striking effect. His Kolumba Museum (2007) in Cologne has hand-painted silk drapes and leather curtains.
Drapes in Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Museum, Cologne. Photo by Jörn Schiemann
Leather curtains in Peter Zumthor's Kolumba Museum, Cologne
Pierre Koenig, Stahl House (Case Study House #22). Julius Shulman photo.
Sideways views—mostly without curtains—have a long history in L.A. modernism. They've been used in a more limited basis in area museums. Richard Meier's Getty Center has a "meander" gallery in the South Pavilion. Initially the Getty didn't show much there. But a current loan of Greco-Roman antiquities from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art demonstrates how spectacular sculpture can look against landscape and sky. Frederick Fisher's expansions to the Huntington's American galleries give Art Deco sculptures a San Gabriel Mountain backdrop.
Richard Meier, Getty Center
Zumthor's meander galleries have the potential to bring this indoor-outdoor quality to an encyclopedic museum. The tough question is how much this limits curators in conceiving long-term installations. The meander galleries constitute a large fraction of the design's exhibition space. Drapes or not, they will be suited for the least light-sensitive works. Curators increasingly like to show works of different media together, and this poses a constraint on that.
Peter Zumthor, LACMA rendering

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Deitch Returns

Jori Finkel in The New York Times is reporting that Jeffrey Deitch will open an L.A. gallery this fall. The 15,000-square foot space, at 925 N. Orange Drive, is to present about three "museum-level" shows a year.

(Shown, Martin Kersels attempts to toss Deitch out of California. Photo by Jason Schmidt.)

Monday, April 10, 2017

Kerry James Marshall's Puzzle Pictures

An anamorphosis is a hidden picture, one distorted so that it becomes legible from a certain perspective. Kerry James Marshall has used anamorphoses in several paintings, one in the MOCA show: School of Beauty, School of Culture (2012). At lower center, two children are intrigued by a foreshortened image of a yellow-haired woman. This refers to the best-known anamorphosis in art history, that in Hans Holbein the Younger's The Ambassadors (1533). From a single-eye viewpoint at upper right, a blurry diagonal near the ambassadors' feet resolves into a skull.

The Holbein is a memento mori, and Marshall must be warning about imported standards of beauty ("good hair").  The yellow-haired woman, outlined in glitter, is Sleeping Beauty of the 1959 Disney film. The spiral curves defining the Disney heroine's hair are nearly identical.

School of Beauty wasn't Marshall's first exploration of anamorphosis. In 2009 he produced two murals for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Visible Means of Support depicted Mount Vernon and Monticello, with anamorphic images of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and literal "hidden figures" of their slaves.
"The logic of mirrors, reflections, and optical deceptions is at the heart of Marshall’s practice," wrote Tatiana Istomina. "His work points toward the major paradox of vision: while we may choose to see or not to see others, we remain somewhat obscure to ourselves and need a counter-presence to throw back at us our more or less distorted reflection. To depict the black figure, Marshall employs and inverts traditions, stereotypes, and expectations established by white culture. The image he constructs becomes another mirror, in which black and white Americans may face themselves and each other."