LACMA Buys Tlingit Thunderbird; a Definitive Sonia Delaunay
For those unclear on the concept: LACMA does not have a big endowment for buying art. Instead a group of museum supporters meets each April to raise money for acquisitions. Curators are allotted a 5-minute slide show to make the case for artworks they want to buy. The Committee members fill out a ranked ballot, and artworks are purchased in order of popularity, until they run out of money. This year they didn't run out of money. Everything offered was bought.
who's documenting LACMA's rather less classic Pereira campus.
MoMA already has a copy of La Prose du Transsibérien, but it's "very faded." That's not trash talk—the colors in the LACMA version are spectacularly vivid and unlike what you may have seen elsewhere. The 6+ foot Orphist abstraction was hand-painted by Delaunay, in watercolor and gouache, using stencils. The detail below shows a red Eiffel Tower. Delaunay's husband Robert did a cubist Eiffel Tower in red, but this is more definitively abstract.
Delaunay and poet Cendrars planned an edition of 150 for La Prose, but less than 100 were produced, and barely 30 can now be traced. This copy was owned by Chilean artist Manual Ortiz de Zarate, who introduced Diego Rivera to Picasso and died in Los Angeles in 1946. It comes with a hand-painted "wallet" and joins a prospectus and portfolio that LACMA acquired a few years ago. La Prose du Transsibérien is a high-water mark of the pre-war avant-garde, and LACMA's copy would now appear to be the go-to specimen.
Another conversation is the trend of mainstreaming Native American art into American Wings (as the Met plans to do). When LACMA split off from the Natural History Museum in the 1960s, the Native American material stayed in Exposition Park. Such 1960s art museums as showed indigenous art often labeled it "primitive." That term was retired, but many museums still have gerrymandered curatorial departments lumping Native American art in with Oceanic and African objects. There was also an awkward Cowboys and Indians moment of showing Native Americana alongside the "Western" art of Remington and Russell. Yikes!
Should LACMA ultimately show the Thunderbird screen alongside so-called American art, it would be the collection's most monumental American painting. The freaky fractal faces of Tlingit art were once praised as modern; now they're just as easily read as postmodern. The metaphysical quality of a staring creature is not to be denied. (See Raymond Pettibon's owl, a 1998 lithograph from the Hamilton Press archive.)