LACMA Collectors Buy 10 Works: Max Ernst, Theaster Gates & More
|Spanish Capital, 11th century. LACMA, gift of the 2023 Collectors Committee. Photo courtesy David Aaron Ltd.|
LACMA's Collectors Committee has acquired 10 works for the museum, spanning Peru, Polynesia, and Islamic Spain; Max Ernst, Theaster Gates, and Nick Cave.
Unlike most American museums of its size, LACMA does not have a significant endowment for art acquisition. The Collectors Committee is a group of LACMA supporters who gather annually to buy art for the permanent collection. Curators pitch potential acquisitions, and then committee members vote. Artworks are purchased in order of popularity, until the collective bankroll is exhausted. Members can also dedicate special funds to buy favored works, guaranteeing their acquisition.
This year nine works were offered. The committee raised over $2 million, enough to buy all nine. The leftover funds were used, on Michael Govan's suggestion, to buy a work by Argentine-born L.A. conceptualist Analia Saban.
The earliest 2023 Collectors Committee gift is an 11th-century Umayyad capital believed to be from the site of Alhambra (the one in Spain). It's at least a couple of centuries older than the famous Alhambra palace, though, and may be from an earlier palace on Sabikah Hill. Columns and other architectural elements were often repurposed. The LACMA capital is green limestone, about 11.4 inches high.
|Bernardo Polo, Still Life with an Ebony and Ivory Cabinet, Tortoiseshell Chest, and Sweets, late 17th century, LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA|
The Spanish baroque still life painter Bernardo Polo (???–c. 1700) was rediscovered only in 2009, when the identification of a signature allowed scholars to attribute about 40 paintings to him. In 2013 a Polo still life sold for $141,496.
Despite his recent obscurity, Polo must have been successful in his time, running a sizable studio supplying the Zaragoza bourgeoisie. The known Polo paintings include studio copies as well as superior works that must be autograph. LACMA's example is said to be one of Polo's best. The LACMA painting is a hauntingly symmetrical display of riches (and calories) from when the New World was Spain's oyster.
|Unidentified artists, Cabinet (Papelera), last quarter of the 17th century. LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA|
This silver-ornamented cabinet advertised the precious metal that was the basis of colonial Peru's wealth. The cabinet itself, in ebonized wood, was probably made in Antwerp and sent to Lima for the silverwork. A central medallion identifies the cabinet as commissioned by the Viceroy of Peru, Don Melchor Portocarrero Lasso de la Vega. Known as "Brazo de Plata," he lost his right arm in battle and replaced it with a silver one.
|Detail of medallion|
Bedcover (kapa moe), Hawaii, early 19th century. LACMA. Photo © 2010 Blackburn Collection, Marfa, Texas
There is also an aristocratic provenance to a kapa cloth bedcover once owned by Hawaii's Queen Ka'ahumanu (1768–1832), wife of Kamehameha I. It's one of five early Polynesian tapa cloth textiles that have been acquired from the Blackburn collection. Others are from Samoa, Futuna, and Niue.
|Barkcloth (kapa), Hawaii, 18th century. LACMA. Photo © 2010 Blackburn Collection, Marfa, Texas|
This one is also from Hawaii and was collected by the ship artist of Captain Cook's third expedition (which took Omai home).
Max Ernst's The Entire City is among the most abstract of a dozen or so works bearing that title. It is similar to the version in the Tate Gallery. Both were created with a technique Ernst called grattage, in which a canvas, wet with paint, was placed on a rough surface and scraped to reveal interesting textures and forms. Here the brooding, apocalyptic landscape invites connections to post-war abstraction and process art. For Ernst it was likely about the rise of Nazism.
This becomes the only Ernst painting in L.A. LACMA deaccessioned a lesser Ernst, among other works, to help finance the gift-purchase of the Lazarof collection. MOCA has two sculptures by Ernst, one of them (Lunar Asparagus) from 1935, the same year as the LACMA painting.
|Miyoko Ito, Sea Chest, 1972. LACMA. © Estate of Miyoko Ito, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery|
Chicago abstractionist Miyoko Ito (1918–83) is another rediscovery, subject of recent shows in Berkeley and New York. A month before graduating from Berkeley she and her husband were sent to the internment camp at Tanforan. She was released in 1943 and continued her studies at Smith College and the Art Institute of Chicago. She drew on Synthetic Cubism but "Chicago gave me a sense of surrealism," she said. Sea Chest is oil on canvas, 47×45 in.
|Nick Cave, Soundsuit 8:46, 2021. LACMA gift of the 2023 Collectors Committee with additional funds provided by The Buddy Taub Foundation. © Nick Cave, photo courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery, New York|
Nick Cave's Soundsuits were originally a reaction to the 1991 Rodney King beating. The Soundsuit would protect the Black body from the police. LACMA's Soundsuit 8:46 references the reported time that a police officer kneeled on George Floyd's neck. It's the only Soundsuit in a public L.A. collection.
|Theaster Gates, Vessel #12, 2020. LACMA. © Theaster Gates. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA|
Vessel #12 becomes LACMA's first work by Theaster Gates. The inscribed vessel references the ceramics tradition of Tokoname, Japan (where Gates studied) and David Drake, the enslaved American potter who wrote poetry on his pots.
|Moriguchi Kunihiko, Woman’s Kimono, ‘Isō amine monji (Topological Mesh Pattern)’, 2000. LACMA. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA|
|Analia Saban, View Count, 2021. LACMA|
Is it published? Are there siblings in other collections?
Is it black basalt? Or black-painted something else?
I knew it couldn’t be from the current proto-Renaissance palace. Granted, I haven't visited the Alhambra since I lived in Spain in the 1970's. But I remember the fabric like it was yesterday...possibly the most impressive building in Spain.
I think the hill on which the palace is sited is/was known as Sabikah.