July 10, 2013
Los Angeles is young compared to most American cities. It incorporated in 1850, the same year Levi Strauss began manufacturing jeans. But no one can accuse the nation’s second-largest metropolis of being uneventful, and this weekend, a new permanent exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will begin counting the reasons.
From missions to movies, ranchos to railroads, “Becoming Los Angeles”—a show almost as sprawling as its subject—will take visitors through 500 years of local evolution, tracing the environmental and cultural shifts that turned Southern California into a 21st century global hub.
The 14,000-square-foot exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday, will not only be the museum’s largest, but will serve as the finale to a decade-long overhaul of the museum, which celebrates its centennial this year.
“We’re looking at Los Angeles history through the lens of how people and the environment have interacted,” says Margaret Hardin, division chief for anthropology and history at the museum. “That’s our overarching narrative.”
Some of the stories are well known—how water from the Owens Valley allowed Los Angeles to grow in the early 1900s, for example. But others are less-told tales, such as the story of the night a surging L.A. River jumped its banks and changed course, or the tale of the grasshopper plague that helped set the stage for the region’s transformation from agriculture to industry.
Tying the narrative together is a swooping steel architectural canopy that touches down at pivotal points in the history of the region. Underneath, four galleries of cultural artifacts give life to the story: the Mission San Gabriel cross, a stuffed grizzly bear, the antique writing desk of California’s last Mexican governor, the headlight of a Southern Pacific locomotive, a souvenir bottle of water from the 1913 opening of the Aqueduct, Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” costume, the workstation where Mickey Mouse was born.
Sprinkled throughout are interactive multi-media installations. A scale model of downtown L.A. in the 1930s, for instance, lets visitors time travel through the centuries in ten neighborhoods. A bench near the display on the mission era plays a snippet of devotional music when visitors sit in it.
Another interactive exhibit explains the environmental change that turned the Los Angeles region into an annual fire hazard, where invasive, non-native species edged out native, perennial grasses—a process accelerated through “cow poop,” in the words of the museum. This particular display is aimed at one of the museum’s most faithful audiences—little boys.
“We really had a great time,” says Hardin. “There are all these small delights.”
June 13, 2013
When the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County launched its recent renovation, one of the goals was to make room for more science. Turns out it also made room for more scientists—of the backyard amateur variety, no lab coat required.
With the addition of the new Nature Lab and Nature Gardens as part of its centennial celebration, the museum’s growing involvement in so-called “citizen science” projects has gained new prominence, enlisting Southern Californians by the thousands in projects to catalogue the region’s biodiversity.
From insect counts to inventories of freeway roadkill, the museum has more than a dozen initiatives that are either ongoing or in the works now in which the public is playing a key role in the study of wildlife in Los Angeles County.
“It’s like crowdsourcing, and it can be an amazing resource,” says Lila Higgins, manager of citizen science and live animals at the museum.
Also known as participatory science, citizen science has become increasingly common as technology has made it easier for scientists, professional and amateur, to share observations and collaborate.
“In some ways, it isn’t new,” says Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum, noting that volunteers at the NHM’s Page Museum have been helping process fossils for many years. “But with the Internet and smart phones and other digital devices, anyone can, say, photograph an organism and send it over the net to be included in scientific research. And people of all ages can help that way.”
Worldwide projects, such as the extraterrestrial life site SETI@Home, and the ornithology database eBird, have been reaching out to the public for more than a decade, and the Natural History Museum has been among the local pioneers of the concept. As far back as 1994, for instance, museum ornithologists enlisted the public in a study of feral parrots in Southern California.
The California Parrot Project, which is still ongoing, asked birdwatchers to let the study’s organizers know about local parrot sightings, and eventually yielded one of the first reliable counts of the numbers—upwards of a dozen species—of parrots breeding in the wild here, says Kimball L. Garrett, ornithology collections manager at the museum.
“It was extremely primitive—we’d mail out newsletters,” says Garrett. “But all this research from the mid-1990s gave us a baseline to figure out whether these populations are expanding or contracting now.”
Of the museum’s current batch of citizen science projects, the oldest is the 11-year-old Spider Survey, which asks the public to collect spiders in their homes and gardens, take down some data and bring or send what they find to the museum, Higgins says.
“At the time, it was the cutting-edge thing,” she remembers. “We launched it in 2002 at the museum’s Bug Fair, and the first week, a thousand spiders came in.”
Since then, some 6,000 spiders have been sent into the museum from throughout Los Angeles County; among the project’s findings was the first sighting of a brown widow spider in L.A.
“We’re a port city with people and goods coming and going on a daily basis, and with them, creatures sometimes hitch a ride,” Higgins explains.
Other citizen science projects have yielded even more exciting data. In 2010, Will and Reese Bernstein, a father and son from Porter Ranch, submitted a photo of a tiny reptile they’d seen at a backyard dinner party to the museum’s Lost Lizards of Los Angeles project. The critter turned out to be the first documented discovery of a Mediterranean House Gecko in L.A.
Although the non-native gecko (also known as Hemidactylus turcicus) has been spotted in the southeast United States, the L.A. sighting was so significant that the Herpetological Review plans to publish the finding this fall, says Pauly: “So Reese Bernstein, who is 12 years old now, will already have published a paper in a scientific journal.”
In April, the Lost Lizards project turned up yet another out-of-state reptile, an Indo-Pacific Gecko that was found in a backyard in Torrance. The project has been so successful, in fact, that it’s being expanded to include amphibians.
“Maybe you see a turtle at the park, or an alligator lizard in your yard, or maybe a salamander in the Santa Monica Mountains,” says Pauly. “You submit a photograph of it to our project, and that data will be available to scientists for generations to come.”
Coming up will be the citizen science component of Bioscan, a 3-year look at, among other things, the diversity of Los Angeles insects. Project Coordinator Dean Pentcheff is looking for a homeowners willing to host bug traps in their backyards and volunteers willing to sift through the take, sorting beetles from butterflies. A special side project in August will count bugs drawn to porchlights.
“We’re about three months in,” says Pentcheff, “and already we’ve found new species unknown to science.”
Pauly, the herpetologist, says such projects are especially important in places like Los Angeles County because the interface between the wilderness and the expanding urban landscape is on the cutting-edge of science these days.
“When you ask people here where they go to see nature, they say things like, ‘Sequoia’ or ‘Anza Borrego.’ But we’re surrounded by incredible diversity, and you don’t even have to leave L.A.”
May 30, 2013
Los Angeles was a hard-partying hick town when top-hatted civic leaders opened its first museum, toasting it with water from the then-day-old Los Angeles Aqueduct. The fairground where the new landmark stood had been a nest of saloons and gamblers. L.A. was so culturally young that, for its first acquisition, the museum touted a goldfinch nest from the San Gabriel River bottom.
But a century can make such a difference.
On June 9, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will kick off its centennial with a day and night of hoopla in the rowdy ex-fairground that is now called Exposition Park. The festivities—with kid-friendly activities, food trucks, garden tours, live music, scientists and a nighttime concert by DEVO—will not only honor one of the nation’s largest and best-known natural history museums, but also will mark a milestone in the decade-long renovation and restoration.
The museum’s hallmark 65-foot fin whale will welcome guests from the top of a dramatic new glass entrance. Two Expo Line Metro stops will ferry visitors who prefer to arrive via L.A.’s burgeoning mass transit system.
A 3.5-acre Nature Garden will blossom outside a companion, state-of-the-art Nature Lab, where visitors can study wildlife, see it in action and then collaborate with science lovers region-wide in crowdsourced “citizen science” projects. Nearby, the museum’s acclaimed new Dinosaur Hall and award-winning Age of Mammals exhibits, both already opened, will be joined in July with the unveiling of the renovation’s final piece, “Becoming Los Angeles,” a permanent installation on the development of Southern California.
Meanwhile, visitors will be able to get a local history fix in the halls and rotunda of the 1913 building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and which has been restored and seismically strengthened.
“If you haven’t visited the Natural History Museum in a while, you should be prepared to find a vastly different institution,” says President and Director Jane Pisano. “This is a museum that has transformed itself.”
Pisano says the remodel arose from a change of philosophy at the museum.
“The old philosophy was very typical of natural history museums everywhere,” she says. “It was all about us—how we do research, how we take care of collections—and we changed that mission to focus on the visitor.”
The new aim, she says, is not to be “a book on a wall,” but to inspire wonder and a sense of discovery and responsibility in those who come to the museum. “We were doing a good job on wonder, but not so well on discovery and least well on inspiring a sense of responsibility for the natural world.”
Nor, she says, was the museum working as well as it could with Southern California’s natural landscape.
“There are very few cities that have the kind of climate we have,” she noted. So with the help of a new, county-funded garage that has consolidated parking, acres of paved land were transformed into wildlife habitat and gardens. Meanwhile, the building’s grand architecture was tweaked to create an easier flow between indoor and outdoor wonders.
Now visitors can take in the museum’s longstanding highlights—the dinosaur bones, the marine fossils—but also enjoy workshops led by master gardeners in the edible garden and unleash their kids in a “Get Dirty Zone.” The remodel also has set the stage for a long-term “citizen science” study of local biodiversity that museum experts expect to stretch throughout the Los Angeles Basin.
“This is a place where living things will come in and we can appreciate them in the wild,” says Karen Wise, the museum’s vice president of education and exhibits. “We don’t have to just have dead things on display.”
The new Natural History Museum isn’t the only cultural institution in Southern California to be reimagining the museum experience ways that are more authentic to L.A. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art under Director Michael Govan also has taken a more indoor-outdoor approach with installations such as Michael Heizer’s “Levitated Mass” and Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” on its campus. In fact, on the same day as the Natural History Museum celebration, LACMA will unveil a proposed architectural remodel that would make the county’s 50-year-old art museum literally transparent to visitors.
“I love letting the light in,” says Pisano. “I think it changes everything about the museum. I love that it’s fun, and I love that it has become a destination where visitors of all ages can come and spend the day and still not see it all.”
And, she says, there’ll be more to love as the next century gets underway at the museum. Pisano says the renovation has upgraded about 60 percent of the public space on the campus, with plenty of projects on the horizon.
“We need to redo the auditorium,” she says. “There still are exhibit galleries that need to be re-presented. We need to redo our Gem and Mineral Hall. We’ve talked about a Hall of the Americas for a long time.
“There’s a lot to be done,” says the museum director, “but I’m so optimistic about the future of this place.”
May 30, 2013
When Denver art dealer Adam Gildar heard about the James Turrell retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, he went straight to the museum’s website for advance tickets to the widely anticipated show. Bound for L.A. with some collectors during the July 4 weekend, Gildar was particularly hoping to see “Light Reignfall,” a mind-blowing, one-person-at-a-time Turrell light show in a spherical tank that looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Unfortunately for him, so, apparently, is just about everyone else.
The Turrell show—packed since its opening last week, with “Light Reignfall” reservations sold out until late August—is shaping up to be one of this summer’s hottest tickets, and not just at LACMA.
On June 9, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will showcase a cross-section of large and small works from its collection by the pioneering, Los Angeles-born artist. In New York, starting June 21, the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum will be turned into a gigantic Turrell light piece.
Over on La Brea Boulevard, Turrell’s gallery, Kayne Griffin Cocoran, last week opened a new space designed by the artist, with a show tracing the 37-year history of his still-incomplete magnum opus, “Roden Crater.” The new gallery also has a signature Turrell “skyspace,” a part-skylight, part-lightshow creation that has become the new must-have architectural feature for art lovers. More than 80 have been installed worldwide, mostly for private collectors, including at least a half-dozen in homes and galleries in Los Angeles County.
“It is sort of a festival of James Turrell,” says LACMA Director Michael Govan, who co-curated the LACMA show and whose relationship with the white-bearded artist dates back to Govan’s last job at the Dia Art Foundation in New York.
And, Govan adds, the festival will be a long-running one.
Turrell’s medium is light, colored and natural, manipulated in ways that are designed to engulf and disorient the viewer. But because many of his artworks are built so that only a limited number of people can experience them at once, LACMA is expecting crowds to move much more slowly than usual through the exhibition.
“Tickets to that show are like Stones tickets,” an artist’s liaison for a large L.A. gallery confided earlier this week. “Everybody wants in.”
As a result, the museum is selling timed tickets, both to the retrospective and to high-demand pieces such as “Light Reignfall,” and extending the show for almost a year so that anyone who wants to can eventually see it. The exhibit also will stay open until 11 p.m. on Fridays from July 5 to August 30 as part of extended summer hours at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion and the Broad Contemporary Art Museum.
For some, the thrill is in seeing the artist’s work on its home turf. Now 70, Turrell pioneered Southern California’s Light and Space Movement and made his name in L.A.
Others are looking forward to literally immersing themselves in the pieces.
At a press preview this week, a woman—helped by a pair of attendants in white lab coats—emerged from “Light Reignfall” dazed and comparing the experience to the aura from a somehow-painless migraine. Meanwhile, crowds of donors and arts writers stood in line for up to an hour for a chance to take off their shoes and climb a black-carpeted pyramid into “Breathing Light,” a 5,000-square-foot installation that creates the sensation of being suspended in a fog of luminosity.
Still others are curious about “Roden Crater,” the massive installation and “naked-eye observatory” that Turrell has been building for decades in a volcanic crater near Flagstaff, Az.
“There was a time when I was kind of worried about my career, like many mid-career artists, and thinking maybe I was going nowhere,” the artist chuckled at Wednesday’s press conference. “Now if you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, you’re probably somewhat near my work.”
Turrell jokingly compared the crater installation to an unfinished doctoral thesis, and kidded that he was raising money for its completion by “selling blue sky and colored air.” More seriously, he said this summer’s exhibition of his work has drawn attention to the multi-million-dollar project. And, he noted, his skyspace commissions not only have helped underwrite his larger work, but also have informed it, capturing light in its infinite variety.
“I remember when we had backyard burning in Pasadena, and tremendous smog here, but it’s a special, soft, beautiful sky we have here now,” he said. “Arizona has a crisp, clear, hard sky. Each of these places is different, city and country, and I like to celebrate all the different kinds of skies.”
Back under the Denver sky, Gildar the art dealer is looking forward to the retrospective, with or without “Light Reignfall.” It is, after all, the largest-ever survey of the artist’s work and the first in nearly 30 years.
And a fan can hope. Shut out at LACMA’s web site, he ran an ad offering $20 over the ticket price on Craigslist to anyone willing to sell their 12 minutes of Turrell immersion. “But it doesn’t look like there’s much of a possibility that that’s going to work out,” he says, “and that’s okay. It’ll be amazing to see any of his work.”
May 30, 2013
For a bunch of fabled Western gunslingers, they’re a pretty static bunch, lurking laconically in the dark until somebody walks by, pushes a button and briefly illuminates one of the most notorious street fights in American history.
For the past quarter century, the nine life-sized mannequins that make up the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” exhibit on the lower level of the Autry Museum have kept a low profile as tens of thousands of visitors traipse by and listen to a 2-minute recording about what happened in Tombstone, Arizona on that fateful day in 1881.
“Step back with us,” the narrator intones, “for a legendary moment, frozen in time.”
But now, at long last, those stationary figures in the old-school diorama are on the move—on their way to that Great Shootout in the Sky. (Or perhaps to the Burbank Historical Society.)
The O.K. Corral exhibit is closing on Sunday, June 2, to make room for a new exhibition, “Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction,” which opens in July and will provide a showcase for historically significant firearms and related items from the museum’s collection, including recent donations from noted collector George Gamble.
Since the O.K. Corral exhibit didn’t fit neatly into any official school curriculum guides, field trip groups at least in recent years have tended to pass it by, or leave it up to individual students to check it out on their own. But some docents have had a soft spot for the diorama—which depicts the Earp brothers and their ally, Doc Holliday, in a deadly showdown with rivals—and made sure to always route their groups toward it as they toured the museum.
“It’s been a sort of kitschy favorite of visitors over the years,” said Stacy Lieberman, the Autry’s vice president of communications and visitor experience.
The curatorial staff has been, umm, less enthusiastic.
One former curator, when he learned of its impending demise, offered to come back to be “the first person to swing the ax,” said Jeffrey Richardson, the museum’s current curator of Western history, popular culture and firearms.
Richardson goes so far as to call it “a huge waste of space,” pointing out that the exhibit makes no attempt to provide any context for the event it so briefly describes.
“One thing that people simply overlook more than anything else is that the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was fought about gun control,” he said. “You had one group that was illegally bringing arms into town and you had another group that was trying to stop them.”
Plus, “there was a love triangle between two individuals in the group,” he said. “All of this, you don’t get that context from what we have here.” (For more on that love triangle and a fascinating woman of the West, check out the new book “Lady at the O.K. Corral: The True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp.” The author, Ann Kirschner, appears Saturday, June 1 at the museum.)
For all of the O.K. Corral exhibit’s shortcomings, the reasons for phasing it out do not include concerns about showcasing firearms in the current era of profound divisions over the role of guns in American life.
In fact, the tenor of the times and the museum’s mission demand an even-handed exploration of guns and culture, Richardson said.
“It is not only appropriate, it is imperative that a museum like the Autry, that looks at the larger history of the American West, deal with an issue like firearms because firearms were absolutely essential in the history of this particular region,” Richardson said. “To tell the story of the American West without addressing firearms, not only is it inaccurate, but it does a disservice to people on both sides of the debate.”
“We’re not saying it should be glorified, or condemned,” he added. “What we are hoping to do is take an approach that puts the firearm in its appropriate historical context.”
Thus the new exhibit will deal with guns and personalities from the “historic and the mythic West,” including Annie Oakley, described by Richardson as “the most famous sharpshooter to come out of the Wild West.”
It also will include the gun belt—with its preposterously oversized bullets—worn by Steve McQueen in the TV series “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which ran for three seasons ending in 1961.
The bullets “were huge and they looked really intimidating,” Richardson said. “Those bullets would never fit into the actual gun, but they looked really, really cool on TV.”
Such elements in the new exhibit “get to the notion of what we know about the West,” he says. “People 100 years ago knew about the West because of Wild West shows. We know about the West because of TV and film.”
And now, of course, because of the Internet, where YouTube is keeping alive what will soon be a part of the Autry’s own history: the disappearing O.K. Corral diorama, which opened when the museum did in 1988.
As the exhibit ticked down its final hours this week, small groups paraded by. Even on its last legs, it commanded attention—and even a certain level of respect—from those who stopped to take a look.
“I hate that,” whispered four-year-old Kayleen Lee, who hid behind her mother as the exhibit narrator launched into his spiel. “I’m scared about them talking about guns.”
“Scary!” said her brother, six-year-old Derrick Lee. “They talk and I think they’re going to move.”
Their mother, Karen Lopez, found it a teachable moment.
“I hate guns. They don’t even have water guns,” she said of her children. But giving them a chance to learn about firearms and history “is very important. They’re like, ‘Why don’t you like guns?’ and I try to tell them the history behind it. I try to explain to them why it’s a sensitive subject.”
May 2, 2013
An architectural reimagining of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is being unveiled next month—and transparency, in every sense of the word, is on the table.
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor, who has been working on the plan with LACMA director Michael Govan, envisions a design that would open the museum up to its surroundings, making it possible for passersby to view works of art, and even traditionally closed-door activities like the installation of exhibitions, without entering the museum.
“Visitors can look out; those outside can look in. From the ground, and in elevation, the museum is mostly transparent,” the Swiss architect said in a statement. Zumthor described his idea for the museum as “an organic shape, like a water lily, floating and open with 360 degrees of glass facing Hancock Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, Wilshire Boulevard, Chris Burden’s Urban Light, and Renzo Piano’s new galleries.”
A model of Zumthor’s proposed design—along with other images from LACMA and its site stretching back to the Pleistocene Era—will be on display at the museum from June 9 through September 15. The exhibition, “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA,” is part of the modern architecture spinoff of the Getty-funded Pacific Standard Time initiative.
Although the project is in the preliminary stages, museum officials said they hope to engage the public early in a conversation about LACMA’s evolution.
Beyond the aesthetics, one aim of the project is to make the museum completely solar-powered, with energy left over to share.
“A huge roof covered in solar tiles literally soaks up the energy of the California sun,” Zumthor said in his statement. “The building gives more energy back to its neighbors than it takes from the city.”
Creating the new LACMA would mean replacing some of the museum’s existing buildings by William Pereira, which are aging and in need of repair.
The Renzo Piano-designed Broad Contemporary Art Museum and Resnick Pavilion would not be affected, and neither would a new motion picture museum that Piano and Zoltan Pali are designing for the May Co. building on the site.
It’s not the first time the museum has sought to remake itself in recent years. Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect, had proposed a similarly ambitious makeover but that project, approved by LACMA’s board in 2001, was tabled before it came to fruition.
March 14, 2013
It’s big, it’s sprawling, it’s diverse, it could only have happened in Southern California.
You could be talking about L.A.
Or you could be talking about L.A. architecture, which is the subject of a big, sprawling, diverse SoCal initiative that launches next month, courtesy of the folks who brought you Pacific Standard Time, last year’s sweeping examination of Los Angeles’s place in the post-war art world.
“Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.” will celebrate the megalopolis’ man-made landscape with nine exhibitions and programs around the Southland, from tours of modernist homes in Pasadena to a first-ever major survey of Los Angeles’ postwar development at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
Underwritten by the Getty Foundation, which made some $3.6 million in grants to 15 participating organizations, the spinoff is about one-sixth the size of last year’s PST. “Obviously, we can’t do an initiative on the scale of Pacific Standard Time every year,” says J. Paul Getty Trust President and CEO Jim Cuno.
Still, it’s comprehensive. The Neutra ranch houses, the Norm’s diners, the Frank Gehry landmarks, the 405 Freeway, Beverly Boulevard photographed from a car window and Wilshire Boulevard explained for participants in CicLAvia—they’re all there (and more) in shows scattered from LACMA and MOCA to the University Art Gallery at Cal Poly Pomona.
Exhibitions are scheduled to run from April through July, though the heaviest programming will run from mid-May until mid-June. For a full list of events, click here.
December 12, 2012
Twenty minutes before closing on a recent Monday, the rooms were swarming with patrons young enough to be the late director’s grandkids. Here was 17-year-old David Feinziner, in from La Mirada with his parents; there was 23-year-old aspiring producer Kelsey Baca, checking out the great man’s typewriter with her 28-year-old aspiring director boyfriend, Ian Lewis. There was Alexandria Sivak, 28, who works in communications at the Getty, back for the second time since the show’s preview. There was goateed Ben Lee, a 32-year-old musician, whose friend had heard about the show online and alerted him from South Korea.
“Just to be able to see Kubrick’s notes and his vision and his process, and to see the creativity behind the film is just so cool,” marveled Leah Yananton, a 32-year-old filmmaker in a magenta knit trapper hat who had come with a New York friend who had caught the buzz from a twentysomething on Facebook.
“I plan on coming again at least once more before the show is over,” Yananton said, modestly noting that she, too, has an upcoming movie project: “It’s a coming-of-age film in post-production called ‘Surviving Me’.”
Museum officials say it’s too soon to know how the Kubrick show’s demographics will shake out; some 47,000 visitors have seen it so far, but the exhibition, which opened November 1, has only been running about six weeks and won’t close until the end of June.
However, Brooke Fruchtman, associate vice president of public engagement at LACMA, said all signs are that the show is appealing to the same kind of crowd that mobbed last year’s Tim Burton exhibition. That show, which drew more than 363,000 visitors, many in costume, had an audience with an average age of 33, eight years younger than the average visitor that fiscal year to the museum.
“Our Kubrick app is on track to be LACMA’s most downloaded app ever,” she said. “In the first week alone, we had 6,517 downloads.” Meanwhile, pickup on social media “has been huge for Kubrick, with Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr being flooded with images from the exhibition.”
Fruchtman said that, aside from an innovative series of Kubrick-themed pop-up dinners, the marketing of the show has been about the same as for prior ticketed exhibitions. Still, she added: “Sometimes it resonates more than others, depending on the show. “
“Oh yeah, it’s a younger crowd—and they’re all into it, too,” chuckled gallery attendant Rickie Williams on Monday. “They’ve been taking lots of pictures, compared to the older people who come in during the week, who are more often other directors or people who were in the crew or acted in his movies.” (Show business people turned out in force for the show’s opening gala, and star sightings in the crowd since then have included Ben Stiller, who tweeted his admiration from the show, Ryan O’Neal, who starred in “Barry Lyndon,” and “Full Metal Jacket’s” Vincent D’Onofrio.
“I think it’s just that his work is timeless,” said Lewis, the young director, who had taken a break from the cooking show that employs him, and who, with his young friend, Baca, was among the last to leave. “Look!” she breathed on their way out. “There’s his director’s chair!”
Lee, the musician, said the draw for him was “Barry Lyndon.” “It’s my favorite film—it’s so lyrical and touching. I’ve watched that movie more than ten times and I still find something new.”
To Feinziner, the high school senior, the show was a glimpse at a possible future: “I’ve applied to Chapman University, USC and UCLA,” he confided. “I’m planning to go to film school next year.”
Whatever the motivation, Fruchtman welcomes the youthful cohort, which the museum has sought to attract with free “NexGen” membership for people under 18, student discounts, school programs, a hip hop series, teen dances and other youth-oriented programs and events.
But, as any 21st century Los Angeles kid can attest, a thing either captures the imagination or it doesn’t, and so far, it appears that the Kubrick show has broadened the demographic. That’s good news for LACMA.
“Bringing in a younger—and generally more diverse—audience,” Fruchtman said, “is extremely important to us.”
October 18, 2012
It was an L.A. coup when some 2,000 photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe ended up with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Trust. Now art fans will get their first glimpse of that trove, as two small-but-revealing shows of Mapplethorpe’s work open in the next few days at the museums, with images from the classical to the infamous.
The $30 million-plus collection—which is expected to yield an even bigger and more comprehensive show in 2016 at the two museums—was jointly acquired from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation last year.
“[LACMA Director] Michael Govan had worked with the foundation during his time at the Guggenheim in New York,” says LACMA photo department curator Britt Salvesen. “He knew the value of the archives, and knew they would eventually need a repository.
“Flash forward to L.A., where he made the case that if LACMA were to partner with the Getty, they would have an ideal situation,” Salvesen remembers. “At the Getty Research Institute, the artwork would be accessible to researchers and could be seen with other archives that have a relationship to it. At the same time, the two museums would be great repositories for Mapplethorpe’s body of work, because at the Getty, it could be seen in the context of art history and classicism, and at LACMA, it could be seen with the art of the 1980s.”
This month’s shows—opening October 20 at LACMA and October 23 at the Getty Center—represent the first pass at that massive archive, which also includes hundreds of drawings and assemblages by Mapplethorpe, more than 1,000 un-editioned silver gelatin prints, more than 100,000 negatives, several films, voluminous documentation and correspondence, videotaped interviews and more.
As had been the case for most of the artist’s career, at least some of the work will be shown with parental warnings. LACMA’s show—shielded by interior walls and introduced by a pair of quotes from the obscenity trial it set off in 1990—will feature Mapplethorpe’s notorious X,Y and Z Portfolios, three sets of sexually charged, black-and-white photos themed, respectively, around homoerotic sadomasochism, floral studies and African-American male nudes.
Meanwhile at the Getty, another cache of 23 images will span Mapplethorpe’s career from early collages and Polaroids to his signature staged, classic nudes from the 1980s. “In Focus: Robert Mapplethorpe,” also will showcase Mapplethorpe’s social circle, including now-famous photos of his friend and early lover, Patti Smith.
Now regarded as one of the 20th century’s most influential fine art photographers, Mapplethorpe has been a controversial figure in the decades since his death at age 42 from AIDS complications in 1989. Some critics have viewed his stylized, black-and-white portraits and studies as groundbreaking, while others have excoriated their content as exploitative and pornographic.
The portfolios being exhibited at LACMA, for instance, ignited one of the hottest battles of the culture wars in 1990, when the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) denounced the National Endowment of the Arts for having helped underwrite their display in Philadelphia. The ensuing uproar spawned an obscenity trial in Cincinnati. (The museum director was ultimately acquitted.)
The Santa Monica Museum of Art displayed the X Portfolio as part of a restaging of that controversial exhibition in 2000, but otherwise the images have been rarely shown.
Salvesen predicts this month’s shows, and those to come, will move Mapplethorpe’s legacy beyond social controversy toward a broader perspective on his place as an artist. She points to younger artists whose work has built on and responded to Mapplethorpe’s, such as Catherine Opie and Glenn Ligon, and predecessors such as Edward Kienholz, whose work—also once known for its shock value—has stood the test of time.
“We’re trying to point forward in some sense to how Mapplethorpe can be seen from now into the future,” she says, “to the continued influence his work might have on other artists, as well as on our culture and society.”