March 10, 2012
As crowds cheered and a loudspeaker blared Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” the Rock rolled into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art just before dawn on Saturday morning, riding down Wilshire Boulevard in its massive red transport like a 340-ton beauty in the Rose Parade.
“Fantastic,” said LACMA Director Michael Govan, unable to stop smiling as the focal point of “Levitated Mass,” the museum’s latest permanent installation, paused in front of the museum.
“Yahoo!” applauded Govan’s 7-year-old daughter, who was dressed in a pink coat and hoisted high on his shoulders.
“Magnificent!” breathed Alexandra Thum, a West Hollywood product designer who had worked her way through the crowd to get a curbside view. “It’s just so great to be here and see all the community together.” Around them, several hundred onlookers cried “Bravo! Bravo!” under the antique street lamps of another iconic LACMA masterpiece, Chris Burden’s “Urban Light.”
The reception capped an 11-day trip across 22 cities and four counties for the boulder, a hunk of granite the size of a 2-story teardrop that, in the weeks ahead, will be affixed atop a concrete channel, creating the illusion that it is levitating overhead. The work by Nevada earth artist Michael Heizer is scheduled to open in spring or early summer. (The famously reclusive artist was not on hand Saturday, but is expected to be in Los Angeles for the piece’s assembly.)
Although The Rock, as it came to be known, is only one component in the installation, it instantly became a media event itself because of the novelty and engineering involved in its move from its Jurupa Valley quarry in Riverside County.
Progressing at a stately 5 miles per hour and parked by day to minimize traffic disruptions, it inspired a marriage proposal in Glen Avon and a citywide block party in Long Beach, gawker’s block in Diamond Bar and pajama-clad sightseers near Expositon Park. In Rowland Heights, an accountant came home to discover it outside his bedroom window. So many people posed next to it for photos that, perhaps inevitably, it became an Internet meme for a digital moment.
While many thrilled at the spectacle, some decried its estimated $10-million expense, which has been covered entirely by private donors. “I think they should have spent $10 million on art programs instead of this rock,” said Patrick Taylor, a security guard and father of two who lives near Exposition Park.
Overall, however, museum officials were pleasantly surprised at the public reaction, which included a wave of fresh awareness for LACMA.
“When this started, I thought it would be much more controversial,” said Govan. “You know, ‘Is it art? Is it not art?’ But people mostly have just been fascinated and appreciative. And so many have learned about the museum from this experience.”
On Friday night—or, more accurately, Saturday morning—that appreciation was out in full, only-in-L.A. glory as thousands pulled all-nighters for the last leg of The Rock’s journey, up Western Avenue and along Wilshire Boulevard’s famed Miracle Mile.
Onlookers on foot and on bicycle snapped photos and videos and narrated the boulder’s slow-speed progress on hundreds of cell phones. Dogs barked. Tourists jumped out of buses and cabs to investigate the commotion.
A tall man dressed as Jesus and a shorter person dressed as a unicorn posed for pictures. Comedians worked the crowd. (“Have you seen my dog? It’s a ROCK-weiler!”) Further back in the crowd, actress Sharon Lawrence (“NYPD Blue,” “Desperate Housewives”) kept a low profile with her physician husband.
When the boulder slowed to make the painstaking turn in front of the Wiltern Theatre, a man waving an American flag ran out into the intersection, whooping. When the transporter was forced to stop, waiting for a tow-truck to remove a Dodge illegally parked in front of a karaoke bar on Wilshire, a dazed-looking young woman leaped into the street and either fell or tried to crawl underneath it. Shaken crewmembers escorted her back to the sidewalk and issued her a stern warning.
But for the most part, the mood was festive and communal, and the boulder’s movers—many of whom had walked alongside the megalith for most of the 105-mile route—were ready to celebrate by 4:30 a.m., when the procession paused in front of “Urban Light” for its final paparazzi moment.
“I got blisters on three of my toes,” laughed crewman Joe Schofield of Emmert International, who said on Saturday that he had been on foot, watching the rock, for more than 75 miles of the journey. Separate work crews ran ahead at each stop to clear the path of utility lines and landscaping. Workers from Time Warner Cable said they had moved lines in some 90 locations.
“Everybody has been clapping and cheering and connecting,” said Emmert General Manager Mark Albrecht, noting that, aside from that one incident with the young woman and a couple of mauled palm trees, the delivery was almost miraculously free of hitches. Around him, hard-hatted workers humbly ducked their heads as Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge thanked them.
Meanwhile, a crush of spectators rushed to touch the shrink-wrapped megalith with their fingertips until the transporter was put into gear again for the last yards of its journey, finally disappearing behind a gate on Fairfax Avenue and Sixth Street at 5:03 a.m.
February 29, 2012
Still miffed that Pluto’s not a planet anymore? The man responsible is coming to the county’s Natural History Museum to give his side of the story.
“I‘m ready for them to come in with rocks and throw their drinks and attack,” said Dr. Michael Brown, who’ll appear at the museum on Friday, March 2. “I know they are all sad about it.”
In 2005, Brown announced the discovery of Eris, an object larger than Pluto at the edge of the solar system. His team’s findings led the International Astronomical Union to revise the definition of “planet.” This demoted Pluto to a “dwarf planet,” causing an uproar among many who knew and loved the one-time ninth planet.
“Some of it is just funny,” Brown said of the backlash. “And some of it is just downright mean, which is almost funnier.”
Brown is a professor of planetary astronomy at the California Institute of Technology. His work has been featured in publications including the New York Times, The New Yorker and Discover magazine. In 2006, he was honored as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and one of Los Angeles Magazine’s “Most Powerful Angelenos” for his discoveries. That same year, Wired Magazine named him one of the “Top Ten Sexiest Geeks.”
He told Wired in 2010 that even his 5-year-old daughter was perturbed by Pluto’s planetary downgrade. “She has learned from general discussions that I killed Pluto and that killing is bad. Therefore, I’ve done something bad, and so she’s kind of mad at me,” he said.
Brown, who’s also the author of the book “How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming,” hopes that by the end of the discussion people will be ready to lay down their torches and pitchforks.
“One of the things that will surprise people the most is how reasonable the decision to demote Pluto was,” he said. “I think they will leave and decide they should be mad at Pluto, not me.”
Brown’s talk, called “Why Pluto Had to Die,” starts at 6:30 p.m. It’s part of the museum’s “First Fridays” series combining science and innovative music. The programs aim to attract young and not-so-young adults to the museum, even though the field trips of their youth may be long past.
The tunes kick in at 5:30 p.m. with KCRW DJs Anthony Valadez and Chuck P. At 8 p.m. EMA takes the stage, combining a free jazz lyrical style with fuzzy, droning guitar rock reminiscent of Sonic Youth.
Zola Jesus, the night’s headliner, is a self-made, up-and-coming electronic pop musician at the age of 22. Her compositions pair trance-inducing electronic sounds with haunting, almost-mournful vocals. She goes on at 9:15 p.m. amid the dioramas of the North American Mammal Hall.
General admission to all of it is $18, and free for Universityof Southern California students. The museum is located at 900 Exposition Boulevard in Los Angeles. Parking is $10, or plan to get there with Metro. While advance tickets are sold out, don’t worry—same day tickets will be available at the south entrance starting at 5 p.m.
February 15, 2012
Chris Burden’s vast, new miniature skyline may have been one artist’s urban vision, but behind the scenes, it took a village to build “Metropolis II”.
“It was a long process—almost five years—and it took a lot of people,” says the L.A. artist on a recent morning at LACMA, straining to be heard over the din of his creation. The idea, he says, was to evoke the energy of a modern city; around him 4,400 tiny toy wheels on 1,100 toy cars whoosh around an elaborate thicket of toy skyscrapers at up to 240 scale miles per hour.
The room-sized piece, opening to the public January 14, is on long-term loan to the museum from its owner, LACMA trustee Nicolas Berggruen. A big hit in sneak peeks last month, it will be available for viewing anytime, but will only operate Fridays through Sundays, with a special showing on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Situated just a short walk from Burden’s iconic “Urban Light,” it is mesmerizing and frenetic, a singular vision of a way of life familiar to every visitor with a car in the parking garage of the museum. But Zak Cook, Burden’s lead engineer, says as many as eight people at a time were assigned to the project, working under the artist’s watchful eye in his rural studio in Topanga.
“In all,” he says, “probably 14 people had a hand in it.”
Hiring crews of assistants isn’t unusual for successful artists, who often need extra hands and special expertise to execute large-scale ideas. “It doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s Chris’ work,” Cook notes. “The work couldn’t exist without Chris. It could exist without me.”
Burden’s crew, like the piece, reflected Southern California: There were two special-effects artists and two college-level art instructors, a maker of artisan snowboards, woodworkers, ceramicists and assorted masters of fine arts from UC Riverside and UCLA. One of the craftsmen on the prototype was the lead guitarist in the L.A.-based band “Dengue Fever.” Much of the infrastructure and train wiring was done by a heavy diesel mechanic-turned-jewelry-designer who was a finalist last year on Lifetime Television’s “Project Accessory.”
Some laid the Plexiglas track. Some built the dreamlike skyscrapers. Some installed the intricate floors and platforms. UC Riverside MFA Alison Walker and the “Project Accessory” finalist Rich Sandomeno came to know the piece so well that LACMA has since hired them to operate and maintain “Metropolis II” and act as a sort of pit crew.
“It was supposed to be a 9-month job and I ended up working on it for three years,” joked Sandomeno. “But it’s been so great to work with Chris and Zak and all the other artists. Besides, he adds: “When I was a kid, I loved Hot Wheels. “
The combination of Burden’s vision and all that painstaking labor is as intricate and playfully serious as art gets—a vast, buzzing skyline that has been compared to New York, L.A., “The Jetsons” and the 1939 World’s Fair. In the course of an hour, the tiny vehicles whip around the thicket of fanciful high-rises a collective 100,000 times on 18 lanes of traffic.
“It’s a city of the past and a city of the future,” says Burden. “It’s a city of the past in the sense that the cars run free, and a city of the future in their speed.”
An earlier, much smaller, version, with only about 80 cars, was built in 2004 for a Japanese museum, Burden says, “but they showed it for six months and then the museum changed direction. “ After the piece was put into storage—“all that work and then nobody got to see it”—Burden decided to make another Metropolis that would be “bigger and better.”
“Metropolis II,” however, took on a life of its own, says Burden: “I think we finished right around the time of Carmageddon. Every building took three or four months, which, I think you could build a tract house in that time.”
Cook served as general contractor for Burden’s architectural direction, working out such not-so-minor details as how to make the cars move reliably. (After much trial-and-error, Cook invented a sturdy, yet invisible, electrically powered conveyance system that hauls the toy cars uphill with magnets, like a rollercoaster, then releases them.)
Burden guided the team closely, Cook says, but also welcomed their input. Many contributed ideas for the exquisite buildings, which the team gave informal names: “AzDec Plaza” was a half-Aztec, half-Deco extravaganza contributed by Walker. An octagonal black high rise with blue windows, built by painter and fellow MFA Greg Kozaki, was known as “DarkTower.” A beautiful blue-and-green glass tile skyscraper was dubbed “Linkous Tower” by Frank Diettinger, a mold-maker who had done special effects for films such as “Sleepy Hollow” and “Bride of Chucky”, and who wanted to honor deceased indie singer-songwriter Mark Linkous.
“Whoever built it got to name it,” says Cook, adding that there was one major exception. “There’s an Eiffel Tower-looking building made from erector set parts, with the uppermost narrow part kind of extended, and Chris named that one.”
“Yeah,” laughs Burden, “I call it ‘Viagra Tower’ because it’s too tall.”
Cook worked on the piece from its inception. Of all the team members, he acknowledges, he probably has the least artistic resume. The 42-year-old son of a former Time correspondent, he graduated from UCLA with a degree in geography and worked for several years in the consulting division of CALSTART, a Pasadena-based clean transportation consortium.
But after a trip to India in 2000, he says, he realized that he didn’t want to keep doing white papers on the environmental impact of ports and airports; he wanted to write fiction and children’s books.
In search of a day job, he got a call one day from a friend who worked for Burden’s wife and fellow artist Nancy Rubins; Burden needed someone to help restore his 1998 sculpture “Hell Gate”, a massive bridge made of erector set pieces. The friend knew that Cook had done construction work in college.
Learning on the job, Cook then went on to help Burden build several more major pieces, including Burden’s 2001 “Bateau de Guerre”, a massive battleship made of gas canisters, and his 2002 model of a British landmark, “Tyne Bridge”.
Burden jokes that Cook “was in charge of work-ethic.”
“He’s very precise and thorough,” says the artist. “I couldn’t have done this work without somebody like him.”
Cook says that now that “Metropolis II” is finished, he intends to return to his own pursuits, and maybe finally finish those children’s stories.
“Not that Chris and I would rule out working together again in the future, but, honestly, this is such a great note to go out on,” he says, watching from a balcony at LACMA as the traffic hums by in the city that he helped make.
“I don’t see how I could ever top this.”
September 26, 2011
Pacific Standard Time starts this week in earnest, examining L.A.’s role in the postwar arts scene in venues as vaunted as the Getty Center and as modest as a Westside school for the arts.
Although choice sneak previews have been open for a few weeks at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at smaller museums, this weekend marks the official opening of the massive arts initiative centered on Southern California. Whether you love art or just love L.A., the range of shows opening this week should, like the city itself, have a little something for everyone.
Highlights include the first major study of modern California design at LACMA, with an accompanying side exhibition at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum honing in on the work and philosophy of Charles and Ray Eames. The LACMA show, California Design, 1930-1965: “Living in a Modern Way,” will start with the origins of California modernism in the 1930s and include, along with important work by Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler, a vintage Airstream Clipper and a reconstruction of the Eames’ living room, which was dismantled piece by piece and moved to the museum from the Eames House in Pacific Palisades.
Another must-see show will be at the Getty Center, where Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Paintings and Sculpture will look at those two art forms in Southern California from the 1940s until the 1970s. The exhibition, featuring some 50 important L.A. artists, is in some ways the ground zero for the Pacific Standard Time initiative, which was launched as a joint initiative of the Getty Research Institute and the Getty Foundation.
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles will also be in on the PST action, with a show that highlights its role as the city’s contemporary art venue before its art exhibitions were moved to LACMA in the mid-1960s. Among the featured artists will be John Baldessari, Ed Moses, Robert Irwin and Ed Ruscha.
The Hammer Museum will examine L.A.’s African American visual artists, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives will look at the gay and lesbian art scene here and a show at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary will show how L.A. art reflected the foment of the Vietnam War and the Watergate Era.
Meanwhile, a small show at the Sam Francis Gallery at the Crossroads School will explore the role of women art dealers in L.A. in the 1960s and 1970s.
July 7, 2011
We’re fairly sure about what killed them (fallout from a meteor crash) and what they evolved into. (Hint: It has feathers). But much of their 230 million years on the planet remains a mystery.
You could fill an encyclopedia with what scientists are still discovering about dinosaurs. But for the past several years, Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, has had something even bigger in mind.
This month, a newly renovated, 14,000-square-foot Dinosaur Hall will open, doubling the dinosaur display space at the museum. The permanent exhibition, which opens to members July 10 and to the general public July 16, will feature some 20 new major mountings from the museum’s expanded collection—from an extraordinary trio of young Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons to the smallest dinosaur ever discovered in North America. It also will reflect the ways in which technology has revolutionized paleontological research.
“This is not a chronological journey through time, and this is not setting animals in dioramas,” says Chiappe, who led much of the fieldwork responsible for the exhibit and curated it as an invitation to visitors to regard the towering fossils with a scientific eye.
“This is, ‘How do we know what we know? How do we reconstruct the life and, in the end, the death of these animals?’ This is an up-to-date, state-of-the-art understanding of the lives of the dinosaurs.”
In other words, this is not your father’s dinosaur museum. The new Dinosaur Hall will fill two rooms with nearly 300 specimens collected over nearly a century, with at least a third of the major pieces never before having been shown to the general public.
Displays will include background on how technological advances such as CT scans and particle accelerators have, for example, helped scientists understand the internal organs of dinosaurs and deduce the original colors of their skin and feathers. Many of the pieces have yielded important new discoveries and resulted in published research.
“Some amazing things were unearthed in the course of doing this hall,” says John A. Long, vice president of research and collections at the museum, which operates not just as a showcase, but also as a major research institution.
And, Long adds, because of improvements in conservation methods, “you can see the bones better—they’re better prepared.”
Among the showpieces will be the dramatic grouping of young T. rex skeletons—baby, early adolescent and teenager—that, taken together, make up the world’s only depiction of the famous carnivore’s growth pattern.
Also featured will be one of the most anatomically accurate depictions to date of the massive Triceratops, culled from several finds that included a completely articulated set of front leg, or “arm”, bones—a rarity that has contributed a fresh understanding of how the massive creature walked and lived.
Both the Triceratops bones and the oldest T. rex—a gangly, 33½-foot-tall teenager nicknamed “Thomas” that boasts one of the most complete skeletons in existence—were collected by Chiappe and his crews during field work in Wyoming and Montana. But the displays also include the museum’s very first specimen (a lower jaw from a Canadian duck-billed dinosaur that was collected in 1919), and a number of significant finds collected for the museum by the late Harley Garbani, a self-taught fossil hunter from Hemet who died at 88 in April.
”He toured the galleries a couple of months ago, but it would have been wonderful if he could have been around for the opening,” Chiappe says wistfully.
Additionally, there are killer sea reptiles known as Mosasaurs, who, upon closer inspection by Chiappe and his colleagues were recently found to have had flukes, not long, tapering tails as scientists once imagined. Chiappe and Long say the information was there all along, but no one noticed it because the fossils had been in storage since they were found in Kansas and acquired during the 1960s.
“We have one of the best specimens in the world,” Long says, “and it had been locked up until we dusted it off and prepared it for this gallery. In doing so, we found skin and pigments and bronchial tubes and a wealth of new information, including a big tail fluke, like a tuna or a shark, that changes what we know about the way they swam and hunted.” (Stay tuned for further developments on this front. Museum sources say another blockbuster announcement about this part of the exhibit could come within the next few weeks.)
The Dinosaur Hall is part of an ambitious plan to expand and modernize the Natural History Museum, which celebrates its centennial in 2013. A groundbreaking “Age of Mammals” exhibition opened last year; a new California history hall and several other permanent exhibitions, including a 63-foot-long fin whale specimen, are anticipated before the end of next year.
Chiappe, an internationally renowned paleontologist who was recruited 12 years ago from New York’s American Museum of Natural History to supervise Los Angeles’ dinosaur collection, says the permanent exhibit had been under consideration almost from the moment of his arrival, “but we’ve worked intensively in the last five or six years.”
A native of Argentina, Chiappe says he grew up as “a city boy” in Buenos Aires, but learned from his grandfather to love the outdoors.
“We’d go hunting and fishing,” he recalls. “For a while, I wanted to be a biologist, and I went to university with that in mind. But then I met a classmate who was into paleontology, and we started going out on weekends, collecting Ice Age fossils, like saber-toothed cats and mastodons, amazing animals that don’t exist anymore. I thought it was incredibly cool.”
Chiappe has since done extensive fieldwork and research, particularly into the evolutionary links between dinosaurs and their modern counterparts, birds. The Dinosaur Hall also will address those connections.
“We will have a taxidermy pelican in a glass case, and a swan, an ostrich and a pelican skeleton,” he says. We will have a mural featuring emus, and we’ll talk about hummingbirds as dinosaurs—the idea that dinosaurs are in your backyard, and if you want to see one today, they’re right outside their window. You only need to look.”
Chiappe’s favorite displays? Well, he says, his favorite dinosaur is T. rex, and his 4 1/2-year-old son’s is Triceratops. But No. 1 on his Dinosaur Hall hit parade is the “Fossil Wall,” a 43-foot display case with nearly 100 specimens, from dinosaur bones and droppings to dinosaur eggs and skin.
“It’s beautiful from an aesthetic point of view,” he says, “and it expresses the wealth of our collection—it’s really an art installation using dinosaur body parts.”
What does he hope the public will glean from the museum’s scientific take on his favorite subject?
“I’d like people to understand that they were living animals,” he says. “We know them as skeletons. We see their bones in museums. But they were alive once. They suffered and had illnesses and diseases, and found mates and reproduced and did everything we associate with living animals, whether they are our pets or ourselves.”
Long, a fellow paleontologist who came to the museum two years ago from Australia, calls the new Dinosaur Hall “one of the most exciting dinosaur exhibits in the world,” and says it has been “a dream come true to be part of a team presenting a gallery like this.”
But, he adds, “this really is Luis’ baby.”
“It’s obviously once in a lifetime that a curator is essentially setting the course on the steering wheel for a major exhibit like this,” agrees Chiappe. “I know I won’t have another opportunity like this.”
June 1, 2011
If you can’t wait for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s upcoming Tim Burton retrospective, just remember: Before there was “Edward Scissorhands” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas“, there was the French symbolist Odilon Redon.
Redon may not be as familiar as the director whose show opens May 29 at LACMA. But a special parallel exhibition there opening April 16 will confirm the suspicions of any art lover who ever saw a connection between the two. Entitled “Burton Selects,” the show was guest curated by Burton himself from the museum’s permanent collection and offers a glimpse of the inspiration behind his goth-whimsical point of view.
“It’s art that Tim Burton responds to visually,” says Britt Salvesen, the LACMA curator who is organizing both “Burton Selects” and Burton’s much larger main show, which drew record crowds when it opened last year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Running through November 13 at LACMA’s Rifkind Gallery, the sidebar show will feature 38 prints and drawings picked by Burton from a long list of art already housed at LACMA. (Check out a gallery of Burton’s art, and some of his art selections, below.)
“It’s an eclectic range of things,” Salvesen says. “You can see motifs—skeletons, figures transforming from one thing into another—that transition into his own work.”
Francisco Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters will be there, Salvesen says, as will important pieces from the 1920s by German artists Otto Dix and George Grosz. Burton made special mention, she says, of Redon’s “The Eye”, “Like A Strange Balloon”, “Mounts Toward Infinity”, which Salvesen calls “a great image,” and the museum was glad to supply it. More than 25 artists are represented, she adds, ranging from a huge poster for the 1931 Fritz Lang thriller “M” to tiny, 4-inch-tall caricatures by the 17th century baroque printmaker Jacques Callot.
“He seemed to be drawn most to work from the late 19th and early 20th century, which wasn’t entirely surprising. I knew he had an affinity for German Expressionism, of which LACMA has one of the world’s best collections,” Salvesen says.
Although the Burton retrospective, which features more than 700 pieces of his own art, has already traveled to Melbourne and Toronto, “Burton Selects” is unique to LACMA, Salvesen added. “We’re the only venue that’s an encyclopedic museum, rather than just a museum of modern art or the moving image.”
The show also will help bridge the gap between the fine art more commonly associated with institutions like LACMA and the work of someone like Burton, whose professional training was as an animator at CalArts and who is perceived more as a purveyor of popular culture. “This is really a way to tie him into the broader museum context,” Salvesen says.
Burton is among an increasing number of Hollywood figures whose art has recently crossed over into museums, which have benefitted from the chance to attract more mainstream art lovers, but faced questions about the potential for the artist’s celebrity to trump the importance of the art works.
Last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art featured a survey of Dennis Hopper’s photography and paintings curated by the painter-director Julian Schnabel, and the Max Ernst Museum in Germany presented 150 paintings, drawings and lithographs by the director David Lynch.
Burton’s May show will feature more than 700 individual works from Burton’s own archives and those of his collaborators, including paintings, photographs, film and video. Running through Halloween at LACMA’s new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, it will include a giant topiary deer from the 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands”, a 21-foot-tall creature called “Balloon Boy” and a special room with a yet-to-be-announced installation by Burton.
Reviews of the New York show complained about the cramped quarters at MOMA. But LACMA is expected to easily accommodate its three sections—“Surviving Burbank,” “Beautifying Burbank” and “Beyond Burbank”—which were named for the community where Burton grew up.
LACMA also will present screenings of all Burton’s feature films in its Bing Theater during the run of the exhibition. And the director is expected to make an appearance, though it will be brief because Burton still has his day job: He’ll be shooting a new film version of “Dark Shadows“, the gothic soap from the 1970s.
Salvesen says the show “could be loosely compared to an exhibition we did at LACMA about the films of Salvador Dali—Dali did come to Hollywood for an intriguing period—and that project sort of gave us some experience with this kind of show. We’ll be looking at similar projects in the future. One in the works for 2013 is the avant-garde filmmaker Hans Richter. It’ll be a little bit different from Tim Burton, but it will bring film and experimentation into our galleries.”
Tickets to the main show go on sale May 2, but LACMA members get priority ticketing and admission, and can make reservations starting March 30. The museum also is offering new members two free tickets if they join today.
Here’s a gallery of Tim Burton’s art and some of his LACMA picks:
April 7, 2011
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship, with Film Independent handling the film programming side of things and the New York Times underwriting the effort. The new arrangement comes as the museum’s film program has struggled in recent years to find its financial footing and build an audience.
Both organizations bring a lot to the table. L.A.-based Film Independent is the non-profit arts organization that produces the Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival. LACMA’s tapping the outfit for its programming and curatorial expertise, its marketing and audience-building acumen, and its ties to prominent cutting-edge filmmakers (Film Independent’s president is Bill Condon, director of “Gods and Monsters” and “Kinsey;” its board members include actors Laura Dern, Forest Whitaker and Don Cheadle.)
Plans call for Film Independent’s programming department and a new lead programmer, yet to be named, to work with LACMA’s director and curatorial staff to assemble film series that both showcase artistic achievement and contribute to the cultural conversation about movies.
And, as the sole presenting sponsor of LACMA’s new Film Series, the New York Times will be bringing the national newspaper’s heft and prestige to the project while increasing the paper’s visibility in the world’s film capital.
Speaking by phone from London, Michael Govan, LACMA’s chief executive, explained that the Film Independent-New York Times partnership will be starting out as a one-year commitment, but that Film Independent already is busy developing a 3-to-5-year plan. “It’s been happening pretty quickly,” Govan said. “We’d been doing our analysis and looking at what we should be doing moving into the future. We’d talked to Film Independent early in the beginning, and lately we kind of circled around again and decided they were the perfect choice.”
Govan said the arrangement is “open-ended.” “The idea is to grow the program,” he said, adding that the New York Times has signaled its interest in expanding its initial first-year commitment into a longer relationship.
LACMA’s new partnership is effective immediately. Look for some new programming in September, set to include a wide variety of offerings including dramatic features and documentaries; rarities from the archives; themed series showcasing particular artists; conversations with filmmakers; international showcases; family films; and special guest-curated programs. LACMA is also laying plans for monthly post-screening receptions to create a salon-like setting in which aficionados, artists and the general public can mix and mingle.
LACMA’s current consulting curator in the Film Department, Ian Birnie, is moving on, but patrons will soon enjoy his final series for LACMA, a Tim Burton summer film festival offered in conjunction with a major exhibition and retrospective of Burton’s dark and droll art, sculpture and production design work that opens May 29.
The museum’s popular Tuesday film matinees and individual film programs keyed to special exhibitions will continue.
The new partnership comes as LACMA prepares to host an expanded version of a traveling exhibition and film festival, currently showing in Paris at the Cinémathèque Français, featuring the works of Stanley Kubrick, whose works ranging from “Dr. Strangelove” to “A Clockwork Orange” are widely considered among the most influential in the history of cinema.
LACMA’s longer-range film programming plans are gradually coming into focus. Govan’s goal is to develop “a larger footprint for film” at the museum, in which screenings and exhibitions are at the center of a rotating galaxy of related curatorial, scholarly and social activities.
The new venture situates LACMA in the heart of L.A.’s cultural scene, but as part of an ensemble, not as a soloist. “We’ve been thinking about it a lot, that as times have gotten tougher, non-profit organizations should be doing more collaboration, “ Govan said, calling it “ a viable and exciting strategy in a time when resources for the arts are shrinking.”
March 22, 2011
Will kids go wild for a machine that mimics the mouth of a pill bug? How durable should a soil sifter be if you want it to last for more than a field trip or two? Will people examine a compost pile without an invitation?
Inquiring minds at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County want to know.
In less than a month, the museum’s wildly popular Butterfly Pavilion will open for the spring and summer. In past years, the action has all been inside, in the fluttering realm of some 55 species of moths and butterflies.
But this April 10 when the Pavilion opens, the creatures with wings won’t be the only ones under observation. In an effort to perfect displays planned for the new North Campus gardens that will open in 2013 at the museum, an assortment of prototype gadgets and interactive science exhibits will be tested throughout the summer in the outdoor space around the greenhouse-like structure.
And museum workers are looking to visitors, young and old, for help.
“We’ll be making observations on how people use these interactive exhibits,” says Lila Higgins, the museum’s manager of citizen science and live animals. “We’ll be talking to visitors, listening to their feedback.”
New displays will be set up, one or two at a time, to see how visitors use them and to pinpoint aspects that need tweaking. Pint-sized focus group (aka kids) are especially invited to weigh in.
Museum officials hope the new garden—part of a sweeping renovation that began last year with the “Age of Mammals” exhibition and that this summer will double the museum’s dinosaur exhibits with a new Dinosaur Hall—will teach visitors more about Southern California’s natural environment and give the museum experience a novel outdoor component. Proposed areas include a Home Garden with vegetables and fruit, an Urban Wilderness featuring many native California flora and fauna and a “Get Dirty Zone” where kids can, for example, play in a dirt pile.
Interactivity, however, is considered to be key, and museum staffers have spent months brainstorming ideas for displays, Higgins says.
“I personally love looking through compost piles and finding little beetles and grubs in there,” she says, “but will other people want to do that?
Ideas that have made it to the prototype stage include a butterfly counter, a periscope that will give children a birds-eye view of the landscape, a gizmo that will let kids sift soil and—dear to Higgins’ heart—a heart machine that will demonstrate how pill bugs break down leaves to help create compost.
“Everybody knows that worms aerate the soil, but not everyone knows what pill bugs do,” says Higgins. “So we were all around the table, with ideas flying around, and we knew we were going to have this Get Dirty Zone, and so we started talking about what pill bugs do. Well, they shred leaves. So what if a kid could have the chance to be like a pill bug? Maybe turn a crank and see that a pill bug’s mouth is like a leaf shredder?”
Within a few months, they had a prototype from Cinnabar California Inc, the Los Angeles firm that designed and built the Age of Mammals exhibit. Devised so that children as young as 5 can access it, it’s a metal mechanism in a wooden box that demonstrates the mechanics of the bug’s mouth.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it anywhere in the world,” says Higgins. “Maybe it’s a bit wacky, but the first time I saw the mock-up—well, when I see a kid use it, I’m going to be so excited.”
January 26, 2011
Like many stars of a certain age, they no longer get out much. Still, as Oscar season approaches, they deserve their due. Some made history with Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. Some were themselves Academy Award-winners.
True, most have spent the past several years in a vault in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. But the 250 or so historic movie costumes—owned, improbably, by Los Angeles County—represent one of the most well preserved aggregations of stardom in Hollywood.
“The bulk of people don’t know about it, but it’s a very important collection,” says Glenn Brown, archivist at the MGM Corporate Archives. “Its pieces are from some of the earliest days of film, things from the ‘20s and ’30s, donated by the stars themselves. Things you hardly ever find anywhere.”
Chaplin’s “Tramp” costume is there. So are Fred Astaire’s tap shoes, Charlton Heston’s “Ben Hur” tunic and the green-sprigged dress (battered but unbowed) that Scarlett O’Hara wore in “Gone With The Wind” at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks. There’s also the pink Howard Greer ball gown that Pickford wore in her first talkie, “Coquette.”
The Natural History Museum has amassed not only many of the most important costumes from the earliest days of the movies, but also a trove of historic film props and other movie mementos, from Lon Chaney’s makeup kit to preserved locks of Pickford’s golden hair, lopped off when she famously bobbed it. Back in the day, such items were considered so insignificant that studios routinely burned, tossed or reused them.
Beth Werling, who manages the collection along with a wide range of three-dimensional artifacts for the museum, says it’s “the biggest collection of its kind in a public institution.” That “public” qualifier is important, historians say, because in recent decades, Hollywood memorabilia has become increasingly privatized at institutions like the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising and in individual collections, such as one owned by actress Debbie Reynolds.
“Things are everywhere,” says Shelly Foote, a longtime historian in the Smithsonian Institutions’ costume collection. The county’s collection is essential for pieces from the ‘20s and ‘30s, says Foote, who turned to the Natural History Museum in researching her forthcoming book on the designer Greer.
Of course, a public institution best known for dinosaurs and rock collections might be the last place most people would go digging for Hollywood glamour.
“But when the Natural History Museum was founded in 1913,” says curator Werling, “it was called the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. So we’ve collected Los Angeles history since the very beginning.”
The movie collection began in 1930, she says, after studios and stars in the nascent industry began donating items—some just to get rid of them, others because prescient museum officials felt they might be of historical significance someday.
“The then-curator simply contacted everyone and anyone in the industry at the time and asked for donations,” says Werling. Typically, she and others say, such requests elicited shrugs and amusement.
“Costumes were a means to an end,” explains Deborah Landis, director of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA. “The movie was all that mattered. Just as sets are broken up and props go back to the prop house, costumes were reused and re-dyed, and the hems were cut and remade, and nothing was kept because nothing was valued.”
Werling credits that benign disregard for the museum’s unparalleled cache of Chaplin memorabilia, donated for the most part by the actor himself.
“He was a very, shall we say, cautious individual when it came to money and I don’t think he would have ever given anything away if he had any idea what these items would later be worth,” says Werling.
“But the motion picture industry was only about 25 years old then, and it was the beginning of the studio era. It was still being argued whether it was even an art form. And I think people were just flattered to think that anyone saw what they were doing as something worth saving.”
As a result, the county’s collection ranges from the roller skates Chaplin wore in “Modern Times” to his burlap boots from “Gold Rush.” “He donated his Tramp costume from ‘City Lights’ and, as a result, we have the only complete one in still in existence,” Werling says.
Since then, she says, items have come from a variety of sources. Carl Laemmle, who founded Universal, donated a number of early items. A more recent cache came from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art after curators there refocused their costume collection more on couture and fashion. Still others were donated by collectors who decided their items deserved museum-level care.
A motion picture costume is more than just clothing, says veteran costume designer Jeffrey Kurland, who designed the costumes from last year’s sci-fi thriller, “Inception”.
“It’s character-driven. It helps build a visual picture of a character,” he says. “Think of Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With The Wind’ in that barbecue dress, that garden print, so young and frivolous and puffy. That’s how we meet her. And then watch the progression as war comes and her character changes.
“The clothes become slimmer and tighter, until there she is toward the end, in that garnet red dress with Rhett Butler. Think of the line, the fit, the silhouette. Look where she has finally traveled. The clothes show her character’s arc.”
Local museum-goers have seen little in recent years of the county’s collection, partly because of space constraints and partly because of the fragility of the costumes themselves. The barbecue dress from “Gone With The Wind”, for example—which came to the museum from LACMA—is undergoing extensive repair work because time has all but shattered the costume’s lining, says Werling.
But mostly the collection has remained backstage because of an ongoing rebuilding and transformation project leading up to the Natural History Museum’s 2013 Centennial. So far, the initiative has restored and seismically retrofitted the Beaux Arts museum building and added the new “Age of Mammals” exhibit. But construction has closed the small area where the costumes used to be shown, a few at a time, in glass cases.
A new California history hall is expected in late 2012, just before the museum’s centennial celebration. When it opens, the public can expect to see a lot more of Hollywood, says Werling. Until then, the public’s best hope is to look for the items that are frequently placed on loan to other exhibitions.
Or look for events like the one set for February 4-5 at William S. Hart Park in Newhall—a “ChaplinFest” celebrating the 75th anniversary of “Modern Times,” whose closing scene, with its poignant rendition of the song “Smile,” was filmed nearby on the Sierra Highway.
It was one of Chaplin’s most important films, depicting the tragicomic breakdown of a factory worker beset by the dehumanization of the industrial era. At one point, in fact, the Tramp is swallowed up by the giant gears of the assembly line and run through the machine in his striped workman’s outfit.
On display at Hart Park will be those iconic overalls Chaplin wore—ready for their close-up, even now.