Thursday, June 01, 2017

A four-hour visit to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

We made a super-quick journey to Southern California's urban environs in March and there wasn't enough time to visit Los Angeles' multiple contemporary-art museums, but I did spend the day at LACMA. And it was a day well spent. Journalistic device in action now:

Who: Me alone. My family's not as interested in art as I am. I'm used to this. Although my parents both draw very well and my mom is innately creative and has a great eye, I grew up in an environment where art was treated like any other random action of life, like the ability to parallel park, or to bake a delicious broccoli casserole. 

In a way, that's good—I agree that art is just another part of life and it doesn't make you special if you're an artist. No more special than if you're a competent and personable dental hygienist or a first-rate butcher. There's a part of me that defines art as skilled labor, not only because of my family's casual relationship with making things that look excellent (my mom—the most humble artist I know), but because the study of ancient art can only lead to the conclusion that there had always been an artisan class throughout the ages. This class left recorded histories behind through their work, but they followed the "look and feel" of their defined cultures. They were worker bees in the archivist factory method of visual representation. This went on for centuries until fairly recently with the rise of the contemporary artist as personal visionary. (As far as we know—we can only study what we can find of the past.) 

Also, my traveling companions, Keith and Jackson, were not psyched about a day at the art museum. They explored Los Angeles' public-transportation options and downtown instead. It's probably good I don't live with a bunch of artists because we'd get on each other's nerves.

What: LACMA is a delightfully sprawling mish-mash of multi-storied and multi-styled galleries (seven buildings at the moment, soon to be eight with the finished addition of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures—hooray for Hollywood!). The price is right. I think I paid $15 and I saw most everything there is to see. It took four hours of constant exploring with a rest stop at the cafe for a delicious and affordable chicken salad, with a view of the La Brea tar pits. It was four hours very well spent.

Where: Google it. We stayed at the Bevonshire Motel, a fifteen-minute walk away from the museum. We were walking-distance to the original Farmer's Market and had a lot of delicious food there during our stay. Yes, we walked in L.A. Lots of people do, as well as ride their bikes and jog, all on the narrow sidewalks of seemingly mile-wide boulevards with their endless herds of cars. We went hiking in Laurel Canyon too. We did it all.

Why?: Because: Art, always and forever.

Let's explore just a few out of seemingly millions of artful treasures at LACMA with these low-res images for educational purposes only.

Urban Light by Chris Burden makes for quite an entryway to the Museum

Chris Burden is well-represented. Metropolis II has its own alcove with mezzanine for an overhead view. More than a thousand Matchbox-sized cars are lined up on the roadway, ready to roll, but only on the weekends, so I missed all the traffic. I wonder what kind of noises come out of this thing when it's turned on. My guess: whirrrrr! zzzzzzzzzz! shhhhhhhhhh! grrrrrrrrrrind. 

Let's see if I guessed right.

Magnus Zeller's The Orator, c. 1920. Oil on canvas. Someone's got a handle on our penchant to worship scary demigods.

Ya think?

I know what you're saying: Why did you include this rather basic charcoal study of Woman Resting by Henri Matisse (1941)? Two reasons: It's Matisse, so bow down. And: I'm working a lot with vine charcoal and other charcoal-based drawing implements, so any charcoal drawing by my lord and master Matisse, is worth a look. And she's beautiful (unlike the women featured throughout LACMA by Picasso, who loved tears, anguish and drama in his female portrayals).

Here's Picasso's Centaur.

All the modern masters are well represented including Klee, Kandinsky, Frankenthaler, Magritte and so on. I wish more women from the 19th and early-20th centuries were included, but I often find myself wishing that in big, established museums. Someday...

John Chamberlain - Sweet William, 1962. This lovely and carefully mangled sculpture made from auto scrap was flanked by big, bold Willem de Kooning abstracts. A perfect corner in the world.

Polly Apfelbaum's Black Flag (2002) is made from synthetic crushed velvet and dye and yes, the title comes from the band. This is after all, Los Angeles.

I love a room full of crushed-velvet floor art.

Detail — check out the many patterns! Impressive!

And now for some major paint application from Joan Brown's Girl in Chair, 1962. Oil on canvas, as if you couldn't tell.


This was painted in 1962 and it probably finally dried a few weeks ago.

This is one of those paintings (oil on canvas) where you see it across the room and think: Oh, that's nice. It looks fanciful! Then you get up close and you think: Hooooowww did this come to be? It's a wonder-world and I want to go to it! Raoul Dufy, Paris, 1934.

Get up close. The whole city in a painting.

Some color for you. More oil on canvas. Frantisek Kupka from the country formerly known as Bohemia (Czech Republic), Irregular Forms: Creation, 1911.

This is a super-famous chair, even though it's not very comfortable, I'm guessing. Red Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld from the De Stijl movement of 1923. Very forward-thinking for the era. There was an entire industrial Bauhaus room at LACMA so you could imagine your life filled with thoughtful clean and functional design.

The last building I came to, next to the Page Museum (otherwise known as the La Brea Tar Pits Museum with its trillions of fossilized bones) is the Pavilion for Japanese Art. I was all in for this. Let's go inside.

It's trippy. Modern meets ancient meets modern, with mezzanines.

Yes, of course there's ancient art in here, including this wondrous wood and crystal sculpture of Bishamonten, the Guardian King of the North (c. 1250—that's right: 1250).

Check out Bishamonten. He is the coolest.

Even the demon he's squashed has to agree. The Guardian King of the North is no one to mess with.

Nearby is this serene Buddha by Jizo Bosatsu, c. 1070 - 1120. That's right, this striking and extremely beautiful wooden sculpture was made sometime around 1100.

It was once a huge block of wood. Then it became something else, yet the wood lends it its own life as well and is infused by Bosatsu with spiritual peace.

Even the feet standing upon the lotus blossom look so relaxed. It probably doesn't come through in these shots, but in person, I felt it.

Female Shinto Deity is also made from wood, from the 13th century. Pure strength.

Across the open-floor concept of this gallery is a case full of whimsical ceramic-ware you might think is part of a cute home-decor display. But no, these are hand-warmers, designed to be filled with hot charcoal and ashes on cold mornings between the years 1830-1840. Imagine being chilled to the bone but this little bunny by Eiraku Hozen is squatting nearby, filled with hot ashes, ready to warm you up and make life worth living again.

Or maybe you're more of a little-puppy kind of person. Take in Takahashi Dohachi's double puppies. Their bodies open up to fill with hot charcoals. I feel warmer just looking at them.

This seated dog's only purpose is to be enchanting. It was made in the late 17th century and is on sale now at Pier 1 Imports. I'm kidding. It was on sale during the Edo period. Sorry. Sale's over now.

Now some modern art that mixes elements of psychedelic new with woodblock-inspired old: a series of posters and prints by Awazu Kiyoshi (1929-2009). They inspired me to think of art as a combination of recurring images and colors that should be mashed together. But only at my most courageous and thoughtful would I attempt this wonderful blend of vibrancy, fonts and birds (he definitely liked birds).

Elements of master artist Hirshoge

And Shakespeare.

Are you exhausted yet. I am! And this is only a fraction of what I saw and photographed. We're going to end in the Art of the Americas building. My last stop of my four-hour self-guided tour (which for me, meant wandering around in circles until I saw most everything).

Don't be like the American couple I saw enter this gallery (designed by Cuban artist Jorge Pardo to house much of the ancient art of western and southern Mexico in weird, modernist fashion), turn around and leave without studying some of the memorable character of these sculptures. Like Mexico itself, the humor, humanity and utter bizarre nature of life on Earth comes through in so many ways in these little terracotta figurines.

For instance, this is a dog wearing a human mask. I think it works.

Ball player and others in the strange Pardo-designed environment. I was too exhausted at this point to capture the entire room scheme, which includes gaudy chandeliers and ceiling-high curtains above bulbous Ikea-like enclosures and shelf units. Does it work? I don't know. I traveled throughout the regions of Mexico represented here so I'm coming at it from someone who delights in all things Mexican (except the sexism, which drove me home earlier than I had hoped).

Check out this little hairless dog. He or she looks alert and ready for action. From Colima from somewhere in the time of 200 BC - 200 CE. These little hairless dogs are still cherished in Mexico.

A collage of wonderful characters I met in the Ancient Americas Gallery. Many of these are from the Jalisco region where my family comes from. Maybe one of my ancestors made some of this art. I wouldn't be surprised. If you need any reference material for sketching, I recommend these.

Stumbling back to my motel, stiff and artfully satiated, I came across Wigs Today on 3rd and Fairfax. How could I not frame this moment somehow?

Wigs Today — I will return, cash in hand.

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