James Turrell and Alexander Calder

A VISIT TO LACMA

JAMES TURRELL AND ALEXANDER CALDER

A few years ago in one of many small economic gestures, I chose to not update my memberships to the museums in the area, thereby saving myself hundreds of dollars. If there is an exhibition I want to see, I pay for a single admission, again, saving myself some money. The problem has been that, despite the fact that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is a public institution, funded by public tax dollars, mine, certain shows or certain parts of certain shows are withheld from certain ticketholders. In order to make more money, one as to pay as much as $20 more for a “special” exhibition. As a result, I have missed out on some of what LACMA offers, paid for by my taxes, and my protests have fallen on deaf ears.

To the rescue rode my good friend Nine Berson, of Pierce College, who treated me to a part of the Turrell show and to the Calder show that I had not been able to attend in the past. Nina and I were joined by Irina Costache. All of us had been past presidents of the Art Historians of Southern California and we had hoped that another past president, Constance Moffett could have joined us but she had a previous engagement. Despite that we have many advanced degrees among us, the three of had trouble joining up at the plaza near the ticket booth. Turns out that there are two: Nina and Irina were at the Chris Burden side of the museum; I was at the Bookstore side. It took us a half hour to find each other.

We immediately set out for the Turrell installation, which was quite wonderful. Attired in attractive white booties, courtesy of the museum, we mounted a steep flight of black steps to a white room where the back wall changed from pinks to blues, which rose and fell in color. Behind us the steps disappeared and the opening in the entrance of the room was filled with a projection of deeper darker colors that were framed with a band of contrasting colors around the door. The result was like being in a white box with each end as a different and changing colors. The guards watched us carefully, especially after Nina dared to lie down to enjoy the experience. They admonished us when we approached the back wall too closely. Given that art historians behave badly whenever we have the chance, we waited until we were briefly along and Irina and I rushed to the edge of the floor and found out that the color that saturated the back wall went down and down, far below the ledge.

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After lunch we went to the Calder exhibition, installed by Frank Gehry, who also installed the Ken Price show last year. We were not pleased with the installation: we did not care for the way in which the shadows were not given the opportunity to duplicate the mobiles. I was particularly sad that there was no breeze to activate the floating bits and pieces of the sculptures. A few years ago there was wonderful Calder exhibition at the Orange County Museum of Art. Installed against all white walls, no gray walls as at LACMA, each sculpture had a space to itself. I talked to the guard who told me that Calder’s sculptures arrived flat-packed and that each work had to be laboriously put together piece by piece by hand. The LACMA show was a bigger show with many small works by Calder. Gehry apparently likes to mount art on high. In the Ken Price exhibition there was an entire row of cups that were so above the head of the average viewer that only the top half could be seen. There was only one small sculpture placed about eight feet off the floor and, to my mind, small works should be put where one can see them. A reasonable request I think.

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My favorite part of the day was a wonderful Edward Biberman exhibition of his paintings of Venice Beach, which were paired with vintage photographs of Venice when Abbot Kinney turned the Pacific Coast into an American Venice. “Edward Biberman, Abbot Kinney, and the Story of Venice” is a very special show by an artist who captured his time with his paintings of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. The centerpiece of the room was Biberman’s 1941 mural for the Venice Post office. Part of the New Deal art projects, the mural was recently restored. In contrast to the delightful Biberman exhibition, the Helen Pashgian installation, “Light Invisible,” was a disappointment. The actual techniques used to create the towers of light, heated and molded sheets of acrylic, were more interesting than the result. I had some doubts about LACMA termed the “internal forms” inside the columns of light. To my mind Light and Space art must be meticulous but there were questions of craft with these internal forms, which were puzzling. Were they intentional or a failure of engineering? A question that should not have to be asked in an “immersive viewing experience.”

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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