December 01, 2013

A Visit to the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art

Hello from the City of Angels where I have spent a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.  It was a little odd to be lounging by the hotel pool rather than watching the Macy's Parade float down Central Park West on Thanksgiving morning, but a turkey dinner is equally delicious on either coast!

One of the highlights of my stay was a visit to the largest art museum in the western United States - the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or LACMA.  Established as an independent museum in 1961, the institution's collection of over 100,000 objects is now housed in a seven building complex situated on twenty acres in central Los Angeles.

Known primarily for their extensive holdings of Asian and Islamic art and artifacts, LACMA also boasts significant collections of Latin American and modern and contemporary works by American artists.  And with the recently opened Broad Contemporary Art Museum, housed in a Renzo Piano designed building, the museum has greatly increased its exhibition space for temporary and site specific installations.

It is these special works that I would like to share with you now - all with the aim of making art fun in the entertainment capitol of the world!

Let's start with a classic "Calder and Abstraction: From Avant Garde to Iconic" which just opened to the public last week and is drawing large crowds.  Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was an American sculptor who began working in wire but soon moved on to larger kinetic sculptures made of sheet metal.  His hanging mobiles and later "stabiles" (stationary sculptures with moving parts) were precisely engineered so the abstract forms would move on air currents making ever changing forms.  Although the museum commissioned one of his large works for their opening in 1965, this is his first exhibition in Los Angeles. 

Another American artist who works in metal is Richard Serra (b. 1939) and his 2006 steel sculpture "Band" is on view in the new Broad galleries.  This massive work is considered the artist's greatest achievement and it really is awesome.  Imagine 200 tons of steel precisely engineered into a 12-foot high and 70-foot long ribbon of subtly arcing metal that the viewer can walk into and around.  "Band" is a technological masterpiece and an incredibly elegant work despite its massive size.

Moving upstairs in the same building and we come to a retrospective of the work of California "Light and Space" artist James Turrell.  I was first introduced to Turrell's work this summer when the Guggenheim in New York presented his installation piece "Aten Reign" in their rotunda.  This is another amazing foray into the world of color and light ranging from his early projection pieces to his more recent "audience participation" works situated in another building. 

The latest work "Ganzfield/Breathing Light" involved a 45-minute wait in line and the removal of my shoes, but it was worth it.  Groups of 8 are admitted into a special elevated room where the light seems to saturate every inch and it is hard to tell up from down.  It's a little like being in a technicolor snowstorm, a mesmerizing experience where time slows down and light takes on a whole new meaning!

The next two stops are both by the same artist but are totally different in concept.  Chris Burden (b. 1946) is an American artist known for performance and installation pieces and LACMA has two great examples of his work now on view.  Inside the Broad galleries is "Metropolis II" a frenetic interpretation of a large modern city - maybe Los Angeles? - involving 11,000 tiny cars whizzing along 18 different roadways including a six-lane "highway".  The sculpture operates for an hour at a time with an attendant standing by to take care of any auto-incidents that may occur.

"Metropolis II" took four years to build with eight studio assistants helping to construct the cars, roadways and miniature buildings (including an Eiffel Tower!).  Visitors can view the work at ground level and from a mezzanine balcony for a birds eye view of this fabulous beehive of miniature madness.

Let's move outside to Chris Burden's 2008 sculpture created to grace LACMA's Wilshire Avenue entrance.  Entitled "Urban Light", the work comprises 202 authentic cast iron street lamps, restored and painted a uniform shade of grey.  The lights are more than just a nod to the city's history, they have been transformed into sculpture.  And when the sun goes down and the lights come on they are absolutely beautiful.

We're going to wrap up this visit with a look at the lighter side of art...just kidding!  "Levitated Mass" is an installation piece conceived by American artist Michael Heizer in 1969 but not completed until 2012 after a two decade search for the appropriate 340-ton rock and a three year odyssey to transport it to the site.  Now securely perched over a 456-foot long trench, the bolder challenges people to walk underneath its mass and contemplate how far we've come since the stone age.  It's a daunting invitation.

It has been a fun few days here in sunny California and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to really explore this great museum.  I am looking forward to returning when the former May Department Store, now known as LACMA West, is transformed into the Museum of Motion Pictures sometime in 2016.

1 comment:

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