Blog / Seeing the Light: Los Angeles

Posted By Wendy Hower and Rachel Goodwin

Los Angeles

Two Nasher Museum staffers crisscrossed Los Angeles over the course of five days to take in six art museums, three progressive art galleries, one storefront event space (involving a lot of artists), one museum exhibition opening event, one artist’s studio, one international museum web conference and a mystery theatre production in a basement. We visited the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Grand, and also MOCA Geffen; the new Broad Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Getty Center; and the Hammer Museum at U.C.L.A. Below is some of what we learned.

Observation Deck
As our plane approached the LAX runway, we saw the light: a stark white, yellowish-green light special to this city. This light of David Hockney paintings washed over us as we traveled around, taking in architecture, panoramic views, streetscapes, freeways. IMAGE AT TOP: View out a window from the exhibition Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
IMAGES BELOW (DESCENDING ORDER): Broad Museum; Walt Disney Concert Hall; Petersen Automobile Museum; Getty Center; interior plaza of the Getty Center; view overlooking the cactus garden and the city of Los Angeles from the Getty Center.

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Raining, Reigning
A cold front arrived in L.A. just as we did ─ a chilly, spitting rain ─ fitting for the L.A. County Museum of Art. There, in the immersive Rain Room, we controlled glowing raindrops so they would not fall on our heads. It was raining men at an exhibition opening party at LACMA, Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015, probably the best exhibition title EVER. We did not even try to compete (in fashion) with bespoke L.A. party men, who were almost difficult to distinguish from the exhibition mannequins with soft, gray leather hair. Frozen and live men alike peacocked their way through a whole century of cinching and padding and bedazzlement. IMAGES BELOW (DESCENDING ORDER): The immersive installation, Rain Room, at LACMA. Rain Room by Random International, 2012, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, © Random International, courtesy Random International. Detail of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photograph Two Men Dancing, 1984, 19.75 × 15.8125 × inches, gelatin silver print. Installations views of the LACMA exhibition, Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015. Some of the new friends we met at LACMA’s opening party for Reigning Men.

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The Crit
The 20th edition of an annual conference called “Museums and the Web” drew us to L.A. in the first place. The Nasher Museum’s website was chosen, along with ICA Boston and the Smithsonian Learning Lab, for a public critique session. Our biggest takeaway: Facebook and Instagram have changed the way people read websites. Readers prefer to scroll down and tap on areas of interest rather than browse across the top, “above the fold,” like a newspaper. We look forward to embarking on a website audit very soon with our trusted web vendor Cuberis, based in Durham.

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Women Sculptors
All over L.A., we were amazed to find sculptures by women who worked alongside men for decades yet were rarely recognized in their own time, even as they expanded and influenced the art conversation. Women sculptors are the stars of the first exhibition at Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel, which recently opened a spectacular new space in a former flour factory in Little Tokyo. In Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947 – 2016, the art soars and surprises! Basically, we worship California-born Ruth Asawa, a Black Mountain College artist who worked in the ’50s and ’60s. New York Times critic Holland Cotter had a point when he suggested that Revolution in the Making was missing something. “It doesn’t have enough new history,” Cotter writes. “… Surely an essential justification for an all-women show is to introduce new names, unseen work, understudied lives.” And so our visit to the studio of artist Lisa Soto did not seem coincidental! Her beautiful work, which is somehow both strong and delicate, fits right in with the exceptional women sculptors at Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel ─  women who have long been excluded from the canon. IMAGES (DESCENDING ORDER): Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933- 1957 featuring a detail of a stunning work by Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S. 272),  c. 1955. Copper and iron wire, 108 x 15 x 15 inches. Private Collection. © Estate of Ruth Asawa. Detail of Ruth Asawa’s Untitled (S. 272). Two details of Lisa Soto’s work. Group photo of Rachel Goodwin, Wendy Hower and Lisa Soto. Installation view at Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel  in the exhibition Revolution in the Making, featuring Shinique Smith’s Forgiving Strands, 2015–2016. Clothing, fabric, ribbon, rope and found objects. Dimensions variable. © Shinique Smith.

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Infinity
The idea of “the infinite” was a theme throughout our visit to L.A. We stepped into Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room knowing it was a tiny gallery space but found ourselves part of something that expanded far beyond our own galaxy. We also experienced infinity in the view of L.A. city lights from a West Hollywood restaurant, in the repeating shapes of contemporary Islamic art at LACMA, and on and on. IMAGES BELOW: Three images of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (installation view), 2013. Wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic panel, rubber, LED lighting system, acrylic balls, and water. 113 1/4 x 163 1/2 x 163 1/2 in. (287.66 x 415.29 x 415.29 cm).

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Murals
The Los Angeles City Council lifted a decade-long ban on public murals in 2013. This city, best experienced by automobile, would not be L.A. without murals. Monumental paintings connect sidewalk to sky, softening the facades of decaying buildings. They reveal themselves through trees and vines of huge, colorful extraterrestrial flowers. The eyes of giant gods, whether benevolent or monstrous, are constantly upon us. Other street paintings make tiny colorful marks in places impossible to reach. Creativity leaks out of cracks and corners. IMAGES: Various murals throughout the city of Los Angeles.

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Play
At MOCA Geffen, in Little Tokyo, we were awed by the mammoth fabric house created by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh. We also made a pilgrimage to The Machine Project, a storefront space in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that hosts unexpected events. At the Nasher Museum, we’ve been Machine Project fans from afar, reading about the Floating Library, Group Naps and such mysterious events as “What Does a UFO Smell Like?” Guru Mark Allen explained to us his philosophy on art and events:  Have fun. Failure is mandatory. That night we crept down into the Machine Project basement (“Gee, this unfinished basement would make a swell theatre!”) to see a Mystery Theater production, Sahara Tahoe, a play by Dorothy Hoover. Obviously L.A. has no shortage of amazing actors and playwrights. We are still humming the music. IMAGES (DESCENDING ORDER): Installation view of exhibition Don’t Look Back: The 1990s at MOCA Geffen featuring Do-Ho Suh’s Seoul Home/Seoul Home/Kanazawa Home, 2012. Silk, metal armature, various dimensions. Edition of 3. Director Mark Allen with a staff member at The Machine Project. Basement theatre at The Machine Project.

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Vision
The Rothko gallery at MOCA Grand is a required stop on every L.A. art trip. We rested on a bench for quite a while, meditating on color, boundaries and vision. Art + Practice, a gallery founded by artist Mark Bradford, philanthropist and collector Eileen Harris Norton and social activist Allan DiCastro, partners with the Hammer Museum. The vision: “encouraging education and culture by providing life-skills training for foster youth in the 90008 ZIP code as well as free, museum-curated art exhibitions and moderated art lectures to the community of Leimert Park.” Wow! We found two beautiful paintings by Robert Colescott, an artist whose work is in our upcoming Southern Accent exhibition.  On our way around the corner to the gallery Papillion, the word Vision beamed from a theatre marquee.  Then we walked into Papillion to find British artist Zoë Buckman’s visionary work that explores influences of Feminism and Hip-Hop. Lace and sheer pastels soared over our heads; we were caught in a frozen tornado of angry, beautiful women’s lingerie. IMAGES (DESCENDING ORDER): Installation view of the Mark Rothko gallery at MOCA Grand. Vision Theatre in South Central Los Angeles. Kevin Beasley, Untitled (Organ), 2015. T-shirts, resin. Collection of Christopher Yin and John Yoon. Street sign in South Central Los Angeles. Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog  at The Broad Museum. Installation view from the exhibition Every Curve at Papillion Gallery, featuring Zoe Buckman’s Neon Chastity Belt. Installation views from Every Curve.

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Audience
From the tram pulling us up to The Getty Center (greetings in many languages over a loudspeaker) to the courtyard of the Hammer Museum (sounds of Ping-Pong balls, live banjos and students laughing in roly-poly chairs) we were aware of audience. Audience is important when communicating with people to create a museum experience. Each situation calls for text, images and humans to help visitors feel comfortable, safe and ready for new experiences. A big gold star goes to the staff at The Broad Museum, whose visitor services associates (dressed all in black with bright red lanyards around their necks) ushered us briskly through several lines. They explained some rules (“Don’t touch the art”) and texted us when it was our turn for the popular Infinity installation. They eased our stress in the crowds so we could immerse ourselves in great architecture and art. IMAGES (DESCENDING ORDER): Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Shafted) (detail) (United States, New Jersey, Newark, active New York City and Los Angeles, born 1945) Olson Visual, Inc. (United States, California, Hawthorne, founded 1954), 2008. Prints. Digital-print installation, 94 x 18 x 12 ft. (28.65 x 5.49 x 3.66 m). Gift of Carole Bayer Sager, commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for the opening of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum Contemporary Art. Toba Khedoori, (b. 1964 Sydney, Australia), Untitled (Seats), (detail), 1996.  Oil and wax on paper. Purchased with funds provided by Lenore S. Greenberg and Laura-Lee Woods. Visitor Services Associate from The Broad Museum. View from the Museums and Web 2016 conference. Wendy Hower and Rachel Goodwin at the Broad Museum near an untitled sculpture from 1993 by Robert Therrien. Getty Inspired promotional campaign floor tile cling.

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The South
All over L.A. we asked everyone we met, “What do you think about the South?” Some people just stared at us. Others said that the South is very important in this year’s election. We told people about the Nasher Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art. And we saw many artists from that show in galleries around L.A. IMAGES (DESCENDING ORDER): Kara Walker, African’t, (detail). 1996. Cut paper on wall. 144 x 792 in. (365.76 x 2011.68 cm). Robert Rauschenberg’s décor for Minutiae (detail),  1976 after 1954 original. Oil, paper, fabric, newsprint, wood, metal, plastic, with mirror on string, on wood structure. 84 1/2 × 81 × 30 1/2 in. (214.6 × 205.7 × 77.5 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection, Gift of Jay F. Edlund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Two of Robert Colescott’s acrylic on canvas paintings at Art + Practice: Ole McWillie’s Farm, 2002, and Sleeping Beauty?, 2002. View from airplane on descent to RDU, infused with North Carolina’s blue-green light.

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We wish to extend special thanks to Nancy Lee, Arielle Sherman, Mitch Marr, Patrick O’Rourke and James Thompson at the Hammer Museum; Lauren Girard and Alex Capriotti at the Broad Museum; Miranda Carroll at LACMA; artist Lisa Soto; Julie Jaskol, Mikaela Poltz, Tristan Bravinder and Amy Hood at the Getty Center; Mark Allen at The Machine Project; and Sam at Art + Practice.

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Photos by Wendy Hower, director of engagement and marketing, and Rachel Goodwin, graphic designer and web content manager, at the Nasher Museum. Rain Room photo by Miranda Carroll.

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