Posts Tagged ‘THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM’

FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Three

LACMAWe began these spontaneous looks at three of Los Angeles’ cultural icons with The Norton Simon Museum, followed by The Getty Center. Now we come to the third side of the triangle and I am still trying to define LACMA.  Perhaps that is because I am most familiar with it; spend the most time at it. Of the three museums it is the most diverse in content, the most bureaucratic in design and administration, and also perhaps the most ambitious in its reach. You can go to LACMA’s website and discover the history of its birth on your own. Today we again arrive as a stranger with no bigger an agenda than to see what we can see.

PART THREE:  LACMA

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Though the newer buildings get the big “oohhhh” when you first arrive at LACMA, it is the old buildings that I find have held up quite well. The Times Courtyard is a wonderful place to gather with a friend and plan your time and what you want to see. If you don’t have an official agenda, you will be surrounded by choices.

The Japanese Pavilion with its Guggenheim-like spiral, the Hammer Building with the most comprehensive collection of Korean art outside of Korea and Japan, the Arts of the Americas Building which has special exhibits on the 2nd floor while the 3rd and 4th levels will take you through both pre and post European influenced art. There, ancient feathered serpents shake hands with Diego Rivera, David Hockney and Millard Sheets give you differing birds eye views of Los Angeles, American landscapes prove equal to the best of the Barbizon, and social realism reminds us that our relatively short history is filled with powerful human stories—Reginald Marsh’s Third Ave. El, Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro, Paul Cadmus’s Coney Islandall are grand fine art, and of these last, sometimes I wish LACMA would give them the greater promotion that they deserve.

The two new stars of the LACMA campus are the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and the even newer Resnick Pavilion. Both are mega-buck ultra contemporary architectural superstars. BCAM, as the Broad is called, is for those who love or who are at least curious about the cutting edges in Contemporary Art. For those who “get it” no more need be said—they will embrace the silk purse while others will hold their nose at the stench from the sow’s ear—and some will see nothing and insist the emperor is naked.  Rapture or anger, you won’t be bored.

The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is the newest member of the LACMA family and already has had a major success with Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.  Renzo Piano’s designs for the BCAM and Resnick structures is all 21st Century optimism, colors and shapes and promises for the eyes. And they reflect LACMA’s focus on the future demographics of Los Angeles.

However it is the Ahmanson building that is still the “museum” building at LACMA…the grand lady where you can find a genuine Egyptian mummy and “Jack the Dripper” just one floor apart, and while running from one to the other, have some Tea with Henri Matisse and gawk at Giacometti and puzzle over Modigliani and don’t miss those weird unhappy German expressionists and why did Picasso make all those women look like horses as he went from Neo Classic to Cubism and then to a fusion of both and how can you not see the big black thing in the lobby. The Ahmanson building has it all, plus Hindus and Buddha and a nod to Islam.

The gallery for the Impressionists/Post-impressionists/Paris School is weak. No way around it. And the reason is simple. The Getty and the Simon are the raucous offspring of wealthy individuals. LACMA is the hesitant creation of a city born of orange groves and dreams, trying to puff up its chest and imitate its East Coast peers. The great examples of European Modern Art were mostly bought and sold before LACMA even existed. However given how late it got into the game, LACMA has rolled the stone up the hill and done worthy job for the tax payers and the museum goers.

I want to end this piece with a treasure hunt for some modest works of art that continue to draw me back again and again. I’ll give you clues but you will have to search for them and find them. In the Art of the Americas building is a trio of works hanging side by side, paintings by two students and their teacher: Miki Hayakawa, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield. I leave it to you to learn the stories behind them. In the Ahmanson on the 3rd floor are two great little paintings, one hung so high up you might need a step stool to find it. They are Painting and Music by Martin Drolling and Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino by Martinus Rorbye. This last one is very small; actually it was a sketch in oil for a later work. However if you can get close enough to see the amazing detail in even this sketch, you will see that this very small painting is every equal to a much larger nearby masterpiece, View at La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, Near Orleans by Constant Troyon. Lastly, look for a beautiful and almost life-sized bronze, Seated Hercules by Guillaume Boichot, stare into the face and wonder…in wonder.

LACMA is very big and there is a lot to see, worth seeing, worth sharing with people you care about. It has free jazz concerts on Friday nights, and movie programs, and it has places where you can sit and be alone with a piece of art and take your time getting to know it. And if you do that with just one work of art, then LACMA is a success. You can learn more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at their website, www.lacma.org.

- By John Ireland

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Two

tgc5Eric Gibson, in his WSJ review of a new wing in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, writes “…museums are about collecting as well as building…” That is a prime issue in this series covering The Norton Simon Museum, The Getty Center, and LACMA. In the first part of this series I praised the Simon Museum for its intimacy and experience combined with its depth of art. In each of these articles, I come as a stranger to a new city…filled with bias and anticipation…and trying to record what I see as I see it…without anymore expertise than a horny sailor at a fifty-cent peep show.

PART TWO:  THE GETTY CENTER

For me The Getty Center is the quintessential Los Angeles museum: impossible (or at least exceedingly impractical) to get to without using a car. You must wind your way through the Sepulveda Pass and the Santa Monica Mountains that separate the Westside from the Valley. Finally you see it…The Getty Center sitting on a peak, accessed via—what else—Getty Center Drive. Attendants wave you into a gray concrete bunker which becomes a winding Dr. Strangelove-like descent into  the seven-levels of Dante’s parking garage. None of this, however, inhibited the throngs of people who joined me for a brisk elevator ride back up to the planet’s surface.

Bathed in Southern California sun, the tram station looks born in the New Wave French cinema of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 and Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle. Inside a plastic spaceship-subway pod we bumped and curved our way through Salad Nicoise landscapes interspersed with aerial views of the 405 Freeway.

At last we reached Getty Center’s mountain-top main entrance where white stone and chromed steel and blue skies announced that this was Olympus and we should be prepared to walk with the Gods. Yes arriving at The Getty Center is a visual show all its own. The complex of multiple buildings seems even larger because there is nothing else next to it except the wild home of deer and coyote and mountain lions. Los Angeles exists as a far away dream sculpture seen from enormous windows and imposing observation decks.

In addition to the four main halls (named for points on the compass) there are multiple gardens and administrative and research buildings plus studios and an Exhibition Pavilion and a Lecture Hall and an Auditorium and to keep on naming all the features is needless.  I glance left and right…people seem to either rush or move slowly…umbrellas and tables always available for shade and rest…I look up at Giacometti’s enormous Standing Woman I…(my Giacometti is bigger than your Giacometti?)…and for a moment I feel no need to even enter a building. But I do because that is what you do with Museums; you enter to worship the ghosts of your civilization.

In the entire western world, museums must be divided between those that feel compelled to show The Renaissance and those that do not. Yes it was a great time in human history…blah blah blah…but why does so much Renaissance art make me think of cheesy political commercials? (Perhaps because that is what much of it is was?) But this time was different on my trip to The Getty Center—whether it was the specific examples or the setting or the day or the pretty young Asian school girls swirling around like excited butterflies, whatever—I fell under the spell of art that I usually walk quickly past. For now, let me chalk it up to the Getty’s selection. I settled back and enjoyed the details of labor and skill in the amazing varieties of Jesus and his gang and their stories of good and god vs. evil and desire. This was the hip-hop Hollywood of its day and now because it is old and fragile we store it in giant temples such as The Getty Center and we come and look and maybe we even see ourselves in this old stuff. Later we think about it silently while answering email or maybe make a passing remark about it the next day.

Of course, as it was at the Norton Simon, when you turn away from the religious hoopla and sneak into the shadows of humanism, when art and sex conquer Religion, then the Renaissance really comes to life. And in this where The Getty Center excels. The sensual lust that artists masked behind Greek and Roman mythology seduces the viewer and cannot be talked away. It is about being naked, being ripe with desire. It is about blood and the human smells of hate and love.

It is the Getty’s Northern Renaissance works, however—and three by Rembrandt—that left me breathless, specifically An Old Man in Military Costume, Portrait of a Girl Wearing a Gold-Trimmed Cloak, and Saint Bartholomew (this last is a direct link to Vincent van Gogh). And here, for me, is the fascinating conflict between the anti-religious Northern Renaissance and the Holy Roman Catholic Renaissance of southern Europe. All the sexy, exciting stuff is from the heavily religious south and all the beautiful but dry, pinched, tight-ass painting is from the north. And maybe that reflects the modern European political world today—in Germany we have Angela Merkel, a prim matronly woman, and in Italy we have Silvio Berlusconi, a vain lecherous old man. Yes the Renaissance is alive and well in the 21st Century.

If you like modern decorative art (small d and small a intentional) then you can browse La Brea Avenue’s pretentious second-hand stores full of 50’s junk. But if you want to see Decorative Art so insanely beautiful that it drove a nation to murder its King and Queen, the furniture and French Tapestries at Getty Center are awe inspiring.  No Swanson frozen TV dinner short cuts, no phony San Fernando Valley McMansions, no Facebook/IKEA disposable software/hardware…here you will gain a hint of just how grand that period called “long ago” could be. Warren Buffett and Justin Bieber and Mark Zuckerberg all live in Pimple Land in comparison. And until you see this, you don’t know what the word rich means.

For all that Getty Center has, there is also something that it does not have. By the time I reached the art of the 1800s the curators seemed to have run out of inspiration or inventory. Up to that point Getty Center was a thrill ride…and then the ride sort of just…slowed…down.  Yes they have impressionists and post-Impressionists and van Gogh’s Irises, but for this period of art history, the energy just wasn’t there for me.

All museums acquire what they can afford at the time they buy it. That is why West Coast museums just don’t have the…juice, the big stuff you see in East Coast and European museums. The West Coast came late to the party. That’s the reality. And that said, The Getty Center is a wonderful museum and a wonderful experience. If you love art, do not deny yourself a visit there. I went looking for one thing, and was surprised and enthralled by something else.

- By John Ireland

For more information on The Getty Center go to www.getty.edu.

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles – Part One

nsmentry1A museum’s history is often as complex and varied as the works of art in it. Each of the three museums in this series have their own websites that can give you their stories of creation and evolution, so there is no reason for me to repeat that process here. This series is from the point of view of a traveler entering the gates of a far away city. I arrive thirsty and hungry and ready for any and all temptations …I stand eager to be stimulated and seduced…and the gates open.

PART ONE:  THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM

Most supermarkets have bigger parking lots than the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It is the smallest building on the smallest campus of the three major museums in this series. Intensely compact, the Simon’s focus is a very high quality of art that never becomes the overgrown cultural smorgasbord that often leads to institutional mediocrity. From the moment you drive into the free, single-level open sky parking area, everything about the Simon fits and flows.

As you leave your car you are already in a garden-like setting and the paths lead to a welcoming arrangement of larger than life Rodin sculptures. Without yet having breached the front door, you have been engaged by the narrative of Western Civilization. You cannot look at these works without also seeing everything that came before and after, and without feeling the weight of your own sack of skin and muscle and bone.

I have intentionally avoided pictures of the inside of the Museum because photographs cannot do justice to the art nor the experience of making your own entrance. Step through the doors and you are inside the core of the Simon. It reminds me of a flower with the petals made up of the four wings and a large theatre. One level below is the South and Southeast Asian galleries. The core, the center of this flower is for special exhibitions. Today I have come to visit the four wings that hold the story of my own history. These centuries of human emotion are the mirror I will be gazing into.

The first wing is filled with the 14th to 16th Centuries. Early, High, Mannerist, Northern, Southern…a Renaissance is a Renaissance is a Renaissance…and it is not my favorite art but neither I nor the Simon can ignore it. The Museum’s collection does more than just give a prerequisite Renaissance experience. With a selectivity and quality it demonstrates the genius of the Renaissance artists without beating you over the head with the religious messages. Perhaps it is the size of the museum that keeps it all more intimate and accessible. If you came to overdose on the Jesus and Mary Show this is not the museum for that…for the Simon’s examples of secular humanism hold equal stage. Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Joerg Fugger is wonderfully alive…I wanted to step in front of Fugger and force him to look at me, to engage him with questions about his life.

One of the important elements in the entire Norton Simon Museum experience is the outstanding presentation of all the art. The height at which the art is hung and sculpture placed, the skill of of the lighting, and the flow of the groupings, for me it is the best of any museum in the city.  Never once did I find myself bobbing and weaving like a drunken prize fighter at war with glare and reflection on the art work.

The second wing throws us into the 17th and 18th Centuries…carried there by Guido Reni’s portrait of St. Cecilia. Reni overwhelms his religious subject with stunning technique that makes this artist the real center of the painting. Art for art is now an unstoppable wave and the Simon immerses the viewer in Baroque paintings from Italy and Spain and the North. Everywhere you turn life explodes. Jan (Johannes) Fyt’s Still Life with Red Curtain and Zurbaran’s Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and a Rose filled me with child-like awe at their skill. Thomas de Kayser’s Portrait of a Father and His Son; Marie Genevieve Bouliar’s Self Portrait; and Theresa, Countess Kinsky by Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigree-Lebrun all remind me that I am walking through a world of hearts that once beat as furiously as my own.

The last two wings contain the 19th and 20th Centuries and I cannot separate them because they are wife and mistress to our modern life. And here the Simon shines with outstanding art. Edgar Degas is everywhere…his paintings and sculptures swirl around you…taunt you. At first I was overwhelmed and then quickly I was glad. It felt as if this were his studio and his home.

I’ve often thought that the best Renoirs are always someplace else. Until today. But don’t look for the large grand canvases that have been reproduced on everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets. At the Simon you will find small intimate Renoirs that will make you forget the “famous dead artist” and replace him with the living and curious and passionate and vulnerable Renoir.

My feet are no longer on the ground at this point…I am picked up on a Barbizon cloud and it carries me forward through the dreams of Corot and Monet and Seurat and Gauguin and Caillebotte and Lautrec…and at last I am at the feet of my personal Buddha, Vincent van Gogh. Even the Metropolitan in New York did not satisfy my eyes for his work. But at the Norton Simon there is a wonderful sampling and it is just large enough so that you can say “I met van Gogh today, and we talked awhile and then went our separate ways.” And for those who can only dream in modern media, take the time and you will come to discover that Vincent van Gogh is 3D…without the glasses.

I think Gertrude Stein would like the Museum’s view of the 20th Century…even the pictures she didn’t like. What would Picasso say to Sam Francis? What would Matisse think of Warhol? Would Modigliani and Braque agree? Perhaps it is because of the size of the Norton Simon Museum that this is a perfect place for making the walk from the Renaissance up to and through the last one hundred years. By the end of the journey you haven’t just viewed a history of the people of Western Civilization, you have also gazed into the mirror that this art offers and you have seen a reflection of yourself. And when our prejudices become an acid inside us, that is when we can turn and look back at the footsteps we have been walking in…and we can unflinchingly question ourselves and our lives, as every artist present in the Norton Simon Museum has also done.

This is a museum that has confidence and competence in its bones.  This is an art lover’s museum…and a museum’s museum.

- By John Ireland

For more information go to www.nortonsimon.org

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