Reflections on Jorge Pardo at LACMA
A while ago I heard that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had removed the plexiglass front from a display case in the Pre-Columbian galleries designed by artist Jorge Pardo, and I finally stopped by to take a look. Pardo mixes up traditional categories of fine and applied art in his work, and that mix is evident here. In my review of Pardo's otherwise compelling installation design, I noted one significant problem:
Several display cases make it harder than usual to see what's inside, sometimes even obliterating the view. They are fronted with sheets of plexiglass that follow the cases' undulating facades, while the pedestals are topped by round or oval plexiglass tubes. That means the acrylic bends, sending light-reflective ripples and arcs across sightlines into the display.
The problem was worst at the entry, where natural light from the glass-walled third-floor lobby turned the plexiglass into the equivalent of a fun-house mirror. That's the display case that has had the plexiglass removed, and the difference is dramatic. Here's what it looks like now, with Diego Rivera's portrait of collector John Dunbar at the left:
... has always split the difference between traditional sculpture and functional design, and that fits beautifully with the Pre-Columbian vessels, ritual objects and ornaments on display:
What I think Pardo has done here is use subliminal visual triggers to throw the LACMA collection into the same gap between artwork and functional object. Whatever these things were for the cultures that created them, they weren't, for them, art as we think of it. ... The Pardo framework proposes them as both a practical object, fetish and art by subtly reminding us that we have the same overlapping categories in our own culture.
There are still some issues with the reflections that occur in other display cases -- especially in the first gallery, where natural light leaks in from the lobby. You can see what happens in the following pictures, where the striations of light are pronounced in several places. I've also included a few details of the glare-free lobby display, which shows off three great ceramic figures from ancient West Mexico, made between 200 BC and AD 500:
-- Christopher Knight
Photos: Christopher Knight