Category: It Speaks to Me

It Speaks to Me: Diana Thater on Nam June Paik's 'Video Flag Z' at LACMA

January 25, 2012 | 10:00 am

Nam June Paik is a wonderful artist. There are some great examples of his work in the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, but this is the only major Paik I know of in a public collection in L.A. It’s a grid of 84 Quasar TVs laid out like an American flag; one channel feeds all the screens on the top left section with images of stars, and the other channel gives us the stripes. The stars and stripes are constantly changing: images fold, multiply and zip across the screens. Scenes from movies dissolve in and out. It’s an exuberant work full of color and recognizable signs, like hearts and stars, and figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Allen Ginsberg, yet it creates no narrative and, in its comedy, mocks the quaint idea of linear time. For Paik there is no inherent meaning in the progression of history, in the ticking of the clock; there is only meaning in the simultaneous and chaotic flow of life. So the work encourages us to let go of the desire to link moments one after another into a falsely comprehensible story — it opens us up to living completely in the present. It has a kind of living beauty that is best expressed in the moving image.I think the people who restored the work a few years ago--Elvin Whitesides and Eddy Vajarakitipongse--understand that very well. TVs don't last forever, and they had to take them apart and put new tubes in them while keeping the aesthetic. They did an amazing job.
— Diana Thater, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Nam June Paik's Video Flag Z, 1986. © Nam June Paik Estate, installation. Image courtsey Museum Associates/LACMA, 2012.

It Speaks to Me: Monique Prieto on John Altoon

November 23, 2011 |  9:00 am

P196430_300This painting has a great, long approach so you see it from a distance at first, like you’re viewing a moment in a film. And its forms are very large, unlike anything else in the room. The shapes are like hieroglyphics: they seem to be representing something, but it’s not clear what. Then you read the title, and you realize it is a landscape but one that’s untethered, where all the elements are floating. That’s the real fun of it: Altoon gives us a sky and dirty fog over ocean with a weird ice plant or cactus greenery in the sand. It’s a strange sort of landscape, but familiar to me because I grew up here in Los Angeles and was born in 1962, the year it was made. I perceive a temperature in the magenta that comes up from behind the forms — like hot-white L.A. air. He has somehow nailed down something very ephemeral and fleeting, and that's beautiful. He was clearly aware of the New York Abstract Expressionists but this is a West Coast sybaritic form, less puritanical. I think he really enjoyed the sun on his skin.

—Monique Prieto, as told to Jori Finkel
Image: Ocean Park Series #8, 1962, by John Altoon, 81-1/2 x 84 in.Norton Simon Museum. © 2011 Estate of John Altoon, Braunstein/Quay Gallery.

It Speaks to Me: Billy Al Bengston on Calder's 'Hello Girls' at LACMA

October 12, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Calder was extremely gifted, and if you look at all of his art, I’m not sure he didn’t discover and invent modern art — forget about Duchamp. Still to this day, I don’t think anybody completely understands his ability to capture and control space: the big stabiles, the big mobiles, the little teeny-weeny ones, hand-sized. I’m fascinated by everything he does because he seems to do it all with such ease, and nobody has ever made dumber shapes than that. He’s just brave. It’s sort of like Philip Guston, who is a flat-footed painter, and you wonder why he does silly stuff like cigar smokers. This work is a group of three mobiles built into a pond near the Japanese Pavilion — you can go up on a knoll and walk around it. It’s not like going to look at a painting where you’ve got 20 spotlights 30 feet up in the air burning holes in the wall. [“Hello Girls”] is in situ, natural lighting. It will move with the wind. It will change color with the light, whether it’s a gray depressing day or a sunny day. This is a very unusual thing and something I try to emulate myself — I think art should change with the light.
— Billy Al Bengston, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Alexander Calder's "Hello Girls," 1964, Painted metal. Alexander Calder Estate/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy 2011 Museum Association/LACMA.

It Speaks to Me: Suzanne Lacy on Andrea Bowers

September 21, 2011 |  5:49 pm


Suzanne Lacy on Andrea Bowers’ “Nonviolent Civil Disobedience” drawing, 2007, at the Hammer Museum

Elvira Arellano was an immigrant whose son, a U.S. citizen, was born in this country. After years here she faced deportation because she was not documented, and they went into sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist church in Chicago. Andrea went there to do a project — video and drawings — around Elvira, exploring one of the most contentious debates in the United States: immigration reform. On this large sheet of paper is an incredibly labor-intensive pencil drawing — a seductive image that draws you in. You wonder: Is this a drawing or a photograph? The large white space and the size and placement of the figure draw us close, to see her humanity and strength in spite of overwhelming social forces. Bowers uses white space and the seductiveness of her craft to engage our imagination, to question our beliefs. I see this as an eloquent plea to pay attention and confront the reality of immigration.

— Artist Suzanne Lacy, as told to Jori Finkel

Click here for other artists on museum pieces that speak to them 

Image: detail from Andrea Bowers' "Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Drawing—Elvira Arellano in Sanctuary at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago as Protest Against Deportation, 2007", 2007 Colored pencil on paper, 30" x 22 1/4" paper size. Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter; Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Collection of Hammer Museum.

It Speaks to Me: Judy Fiskin on Joe Deal

August 11, 2011 |  9:00 am

This photograph, from a series Joe [Deal] did in a housing development 10 miles east of L.A., uses a bird’s eye view, just elevated enough to eliminate the horizon line. I like to think of him lurking in the hills and peering into people’s backyards. Here you are drawn to the giant shape in the middle. At first you think it’s a swimming pool and then you can see it’s a patch of grass, with some trees planted on it. But it’s strange: the teardrop shape makes more sense as a pool; as grass you wonder where it came from. Another odd thing is that they put their lawn furniture and swing set in the dirt around the grass. And the yard next door is totally scrub. Joe was grouped with Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and other photographers who also looked at the suburban sprawl of the 1960s and ’70s, but unlike them he always said he was not interested in making a critique, just in being a neutral observer. I think one clue as to what he was after is that he did this series at a point when the houses were up but the land was still raw. He at least wants you to be thinking about the point when what is there now meets what was there before.

—Artist Judy Fiskin, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Joe Deal's “Backyard, Diamond Bar, California” from 1980 at the Getty Museum. Not currently on view, the photograph will be shown as part of a photography exhibit opening at the Getty Dec. 20: "In Focus: Los Angeles, 1945-1980."

It Speaks to Me: Sam Durant on a 1953 Cold War poster at the Wende Museum in Culver City

July 20, 2011 |  9:00 am


This Soviet propaganda poster from 1953 depicts an American child looking at a sign that says “school closed.” It shows America as a sort of crumbling, Third World-looking country, very dark and ominous — probably close to the way we thought of Russia at the time. The poster says that the USA spends 1% of its budget on education and 74% on the military, and more than 10 million people here are illiterate. So this is something of an exaggeration. But I’m interested in it because of what’s going on right now in the U.S. with the defunding of public education and the vilification of unionized schoolteachers. As a child of public education when it was maybe at its strongest point in the ’60s and early ’70s, what’s happening today really angers me.

I’m not planning on using this particular piece in my own work, but after doing a show and book with Emory Douglas, the Black Panther artist, I’ve had a keen interest in political propaganda and its relationship to culture. And I’m interested in the transitional historic moment that the Wende Museum represents. It’s dedicated to the fall of the Communist bloc in 1989 and has all types of material culture from East Germany and the Soviet Union — everything from chunks of the Berlin Wall to paintings. It also has a huge collection of surveillance equipment, which is fascinating.

--Artist Sam Durant, as told to Jori Finkel

K. Ivanov and V. Briskin's Soviet Union poster: "In the U.S.A." from 1953. Courtesy the Wende Museum in Culver City, open by appointment Monday through Thursday and without appointment 10am-5pm on Friday.

It Speaks to Me: Jason Meadows on Tony Smith’s ‘Smoke’ at LACMA

June 23, 2011 |  8:35 am

Smoke(1) To me it looks like a big alien spaceship landed in the Ahmanson pavilion. Or from another view it looks like a huge lumbering dinosaur. Smith called his sculptures “presences,” not objects, because they have this sort of dynamic, temporal quality. They change as you move through the space. And the form here is so powerful, based on cellular organic shapes like crystals and beehives instead of 90-degree geometry. It’s also a celebration of the triangle — his base unit here. If you imagine a square picture frame set on one edge, and apply weight to the top, it will shear and sway laterally. While a triangle set on one edge with weight applied to the top angle will hold its shape because you can’t change the shape of a triangle without changing the length of one of its sides, so you have an incredibly strong structure. I also love the black painted aluminum, which under the skylights is not at all uniform: You get a shadowy black shifting into a rich black turning into a reflective black. There’s a real electricity to it.

--Artist Jason Meadows, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Tony Smith, Smoke, painted aluminum, 1967, fabricated 2005. Artists Rights Society. Photo Museum Associates/LACMA.

It Speaks to Me: Clayton Brothers on Toulouse-Lautrec’s ‘Touc, Seated on a Table,’ c. 1881, at the Hammer Museum

June 8, 2011 |  4:00 pm

Touc Animals have always been important in our own paintings—we’ve used dogs and birds and all kinds of hybrids where one animal starts to morph into something else. They’re a gateway for us to gain empathy from viewers. That’s one of the powerful things about this painting: you get involved to the point where you start to wonder about the dog. Maybe the dog was a shop dog, or belonged to a café owner, seeing that he’s on the table and looks like he belongs there. He doesn’t look scared; he has attitude. It’s all in the eyes, which the painter captures very easily, as though he painted it on the spot. There’s something else curious: a little mark right in front of the dog that looks like  a cigarette, just enough to give you the idea that there are people around. It alludes to a bigger picture, a human side of the Moulin Rouge, the Parisian cabaret that Toulouse-Lautrec was haunting and that shows up in so many of his other pictures.

-- Rob and Christian Clayton, as told to Jori Finkel





Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's "Touc, Seated on a Table," c. 1879-1881. Oil on panel.
The Armand Hammer Collection. Gift of the Armand Hammer Foundation.

It Speaks to Me: William Leavitt on James Rosenquist's 'Waves' at MOCA

May 25, 2011 | 11:35 am


I've been going to MOCA often for my show, and this painting of a Cyclops-like head caught my attention. What Rosenquist is doing here on one level is pretty obvious: a guy is in an embrace with a woman, and he's thinking about her skirt. But she's not shown, only her hands. And instead of a thought bubble, it's a thought rectangle — not above his head, but in his head. Also, he's represented only in pink, the color of lipstick, while her green skirt and creamy legs are in full color in the screen of his mind. This twangy color  relationship contributes to the mood of unease in the painting. Plus, when you get up close and see that the ”waves” are made of bailing twine threaded through the canvas, it adds to the feeling of tension.

--Artist William Leavitt, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: James Rosenquist's Waves, 1962, Oil on canvas, 56 x 77 in; Art © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, from the Panza Collection.

It Speaks to Me: James Welling on Hans Hofmann’s 1958 ‘Equipoise’ at LACMA

May 11, 2011 |  2:15 pm

Hofmann One of the pleasures of seeing the Hofmann is that it’s such a riot of colors. He was right there at the beginning of the 20th century working with Robert Delaunay, Matisse and Mondrian, a participant in early Modernist thinking about color. And “Equipoise” has these terrific passages of intense colors: To me they seem like rich, right-out-of-the-tube cadmium yellows, reds and greens — colors which do not exist in nature.

For the last couple of years, I’ve taught a class [at UCLA] where we look at the physiological origins of colors — the red, green and blue receptors in our eyes. But it always makes me jealous that painters get to use colors directly, where in photography it’s always mediated through tri-chromatic processes like color negatives or digital cameras. Another thing I like is that he made “Equipoise” when he was in his 70s — it’s exciting to see someone that age breaking into new territory.


— Artist James Welling, as told to Jori Finkel

Image: Hans Hofmann, Equipoise, 1958, oil on canvas. Photo from Museum Associates.


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