By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
LACMA'S Stephanie Barron and Kurt Schwitters' Construction for Noble Ladies (1919). CONNIE BUTLERASSOCIATE CURATOR, MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Michael Heizer's Double Negative is an earthwork from 1969-70 that's described in MOCA's collection catalog as "a 240,000-ton displacement in rhyolite and sandstone at the Mormon Mesa in Nevada." It's basically two large cuts in the ground on opposite sides of a canyon, located about five hours northeast of Las Vegas. It was a gift from [art dealer] Virginia Dwan, and that MOCA accepted it into its collection and took on the issues that go with it shows great vision. Heizer wanted it to change with time and for the land to eventually return to its original state, so his instructions were to just let it live. I'm moved by the Americanness of earthworks, and the ambition of these sculptures in the desert.
The Getty owns a group of Charles Sheeler photographs made in 1917 that are absolutely beautiful. They're stark images of buildings in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and they're so reductive they almost look Cubist. I love them because I'm interested in American vernacular architecture, and these are early abstractions of that subject.
RUSSELL FERGUSONASSOCIATE CURATOR, MOCA
MOCA's series of photographs by Robert Frank, The Americans Portfolio, is always moving to me. Every one of these photographs is incredible, and they introduced a new way of looking at the American landscape and society.
Portrait of a Halberdier (Francesco Guardi?), by Jacopo Pontormo, at the Getty, is a beautiful painting by a truly strange artist. It's a portrait done in 152830 of an aristocratic young man in a buff-colored jerkin who's holding a weapon in his right hand. There's an enigmatic sketch in the background that may represent the city walls of Florence, but it's so reduced it looks like a geometric abstraction. Pontormo was one of the founders of the Mannerist style in Italy, and he allows an element of distortion into his work that gives it a very personal flavor. It also prefigures much of what was to come in Italian painting later in the 16th century. At that point, the technical skills of the best artists were so advanced that people began to ask themselves, where do we go from here now that we've achieved such an astonishing level of representation? This particular Pontormo is relatively tame compared with his religious paintings, but you can see elements of his personal style here, a subtle elongation of the figure, for instance, and a peculiar rounding of the eye.
BARBARA GILBERT CURATOR OF CONTEMPORARY ART, SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER
We have a terrific double portrait from 1926 by the German artist Max Liebermann called Portrait of the Artist's Wife and Granddaughter. Liebermann was the leader of the Berlin Secession, and he brought Impressionism to Germany, which is a chapter of history that's not well-known. Most of Liebermann's work is in Germany, and he's almost entirely unknown in the U.S. This piece shows a woman sitting in a chair with a young girl sitting on the arm of the chair, and they're reading something together. It's loosely painted, and at the time it was made, it was considered quite outrageous in Berlin, which wasn't at all avant-garde compared with Paris and other European cities. A much more conservative point of view prevailed there.
DAVID KAMANSKYEXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AND SENIOR CURATOR, PACIFIC ASIA MUSEUM
We have a large painting of a holy man from around the 15th century, which is early Ming dynasty, that's spectacular. It's called Lohan and Attendant, which is a word for a holy man, and it's painted in transparent colors on silk. It's an elegant depiction of a man with a wonderful smile on his face, and behind him an aura emanates from his head. The aura is transparent, and through it you see beautiful trees and leaves. An attendant kneels in front of the lohan, who's rendered in a strong, individualistic style -- this is obviously a specific person being portrayed and not a generic wise man. There's lots of furniture in the painting, and the robes the lohan wears are rendered with such detail that the piece tells us a great deal about how people lived in this period.
There's a small still life from 1654 called Vase of Flowers, by Jan Davidz de Heem, at the Norton Simon that's exquisite. They have a wonderful collection of Dutch still lifes at the Norton Simon, which is such an unsung institution. The quality of their collection is so superb that it's legendary among museum people.
George Stuart's historical figures are my favorite things in our collection. They're only 18 inches high, but they're so remarkably lifelike that they really give you a sense of the personality of the individual being represented. We have 19 of them and right now Louis XIV French Court and The Last of the Manchus are on display. Stuart starts with an armature, like a skeleton, and builds the figure up from there. His painting and costuming are magnificent, and everything is duplicated down to the last detail. Stuart considers himself a historian and performer, and he uses his figures when he lectures on history.
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