By Catherine Wagley
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
There's a piece called Duck's Breath in an exhibition at the Jurassic Museum called "Tell the Bees . . .: Belief, Knowledge and Hypersymbolic Cognition . . ." that I've thought a lot about. It's a life-size wax cast of a child's head facing a taxidermy duck head with its bill stuck in the child's mouth. It refers to the fact that people once believed various maladies could be alleviated by having a duck breathe into a child's mouth. The exhibition is about belief systems, which I find fascinating, and as an object the piece has a strange, erotic beauty.
JEREMY STRICKDIRECTOR, MOCA
Jasper Johns' Map is an incredibly gorgeous and subtle painting. Basically, it's a map of the United States rendered in gray tones, and it's made of collage, newspaper on canvas and encaustic, which is a wax medium infused with pigment. Each state is delineated, then the name of the state, or an abbreviation of the name, is painted onto it in a simple typeface. Maps are tremendously evocative things that incite curiosity and reflection, and Johns evokes that mood quite beautifully in this great work.
The Zurbarán at the Norton Simon is extraordinary, because it combines the most precise realism with pure abstract values. The subject of the painting is ostensibly mundane objects, but they're rendered with such intensity that they edge into another realm that's ultimately spiritual. It's been suggested that the objects are presented as if on an altar, but there's nothing overt about it; what's important is your sense of the harmony and absolute order of these objects.
GLORIA WILLIAMSCURATOR, THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM OF ART
Martha Rebuking Mary Magdalene for Her Vanity is a large narrative painting from the mid17th century by Guido Cagnacci that's full of invention. In the foreground, Mary Magdalene is sprawled on the ground in tears, and her sister, Martha, is seated above her reading her the riot act for her way of life as a prostitute. They're surrounded by a profusion of Mary's jewels, silk slippers and brocade robes, and two maids are leaving the room, one crying and penitent with sorrow, the other â frankly annoyed. In the background is a symbolic spiritual world inhabited by a nude angel with a stick in his hand. The angel is beating away a devil who's biting his index finger, which is an Italian gesture for rage -- he's mad, one assumes, because Mary Magdalene is about to stop sinning. It's a very sensual work, and part of the tension in the painting resides in the fact that it's presenting a cautionary tale against the dangers of physical pleasure, yet the painting itself is an intensely pleasurable physical object -- it has a real erotic jolt! Cagnacci isn't well-known, perhaps because much of his work is of lesser quality. He turned out respectable religious paintings for a period, then began to specialize in swooning Magdalenes, and Cleopatras plunging daggers into their breasts -- in other words, pinups. This is one of his most ambitious paintings, and he must've known that, because he signed himself as "inventor."
LACMA has a Baroque painting by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione called Noah's Sacrifice After the Deluge that's delightful. It's a biblical-pastoral painting; the flood has receded, Noah has left the ark and is about to make a sacrifice giving thanks for the fact that he and his family have been saved. All this is in the distant background, however. What you see in the foreground is a scruffy old man who's emptying the pantry of the ark, and is surrounded by heaps of copper pots, ceramic bowls, clothing and animals. Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits -- they're all right there in front, sort of laid across the painting horizontally. There was a period of Italian painting when things were often turned around, and what was important went in back; Castiglione specialized in this, and was often playful to the point of irreverence in his handling of biblical themes.
DAVID WILSONDIRECTOR, MUSEUM OF JURASSIC TECHNOLOGY
My favorite works in our collection are the microminiature sculptures by Hagop Sandaldjian, an artist who made sculpture out of human hair. You have to look through a magnifying lens to see his pieces, and his statue of Napoleon is probably my favorite -- I find a certain poetic justice in Napoleon being depicted this way. There's something intensely personal about viewing Hagop's work, because it demands a unique kind of focus.
I love the illuminated manuscripts at the Getty, both for the material and for the perfection with which they're displayed. I also love the Gems and Minerals Hall at the Natural History Museum, because it represents the apex of a certain era of exhibition design, which is something I feel has gone downhill. The integration of artworks and display can add up to something quite magical, but it's rarely done with much imagination these days.
LYNN ZELEVANSKYCURATOR OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART, LACMA
We have a 1965 sculpture from Paul Thek's Technological Reliquaries series that feels especially important to me because of the period it evokes. As we approach the end of the century, we seem to be doing a lot of catch-up in terms of plugging holes in our history, and Thek is a wonderful artist from the '60s who warrants more attention. In the '60s, he left the U.S. for Europe, where he did lots of collaborative performances and had a big career up through the early '70s. When he returned to America in the late '70s, he felt he'd been passed over, and he had been. His work has never been seen in depth in L.A. The Technological Reliquaries are pieces of meat made of wax and displayed in Plexiglas cases. A thread of Catholic spirituality runs through all of Thek's work, so the piece is both a critique of Minimalism, and a reference to Catholicism in its suggestion of human life bereft of spirit and reduced to an inert hunk of meat.
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