: Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980
2018. USA. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. 97 min.
The Expressive Body: Memory, Devotion, Desire (1400–1750)
In the early modern period—that is, the centuries following the Middle Ages—works of art were thought to have such power that they affected the viewer physically. In some ways, this concept is still familiar to us: visual imagery can make us laugh, blush or even feel the sting of tears. Other responses, however, are less recognizable. In both Europe and Latin America, images were believed to heal or to injure. Theories of vision suggested that through the process of perception, images could literally stamp themselves onto the mind of the viewer.
The Expressive Body examines the ways in which the human form has provoked powerful responses, from the physiological to the mystical. For viewers in the 15th to 18th centuries, these physical effects were assumed to be part of the experience of looking at and interpreting art objects. From erotic works produced for wealthy patrons to venerated statues of the wounded Christ in local chapels, representations of the body stimulated visceral and often self-reflexive reactions of desire, compassion or aversion.
Viewers experienced art objects in multisensory ways, by caressing sculptures, handling prints and kissing sacred images. But even a glance could have potential consequences. Medical theory suggested that gazing at representations of beautiful lovers could lead to the conception of handsome and healthy children, while spiritual practice encouraged meditating on the portrayal of a tortured martyr in order to empathize with his or her torment.
Indeed, works of art could be dangerously convincing, blurring the line between real and represented bodies. In the story of Apelles, the favorite painter of Alexander the Great, the artist painted a beautiful portrait of Campaspe, Alexander’s mistress. The representation was so flattering that Alexander chose the painting over Campaspe herself. Francesco Trevisani’s clever 1720 depiction of this apocryphal episode, which would have amused 18th-century Roman patrons, makes an argument for the beguiling power of painting. Trevisani represents a languid Campaspe alongside Apelles’s own painting, cheekily aligning himself with the legendary artist, and the viewer with Alexander. Titillating images like this one were pleasurable to look at, though they sometimes came with a moralizing message. In Jan Massys’s lush depiction of the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders (1564), the viewer’s lustful impulses at seeing virtuous Susanna’s nude body are checked by the grotesque portrayal of leering old men, triggering shame in addition to desire.
Alternate Realities: Altoon, Diebenkorn, Lobdell, Woelffer
Abstract expressionism is an innovation closely associated with art of the mid-20th century, a period when new gestural approaches to painting rendered even the artist’s brush obsolete. Yet many followers of this movement did not reject representation outright. Instead they forged a productive dialogue between the two modes, incorporating references to recognizable imagery and emphasizing the artist’s own process as an alternate approach to realistic depiction.
This exhibition focuses on four groundbreaking painters who were active in Los Angeles or the Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s and who deployed figuration in an otherwise abstract vocabulary. Richard Diebenkorn painted richly colored, nonrepresentational pictures for nearly a decade before turning to still lifes, interiors and figure studies in the mid-1950s. He and Frank Lobdell shared a commitment to life drawing, and both painters honed their treatment of light and shade through a weekly practice of sketching the nude. John Altoon, a trained illustrator, developed idiosyncratic arrangements that allude to body parts, organic objects, even a pair of striped pants, while refusing to cohere into legible narratives. Emerson Woelffer created compositions with torn paper and painted pictographic marks using a method he termed “abstract surrealism,” in which shapes emerge unconsciously through the act of making.
Drawn entirely from the Norton Simon Museum’s expansive holdings of postwar American art, Alternate Realities explores the ways in which artists challenged the limitations of pure, gestural abstraction by exploiting the resonance of figural forms.
For nearly all of his career, Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) engaged in printmaking with a gusto and freedom from tradition that is thrilling to experience. No print medium intimidated him, and his prodigious facility in etching, lithography and linocut led him to deconstruct and reinvent conventional practices. Picasso favored the possibility of discovery over technical perfection.
Unseen Picasso examines select prints from the artist’s well-known graphic oeuvre that are distinctive, rare or infrequently exhibited. Though prints are usually produced in multiples, one-of-a-kind impressions are sometimes pulled in the course of a print run. These may be proofs or undescribed states in an edition. Or, an individual impression may be printed on a different material, such as vellum or japan paper. A particular impression may be a pristine example in a medium where certain colors tended to fade or shift in color. And, some compositions stand apart because they do not feature the subjects or technical approaches typically associated with prints by the artist. Unseen Picasso offers viewers the opportunity to study innovative, seldom seen prints by one of the 20th century’s greatest practitioners in the medium.
Paul Gauguin's 'The Swineherd,' 1888, on loan from LACMA
On special loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Paul Gauguin’s The Swineherd (1888) is on view in the Museum’s 19th-century art wing.
Between 1886 and 1890 Gauguin abandoned Paris for a series of sojourns in Brittany, a province in western France. Owing to its Celtic origins, Brittany attracted artists seeking an “exotic” culture seemingly untouched by bourgeois society. Immersing himself in the local community, Gauguin developed a visual language that simplified the natural environment to make it more expressive and dreamlike. The year that he painted this scene of a peasant tending pigs in the picturesque village of Pont-Aven, Gauguin wrote to a friend: “I like Brittany. Here I find a savage, primitive quality. When my wooden shoes echo on this granite ground, I hear the dull, muted, powerful sound I am looking for in painting.”
When Norton Simon purchased The Swineherd in 1955, it was the seventh—and most significant—work of art to enter his collection. Thanks to the generosity of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which received the painting as a gift from Lucille Ellis Simon, we are delighted to reunite this masterpiece with related pictures from Simon’s holdings of post-impressionist art. The Swineherd is on view at the Museum until November 2020.
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Time-Lapse Video of Installation in the Sculpture Garden
Apply today to VAST: A Summer Seminar for Teachers
Library Installation: Books in the Wild, Animals in Print