Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Good Day For Looking--Part 2: From Burton to Burgundy at LACMA

While CAFAM is not on very many people's cultural map of LA, the LA County Museum of Art, just down the street, certainly is.  Even more so these days with the opening of the highly-to-the-nth-power-anticipated exhibition, simply titled Tim Burton.

Unlike many people of my generation and younger, I am not much of a Tim Burton aficionada.  I've only seen three of his movies from start to finish (Pee-wee's Big Adventure from 1985, Edward Scissorhands from 1990, and Ed Wood from 1994).  I've seen most of A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and some of Beetlejuice (1988), and that's about it.  But Burton's work is so engrained in the cultural fabric of the past few decades that I felt sure I'd have enough context to appreciate what I was seeing.

The show is really well done--exhausting if you spend time looking at every bit of ephemera, every drawing, sketch, photo, and watch every short film.  My basic approach was to skim through so as to see everything, stopping when something was particularly intriguing (for the record, I stopped a lot).  The curators and exhibition designers have intelligently placed the extensive collection in groups either by theme (such as sketches, drawings, and paintings from the "Creature" series), or in relation to one of Burton's feature films or larger projects.  Among my favorite pieces were his 6-minute, stop-motion animated short Vincent (1982), with the figures and sketches on display near the monitor, and a case of no less than 23 heads of Jack Skellington used in Nightmare, which showed the range of expression and emotion that puppets can communicate.  Of course, I also loved the other puppet figures on display from movies such as Nightmare and Corpse Bride (which I really must see!), but I found the sketches and storyboards equally enlightening as well.  I always appreciate getting a glimpse into the artist's process, and it is clear Burton's final products truly spring not only from from his prolific imagination and skillful hand, but from a team of like-minded artists and designers who are integral in bringing Burton's visions to life.

Even as I write this blog, I find myself smiling, just as I did walking through the galleries.  As I looked around, I noticed most of the other visitors, no matter what age (and there was quite an age range present), were smiling also.  Sure, Burton's humor is dark, but it's also wacky and grotesque (in the sense of distortion and absurdity) so that the creepiness is balanced with the sense that it's laughing at itself.  It assists us in seeing ourselves and our own innate creepiness a bit more lightly.

Catch it if you can--the show officially opens May 29 (I went on a "members only preview day") and closes on, you guessed it, Halloween.

While I was looking at LACMA's website for information about the Burton show, I saw images of a procession of marble statues"The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgandy."  

"Oooooh!" I thought, and probably said out loud.  I planned to check them out whether or not I was able to see Tim Burton that day.

These 37 sculptures, carved in the mid-15th century by Jean de la Herta & Antoine Le Moiturier, surrounded the tomb of John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second duke of Burgundy.  Normally housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, the sculptures are currently removed from their architectural setting and are being shown outside of France for the first time.

From the photos on the website, I thought the sculptures would be life-sized.  I was surprised to find that they are miniatures, no more than 18" high.  They are arranged on four banks of pedestals in a somberly-lit room painted dark gray.  The marbles are luminous, gorgeous; the sculptors have masterfully captured a wide variety of human postures and facial expressions.  Even when the head is covered in a hood, the face is still carved with precise and seemingly loving detail.  I couldn't take my eyes off the folds of the garments (or "drapery," as I learned to refer to them in my art history classes).  It makes me realize one of the things I love most about art is its ability to transform the appearance of one material into something with almost opposite physical properties:  stone becomes fabric, cardboard becomes clay, insects become decorative wallpaper.

I would like to see the Burgandy marbles in their original setting, which includes carved arches and columns.  Without them, the figures seem somewhat doll-like, due to their size (a review of the show when it was at the Met in New York cheekily called them "cute").  Yet the design of the exhibit encourages them to be viewed with a quiet contemplation that counteracts any impulse to find them "precious" (which isn't necessarily a good thing in the art world, or so I've learned).

Burton and Burgandy:  two very different takes on life, death, what's beyond, and what's between.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Good Day For Looking--Part 1: Cardboard and Insects at CAFAM

I hadn't treated myself to a museum visit day recently, so today was the perfect "calm before the storm" opportunity before a busy summer begins.  So I saddled up my trusty steed (my hybrid-cruiser Schwinn bike, Ceci) and hopped on the Gold and Purple Line trains, then rode from the Wilshire/Western Metro Station about 3 miles west.  I rarely do two museums in one day, but I was feeling particularly ambitious today, planning to visit both of the museums where I hold memberships, The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) and the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA).  I saw a lot, too much for one post, so I'm breaking it into two.

cardboard, staples, shellac, steel bases
97 x 42 x 18 inches and 88 x 46 x 35 inches
Photo: Lee Fatherree
I love CAFAM.  It's small, it's friendly, and constantly amazing.  The two current shows, which run through mid-September, use quotidian materials--cardboard and insects--as the basis for creating magical, unexpectedly delightful sensory experiences.


found cardboard, staples, polyurethane
seven pieces ranging in size from

10 x 10 x 10 inches to 96 x 52 x 46 inches
Photo: Lee Fatherree


I was particularly interested in seeing the work of Ann Weber, because, like this sculptor, I REALLY love cardboard as an artistic medium.  I am intrigued by the way she layers and weaves with cardboard, using only staples to hold things together.  I often get irritated when there is printing on the boxes I find--Ann makes the colors and patterns on the cardboard a part of her pieces. 


(installation view, Triton Museum of Art)

cardboard, staples, shellac
seven pieces ranging in size from 
28 x 16 x 16 inches to 96 x 48 x 44 inches

Ann is giving a workshop at CAFAM in August.  You can bet I'll be there.

(All photos (c) 2010 by Ann Weber.  More photos are at her website:

I've volunteered on installations at CAFAM, and this time I helped during the first week of painting and prepping the galleries.  I was aware of what was to be installed, but I was not prepared for the sheer wonder and fantasy of "All Creatures Great and Small" by Jennifer Angus. 

Thousands of real insects, dead and dehydrated, yet surprisingly beautiful, are pinned to the wall in intricate patterns, interspersed with floral shapes molded with beeswax.  Get close enough to smell, and it's unmistakable.  This show truly impossible to describe--you simply must experience it. 

In addition to the wall installation, Angus has included diorama-type scenes, using doll-sized buildings surrounded by and filled with insects, interacting in various ways, and more beeswax sculptures.  I laughed and marveled at the energy and often dark humor of the various
insects and found objects that populate these scenes.  It's so unlike anything I've ever seen, and yet has echoes of what is familiar and even dear.  (I am quite sure that the molds for the reclining cows, donkeys, and sheep that I saw in several of the cases were cast from a nativity scene, because they look just like the ones in the creche we inherited from our grandmother.)

Angus has recently made a couple short stop-motion animation films using her insects and molded set pieces, and these are also on display at CAFAM.  Alas, they are not available online at this time.

If this work is at all intriguing to you, check out the videos on YouTube that show Angus at work, such as Touch of Weevil.

All of the photos here are from Jennifer Angus' website.  The CAFAM show has its own surprising look and color scheme not shown here.

CAFAM is one of the hidden gems of the LA art and culture scene.  In addition to unique shows, they offer a wonderful array of workshops, artist talks, studio visits, and film screenings.  Next time you're in the neighborhood (5814 Wilshire Bl., directly across the street from the mammoths sinking into the tar pits), make a point to stop in. Also see for a list of programs and offerings.