A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Galleries

July 10, 2009

If you follow Unframed, you know that last month I imposed my own Month of Art.

It was a little experiment to see if I’d do a better job of seeing works at LACMA if I actually scheduled viewing into my day. A rewarding endeavor to be sure, but a lot harder to squeeze in than I could have ever imagined. Most days, I’d look at the clock, see it was well past 5 pm, and skitter up to the galleries to get my dose. On my way into the galleries I would often be annoyed with myself for finding yet one more way to overschedule my day—yet I’d feel totally transformed and invigorated on the way out. The biggest lesson I learned was that the art I had planned to see each day was great but what was on the periphery was even better. Probably a good analogy for life in general. Here are a few of the highlights from the diary I kept last month.

June 3: Burn, Baby, Burn

A rainy Wednesday, museum closed, the ultimate hush except for my really loud high heels; bench to myself. Staggering, stopped in tracks—not where I thought it would be installed; joy of the unexpected, of surprise. Guernica comes to mind first… scale, impact, meaning. Bonus—peripheral works come into view—David Alfaro Siqueiros’ Landscape in Red—smaller, so powerful, and maybe equally emotive.


Matta, "Burn, Baby, Burn (L'escalade)," 1965-1966, Gift of the 2009 Collectors Committee with additional funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund


David Alfaro Siqueiros, "Landscape in Red (Paisaje en rojo)," 1969, The Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art

June 4: Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child

Went to see the Cassatt and saw the key painting by Lee Mullican, Space, on the way. Fell in love with it all over again. At Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child, I was astounded at the way Cassatt could capture a mother and child’s connection—the look—just with the mother’s cock of head, not seeing her eyes as her child peers up at her. She’s bathing her baby as I should be mine at 6:45 in the evening. Mother’s guilt comes over me in a big way.


Mary Cassatt, "Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child," 1880, Mrs. Fred Hathaway Bixby Bequest


Lee Mullican, "Space," 1951, Gift of Fannie and Alan Leslie

June 5: The Lost Felice

Story more haunting than the painting? Thought it would be but object was somber, stark, a reflection of the emotion. Still… the story and Austen’s telling of it

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

June 8: Rabbit Netsuke

Had a reproduction of one of these as a child; searched more than 100 netsukes to find one today—then, when I got down to the last five objects, stumbled upon what I was looking for. Grateful not to have found it earlier; then I wouldn’t have seen the owls, foxes, and a tiny man in a garden with a rooster. Netsuke reminds me of haiku—remarkably powerful in its brevity. Of the art I have seen so far, this experience struck me the most—so much discovery in such a small space. Thought about it ‘til I went to bed.


Kaigyokusai (Masatsugu), "Rabbit Pair," mid- to late 19th century, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection


Ikkyu (style of), "Owl and Owlets," early to mid-19th century, Raymond and Frances Bushell Collection

June 9: Untitled (Opus 161)

Thomas Wilfred, pioneering light artist. I always pass this in the modern galleries but am never into it though Light and Space is my thing. Lesson: always put glasses on when going into galleries. Much better now. Hypnotic up close. Love the length of the piece—almost two-year running time. Total netsuke juxtaposition.

June 11: Severed head of John the Baptist

Looked for the work but to no avail.

Must not be on view. Happened upon our iconic Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge for the first time—loved its “altar”—had its own little wall, its own nook, lined in light-blue fabric and ribbon at the edge.

So much smaller than expected. Crisp and beautiful—too beautiful for my taste—up close, tulips still dominate but now able to see fine little dragonfly too. Power of the in-person experience versus the digital image I regularly work with.


Ambrosius Bosschaert, "Bouquet of Flowers on a Ledge," 1619-1620, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edward W. Carter


Auguste Rodin, "Severed Head of Saint John the Baptist," circa 1887-1907, Museum purchase made possible by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in memory of B. Gerald Cantor

Allison Agsten