Since June of this year, visitors walking through the doors of LACMA’s Ahmanson Building have been greeted by a new installation: a grid of 60 large-scale photographs of palm tree trunks and other sculptural details that one can encounter on the LACMA campus. The installation is a collaboration between artist Robert Irwin and photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann. Today, on Irwin’s birthday (Happy birthday, Bob!), we offer Unframed readers a glimpse behind the scenes of how the work came into being.
If you are familiar with LACMA’s campus, you may recognize the palm trunks from Irwin’s Primal Palm Garden, a work begun in 2010 and developed by the artist with landscape architect Paul Comstock. Comprising over a hundred palms, cycads, and tree ferns planted in the Kelly and Robert Day Garden, Irwin’s palm garden, in its use of “primal” varieties, is a nod to the nearby La Brea Tar Pits and its ice age discoveries.
In discussion with LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director Michael Govan, Irwin and Rittermann designed a grid of photographs of the Primal Palm Garden specifically for the entrance of the Ahmanson Building. In February, they visited LACMA to look at the space and to determine the size and layout of the images.
The entire work was installed on a single day in June. The photographs of palm tree trunks are interspersed with images of other artworks on the LACMA campus, including details of Urban Light by Chris Burden and sculptures by Auguste Rodin. These juxtapositions call attention to the palm trees’ formal properties, and the fact that Primal Palm Garden, like the sculptures, can be understood in terms of aesthetic qualities such as pattern, texture, color, and shape.
As we recently announced, Robert Irwin will be one of the honorees of LACMA’s 2016 Art + Film Gala on October 29, 2016. In the meantime, please join us in wishing him a happy birthday!