Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the pop in pop art

You should go to the established parts of LACMA first, even (especially) if you've toured the museum a hundred times, then head to the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM).

I had only cursory knowledge of what Eli Broad's vision for the museum was, and only because he and his ilk made my life a living hell for 18 months. Okay, okay. That's an exaggeration. What it is is that I worked at UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture as a development assistant during the period when the Broads, Eli and Edye, had just given the shitload of money to build the Broad Art Center, where Arts and Architecture is now housed. This meant when Eli or Edye called and said jump, our office had to say, How high? What time? Where? These people are filthy dirty rich, and I don't recall them being major assholes or anything (Edye was regarded as quite nice, in fact), but the very idea that I had to cater to them when they already owned the planet got under my skin.

Christmastime meant having to come up with a "creative" gift to give them and other major donors. There was nothing we could give them that they didn't already have or that they could actually want, so we always went for an element of whimsy. The Christmas I was there, someone got the novel idea of having all the major donors' names engraved on grains of rice, and then having those grains encased in resin to make paperweights. So cute! Right? Not when you're the one who has to track down the crazy rice lady who is headquartered at Venice Beach. Not when you have to get her to understand that these 30 or so grains of rice must have names on them by a strict deadline and there is to be no misspelling or general fucking up because your ass is on the line. Important People, people who build art museums and stock them with their own collection of Warhols and Koonses and Lichtensteins must have personalized grains of rice post-haste! Not when you're the one who has to call around town and try to find someone who understands why on God's green grassy earth you'd want to encase a grain of rice in a paperweight, and at a discounted price at that. Not when you're the one faced with the choice of either waiting for the Broad Art Center to be completed so you can hurl yourself off of it, or finding some way to believe that it's important to spend your working hours trying to keep the uber rich happy so that they can keep the big bucks flowing to the privileged class of students who mostly populate the school you work for.

I shouldn't be writing this post so late.

Point is, I worked for Eli Broad, once removed. So I follow his doings from time to time. He's a huge arts philanthropist, and the dude's got a soft spot for contemporary art and a burning need to further its legitimization.

I wasn't so sure about the worthiness of his cause. Then I walked into BCAM. I walked in after having seen "art" that I am more accustomed to. Things most of us accept and acknowledge as art, and that we therefore feel a proper distance, a comforting separation, from. I suggest you walk into BCAM under the same circumstance, because the moment you enter you will be hit with a sense that the usual rules have been discarded, and you've stumbled into a dimension where meaning and description and sense have all exploded. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world. There's a humongous pop in pop art, and I'd never heard it like I did at BCAM. There is such a shift there that once inside, I found myself walking in a circle near the entrance, trying to figure out where I should go, where my mind and my eyes could settle next.

It's quite an experience. Some of the art is unsettling. Some confusing. Some transformative. There's a piece by an artist named Robert Therrien. It's a gigantic dining set -- a wooden table and chairs. I mean this thing is massive. Schmin, Rob, and I reached it before Froggy did, and we stood underneath it for a while, talking about how much we felt like small children. We waited near a doorway for Froggy, and when she approached the table, we could see how awed she was. There is an army of security guards going on at BCAM, and one was stationed under the table to prevent people from trying any funny business like taking pictures. Froggy saw the table, then she saw the guard, and she said to him, excitedly, Can I come under there too? When he answered yes, she exclaimed, Yay! We laughed, because the piece had made us all 4 years old, and Froggy had verbalized what we felt.

The only downside to BCAM, as I see it, is that the photo policy is so strictly enforced. Christie mentioned in yesterday's comments that when she saw the Mona Lisa, photography was allowed. When I saw it last year it certainly wasn't. The guards even called hardcore security because this woman kept screaming that because she'd come all the way from America (she had a questionable accent, though) she should be allowed to snap away at the painting. They were fully prepared to show her the door. I think I read someplace about flash photography hastening the painting's deterioration, so maybe that's what the ban is about. (People are about as likely to remember to turn off a flash as we are to turn off our cell phones at the theater.) And maybe it's the same with BCAM. That, and the whole counterfeit thing. Anyway. Perhaps it's for the best, because knowing you can't take a picture means you have to practice more presence. Still, with my obnoxiously stubborn self, I did spy a surly guard, and I managed to get my favorite shots of the day:

Schmin and the Frogster trying the moves in Andy Warhol's Dance Diagram [3] ["The Lindy Tuck-In Turn-Man"]. Please enlarge to see Schmin's expression in the first photo. I think he might be convinced that he knows what he's doing.

Must-sees at BCAM include the Warhols, Damien Hirst's astonishing stained glass butterfly works, John Baldessari's Buildings=Guns=People: Desire, Knowledge, and Hope (With Smog), and anything at all by Jeff Koons, who has to be out of his mind. For real. Oh, and Cindy Sherman's work. And... oh, just go!

If you're planning on it, don't click on the link below unless you don't mind spoilers (sorry, Ellen, I should have warned you). The dining set is included here, and so is Jeff Koons's Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a piece that most completely trips me out. If you don't think you'll find yourself in this neck of the LA woods anytime soon, click away.

BCAM Image Sheet


Adrienne said...

I would love to go there!!

Ellen Bloom said...

Thanks for the mention, Carla. Not to worry. I've seen most of these pieces over the years, in various places. It will be faboo to see them all TOGETHER for the great impact they must make!

Anonymous said...

Your story about the Broads is funny. We have and Edythe and Eli Broad Center at my undergrad too (Pitzer College) and they were, very nice people.

Christie said...

Can't wait! I'm hoping to go this weekend! And Jeff Koons...isn't he the mylar looking steel dogs and stuff? I don't know about him...I saw him in Iconoclasts with Tom Ford and he designs the art but has a team that executes it.

They have the Mona Lisa behind some kind of glass/plexiglass. I don't remember there being a no flash rule, but I did take a few pictures of her...right in front of the mean French Art Guard. :)

Anonymous said...

My DD went to the Louvre last summer and came back with tons of pictures. You are allowed to take pictures there, but you can't go within a certain distance of the pictures without setting off an alarm.

After reading your storey, I fully understand why you have never been, even though it is in your backyard.

Just reading though makes me want to come to LA just to see this place.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me I should not write in people's blog at 1.30am......too many errors. Off to bed now.
H. again

woolanthropy said...

That Froggy is really cute. I like the dance moves. the froggy-schmin hop! Let's go to the hop...oh baby! Hop hop hophophop!