Art Outside of the Getty

I can’t believe summer is over halfway over and my time here is dwindling! The summer has been flying by. Nevertheless, I’m determined to squeeze every last bit I can out of this season while it lasts.

To that end, this past weekend I visited two museums, other than the Getty. Who knew those existed, right? Even though I love being in art museums, I hadn’t really visited any yet, since I spend at least five days a week at one.

My first trip was to the FIDM Museum (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising). Because they’re a smaller museum under the umbrella of an educational institution, they 1) are free to the public, 2) only have open galleries during exhibitions, but 3) are always open for research appointments. I reached out and scheduled a meeting with the fantastic associate curator, Christina Johnson. We discussed how they store their collection (climate-controlled rooms, a thorough freezing process, some hanging, some more delicate items in boxes), where they acquire most of their pieces (auctions, donations), and what being a curator for a fashion museum is like (busy!).

1938 Schiaparelli Hat from FIDM's website

1938 Schiaparelli Hat from FIDM’s website

Elsa Schiaparelli, known for her Surrealist influence and surprising details, has been one of my favourite designers for years and years. I was thrilled to get the chance to look at their collection, including some of her hand-embroidered jackets, a beaded dress, and a straw hat designed to look like braided hair with flowers.

Two of my favourite pieces were these cunning compacts designed to look like a rotary phone dial. Schiaparelli designed these in partnership with Salvador Dali, the famed Surrealist. FIDM owns two of them, one from the 1930s and the other post-WWII. On first glance, you might be tempted to think they were designed at the same time, with only minor differences in color (one is black, one is blue). However, when you look closer, you can tell there are clear differences which point to the later one being less detailed or carefully made. The post-WWII example is thicker, and the detailing is not as elegant. Although it retains the letters and numbers, the individual circles are not as inset as on the 1930s one. It also does not say “Déposé Tous Pays” on the newer compact. These subtle differences are key for telling pieces from different eras apart, and making sure you’re not getting charged rare 1930s prices for a more common, post-WWII piece.

The 1935 compact from FIDM's website

The 1935 compact from FIDM’s website

On Sunday, I visited the Hammer Museum, which is right by my apartment in the Westwood/UCLA area. It also offers free admission to everyone, as well as free public programs. It has a delightful, sun-filled courtyard in the middle with its restaurant, as well as common space for people to hang out, get work done, or just rest their feet. I popped in to most of their on-going exhibits, and really enjoyed them.

They’re currently showing the first American survey on Sarah Lucas, a widely creative UK multimedia artist. With examples of her work spanning the last thirty years, and an easy to follow circular path through the galleries, the Hammer does a good job of highlighting Lucas’ work, materials, and meaning. She uses found objects such as mattresses and cigarette butts, common household items such as toilets and pantyhose, and works on both the miniature and grand scale. Lucas investigates gender, misogyny, and unspoken taboos throughout her work, which at once encases you in the familiar and distorts your preconceived notions. She knows what tricks our minds play on us, what cultural narratives we impose on inanimate objects, and confronts us with our own sensibilities. Some fruit arranged on an old mattress becomes, to the tittering faces surrounding it, a naked couple reclining in bed together. A pair of stuffed pantyhose draped over a chair is one in her army of Bunnys, these headless, floppy, feminine creatures.

Sarah Lucas, Self-portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996

Sarah Lucas, Self-portrait with Fried Eggs, 1996

Another exhibit is Andrea Fraser’s video installation Men on the Line: Men Committed to Feminism, KPFK, 1972 (2012), which consists of her, on a chair on the screen, and five plain chairs lined up facing it for audience members to sit in. Fraser’s script is taken from a 1970s radio show conversation between four self-professed male feminists. She adeptly impersonated the four men, dipping her voice in and out of different octaves, adding certain gestures, and leaning back and forth in her chair when one of them interrupts the other. Her performance makes us think about how gender dynamics have changed since the 1970s, or perhaps, asks if they have changed. Fraser’s straight approach to this conversation, not playing it for irony, allows us to at once investigate the men’s blindness and inherited biases, while also feeling sympathy for their true desire to learn and grow.

Last but not least, I stopped in to the Hammer’s permanent collection, made up of pieces from the founder, Armand Hammer’s, personal collection. Although a smaller gallery space, it’s pleasingly laid out, and houses some lovely paintings and sketches. Some of my favourites included a view of a Paris street by Edouard Vuillard and Study for In the Salon on the Rue des Moulins by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

by Toulouse-Lautrec

by Toulouse-Lautrec

These museums were both wonderful, and I’m eager to explore more of Los Angeles’ arts scene before I leave in August!

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