Friday, December 22, 2017

DTLA With My Granddaughter And Wife Part 1- Gehry, Rothko, and Ray

We took the Metro downtown Thursday, checked out the Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry - one of my favorite buildings anywhere.  It's a photographer's dream.

Looking Up

A passage way

Gehry isn't my focus here and these pictures are probably mystifying to someone who doesn't know this building.  You can see other images I've taken of the Disney Concert Hall here.

The Disney Concert Hall is across from the Broad Museum.  The Broad is only a little over a year old can get tickets online, but when I've tried early the first day of the month, it was always already sold out.  You can wait in line and get tickets made available that day.  So we thought we'd try that.  But two hours waiting in line didn't seem like a good use of our time.  Especially with a  four year old.  (Almost five she'd tell you.)
and it's free.  The image to the right is from the Disney garden looking down at the line for the Broad - this is the part that is around the block from the entrance.  Those are people to the left of the cars at the bottom of the picture.

So we walked down the block and went to MOCA - the Museum of Contemporary Art.  This isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I love art work that pushes against restraints.  They had a room full of Mark Rothko's.  Again, I know that the literal minded just don't get this stuff.  That's not a put-down, but an observation on how our brains work differently - partly by genetics and partly by training.  Fortunately, I had a father who took me to all sorts of art exhibits as I was growing up.

Here are two Rothko's and a gallery visitor.

And here is the one on the right close up.  You can tell I haven't captured the colors quite right.  The one below is, I believe, more accurate.  I can get lost in these paintings, particularly when I'm looking at part of one up-close like this.  Read the explanation below if you're not convinced.

I know some people are scratching their heads about this. "His four year old could do this."  So I'm adding the description to it.

For visually impaired readers, I'll send you a text version of this if you email me. (Right hand column above Blog Archive.)

My granddaughter did find these two photographs of interest.  They're by Charles Ray and are called the plank pieces.   I asked if we should try that when we got home and she emphatically said "No!"

The Tate Gallery has a lengthy explanation of these two paintings.  Part of me says that one should just look and think about what one sees.  But often we just don't know enough about what the artist was thinking or the context of the times, so reading about a work helps us appreciate it.  Here are some excerpts from the Tate article.
"Ray created the work using his own body, experimenting with the ways in which he could balance himself against the wall using a single plank of wood. The critic Michael Fried has noted that ‘both arrangements, it seems clear, could have been achieved only with the help of at least one other person, who, however, does not appear in the photographs.’ (Fried 2011, p.72.) Indeed Ray deliberately presents the arrangements of body and plank as completed structures, offering no evidence of how the artist arrived in these poses. The works were created while Ray was still a student at the University of Iowa (1971–5) where he studied under Roland Brenner, a former student of the sculptor Anthony Caro. Studying Caro’s work and sculptural techniques (such as welding and bolting metal) was a formative experience for Ray, as the artist recorded in an interview: ‘Caro’s work was like a template; I saw it as almost platonic.’ (Charles Ray and Michael Fried, ‘Early One Morning’, Tate Etc., no.3, Spring 2005, p.51.) 
While a student, however, Ray also became interested in the work of minimalist sculptors such as Robert Morris, Donald Judd and Richard Serra. In works such as Shovel Plate Prop 1969 (Tate T01728) Serra had used balance alone to support a heavy sculptural structure. This carefully judged equilibrium is seemingly precarious, pressing the sculpture into a charged and potentially dangerous relationship with the viewer. In response to such works, Ray began to experiment with balance and tension in his own sculpture, dispensing with the bolts and welding he had adopted through studying the work of Caro. In doing so Ray erased distinctions between sculpture and body. As he has said of Plank Piece: ‘My body is a sculptural element pinned to the wall by a wood plank.’ (Quoted in Nittive and Ferguson 1994, p.30.)"

It's getting late, so I'll stop here.  I'll add more in part 2.


  1. One afternoon, I sat for an hour and watched gallery visitors get their first look at the Rothko in the Ottawa National Gallery. Many dismissed it (loudly), moved on, but many came to see what the fuss was about: It cost the gallery a million dollars (in the 80s).

    I wrote an entry in my extensive journal, but won't go looking for it now. I do remember a couple of teenagers, who bounced in, jabbering to each other, then stopped close to it, to look and look UP at it: it is a huge vertical piece. They fell silent. Finally, one of them said, in a whisper: It's like being in church...

    Most people do not look long enough at anything, much less art. My husband and I timed women and men looking at a huge exhibition of paintings by Degas. Average time? 2.1 seconds for men, 2.4 seconds for women. Most of the short time spent (other than looking) was reading the description. (This was 25 years ago and I suspect the time spent today -- if they even went to it -- would be half that. Or, a picture of it would be taken instead. With smart phones, people don't experience life, they just record it.)

    1. Thanks for your observations. I hadn't thought to timing how long people look at individual paintings. The guy looking at the Rothko spent more time. He was standing close staring.
      The Rothko's are another language from the art that people grow up with. Kids do Rothko, but then they are always asked, "what is it?" As though everything has to be representative of a tangible object rather than a feeling.
      Another cause of the reactions you cite is probably our need to categorize things. Rothko doesn't fit most people's categories so they get uncomfortable. But, of course, uncomfortable is an early stage in learning and discovering.
      I also think museums contribute to the problem. There are too many paintings and other art objects to spend much time on any single piece.


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