Light Art and Liz Taylor at LACMA

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At times it is only the remnants of memory we later deem worthiest of our consideration. I tend to see art in waves, doing the “gallery walk,” “museum crawl,” or such. I’m sure that’s not unusual amongst contemporary art patrons. The Sunday in question, January 9th, I was initially drawn to visit the LACMA by the final exhibition day of the exhibit, “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.” A panel discussion on race and origin of the Olmec evoked passionate, polarized debate.

The Olmec people had loomed large in my imagination since I learned of their culture in my college art history introduction course taught by the legendary late Bob Loescher at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For those of you who don’t already know, the Olmec are a pre-Mayan people known for sculpting gigantic stone heads, found as relics in the southern Gulf Coast of Mexico in 1925. I always enjoyed imaging a bunch of archaeologists stumbling into big stone heads in the middle of the jungle in the 1920’s. I confess, I had built up a lot of expectation over the “gigantic” aspect of the sculpture, so much so that when I actually saw the heads they couldn’t live up to my own mental hype. However, when you remember the scale of everything else at the time that these were being made, and that they were produced by hand in the middle of such an early society in a “public sculpture” sort of way; The sculptures had meaning which was both spiritual to the society members as well as integrated into their daily lives. They didn’t have skyscrapers or billboards. So they probably seemed “bigger” in that sense, originally. They are still very cool. And if you missed them in Los Angeles, you can see the whole show at the DeYoung Museum through May 8th.

I found myself seduced by an adjacent show, Fashioning Fashion, in the Resnick Exhibition Pavilion. (For an example from the show, click here.)

Wandering into the three-story BCAM building (the Broad Contemporary Art Museum) I first walked through a maze between the snail-like angular, weighty rusted walls of the truly monumental Richard Serra dyad of Sequence (all two-hundred-thirteen metric tons of weathered steel) and Band, two colossal works taking up the entire first floor of the building. I whirled through the Blinky Palermo Retrospective on the second floor. I enjoyed the “Color and Form” show on the third floor heavily featuring Imi Knoebel, who broke through barriers of art / not art and wall and four dimensional space with white on white frames breaking out from or replacing the traditional canvas.

While several of the other shows I saw that Sunday are no longer running, including the exhibition of Indian miniatures from Lucknow (concomitant programming included an Urdu poetry reading in February) one of the shows you can still catch is R.B. Kitaj’s “Covers for a Small Library” which runs through June 5th. These enlarged photographic reproductions of the artist’s worn book covers are sure to charm any bibliophile who also loves art.

But it was a single artwork housed in the permanent collection which later rose to my mind’s consciousness literally in the form of a torn scrap of paper marked with the words, “Wilfred’s Light Art” that I found myself wanting to know more about months later. (When I gorge myself on art I tend to take a lot of notes. Whatever else was on the paper, I had already decided to recycle.) After hours and hours of walking through several floors in four separate buildings, I had found myself sitting in front of Thomas Wilfred’s Opus 162 (1967-1968). This artist from Denmark (born in 1889, died in 1968) left us today only thirty-five existing “Lumia” or light art objects, which look like a cross between a television set, a lava lamp, and an aquarium where the Northern Lights are on display. These screens are several inches deep and filled with an ever-changing nebulous display of colored cloud-like light forms. There is something about this one piece that stood out to me even after visiting the entire European, Modern, Oceanic and Contemporary collections on display. This art was pioneering in its use of material or medium. Other artists who work primarily in light, including Robert Irwin and Dan Flavin, are seemingly indebted to Wilfred. This quiet, unassuming, and very rare sculpture is, on its own, worth a trip to LACMA. However, while you are there, you may also want to check out a timely exhibit of Firooz Zahedi’s photographs of Elizabeth Taylor in Iran. These interesting photographs show the luminous icon in an Oriental manner, lounging like one of Matisse’s Odalisques.

For more information on Thomas Wilfred, visit

For more information on other LACMA events, including LACMA film (recent screenings include Godard's "Every Man for Himself" and upcoming screenings include Bresson's "Diary of a Country Priest") visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) website.

-Moira Cue

© 2011, The Hollywood Sentinel