Active Cultures Finale with Richard Jackson and Andrew Liang

February 23, 2012
Artist Richard Jackson tells stories of Pasadena's art scene in the 1950s and 60s.

Artist Richard Jackson tells stories of Pasadena's art scene in the 1950s and 60s.

Last Friday, we closed out our 2011-2012 Active Cultures season with two great talks by artist Richard Jackson and architect Andrew Liang. This series has been a fascinating way for our members and visitors to engage with broad topics in new ways as two seemingly disparate topics find commonalities in an informal setting, and last week was no exception.

Richard Jackson started things off with entertaining stories about his life as an artist in Pasadena. In the 1950s and 60s, Old Town Pasadena looked very different than it does today– it was a run down, bohemian area of artist studios and dive bars, and a place where Jackson happily lived and worked for many years. In fact, the space he rented for 13 years only cost him $100 a month! He also talked at length on his work doing light construction and maintenance at the Pasadena Art Museum’s second building, now the Norton Simon. “Pasadena Art Museum kept me alive,” he said, due to the many construction problems he was often paid to fix. This job supported his passion for art for many years. Finally, he talked about how the development of Old Town, while good for the city, was bad for the artists who lived there as the area gentrified.

Andrew Liang then got up to speak on the rapid urbanization of China, joking, “Richard, if you hated the gentrification of Pasadena, you’re really going to hate this!” The numbers were staggering: by 2015, half of China’s population will live in urban areas, second only to India. Unlike urban growth in other countries, the expansion of cities are aggressively pursued by the Chinese government on a national scale, resulting in a recent explosion of growth that has taken China to its present level of urbanization in mere decades. Liang’s visual contrast between the Shanghai skyline in 1980 and today was particularly striking– while there were no high-rise buildings in the 80s, today there are twice as many as New York City.

Both speakers referenced how gentrification affects art, and expanded further once they sat down for discussion. Both stated that when artists reach a critical mass in a given area it can take on a trendy feel, attracting more people to the area and driving up rents and property values. Jackson noted how artists moved out of Pasadena once they couldn’t afford it any longer, and how the same phenomenon has taken hold in other L.A. neighborhoods like Chinatown and Culver City. Liang brought up how many Chinese municipal governments have actually created art districts where studios can be affordable as well, and how even those can become gentrified and commercialized.

Since this was our last Active Cultures of the season, we’re now looking forward to the third season of Fusion Fridays! While details are still being finalized, mark your calendars for May 18th when we’ll kick off the season in style. In the meantime, check out our recaps from last year’s Fusion Friday events here, here and here. ~CM


Assemblage at Art and Coffee

February 10, 2012
"Hotel du Nord" by Joseph Cornell

Cornell's "Hotel du Nord (Little Dürer)"

Art and Coffee has been a great new way for our members and visitors to learn more about our major exhibitions, and today’s event was no exception. Continuing our focus on our Pacific Standard Time show 46 N. Los Robles: A History of the Pasadena Art Museum, curator Bridget talked about Assemblage, an important movement in modern and contemporary art, and used the fantastic works in our exhibition as examples.

Assemblage developed from the pasted collages developed by French Cubists in the early 1910s. As an outgrowth of two-dimensional collage, artists put together found materials or objects creating a new three-dimensional art. The artists were also influenced by their surroundings, the buildings and cities left in fragments as a result of the First World War. Assemblage was present in New York beginning in the 1930s with Joseph Cornell and later, Robert Rauschenberg.  In 1950s California, assemblage became prominent in the work of artists like George Herms, Ed Kienholz and Llyn Foulkes, all of whom are represented in 46. N. Los Robles.

Bridget focused particularly on Joseph Cornell’s work, and began by pointing out that his work often defies categorization into one particular artistic movement. As a self-taught artist, Cornell was associated with the Surrealist movement in the 1930s and 1940s and was chiefly known for his box constructions, including Hotel du Nord (Little Dürer) in 46 N. Los Robles.  In this work Cornell framed various found objects combining the high and lowbrow, ranging from reproductions of paintings to dime-store jewelry. Bridget spoke about how Cornell would gather found objects (or send assistants out searching for him!) and wait for the perfect combination before creating a box. As with many of the works in 46 N. Los Robles, this isn’t the first time Hotel du Nord has been in this building– a Cornell retrospective was held at the Pasadena Art Museum in the 1960s (check out these fantastic pictures of the show here, including his boxes installed where our Himalayan gallery is today!).

46 N. Los Robles features many wonderful examples of Assemblage work, so make sure to check them out before the show closes on April 8. Also mark your calendar for March 9, the last Art and Coffee of this exhibition, as well as the many related programs coming up soon!~CM

The Return of the Roundel

February 6, 2012

Curatorial staff replacing the newly conserved roundel.

Over the past couple months, you may have noticed our lovely wooden roundel absent in the courtyard. Today, we’re happy to announce its return from rehab– at a conservation facility, of course.

Decorative elements such as these were common architectural features in China for centuries, and can still be seen today. Often gilt or painted, these carved wooden features came in all shapes and sizes to add interest to both indoor and outdoor spaces. In addition to this roundel, you can also find examples of Chinese wood carving decorations outlining the celadon doors on either side of the courtyard.

Closeup of dragon on roundel, after conservation.

Closeup of dragon and bats on roundel, after conservation.

This particular piece features a dragon with bats among the clouds. We’ve already shared the symbolism of the dragon in Chinese culture in our Lunar New Year post. Bats are also considered lucky symbols as the Chinese word for “bat” is a homonym for “luck,” and are often shown in groups of auspicious numbers.

The roundel has a long history in our building– it hung in the courtyard in the days of Grace Nicholson, and remained in the garage of her secretary after her death as the building became the Pasadena Art Museum. When Peg and Everett Palmer and the Pacificulture Foundation moved into the space shortly after the Pasadena Art Museum relocated, they contacted the secretary and found the roundel in pieces. They painstakingly pieced it back together and hung it on the courtyard wall where it returns today.


The roundel before conservation.

Because of the inherent fragility of wood and its initially fragmented state, we brought in a conservator to improve its condition, generously funded by the Questers. The conservators acted with the goal of preserving the existing wood and paint remnants by gently cleaning the surface and applying a resin to protect the remaining paint. They also used an infill sparingly to preserve structural integrity and prevent moisture from penetrating the wood. With these methods, we’ll be able to keep this beautiful piece on display much longer. We encourage you to come see the improvements in person! ~CM