Winter is a great season to spend a cozy afternoon experiencing any one of the amazing museums L.A. has to offer, including the Skirball! We asked our curators to recommend some of their favorite exhibitions currently on display around town. Doris Berger and Linde Lehtinen, who are busy curating the upcoming Skirball exhibition Light and Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950, took some time to check out a few fascinating film and photography exhibitions. Check back tomorrow for recommendations from Erin Clancey and Erin Curtis!
Zoom into a Film Shack
The French filmmaker Agnès Varda (b. 1928) is a hero of mine. Many years ago, her films opened my eyes to the fact that it is possible to be personal, political, and playful all at once. Varda has been making films in that vein since the 1960s, reaching a diverse audience with narrative and documentary films alike.
The movie industry has changed a lot in the past decades, as have museums, and the worlds seem to be blending together. Varda’s more recent visibility pays tribute to that; her place is not only in cinema anymore. Agnès Varda in Californialand, a small exhibition currently at LACMA through June 22, 2014, showcases films that Varda made in California when she spent time here with her family in 1967–69 and 1980–81. One of the highlights of the exhibition, which features a sculptural installation and a selection of her photographs, is a film shack containing thousands of images from the shooting of Varda’s 1969 film LIONS LOVE (… AND LIES).
For the film shack, Varda used filmstrips to build a physical structure. Before films were shot and projected digitally, the filmstrip was the raw material for a filmmaker, much like stone is for a sculptor.
The shack doesn’t look like much from afar, but when you enter the door, a whole universe opens up: Los Angeles in 1969. Inside, you see three hippies in a modern house in L.A., different city views, and news from the time, but also you are able to see through the filmstrips out into the exhibition—transported to the past while being grounded in the present. This “private cinema shack“ serves as a fascinating metaphor for the career of a filmmaker-cum-visual artist who always stays engaged with her surroundings.
A Whole New Light
Two exhibitions taking place at LACMA and the Getty are in beautiful dialogue with each other when it comes to the camera, perception, and the pure magic of photography. See the Light—Photography, Perception, Cognition: The Marjorie and Leonard Vernon Collection, on view at LACMA through March 23, 2014, explores parallels between the history of photography and the science of vision. Starting from the birth of the medium to the present, the exhibition emphasizes new relationships between the technical and artistic aspects of photography. The work of photographers such as Edward Weston, Julia Margaret Cameron, Ansel Adams, and Man Ray are organized into four thought-provoking categories: descriptive naturalism, subjective naturalism, experimental modernism, and romantic modernism. As I moved through each section, I became immersed in both the creative expression and scientific precision that went into the making of each object. I also took advantage of the LACMA mobile tour, which had great commentary from unexpected sources, such as a neural systems professor talking about the phenomenon of grouping in connection to an early still-life photograph. The last part of the exhibition even includes a camera obscura that you can step into and experience for yourself!
This engagement with vision and optics continued with my visit to the exhibition Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door, which is at the J. Paul Getty Museum through January 5, 2014. Cuban-born photographer Morell (b. 1948) puts a contemporary spin on the camera obscura—converting entire rooms into cameras by covering the windows and inserting a small hole, then photographing the outside world as projected onto various interiors. From images of the Manhattan skyline to the Pantheon in Rome, these surreal, disorienting pictures play with our perception while directly referencing photography’s transformative power.
Watch Abelardo Morell discuss the camera obscura:
Both of these exhibitions will make you puzzle over objects, draw unexpected connections between photographs, and put the relationship between science and art in a whole new light.