In London this fall, art critics piled on the superlatives. In New York this winter, crowds braved the cold to line up outside Paula Cooper Gallery and get a look. Now Angelenos will have their chance to see Christian Marclay's video-art hit "The Clock," which the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has just purchased as part of an annual fundraising and collecting event.
Through this event, known as Collectors Committee Weekend, LACMA acquired eight artworks for roughly $2.7 million. Priced at under half a million dollars for one in an edition of six, "The Clock" was not the most expensive work of the group, but it was the biggest attention-getter.
A 24-hour-long meditation on the nature and artifice of time, "The Clock" consists of thousands of film (and to a lesser degree television) clips that feature clocks and watch faces, edited so that the time you see on-screen reflects the current time. "I can't imagine a piece more appropriate for LACMA, the epicenter for film and art," said associate contemporary art curator Christine Kim. The museum will screen the work in May.
Another high-profile purchase was a 2006 spherical sculpture by the Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei, who is currently in the news because of his detention by Chinese authorities. This sculpture, the first by the artist to enter LACMA's collection, was purchased for $400,000 from the Friedman Benda gallery in New York.
"We always try to pursue a very balanced group of artworks that reflect the encyclopedic nature of the museum," LACMA director Michael Govan said, "but it did happen this year that we had strong contemporary works.
"We don't have a general acquisitions endowment, which most museums of our size have, so this is an important occasion where we can buy works of art for the public," he added.
The collectors' event is also meant to be fun, making a semi-public sport out of the usual buttoned-up museum acquisition process. Instead of curators proposing new acquisitions before board members behind closed doors, they make pitches to a broader group of LACMA supporters who have ponied up money for the right to vote on acquisitions at a Saturday night gala dinner.
This year, 83 people bought gala tickets starting at $15,000 per couple, creating a kitty of nearly $1.5 million to spend on art. LACMA trustee Viveca Paulin-Ferrell, actor Will Ferrell's wife, chaired a live auction Saturday night that raised an additional $435,000 for purchases.
Some individual donors helped out. At the dinner on Saturday, Govan announced that Marclay's "The Clock" was no longer in the popular competition, as Steve Tisch, who became a LACMA trustee last year, pledged the $467,500 needed for the acquisition.
Tisch, the film producer and co-owner of the New York Giants, said he was "blown away" by the piece when he first saw an excerpt in New York. "I think a piece like this will appeal to everyone who lives in Los Angeles, from 5-year-olds to 95-year-olds," he said. It holds particular fascination, he said, for anyone involved in film editing and can appreciate "how difficult the project must have been to successfully pull off."
The top vote-getter at the Saturday night gala was Ai Weiwei's sculpture.
A large sphere resembling a geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller, the sculpture has an ultra-modern, even high-tech form, but it's made out of Huanghuali wood (a type of rosewood) in the mortise and tenon fashion associated with traditional Chinese woodworking.
Contemporary art department head Franklin Sirmans says this blend of old and new fits the artist's sensibility -- "all of his work stems from an interest in the historical, asking what the past means in the present." Sirmans said the museum also has plans to show the artist's "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads" sculpture this fall. Despite the artist's detention, that sculpture is slated to be installed outside the Plaza Hotel in New York in May.
Other acquisitions that won the popular vote include a painted plastic curved wall-sculpture or "loop" made by the late Craig Kauffman in 1969, bought from Frank Lloyd Gallery in Santa Monica for $170,000; a Japanese Buddha head sculpted from cypress wood from around AD 1,000, purchased for $422,000 from the Kyoto gallery Taihaku Asian Art; and a set of three Spanish "casta" (or mixed-race narrative) paintings from 1760 by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, bought for $570,500 from London gallery Derek Johns.
Individual donors stepped forward to buy a 1978 "prototype desk" that Donald Judd had made for his son Flavin (named after artist Dan Flavin) for $350,000; a 16th century, checkerboard-patterned Peruvian textile for $250,000 from the William Siegal Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M.; and a circa 13th century Mexican painted ceramic featuring serpent-human forms from the Stendahl Gallery in Los Angeles for $60,000.