Astronomers Monument is a product of the great economic depression of the 1930s, when New Deal initiatives created federally-funded work programs to employ skilled workers at a time when they would otherwise remain idle and without income. One of the first of these programs, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), began in December 1933. Soon thereafter, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Park Commission, PWAP commissioned a sculpture project on the grounds of the new Observatory (which was under construction).
Using a design by local artist Archibald Garner and materials donated by the Womens’ Auxiliary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Garner and five other artists sculpted and cast the concrete monument and figures. Each artist was responsible for sculpting one astronomer; one of the artists, George Stanley, was also the creator of the famous “Oscar” statuette. The other artists involved were Arnold Forester, Djey el Djey, Gordon Newell, Roger Noble Burnham.
The six astronomers featured on the monument are among the most influential and important in history. The six figures represent the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (about 125 B.C.), Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Isaac Newton (1642-1727), and John Herschel (1738-1822). Albert Einstein was considered for inclusion, but planers ultimately decided it would be inappropriate to feature someone still alive (the monument was completed in 1934; Einstein died in 1955). [sources: The Living New Deal & Griffith Observatory]
Belisarius (about 505-565) was a Byzantine general whose military prowess was envied by the emperor Justinian, who banished and allegedly blinded the general. The subject was popular among French eighteenth-century writers and artists, both as political allegory and as a means of depicting the pathos of a fallen hero. Stouf skillfully rendered the crinkled skin around the eyes, the sunken cheeks, and the luxuriant curls of the beard and hair with a subtlety that belies the challenge of carving stone.
Belisarius at the Getty Center || James Dean at Griffith Observatory
”Flavin’s work generates ambient light that reaches into the viewer’s space. The form, resembling a skyscraper, refers to a never-realized, but nonetheless influential, monument to an organization supporting Communist revolution designed by the Russian constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin in 1920. It was to be a spiraling steel framework thirteen hundred feet tall in which rotating glass rooms would be suspended. Though utterly impractical engineering-wise, it remains an influential symbol of the artist’s efforts to combine art and technology. Flavin’s “monument,” despite its low-tech, small-scale nature, pays homage to Tatlin’s futuristic, utopian ideals.” [source: MOCA]
And a pleasant surprise, as we wandered through the galleries of LACMA, those ones that remained open during the museum’s extensive renovation and expansion. The surprise was finding out that Magritte’s ”Ceci n’est pas une pipe” belongs to LACMA; for some reason, I was convinced it would belong to the permanent collection of the Magritte Museum in Brussels. What a fittingly surreal connection between my two favourite cities in the world!
Pioneer Works is an artist-run cultural center that opened its doors to the public, free of charge, in 2012. Imagined by its founder, artist Dustin Yellin, as a place in which artists, scientists, and thinkers from various backgrounds converge, this “museum of process” takes its primary inspiration from utopian visionaries such as Buckminster Fuller, and radical institutions such as Black Mountain College.
Pioneer Works encourages radical thinking across disciplines by providing practitioners a space to work, tools to create, and a platform to exchange ideas that are free and open to all. We are driven by the realization that humanity is facing unprecedented social, intellectual, and spiritual challenges; our programs explore new ways of facing those challenges by using the arts and sciences dynamically as both a lens and catalyst. When humanity comes together and combines the ideas and talents of many, we have the ability to engineer what once appeared to be impossible. [source]
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