A Found Object
Vermeer, Duchamp, and Mason at the Norton Simon
On Monday, I wandered into the Norton Simon Museum. I expected long lines of visitors waiting to see Johannes Vermeer’s A Lady Writing.
I was surprised that I could stand alone, with only one guard looming, and examine the exquisite, luminous Dutch painting. I felt the sensate, intimate encounter with an individual painting that is at the heart of my ideal museum experience.
I also discovered that the Norton Simon has mounted a small tribute to a landmark show 45 years ago-the first retrospective of work by Marcel Duchamp organized by curator Walter Hopps for the Pasadena Museum in 1963.
Small but intriguing, the show includes a painting (Nine Malic Moulds) on glass that seems like the predecessor to the Large Glass. A bottle rack, a valise of Duchamp readymades replicas, small rotodiscs, and humorous aprons are on view. Exhibit materials are augmented with archival photos of the opening events for the show, and the invitation to a reception at the Green Hotel. As I read the materials and looked at the names (Hopps, Duchamp, Blum, Rowan, Coplans), I thought: Wasn’t this moment the real birth of an art world for L.A.?
Out in the NSM sculpture garden, I found John Mason’s Black Cross, 1961. The massive monolith retains all its vital strength and totemic power, nearly 50 years after its rough-hewn form was shaped by Mason. I came back to the gallery and found a photograph of Mason with Black Cross, once used for a poster at Ferus Gallery.