Helicon, the U-M undergraduate history of art association, spent spring break 2012 in Los Angeles. This annual spring break trip, devoted to the study of art, up close and personal, gives us undergraduates the opportunity to visit world-class museums and monuments. This year, accompanied by professors Matt Biro and David Doris, and department manager Jeff Craft, we toured the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Villa, and Homeboy Industries.
After unexpected adventures at the airport—a twelve-hour delay—we arrived in L.A. ready to see our first museum, LACMA. Professor Biro gave a tour of the exhibit In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, which featured Frida Kahlo and her contemporaries. We also saw original works by René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Robert Therrien, as well as Chris Burden’s massive sculpture in front of the museum, Urban Light.
At our next stop, the Getty Villa in Malibu, archeological historian Shelby Brown introduced the villa’s collection of Greek and Roman frescoes and statues, including the famous bronze sculpture Victorious Youth. We learned about the villa's architectural elements borrowed from the Villa of Papyri at Herculaneum, and how they prove to be a nice juxtaposition to the rhetoric of modernity of the Getty Museum in downtown L.A. Once there, we viewed its collections, including several photography exhibits and an exhibit on medieval manuscripts. We also explored the innovative way in which the museum’s modern architecture plays with space.
Our visit to Homeboy Industries was perhaps the most interesting part of the trip. Serving at-risk youth and gang members with a variety of services, Homeboy Industries has given rise to a number of contemporary Mexican-American artists. Former gang-member-turned-artist Fabian Debora introduced us to the art of South-Central L.A., and his personal stories provided a more comprehensive understanding of the history and development of Los Angeles.
Our free time was spent enjoying the windy beach of Santa Monica, tracking down food trucks, and visiting different neighborhood pockets around the city. To cap it all off, we spent the last day at Disneyland with Professor Doris. Listening to his commentary on the hyper-reality of Disneyland was particularly delightful for students who have not had the chance to take his class Disney's Lands: Consuming Wonders in America.
The History of Art department’s commitment to the education of undergraduates has not passed unnoticed. Seeing these works of art under the tutelage of art historians was a real treat.