On Friday, Bryan and I went to see the John Baldessari show at LACMA. I love Baldessari because he’s funny and he isn’t too stuck up to let the audience in on the joke. His “California Map Project” is a stroke of genius: he started with a map of the state and then visited the physical location of each of the C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters printed on the map. At those places, he laid out the letters with red ribbon, rocks or non-toxic dye. The resulting photos were a playful sweep across the varied landscape of our state. We wanted to visit LACMA on a weekday because our neighbor Christal works in the conservation department. She took us to the paintings lab, where one of the conservators talked about how they restore paintings missing flecks of paint or browned by age. Morning, northern light is apparently the best for mixing colors to match the painting. If they are stumped, they ask scientists to analyze the composition of pigments on the original. The conservator talked about a difficult case with an Albert Bierstadt painting, where someone in the 80s decided to shellack it with a particularly thick varnish. When she pressed on it, an air bubble showed up like a badly laminated placemat. Eventually, by rolling a bone over the painting, she was able to pull off the whole layer with a spatula. She was able in this way to preserve the underlying original artist’s varnish, which turned out to be flecked with gold. As if the dramatic colors and composition of his lush, Romantic landscapes of the West didn’t already inspire a sense of wonder, I guess Bierstadt wanted a little extra shimmer!