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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles: Part Three

LACMAWe began these spontaneous looks at three of Los Angeles’ cultural icons with The Norton Simon Museum, followed by The Getty Center. Now we come to the third side of the triangle and I am still trying to define LACMA.  Perhaps that is because I am most familiar with it; spend the most time at it. Of the three museums it is the most diverse in content, the most bureaucratic in design and administration, and also perhaps the most ambitious in its reach. You can go to LACMA’s website and discover the history of its birth on your own. Today we again arrive as a stranger with no bigger an agenda than to see what we can see.

PART THREE:  LACMA

THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART

Though the newer buildings get the big “oohhhh” when you first arrive at LACMA, it is the old buildings that I find have held up quite well. The Times Courtyard is a wonderful place to gather with a friend and plan your time and what you want to see. If you don’t have an official agenda, you will be surrounded by choices.

The Japanese Pavilion with its Guggenheim-like spiral, the Hammer Building with the most comprehensive collection of Korean art outside of Korea and Japan, the Arts of the Americas Building which has special exhibits on the 2nd floor while the 3rd and 4th levels will take you through both pre and post European influenced art. There, ancient feathered serpents shake hands with Diego Rivera, David Hockney and Millard Sheets give you differing birds eye views of Los Angeles, American landscapes prove equal to the best of the Barbizon, and social realism reminds us that our relatively short history is filled with powerful human stories—Reginald Marsh’s Third Ave. El, Miki Hayakawa’s Portrait of a Negro, Paul Cadmus’s Coney Islandall are grand fine art, and of these last, sometimes I wish LACMA would give them the greater promotion that they deserve.

The two new stars of the LACMA campus are the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, and the even newer Resnick Pavilion. Both are mega-buck ultra contemporary architectural superstars. BCAM, as the Broad is called, is for those who love or who are at least curious about the cutting edges in Contemporary Art. For those who “get it” no more need be said—they will embrace the silk purse while others will hold their nose at the stench from the sow’s ear—and some will see nothing and insist the emperor is naked.  Rapture or anger, you won’t be bored.

The Resnick Exhibition Pavilion is the newest member of the LACMA family and already has had a major success with Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.  Renzo Piano’s designs for the BCAM and Resnick structures is all 21st Century optimism, colors and shapes and promises for the eyes. And they reflect LACMA’s focus on the future demographics of Los Angeles.

However it is the Ahmanson building that is still the “museum” building at LACMA…the grand lady where you can find a genuine Egyptian mummy and “Jack the Dripper” just one floor apart, and while running from one to the other, have some Tea with Henri Matisse and gawk at Giacometti and puzzle over Modigliani and don’t miss those weird unhappy German expressionists and why did Picasso make all those women look like horses as he went from Neo Classic to Cubism and then to a fusion of both and how can you not see the big black thing in the lobby. The Ahmanson building has it all, plus Hindus and Buddha and a nod to Islam.

The gallery for the Impressionists/Post-impressionists/Paris School is weak. No way around it. And the reason is simple. The Getty and the Simon are the raucous offspring of wealthy individuals. LACMA is the hesitant creation of a city born of orange groves and dreams, trying to puff up its chest and imitate its East Coast peers. The great examples of European Modern Art were mostly bought and sold before LACMA even existed. However given how late it got into the game, LACMA has rolled the stone up the hill and done worthy job for the tax payers and the museum goers.

I want to end this piece with a treasure hunt for some modest works of art that continue to draw me back again and again. I’ll give you clues but you will have to search for them and find them. In the Art of the Americas building is a trio of works hanging side by side, paintings by two students and their teacher: Miki Hayakawa, Yun Gee and Otis Oldfield. I leave it to you to learn the stories behind them. In the Ahmanson on the 3rd floor are two great little paintings, one hung so high up you might need a step stool to find it. They are Painting and Music by Martin Drolling and Palermo Harbor with a View of Monte Pellegrino by Martinus Rorbye. This last one is very small; actually it was a sketch in oil for a later work. However if you can get close enough to see the amazing detail in even this sketch, you will see that this very small painting is every equal to a much larger nearby masterpiece, View at La-Ferte-Saint-Aubin, Near Orleans by Constant Troyon. Lastly, look for a beautiful and almost life-sized bronze, Seated Hercules by Guillaume Boichot, stare into the face and wonder…in wonder.

LACMA is very big and there is a lot to see, worth seeing, worth sharing with people you care about. It has free jazz concerts on Friday nights, and movie programs, and it has places where you can sit and be alone with a piece of art and take your time getting to know it. And if you do that with just one work of art, then LACMA is a success. You can learn more about the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at their website, www.lacma.org.

- By John Ireland

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FEATURE: Museums of Los Angeles – Part One

nsmentry1A museum’s history is often as complex and varied as the works of art in it. Each of the three museums in this series have their own websites that can give you their stories of creation and evolution, so there is no reason for me to repeat that process here. This series is from the point of view of a traveler entering the gates of a far away city. I arrive thirsty and hungry and ready for any and all temptations …I stand eager to be stimulated and seduced…and the gates open.

PART ONE:  THE NORTON SIMON MUSEUM

Most supermarkets have bigger parking lots than the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. It is the smallest building on the smallest campus of the three major museums in this series. Intensely compact, the Simon’s focus is a very high quality of art that never becomes the overgrown cultural smorgasbord that often leads to institutional mediocrity. From the moment you drive into the free, single-level open sky parking area, everything about the Simon fits and flows.

As you leave your car you are already in a garden-like setting and the paths lead to a welcoming arrangement of larger than life Rodin sculptures. Without yet having breached the front door, you have been engaged by the narrative of Western Civilization. You cannot look at these works without also seeing everything that came before and after, and without feeling the weight of your own sack of skin and muscle and bone.

I have intentionally avoided pictures of the inside of the Museum because photographs cannot do justice to the art nor the experience of making your own entrance. Step through the doors and you are inside the core of the Simon. It reminds me of a flower with the petals made up of the four wings and a large theatre. One level below is the South and Southeast Asian galleries. The core, the center of this flower is for special exhibitions. Today I have come to visit the four wings that hold the story of my own history. These centuries of human emotion are the mirror I will be gazing into.

The first wing is filled with the 14th to 16th Centuries. Early, High, Mannerist, Northern, Southern…a Renaissance is a Renaissance is a Renaissance…and it is not my favorite art but neither I nor the Simon can ignore it. The Museum’s collection does more than just give a prerequisite Renaissance experience. With a selectivity and quality it demonstrates the genius of the Renaissance artists without beating you over the head with the religious messages. Perhaps it is the size of the museum that keeps it all more intimate and accessible. If you came to overdose on the Jesus and Mary Show this is not the museum for that…for the Simon’s examples of secular humanism hold equal stage. Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of Joerg Fugger is wonderfully alive…I wanted to step in front of Fugger and force him to look at me, to engage him with questions about his life.

One of the important elements in the entire Norton Simon Museum experience is the outstanding presentation of all the art. The height at which the art is hung and sculpture placed, the skill of of the lighting, and the flow of the groupings, for me it is the best of any museum in the city.  Never once did I find myself bobbing and weaving like a drunken prize fighter at war with glare and reflection on the art work.

The second wing throws us into the 17th and 18th Centuries…carried there by Guido Reni’s portrait of St. Cecilia. Reni overwhelms his religious subject with stunning technique that makes this artist the real center of the painting. Art for art is now an unstoppable wave and the Simon immerses the viewer in Baroque paintings from Italy and Spain and the North. Everywhere you turn life explodes. Jan (Johannes) Fyt’s Still Life with Red Curtain and Zurbaran’s Still Life with Lemon, Oranges and a Rose filled me with child-like awe at their skill. Thomas de Kayser’s Portrait of a Father and His Son; Marie Genevieve Bouliar’s Self Portrait; and Theresa, Countess Kinsky by Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigree-Lebrun all remind me that I am walking through a world of hearts that once beat as furiously as my own.

The last two wings contain the 19th and 20th Centuries and I cannot separate them because they are wife and mistress to our modern life. And here the Simon shines with outstanding art. Edgar Degas is everywhere…his paintings and sculptures swirl around you…taunt you. At first I was overwhelmed and then quickly I was glad. It felt as if this were his studio and his home.

I’ve often thought that the best Renoirs are always someplace else. Until today. But don’t look for the large grand canvases that have been reproduced on everything from coffee mugs to refrigerator magnets. At the Simon you will find small intimate Renoirs that will make you forget the “famous dead artist” and replace him with the living and curious and passionate and vulnerable Renoir.

My feet are no longer on the ground at this point…I am picked up on a Barbizon cloud and it carries me forward through the dreams of Corot and Monet and Seurat and Gauguin and Caillebotte and Lautrec…and at last I am at the feet of my personal Buddha, Vincent van Gogh. Even the Metropolitan in New York did not satisfy my eyes for his work. But at the Norton Simon there is a wonderful sampling and it is just large enough so that you can say “I met van Gogh today, and we talked awhile and then went our separate ways.” And for those who can only dream in modern media, take the time and you will come to discover that Vincent van Gogh is 3D…without the glasses.

I think Gertrude Stein would like the Museum’s view of the 20th Century…even the pictures she didn’t like. What would Picasso say to Sam Francis? What would Matisse think of Warhol? Would Modigliani and Braque agree? Perhaps it is because of the size of the Norton Simon Museum that this is a perfect place for making the walk from the Renaissance up to and through the last one hundred years. By the end of the journey you haven’t just viewed a history of the people of Western Civilization, you have also gazed into the mirror that this art offers and you have seen a reflection of yourself. And when our prejudices become an acid inside us, that is when we can turn and look back at the footsteps we have been walking in…and we can unflinchingly question ourselves and our lives, as every artist present in the Norton Simon Museum has also done.

This is a museum that has confidence and competence in its bones.  This is an art lover’s museum…and a museum’s museum.

- By John Ireland

For more information go to www.nortonsimon.org

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Happy New Year!

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We can’t wait for all the new art and experiences 2010 will bring.  And we know you can’t either!  Happy new year and best wishes from all of us at Fine Arts LA!

Love,

Team FALA

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Merry Christmas!

Well, dear readers… It’s that time of year again.  We want to take a moment to wish you a very happy holiday season filled with warmth, joy, and love.  Most of all, we want to thank you for being so loyal and supportive to us – we (quite literally) would be lost in cyberspace without you!

So enjoy your Christmas Day and let’s keep our fingers crossed that someone was listening as you dropped hints all year… “Ooh, I would just love to hang that print in the dining room…”

Happy Holidays, everyone!

xoxo FALA

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David Fahey Has Got a Story or Two

They say it’s smart to have a niche: find what differentiates you from the pack and run with it.  That has been quite true for the owners of Fahey/Klein Gallery on La Brea Blvd.  Focusing entirely on the medium of photography has proven quite the challenge what with a new exhibit that must go up every five weeks, but as David Fahey, co-owner of the gallery mentioned, it’s been well worth it.  We recently sat down with Fahey to discuss Los Angeles’ art scene, photography, and wild times with Peter Beard.  How many other people can you name off the top of your head who can recount stories about Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz, Helmut Newton, and Herb Ritts?  We can name only one: David Fahey.

On now through December 5 at the gallery is an exhibition of nudes featuring two distinct artists: Ralph Gibson and Rasmus Mogensen.  A tried and true genre, according to Fahey, these artists really take their work to a new level of innovation.  Gibson’s architectural, piece-by-piece look at the female form implements shadows, light, towels, and stockings to find a host of new, intriguing shapes.  On the other hand, Mogensen’s larger-than-life photographs of nude women posing in nothing but high heels are reminiscent of Helmut Newton with a unique Mogensen touch.  Called “Perfectly Natural”, each photograph in the series has been altered in some minor way to create the artist’s idea of a perfect woman – look closely at them and you’ll see the Photoshop-ed discrepancies.

Having stayed in the same gallery space for twenty-three years, it’s safe to say the owners of Fahey/Klein Gallery know a thing or two about Los Angeles’ changing artistic landscape.  We took a seat and listened to the expert – check out our video to hear what he had to say.

Ralph Gibson and Rasmus Mogensen’s work will be up at Fahey/Klein Gallery through December 5, 2009.  For more information, please call (323) 934-2250 or click here.

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The Seasons Have Been Announced

Summer isn’t generally a time to plan ahead.  The summer forces us at least to try to forget what day of the week it is and we wouldn’t want to bring you crashing back into the reality of fall before needed; although fall in LA isn’t really like crashing into reality considering we won’t see rainfall until January.  In any case, we just got really excited about the upcoming 2009/2010 seasons at various arts establishments we had to share them! So get your Blackberrys out and start filling up your fall calendar, but don’t take any blazers or scarves out just yet.

In the theatre department, A Noise Within has got a fall and spring lineup that will literally make you cry and laugh.  Their fall shows include the dramatic Richard III by William Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Noises Off by British import Michael Ryan.  With the spring comes more laughs starting with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing followed by Irish playwright John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World.  If we could only choose two, we’d likely head to Noises Off and Much Ado About Nothing, but we’re suckers for chaotic comedy, comic romance, and imports from the UK.

 

s_walt-disney-concert-hall1On track with theatre, we find that Center Theatre Group has three lineups we ought to share.  Featured at the Kirk Douglas Theatre are works by Danai Gurira, Obie Award-winning Lisa Kron, and Malcolm McDowell in Tynan.  Over at the Mark Taper Forum, you’ve got Oleanna on view now and in the fall comes Tony Award-winning Parade.  Then once Spamalot closes at the Ahmanson, August Osage County takes its place, followed by Mary Poppins and Dreamgirls.

The LA Philharmonic has quite a season coming up and it’s not just because I’m crazy for Verdi’s Requiem (being performed in November).  Gustavo Dudamel is coming! When his new job starts in October, he’ll be conducting the LA Phil through a season full of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, and Ravel with guest performances throughout including the Berlin Philharmonic and Anjelique Kidjo.

Over in Westwood at UCLA Live, the 2009/2010 season has a taste for everyone.  Kicking off the season, Annette Benning will star in Medea followed by Societas Raffaello Sanzio’s Purgatorio, inspired by the Divine Comedy.  Other performances include Culture Clash, Carlos Fuentes, and the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour.

So now you’ll know where to find us in the coming months.  We’ll let you know if we end up changing our plans, but it will take a really good season to change our plans – the summer’s for being spontaneous, but for the fall we’re all booked up!

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