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Aroused Animals by Francisco Toledo
California Hard Edge Painting at Otis

Can you name any famous city whose name is on everyone's lips, but at the same time it's the place where you cannot buy a book, because there are no bookstores? So you can imagine the satisfaction I had after reading that, at last, Beverly Hills got its first book store. I wonder how many more years it will take for the City of the Rich and Famous to come up with its first museum? At least the city has the Gagosian Gallery, with its first rate contemporary art exhibition. There is only one other gallery in Beverly Hills worthy of attention; the gallery of Latin American Masters on Beverly Drive.

Currently on display is an exhibition of recent paintings by Francisco Toledo, one of Latin America's most acclaimed artists. This show gives a rare chance to become familiar with the body of work he created here in Los Angeles in 2001, during an extended stay in the city. Those familiar with Mexican art will recognize and respond to the phantasmagorical themes and subjects in Toledo's paintings. How about such titles as "Death and Alligators", or my favorite, "Rabbit Beheading Bean"? And what would your reaction be upon seeing highly animated, angry and often sexually aroused skeletons and rabbits and monkeys and bats? Even his small paintings have the presence and power to light up a big room. Maybe it's the intricate texture, which sometimes reminds me of the weathered surface of ancient, pre-Columbian ceramic vases. Maybe it's the colors, not so much bright as intense, as if they've been slowly cooked on a low burner. Maybe it's the fearless mixture of oil and rare wax-based encaustic paint applied to wood panel, whose surface Toledo often carves in a series of shallow grooves, reminding me of initiation body scars. All in all, it's a fascinating exhibition, which whets my appetite for a long overdue American museum retrospective of the works of this 64 year old painter who, judging by this exhibition, is in absolutely top shape.

After the highly charged and idiosyncratic art of Francisco Toledo, you might need to cool off a little bit. The exhibition of paintings by six Los Angeles artists at Ben Maltz Gallery at OTIS College is the coolest show in town. Curated by formidable Dave Hickey, this year a guest professor at the college, this exhibition brings together works by six painters who collectively, in the late 50's and early 60's, created a new and very specific look to their abstract geometric compositions. It has become known as "California Hard Edge Painting". There are only a few paintings by each of the artists on display, but it's a virtual mini retrospective for each of them: Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Frederick Hammersley, June Harwood, Helen Lundeberg and John McLaughlin. Not all the paintings aged well, but together they form a surprisingly vigorous circle of friends having one hell of a good time. It makes one want to be invited to the party. It should also be mentioned that, on the suggestion of curator Dave Hickey, the all-purpose white walls of the gallery were painted in a subdued grayish/green color, complementing the artworks especially well. I guess that's what he meant, writing in a recent article, "The first principle of curatorial organization [is] that an exhibition is either about how it looks or what it means." In this case, he succeeded on both accounts.

"Francisco Toledo: Recent Paintings"
Latin American Masters
264 North Beverly Drive
Beverly Hills
Ends December 11
310 -271-4847

"The Los Angeles School"
Ben Maltz Gallery
OTIS College of Art & Design
9045 Lincoln Boulevard
Los Angeles
Ends January 22, 2005
310-665-6905

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