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Art In L.A.: High Minded, Trashy and with Big Boobs

The art of John Baldessari--one of the best known and most influential among American artists--is seemingly everywhere these days. He has two museum exhibitions in Austria (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig; Kunsthaus Graz) and one at the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin. In the April issue of Art in America, there is a laudatory review of his New York exhibition at the Marian Goodman Gallery, an exhibition which was later seen in Paris. Now we can check out Baldessari's latest works here in L.A. at the Margo Leavin Gallery. The elegantly installed exhibition consists of numerous works where black and white photographic images of faces are juxtaposed with a single adjective describing their facial expressions with such words as "Malicious," "Blissful," "Cynical," and so on. Re-photographing old movie stills, Baldessari this time avoids painting over the images, which has typically been one of the highly recognizable gestures in his art. As a rule, the artist's best works can be read on many levels: conceptual, visual, even emotional. But this time Baldessari came with a number of disappointing one-liners. I guess being an artist in such high demand comes with a price, even for an artist as good and prolific as Baldessari; So much art and so little time to make it.

Another luminary of the Los Angeles art scene, George Herms has two current exhibitions in town. The Santa Monica Museum presents a retrospective of his works from the last 40 years in an exhibition organized by legendary curator Walter Hopps, who died unexpectedly shortly after the opening of the show. There is also a generous display of the artist's work at the Tobey Moss Gallery. George Herms' work--even 40 years later---still burns with the spirit of the beat generation that gave birth to his art. The first line of the L.A. Times review of his show says it all: "George Herms' sculpture is trash." That's where he finds his inspiration, that's what his art transforms into poetic renderings, which make you smile a little and laugh a little. But also it makes you sad a little. It makes you think about the passage of time, and about the inevitable turn of young, beautiful and shiny things into a heap of trash. Looking at the assemblage sculptures by George Herms, one hears the voice of the poet not of a preacher.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, let's talk about sex. Tons of sex. Right here in Los Angeles! Do I have your attention? After successful runs in top New York and San Francisco galleries, the exhibition of '30 Porn Star Portraits' by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders blew into L.A., where it can be seen at Berman/Turner Projects at Bergamot Station. Each of the ladies and gentlemen of the above-mentioned profession are presented in double portraits in identical poses: first dressed in street clothes and then totally naked, staring directly at you. Huge breasts and other formidable protrusions are everywhere, while personalities are in extremely short supply. An accomplished, well-known photo portraitist, Greenfield-Sanders created quite a stir with this body of works, including a favorable review in Art in America. This travelling exhibition is accompanied by a book of these photo portraits with essays on pornography and culture by Gore Vidal, John Malcovich, John Waters and even Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately for me, I found the images numbingly boring and repetitive, which is---come to think of it---probably the daily routine in the life of the stars in the XXX industry.

John Baldessari "Prima Facie" Through May 14
Margo Leavin Gallery
812 North Robertson Blvd.
Tel. 310-273-0603

George Herms: Hot Set
Through May 14
Santa Monica Museum of Art
Begamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
Tel. 310-586-6488

From George Herms with Love
Through May 7
Tobey C. Moss Gallery
7321 Beverly Blvd.
Tel. 323-933-5523

Timothy Greenfield Sanders: XXX 30 Porn Star Portraits
Through May 3
Berman Turner Projects
Begamot Station
2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica
Tel. 310-315-1937

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