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Milton Avery at The UCLA Hammer Museum
Frank Gehry at Gemini

The long and distinguished career of much loved American artist Milton Avery, born in 1885, received an unexpected boost from Clement Greenberg, the most influential art critic of his time, who pronounced him in 1957 as a progenitor of the new Color Field School of painting. Greenberg also stated that Milton Avery assimilated French influences in an unique way, which resulted in "some of the most unmistakably American art I have seen."

Such a statement, made in the height of the Cold War, the year when Russians launched Sputnik, had intended political overtones in promotion of patriotism.

Milton Avery, a smart and witty artist, and a happily married New Englander, was known for a fusion of 20th century European Abstraction with American folk art traditions. Close friends Adolph Gottlieb and Mark Rothko admired his art for its sophisticated rendering of colors and unique use of interlocking forms, which gave his canvases "the look of giant luminous jigsaw puzzles."

An attractively installed exhibition of 45 paintings from the last decades of Milton Avery's career at the UCLA Hammer Museum is accompanied by an eloquent, informative catalogue, which is a very good read.

If I were to pick some issues with the exhibition, it would be that it put together his best works, like landscapes and seascapes, along with some figurative paintings, which looked liked rather clumsy attempts of dialogue with Matisse and other French artists. Makes me think of a young Richard Diebenkorn, who explored, around roughly the same time, the same subject, only with a much more convincing and invigorating result. In spite of Milton Avery's significant talent, he was lacking the juice and energy necessary to take on a great French master. However, he succeeded in making hundreds of attractive, sophisticated paintings, which Greenberg once celebrated for their quintessentially American quality. But today, they often come across as merely charming and thoughtful - definitely not in league with Pollack, Rothko or Gottlieb.

And now for those who admire the enormously talented Frank Gehry, the American hero who did succeed in conquering the world.

For quite some time, he has been fascinated with a shape reminiscent of a horse's skull. A couple of years ago, this theme was explored in a mesmerizing and beautiful walk-in sculptural construction, at the Gagosian Gallery in L.A. He returns to this theme again in a new exhibition of fiberglass sculptures at the Gemini workshop's gallery on Melrose. Made out of laminated semi-translucent fiberglass, the skull-like shapes are almost 5 feet long and 4 feet high. Some are displayed on wood pedestals, resembling a bit too much the sculptures of Joel Shapiro. Others sit on the floor or are suspended in air. Different in color, they share the same rather unappealing slimy texture of animal carcasses one might encounter at the slaughterhouse. I am sad to say that Frank Gehry's latest stab at sculpture completely misses the mark. Compared to his mischievous and successful earlier functional sculptures, be it corrugated board furniture or Formica lamps, this latest experiment, one hopes, will be mercifully forgotten.


For more information:

Milton Avery: The Late Paintings
May 21 - September 8, 2002
UCLA Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
310.443.7000 (automated info)
310.443.7094 (TTY)
310.443.7020 (receptionist, Mon.-Fri.)
http://www.hammer.ucla.edu

Frank Gehry
Gemini G.E.L.
8365 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
323.651.0513
Open Mon.-Fri. 9-5:30
Sat. by appointment
http://www.geminigel.com

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