If I ask you, "What is the most beautiful and sumptuous museum space in Southern California?," your first thought probably will not be the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. However, after going there last weekend to see the traveling exhibition, "Renaissance to Rococo," I found my attention divided between drooling over the wonderful paintings and enjoying the luxurious and grand setting created for this exhibition. Until recent renovations of the Museum's main exhibition space, modeled after the impressive 19th century European Beaux Arts galleries, I didn't realize how attractive this huge space is with its columns, decorative moldings and high vaulted ceiling.
The princely atmosphere of this space could not be more appropriate for the exhibition of masterpieces from the collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the oldest museums in America. While the Wadsworth Atheneum is closed for remodeling, 58 paintings, including some of the most rare and exquisite in its collection, are traveling around the country. Among the highlights are an early religious composition by Caravaggio, and an enormous canvas by Tiepolo, an 18th century Venetian painter who excelled in creating endlessly entertaining narrative scenes based on Greek and Roman mythology. There are wonderful examples of portraits and landscapes from different European masters such as Frans Hals, Canaletto and Gainsborough. My favorites include the light-spirited image of two gossiping women by Goya. This unusually elongated, horizontal canvas, intended as an overdoor decoration, was painted around the time when the artist was recuperating from a severe illness which subsequently left him deaf. The bone-chilling image of Saint Serapion painted by Zurbaran, a 17th century Spanish artist, depicts a slowly dying saint shown as if on a stage against a pitch black background, where a single spotlight illuminates the folds of his immaculate white robe. And how about the guilty pleasure of studying the very large painting by Panini, an Italian master, who was commissioned to document the enormous collection of Cardinal Gonzaga consisting of 800 paintings. The artist presents the Cardinal and himself standing in the center of a gigantic Baroque gallery, whose walls are covered --floor to ceiling-- with close to 200 painting, each one is a faithful rendition of the actual artworks from this renown collection.
Among many important exhibitions currently on view in Southern California, I want to be sure that you will not miss the installation by two contemporary French artists, Mrzyk and Moriceau, at LACMA. Inspired by scatological images by the 19th century printmaker, Felicien Rops, these two young artists created several hundred small black and white drawings, in which over-sexed human beings interact with creatures from their over-charged erotic fantasies. The more than tongue-in-cheek spirit of their drawings is imaginatively matched with the irreverent style of this installation. Hundreds of framed drawings, like a swarm of bees, form a cluster on the wall, then climb up to the ceiling, only to descend around the corner into the next room, where the installation literally spills onto the floor. You get the idea, don't you? This exhibition is definitely a pleasure not to be missed. But don't go there with your in-laws.
Renaissance to Rococo: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Wadsworth Atheneum of Art
Santa Barbara Museum of Art
1130 State Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
On view through May 28
Mrzyk & Moriceau and Felicien Rops ---You Only Live 25 Years
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
On view through June 4