George Romney at Huntington Library
Oscar Mu-oz at Iturralde Gallery
For a few weeks, until last Sunday, Los Angeles museums had a very rare treat for us and that was three concurrent shows of Old Master paintings. While LACMA just closed its splendid comprehensive exhibition of 17th century Spanish artist Murillo, two other exhibitions continue to run until December 1st, so you have plenty of time.
At the Getty Center, there is a mouth-watering display of drawings by Greuze, the 18th century French artist, one of the best practitioners of the intimate art of pressing graphite onto paper. And with that seemingly simple premise, he was able to improvise as many moods and surprises as a good jazz player during a jam session. The exhibition contains a few good examples of his paintings, but the main reason to swoon over this show is the works on paper borrowed from museums and private collections from the four corners of the world. From a drawing of a lap dog to scenes of domestic bliss and drama, Greuze was capable of investing his work with a rare vitality that gives his art, even 200 years later, a surprising freshness. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was especially moved by seeing a number of excellent drawings which came from my beloved Hermitage Museum in my native St. Petersburg.
The Huntington Library is hosting a survey of yet another Old Master painter, 18th century English portraitist George Romney. This exhibition originated at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Huntington, with its outstanding collection of English art, is a natural place to host the exhibition. The curators of the exhibition argue the case for Romney being as important an artist as two of his major rivals, Reynolds and Gainsborough, with whom he never achieved parity. And now, 200 years later, his carefully composed portraits demonstrate everything wealthy patrons could desire: dignified poses, masterful depictions of expensive fabric, elegant settings. What's missing in this unfortunately overcrowded exhibition is the artist's ability to transcend the artistic conventions of his time. The subtitle of this exhibition referring to George Romney as the forgotten genius of British art will do little to change his position among the ranks of the Old European Masters. He is neither a genius nor is he forgotten; his art continues its respectful existence in the big shadow cast by greater talents.
Jumping back to the new millenium, I want to share my enthusiasm about an exhibition of Columbian artist Oscar Mu-oz at Iturralde Gallery. The artist uses self-portraits in a series of videos, photographs and installations, inviting visitors to think about "how fragile and ephemeral life is." Mu-oz sifts charcoal powder onto the surface of water, creating the resemblance of black and white photographic portraits. As days pass by, the water evaporates and the portraits on its surface slowly distort, a process that can be observed through repeated visits to the gallery. A speedier version of this deterioration can be seen in a video installation and through a series of photographs, where a portrait on the surface of a sink filled with water slowly disintegrates and, ultimately, gets sucked into the drain. End of the story.
For more information:
"Greuze the Draftsman"
through December 1, 2002
1200 Getty Center Drive, LA, CA 90049
"George Romney 1734-1802: British Art's Forgotten Genius"
through December 1, 2002
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108
"Oscar Mu-oz: Trans figuraciones"
through October 19, 2002
116 S. La Brea Ave., LA, CA 90036