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Happiness in New York for 50 Bucks or for Free, Part II

My last program ended with a promise of more of my adventures in the Big Apple. A few listeners, who were on their way to New York, pleaded with me to tell them ahead of time what other exhibitions I was going to talk about today. Here is an expanded version of my advice to them. (And, by the way, if you are computer savvy, go to the KCRW website at www.KCRW.org and check out this or any other Art Talk programs for images and additional useful information.)

Undeniably, the "must see" exhibition of the holiday season is the Van Gogh drawing show at the Met. Go there on a Monday when the Museum is closed. For fifty bucks you can get a special ticket to see this blockbuster without the crowds. With well over a hundred drawings, the exhibition follows the artist from his first clumsy but endearing figurative drawings to the last few which are nothing short of spellbinding in their feeling of immediacy and palpable sense of anguish. A simply unforgettable show.

But, I must admit, it was another exhibition that I chose to see on the first day of my trip. Yes, you guessed right--it was the gigantic survey of Russian art at the Guggenheim. It has it all, from the exquisite icons of the 12th century to the melancholic landscapes of the Tolstoy and Dostoevsky era; from the well-known works of such avant-garde artists as Malevich to paintings that were literally completed in the last year. Though it's a great chance for the American public to see Russian art on such a grand scale, I thought it would be more helpful if the show were better edited. Even with my Russian background I was overwhelmed and slightly confused. I think it was a mistake for the Guggenheim to treat Russia as if she were an exotic and undiscovered civilization instead of making a more thoughtful, focused and better-defined presentation. Still it would be foolish to miss this extravaganza.

At the Whitney, I was greeted by not one, but two exhibitions by our very own Los Angeles artists. Ed Ruscha was chosen to represent American art at the Venice Biennale this year and, now that it's over, the paintings he made for the American Pavilion are shown here in a very unusual and witty display, which takes full advantage of the famous Marcel Breuer building. The small exhibition of Raymond Pettibon drawings on the Museum's ground level is another reminder of the vitality of the Los Angeles art scene as presented serendipitously by so many New York museums and galleries this holiday season.

I was pleasantly surprised to encounter new paintings by David Salle at the Mary Boone Gallery. I thought that this was the first time in more than a decade that he'd made something really interesting, and demonstrated a new, more sophisticated level in the handling of the medium. Besides, by incorporating images of the seven dwarves doing despicable things to Snow White, the artist ensured that no one will feel indifferent about these paintings.

On my last day in New York, I saw the Cy Twombly show at the Gagosian Gallery which completely blew my mind. I was surrounded by eight monumental paintings, each approximately twelve by fourteen feet. Each had Twombly's trademark bravura loops executed in red acrylic paint against a pale taupe background. What amazing and youthful energy from the artist who is 75 years old! Standing amidst these paintings, I felt a sense of awe, as if I was in the eye of a mighty storm--threatened but, at the same time, inexplicably protected. Pure bliss...

Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings
Metropolitan Museum of Art
On view until December 31, 2005

Russia!
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
On view until January 11, 2006

Ed Ruscha: Course of Empireand Raymond PettibonWhitney Museum of America Art
On view until January 29th (Ruscha) and February 19th, 2006 (Pettibon)

David Salle: The Vortex PaintingsMary Boone Gallery
On view until December 17th, 2005

Cy Twombly: BacchusGagosian Gallery
On view until December 24, 2005

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