It shouldn't come as a surprise that with so many good, important art exhibitions fighting for our attention, we inevitably miss one or two of them. But what about the smaller exhibitions and art events which often don't make headlines, though definitely worthy of our attention?
The magnificent late painting by Titian, Salome with the head of John the Baptist, was shown last week at Sotheby's showroom in Beverly Hills for only a couple of days. It was displayed along with a dozen other important Old Master paintings, all of them scheduled for auction in New York at the end of the month. Compared to the insanely inflated prices for contemporary art in the last few years, the estimated prices for Titian, Frans Hals, and Goya seemed totally reasonable.
Visiting LACMA's sprawling complex along Wilshire Boulevard on any given day, one can choose from at least half a dozen temporary exhibitions. Right now the most unexpected and rather strange exhibition consists of about 300 small portraits of an obscure 4th century Roman saint, Fabiola. In a small gallery hidden in the bowels of the museum, one is surrounded by endless variations on the same image of Fabiola, installed salon style, floor-to-ceiling, all created by amateur artists in the last few decades. None of them are very good – some of them are actually quite awful – but the strange thing is that all together, they tell a wonderful story of obsession and faith: the obsession of Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, who has been buying these portraits in flea markets and antique shops all around the world, and the faith of all the anonymous people who created these devotional icons. 300 imperfect images add up to a surprisingly satisfying exhibition.
At the Getty Center in Brentwood, tucked away in the Research Institute – a stone's throw from the main museum pavilions – there is a small, intriguing exhibition with the irresistible title, Tango with Cows, telling the story of the collaboration between major Russian Avant-Garde poets and artists in the years preceding the October Revolution of 1917. Most of the images are intentionally, hilariously primitive. The handwritten texts often add up to very little, as the primary goal of the authors was simply to upset the status quo. The curators of this enigmatic exhibition showed a lot of ingenuity, providing visitors with headsets to hear the Russian text read aloud. The usual frustration of not being able to page through illustrated books displayed under glass is resolved by installing computer monitors which allow you to ‘turn' the pages of the books with the press of a button.
And now, to end the program, I am sending you on a treasure hunt through the Getty Museum galleries to find twelve rare paintings which are on loan from various sources. Displayed discreetly throughout the museum complex, they are not part of any particular exhibition. To locate the exquisite works, including those by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Degas and Jawlensky, you might need a little help, so here it is. Go to the Art Talk page on the KCRW website for the complete list of paintings and their locations. And please, say hello for me to all these great artists.
Francis Alÿs: Fabiola
On view at LACMA's Ahmanson Building through March 29
Tango with Cows: Book Art of the Russian Avant-Garde, 1910- 1917 On view at the Getty Center through April 19
Banner image: (L) Kazimir Malevich, Russian, 1913; In Threesome (Troe), poetry and prose by Velimir Khlebnikov, Alexei Kruchenykh, and Elena Guro; imagery by Kazimir Malevich (St. Petersburg, 1913) Lithography; 88-B29825 [NP0438]; (C) Olga Rozonova, Russian, 1914, In Te li le, poetry by Velimir Khlebnikov and Alexei Kruchenykh, and imagery by Olga Rozanova and Nikolai Kulbin (St. Petersburg, 1914); Hectography in seven colors; 88-B28007 [NP0526]; (R) Natalia Goncharova, Russian, 1914; In Mystical Images of War: 14 Lithographs (Misticheskie obrazy voiny: 14 lithografii), by Natalia Goncharova (Moscow, 1914) Lithography; 88-B28354 [NP0541]. All from the Research Library at the The Getty Research Institute.