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Jumping on the Art Band Wagon

I can suggest a number of reasons one might want to stop by the Gagosian Gallery when in Beverly Hills. It's always intriguing to see what's happening in one of the outposts of his art empire. In addition to this local site built for him by star architect, Richard Meier, Mr. Gagosian has two galleries in New York, two in London and one is planned to open in Rome. When he wants he can organize ambitious, museum-quality exhibitions borrowing works from major institutions and can publish lavish catalogues with essays by leading art historians. But during these dog days of summer, his Beverly Hills Gallery presents--what many galleries do during this time of year--a summer group show. However, considering the roster of the top-notch artists the gallery represents this is not your garden variety group show. The highlights are the sculptures by Jeff Koons, Maya Lin, Donald Judd and Damien Hirst. And I promise you will not be disappointed with Mr. Hirst's claim to fame: his animal heads pickled in formaldehyde. Two skinned cow heads sit on the bottom of two small aquariums filled with formaldehyde. Yes, they look scary but in the most captivating way, as if they possess a wisdom that we are simply not able to comprehend. If that will not get your attention, nothing will. Some time ago, I talked about the travails of probably the most famous of Damien Hirst's sculptures, a 14-foot tiger shark suspended in a gigantic tank of formaldehyde. A billionaire collector paid close to $12 million for it in spite of the deteriorating condition of the shark. I simply couldn't believe the news that he was ready to spend additional millions to restore the poor creature which had started to rot from the inside. My unsolicited advice to him was to dump the damn shark and get a new one. The latest news is that, with the blessing of the artist, that's exactly what the collector is planning to do. I wonder if they were listening to my program way over there in England?

And now back to my favorite subject: the curative power of art. A few months ago I cited the study of a few hundred people--ages 65 and older--that found that art "boosted the immune system and decreased loneliness." Another study suggested that looking at art improved the observational abilities of medical students therefore preparing them to be better doctors. Yale, Stanford and Cornell, among other schools, have added art appreciation classes to their medical curriculum. And now the latest as reported by the New York Times last Thursday. It seems that continuous exposure to art in school helped children become better students. Hundreds of New York City third graders, who participated in a Guggenheim Museum program called "Learning Through Art", scored better in six categories of literacy and critical-thinking tests than those who didn't participate in the program. I've spent a lifetime helping people appreciate art and I've watched people being transformed by their encounter with art. I wouldn't claim that art can make us better human beings but it definitely can make us smarter. An anxious parent asked me once, "What would be the appropriate age to introduce his kids to a museum?" "How old are your daughters?" I inquired. "They are five and nine years old," he said. You know what my response was? " You are five and nine years late."

"Sculpture" on view through August 30
Gagosian Gallery
456 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, California
Summer hours: Mon-Fri 10am-5:30pm

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