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William Kentridge at Los Angeles County Museum of Art
African American Photography at the Luckman Gallery
Outdoor Lecture Series at Museum of Latin American Art

Drawings and animated films by South African artist William Kentridge at LACMA make for a peculiar and uneven, yet surprisingly captivating exhibition. His large figurative drawings demonstrate the artist's love affair with his favorite medium, charcoal, which he not so much traces, as crashes and smears onto the paper. Two invented characters appear in most of the drawings: one is an insufferable industrialist and the other is a nude artist, a good guy with whom we are supposed to identify.

After two visits to this exhibition, I couldn't find any special reason to like the heavy handed drawings with their guilt-ridden moralizing, but what made me return to this exhibition was the totally captivating animated cartoons, which show the artist's real strengths and originality. My favorite one is in the first gallery where, accompanied by the sound of South African rhythms, dark silhouettes of animals and people move in an enigmatic procession reminiscent of a magic shadow puppet theater. Crudely, yet powerfully executed two-dimensional characters share the same space with a real cat gracefully crawling across the screen, adding a touch of mischief to the somewhat solemn mood of the procession.

In another cartoon about a greedy capitalist harming the environment, William Kentridge's somewhat old-fashioned drawings are put to good use. Through endless erasures and alterations, which are filmed continuously, we are allowed to witness images transformed as the story progresses. Almost fifty years ago, the famous film was made of Picasso painting in front of the camera, seducing and mesmerizing his audience in a stream of visual ideas, bringing to life an image in a few brushstrokes. William Kentridge is not that good as an artist, but he is extremely effective as a filmmaker who uses the solid, but modest skill of a draftsman to a wonderful effect.

Last weekend I went to see the exhibition of African American photography at the Luckman Art Gallery at Cal State east of Downtown. My friend and I were the only visitors there. Sorry to say, it is one of those historical surveys that make more sense as a book. A few good images; the rest are there just to demonstrate a curatorial thesis.

The same day across the Southland, I went to another event which packed almost 1,000 paid visitors, who sat on folded chairs in a parking lot of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. The museum's director, Gregorio Luke, delivered a passionate lecture on the great Mexican painter and muralist Rufino Tamayo, with gigantic images projected on the exterior wall of the museum. It was not, strictly speaking, a scholarly lecture breaking new grounds, but a very successful, highly theatrical presentation, intended to popularize the art of a great painter for the benefit of a big happy crowd.

Hmm- What a revolutionary thought, to make museum-goers happy with eloquent and passionate talk about art. No multimillion dollar facilities, no blockbusters, just love and faith in the power of art and art alone. What a daring concept! Is anyone paying attention?


For more information:

William Kentridge
Through October 6, 2002
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
(323) 857-6000
www.lacma.org

Museum of Latin American Art
628 Alamitos Ave., Long Beach, CA
(562) 437-1689
www.molaa.com

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