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17th Century Artist Luca Giordano and Eli Broad Private Collection at LACMA

LACMA continues to do what it does best, which is to provide an endless string of temporary exhibitions, some borrowed, others organized by its own curators, as is the case with a large show of paintings by 17th century Italian artist Luca Giordano. It's a rare chance to survey the artistic legacy of this son of Naples, who, during his long career, achieved international fame, became wealthy, and had royal patrons throughout Europe. The exhibition brings together for the first time more than 70 paintings from a number of American and European museums, churches, and private collections.

17th century Naples, ruled by the Spanish crown, was a thriving city with an international flavor. German, French, and Spanish artists worked there and their influence on young Luca Giordano was profound. But in a relatively short time he came into his own and became highly sought after for his magnificent frescoes, which have been recognized as one of the high points of 17th century Baroque art. Most of his paintngs borrow, as the fashion of the day dictated, from Greek and Roman mythology or Biblical stories. Here are just a few titles and subjects for his paintings: "Battles of the Gods and Giants," "Rape of Sabines," Apollo punishing Marsyas by flaying him alive, "Judith Displaying the Head of Holofernes." Figures, presented in every scene in extremely complex movement, help to create the illusion of boiling energy, affecting the very surface of the canvas. Think of the mentality of action movies 300 years before Hollywood made it into a money making formula. Truth be told, Luca Giordano was not that interested in emotional depth of the situation - a bravura handling of movement, for movement's sake, was his forte.

His nickname, "Fa Presto," referred to his amazing ability to finish a complex project in a unusually short time. It was refreshing to hear - during the press conference - a reference to his art as being "pretty much about nothing." And indeed, mostly it is just a virtuoso handling of the very difficult compositional arrangements and making the final product look as entertaining as possible. Try to imagine the tragic stories and characters brought to life by Maria Callas, always intense, always going for broke. Then substitute Celine Dion trying to sing the same, only singing it nice and pretty, and very loud. You get the picture.

Across the museum plaza, there is another show organized by LACMA, an exhibition drawn from the Broad collection, probably the largest, though not the most original private collection in Southern California. Eli Broad, the wealthiest man in these parts of the world, can afford to collect pretty much anything he wants, but for a long time he preferred to be reasonable, which meant smartly buying the work of young artists before they became too famous and too expensive. However, in recent years, as if thinking about posterity, he summoned up enough courage and conviction to pay top prices for top quality works by major artists.

Meanwhile, next week LACMA is planning to announce the architect selected for the multi-million dollar remodelling of the museum campus. The committee entrusted to choose the architect is headed by Eli Broad. One hopes that augurs well for the museum. There is hope that Mr. Broad, who also happens to be the museum's trustee, will donate his collection to LACMA, and thus secure to his name the respect and gratitude earned so far by only a few enlightened American philanthropists.

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