Compared to a journalist covering the disintegration of the international financial system or reporting from the battlefield in Afghanistan, there is an obvious advantage to being an art critic. After all, where else if not in the art business can one think about Death, Debt, and Divorce as something to look forward to, a renewable source of profit for auction houses when private collectors are pressured to sell their art as a result of these three famous "D's." Even when the news from the art scene is especially grim, an encounter with a wonderful work of art can still restore my spirit as I make weekly rounds through the galleries and museums...
Zooming in and out of Laguna Beach, I had the chance to get acquainted with the art of Roger Kuntz (1926-1975), an interesting painter who is the subject of a retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum. This appealing exhibition reintroduces his art to the public, reminding us that Kuntz was one of the five California artists featured in a special issue of Life magazine in 1962. His bare, geometric paintings, especially the nationally acclaimed 'Freeway’ series, manifested with particular eloquence the essence of life "on the road" in California. The artist spent the last decade of his life in Laguna Beach, where he developed a strong following among local collectors, and this exhibition reunites his works for the first time in more than three decades.
At the Huntington Library in San Marino, I had a peek at the ambitious reinstallation of the Galleries of American Art, which are scheduled to open to the public on May 30. What I saw there impressed me with an unexpected and often dramatic juxtaposition of artworks, including a newly acquired, monumental late painting by Sam Francis. It’s interesting that in the last few years, while other major museums in Los Angeles have experienced various upheavals, the Huntington stayed the course, continuing to expand its collection, restoring its main building, and adding new exhibition spaces. And I cannot recommend a better way to escape the mundane reality than strolling through the sprawling new Chinese Garden with its lakes and waterfalls, pavilions and bridges. To my knowledge, nothing comparable exists in the United States or anywhere else outside of China.
In Santa Monica at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, I discovered the whimsical installation of 12,000 steel sculptures by Israeli artist Zadok Ben David. Actually, I cannot say discovered; since the exhibition opened last week, scores of people called, urging me to see it. After going there, I understood what the commotion was all about. The work is operatic in scale but at the same time minimalistic in the way the artist edits and controls every element of presentation, including the startling revelation that I won’t talk about now, so as not to spoil your surprise. Just to give you a hint, think about a somber funeral transformed into a festive celebration.
A recent article in the LA Times reminded us that during the Depression, the arts provided "optimism and energy" that helped the country move forward. Just think about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and a host of screwball comedies, to which Americans flocked in record numbers. Guess what? According to the latest reports, attendance at movie theaters in the United States was up 15% last year, clearly manifesting a public desire and need to be distracted, entertained, and ideally, inspired. And here’s more good news; major American museums are reporting a similar spike in attendance, indicating that many families are choosing to visit museums – affordable entertainment close to home – instead of splurging on out-of-town trips.
So if this weekend you are staying in town, here is my best advice to you: go to LACMA to see The Art of Two Germanys before it closes on Sunday. This fascinating exhibition tells the story of two countries separated by ideology and artistic practice, but nevertheless providing fertile ground for one of the most vibrant art scenes of the last few decades.
Roger Kuntz: The Shadow between Representation and Abstraction
On view at the Laguna Art Museum through May 24
Zadok Ben David: Blackfield
On view at Shoshana Wayne Gallery through May 16
Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures
On view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through April 19
Banner image: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Courtesy John Spring Collection/CORBIS, the Los Angeles Times