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Okay, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to a young lady I've been in love with for as long as I remember myself. Not only is she charming and pretty, but, boy, what sweet music she makes when her light fingers touch the strings of the lute. I rendezvous with her every time I am in New York, but, after all these years, at last, she decided to travel to Los Angeles and stay for a few weeks with friends in Pasadena.

at110712a.jpgOkay, enough teasing… We are talking about the divine Woman with a Lute by Johannes Vermeer, 17th century Dutch painter extraordinaire. For the next three months, you can hear — through your eyes only — the mellifluous sound of her lute while this jewel of a painting, one of only 36 surviving paintings by this artist, is given pride of place in the galleries of the Norton Simon Museum. The painting is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and it's absolutely worth burning a little bit of your gasoline traveling to see the Lady while she's sitting by the window, basking in a cool pearly light, dreaming beautiful thoughts…

at110712b.jpgHere's more good news for us, Angelinos. Among this year's recipients of the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Award is Bill Viola, one of the world's most famous video artists who happens to live and work in Los Angeles. This annual, high profile Japanese award recognizes lifetime achievements in arts not covered by the Nobel Prize. It's really remarkable how, in a relatively short time, video art has risen from near obscurity to such heights of international acclaim. Bill Viola's videos, with their frequent references to classical religious art, gained for the artist, especially in the last decade, a wide following here in the United States and abroad. I have a feeling that even Vermeer would have no problem relating to the enigmatic circumstances and slow, dreamlike movement of all the mysterious people appearing in Bill Viola's videos.

at110712d.jpgIn the new exhibition by young Japanese photographer Tomoko Sawada at Rose Gallery, a different sort of mystery lingers in the air. How does she manage to change herself so subtly, but also so completely, in dozens of self-portraits that cover the gallery walls? While Cindy Sherman famously disappears under hundreds of various disguises in her self-portraits, Tomoko Sawada, with her iconic face, insists on being immediately recognizable. It's always her, but, somehow, she manages to transform herself into dozens of different personae by subtle, almost imperceptible changes in the expressions of her face.

At the recently-opened exhibition of Los Angeles artist at110712c.jpg, Kristen Everberg at 1301 PE Gallery, I was staring at her paintings, marveling at the rather unusual mixture of oil and enamel that the artist uses for her landscapes and architectural compositions. The gleaming, hard surfaces of her canvases have the appealing illusion of fragility and fluidity. I got particularly intrigued by a series of paintings inspired by the iconic interior of the Bradbury Building in downtown L.A.

at110712e.jpgLast week brought sad news of the death, at the age of 83, of the great American artist Cy Twombly. The absolute mystery is how he managed to sustain, through more than 50 years of his career, such high standards, vitality and freshness in his art. While his celebrated contemporaries, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, will be mostly remembered for the brilliance of their early and mid-career achievements, Cy Twombly managed to reinvent himself, again and again, all the way to the very end. Long live his art.

Vermeer's Woman with a Lute, on Loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
July 8-September 26, 2011
Norton Simon Museum

Kirsten Everberg
July 9 - August 27 2011
1301 PE

Tomoko Sawada: Reflection
9 July–17 September, 2010
Rose Gallery

To see images discussed in Art Talk, go to KCRW.com/ArtTalk.

Tempest (Study for the Raft), 2005, video still © Bill Viola, courtesy of the artist

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