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Peter Plagens- Introspective at USC, and Dale Chihuly All Over the Town

Let-s start with the latest, shall we? In today-s New York Times there is a brief report about Italian architect Renzo Piano, who has been selected to design an extension for the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. Here in L.A., Renzo Piano is responsible for building a new LACMA pavilion to house Eli Broad-s collection of contemporary art. In New York, he was recently awarded a plum assignment to build an extension for the Whitney Museum and he is currently working on the renovation and expansion of the Morgan Library there. And let-s not forget another high profile assignment: the expansion of the Chicago Art Institute. What makes Renzo Piano an absolute favorite among museum trustees embarking on ambitious projects is his superb skill in creating museum spaces where the architecture is always subjugated to the artworks exhibited in elegant, understated galleries. God knows how he manages such an avalanche of projects. Hopefully his LACMA pavilion will turn out to be among his best.

Celebrating USC-s 125th anniversary, the Fisher Gallery organized an impressive exhibition of works by alumnus Peter Plagens, a painter who was very much part of the Los Angeles art scene in the 70's and 80's. After moving to New York in the late 80's, he became an art critic for Newsweek magazine and published several books. This elegantly installed exhibition shows that during this period his development as a painter not only didn-t suffer but, on the contrary, matured in deeply satisfying ways. His early geometric compositions often consist of a floating circle, quietly but firmly asserting itself against a solid color background. These early paintings declare California as their birthplace through their clean, muscular compositions and fresh and bright palette. There is undeniable optimism in Peter Plagens- art before his move to the Big Apple. Since then, the youthful optimism and minimalism of his early paintings has given way to much more complex compositions of subdued colors, where various abstract shapes, reminiscent of tangled wire, create a palpable tension against a solid color background. This exhibition, poignantly called -An Introspective-, celebrates the art of an abstract painter who didn-t burn out in a short flash, as many of his contemporaries have, but retained the freshness of his art thanks to his intellectual curiosity. Peter Plagens, in his latest paintings which bristle with restless energy, prefers to ask innumerable questions rather than provide easy answers - a good strategy that assures a long, satisfying artistic career.

Dale Chihuly-s career, which is currently celebrated in three Los Angeles venues, presents a totally different story. The Seattle based artist is known around the world for his extravagant, technically brilliant installations made out of hundreds, sometimes thousands of bright, colorful glass shapes. But it gives me no particular pleasure to say that his early highly original and relatively modest glass sculptures slowly, but dangerously, mutated into a bombastic, if not outright vulgar, spectacle which seduces onlookers with the artist-s undeniable virtuoso craftsmanship.

Though I didn-t see the Chihuly exhibition at the Frank Lloyd Gallery, I saw his art at two other venues: The Weisman Museum at Pepperdine University and the L.A. Louver Gallery in Venice. These exhibitions made me think of the exuberant Gianni Versace colliding with the irresistibly cheesy Liberace while - in the quintessential American way - laughing all the way to the bank.

"Peter Plagens: An Introspective"
Fisher Gallery
University of Southern California
Los Angeles
213-740-4561
Ends February 12, 2005

-Chihuly Los Angeles-
L.A. Louver
45 N. Venice Blvd.
Venice
310-822-4955
Ends January 15, 2005

-Chihuly Los Angeles- Frank Lloyd Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave.
Santa Monica
310-264-3866
Ends January 8, 2005

-Chihuly Los Angeles-
Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art
Pepperdine University
24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu
Ends March 20, 2005

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