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FROM THIS EPISODE

Since the September 11th catastrophe, I've been wondering if modern and contemporary art have anything to offer as a matter of solace, wisdom, or, at least, temporary distraction.

One such distraction, is a new exhibition at Santa Monica Museum of Art titled "Freestyle." It presents 28 emerging African American artists, most of them are born after the civil rights movement.

Organized earlier this year by Thelma Golden of the Studio Museum in Harlem, this exhibition represents her thesis on the new "post black" school of art. For me it is a rather confusing notion, considering that these artists are not happy being labeled as "black" artists. How can that be squared with their participation in the show exclusively drawn among African American participants? I don't know. As a whole, the exhibition has a lively diversity and good amount of energy. But none of the artists stands out in a crowd, though some of them are already represented by established galleries. What I was missing was the drama and controversy of the show organized by the same curator in 1995 at the Whitney titled "Black Male: Representation of Masculinity in Contemporary Art." It was seen later here at the Hammer and made people argue, made them angry, made them pay attention to art! The current exhibition, "Freestyle" at Santa Monica Museum of Art inspires none of this.

Architecture continues to provide L.A. with its most uplifting news as far as art and culture are concerned. Since OTIS College of Art and Design relocated from the Mid-Wilshire area to a campus in Westchester near the LAX, I've been waiting to see how and when it was going to raise its profile. A week ago the College inaugurated a new Center for the Fine Arts built by renowned L.A. architect Fred Fisher and named after local philanthropists Bronya and Andy Galef. Architectural aficionados know Fisher for his fine new pavilion at the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as the remodeling of Bergamot Station here and PS1 Center for Contemporary Art in NY, among other smart projects. His latest two story building for the OTIS College is both highly dramatic and disciplined. The building exudes young energy. Because the budget was limited, the materials used are inexpensive, but never come across as cheap. The building has an abundance of daylight and visually and physically connects with the outdoors in many unexpected ways. Next time going south on Lincoln Blvd. toward LAX look on your right after you cross Manchester Blvd. You will see a typical early 60's building whose fa-ade is decorated with concrete panels punctured with rectangular holes. Next to it is a gleaming silver box of the new Galef Art Center, which sits slightly at an angle toward the older structure. This new building is another feather in L.A.'s architectural cap.

Southern California is more than ever assuming the leading role of arbiter of cutting edge American architecture. Think of next year's completion of the Disney Hall by Frank Gehry and the Cathedral by Raphael Moneo. At a time when we especially need symbols of American strength, resolve, and ingenuity, these two upcoming great buildings fill me with hope.

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