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at080513a.jpgIt's always the same; with so many museum and gallery exhibitions to see and talk about, I'm constantly racing against the clock. Definitely want to be sure that you will see MOCA's captivating exhibition, Collecting Collections, before it closes this Monday, May 19. This sprawling exhibition is a celebration of the generosity and vision of private collectors –- most of them Angelenos –- who have enabled this relatively young institution to become a major player on the international art scene.

at080513e.jpg The exhibition of new paintings by John Sonsini at ACME Gallery, closing on May 24, demonstrates yet again this artist's surprising ability to reinvigorate the traditional genre of portrait painting. His portraits, with their rich brushwork and direct, objective stare at the model, are undeniably influenced by the art of one of the greatest painters of our time, Lucian Freud. Both artists rarely accept commissions for portraits, preferring instead to choose their own subjects. The rich and famous wait with baited breath, hoping that Lucian Freud will agree to paint them, and if it happens, it sets them back a few million dollars.

at080513d.jpg The young Latino men who pose for John Sonsini are not paying for the honor of having their portraits done. Instead, the artist pays them. These men receive a modest hourly wage, but considering that they are day laborers whom he finds on the streets of LA, it's a good deal for them. Small, medium, and large-scale portraits present these young men with a measure of respect and understanding rarely given to those whom we often refer to only as illegal immigrants. Each of them is standing still, front and center – staring back, not confronting, just waiting and hoping to be acknowledged. The portraits are very straightforward, while the exuberant brushwork and subtle, delicate palette tug at your heartstrings in the spirit of the best movie scores.

at080513b.jpg The exhibition of three British photographers at Rose Gallery runs through May 31, so you still have some time to see this mini museum show with dozens of mostly small photographs representing everyday life in Britain in the 80s, during the Thatcher years. The difference between our perceptions of the 80's here in America and what these photographers capture on the other side of the Atlantic couldn't be more different. There, it's all gloom and doom, with both men and women seemingly in a constant state of inebriation. Even the youngsters look as if they've just escaped from the orphanage. But seen through the lenses of these particular artists, these people and their stories grab you by the collar.

at080513c.jpg In one of the color photographs by Martin Parr, we see from behind the carefully coiffed heads of two elderly ladies, and instantaneously we know that they are British. It's the classic case of a picture worth a thousand words. The black and white photo of the young girl with a hula-hoop by Chris Killip throws you off balance with its dramatic juxtaposition of a child playing in the bleakest of environments. And looking at Graham Smith's photographs of closely observed people in small-town England, often in pubs, often wasted, I couldn't help thinking that only in Russia do I remember seeing that many drunk people on the streets. Sad stories; memorable photographs.

John Sonsini: New paintings
On view at ACME Gallery
Through May 24, 2008

Three From Britain: Chris Killip, Martin Parr & Graham Smith
On view at Rose Gallery
Through May 31, 2008


Banner image: John Sonsini's Lorenzo, Domingo, Diego, 2007; oil on canvas, 20" x 66 1/2"

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