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Houdon There are quite a number of interesting exhibitions around town, but there are only three that I went to see more than once. In case you want to impress visiting friends and relatives, here are my suggestions.

First, take them to the Getty, walk through the gardens, enjoy the views, and then see the exhibition of French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon. At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, practically anyone rich or famous was sculpted by him, or at least hoped to be, making him the Robert Mapplethorpe of the Enlightenment era. In the first room of the exhibition there is a collection of portraits of great American leaders including Jefferson, Washington and Franklin, which are among the best portraits done by Houdon, and which combine an important sense of occasion with a surprising degree of intimacy. The longer you look at their faces, the more you become aware of the sensation of being in their presence, as if your time and theirs has collapsed into one.

HoudonThe beautifully printed and generously illustrated catalog of this exhibition would be a great gift for any smart guest or friend of yours. I hope you have smart friends, do you? If not, then buy it for yourself. It's wonderfully written and full of intriguing information about the celebrities of the era.

The second show to drag your friends to is the groundbreaking exhibition of the famously reclusive Lee Bontecou at the UCLA Hammer Museum. Unless you mind getting a bit overwhelmed, or even a little scared by the aggressive energy of her art as I was on the first of my several visits there. After her much-admired shows in the 60's, the artist withdrew from public life for almost 30 years. The Hammer retrospective came about after much persuasion and cajoling, as she was reluctant to show her art to the public again. Luckily for us, Lee Bontecou overcame her fears. I suggest that you take a look at the excellent catalog of this exhibition - a great gift for friends who are not faint of heart.

GehryThe third and last of my suggestions would be to take your friends downtown to dazzle them with the shining, billowy exuberance of the Disney Concert Hall. And then dash across the street to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the Frank Gehry exhibition, which attempts to recreate the atmosphere and the look of an architectural office. More than a hundred large and small models of his recent projects are spread out on makeshift tables and crowd tall industrial utility shelves. Such a matter-of-fact presentation seems totally appropriate, considering Frank Gehry's famously informal style, both personal and professional. I found the exhibition absorbing and intriguing though, for my taste, a bit confusing on occasion: too much visual information, not enough explanation.

The same goes for the utterly fascinating and playful exhibition catalog, in which the artist clearly pokes fun at himself. How often do you see the backside of an artist's head on the cover of their catalog? How many internationally celebrated architects would dare to choose the color pink as a background for such a portrait? To see the Maestro's face, you need to turn to the back cover of the catalog and flip it upside down. Not only is the portrait purposely placed this way, but on his forehead, dead-center, is a barcode. What can I say? Some people can't get any respect.

Jean-Antoine Houdon November 4, 2003 - January 25, 2004
The Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049-1679
(310) 440-7300

Lee Bontecou
October 5, 2003 - January 11, 2004
UCLA Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 443-7000

Frank O. Gehry: Work in Progress
September 7, 2003 - January 26, 2004
MOCA at California Plaza
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 626-6222

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