A labor of love during Labor Day weekend

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Yes, I know – living on the Westside and complaining about hot weather is not cool. So, let's make the best of it… On any day when the temperature climbs to the upper 80s, I escape to the museums. Thank god for their air conditioning, and plenty of cool art.

On Saturday, I drove to the Getty, and the moment I got on the 10 West in Santa Monica, I noticed that the Christopher Columbus Highway sign had been vandalized. The name "Columbus" had been spray painted over. You're probably aware that similar actions took place around the country recently, to protest the celebration of Columbus, who is blamed for the "extermination of native populations throughout the Americas and the introduction of the slave trade" (LA Times).

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Detail of "The Chiarito Tabernacle" (~1347). Pacino di Bonaguida
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The last thing I expected upon entering the Getty Museum was to see a similar sign of protest. I was looking at the 14th century Italian altarpiece by Pacino di Bonaguida, depicting scenes from Christ's Passion. The condition of the work was surprisingly perfect, in spite of its age – with one exception. In the scene showing Pontius Pilate condemning Jesus to death, the faces of Pontius and the Roman soldier holding Jesus captive are scratched out. Obviously, in the 14th century, it was a sign of passionate religious protest. But now, seven centuries later, this scratching comes across as artistic vandalism.

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"Rembrandt Laughing," about 1628, Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669)
Oil on copper. 8 3/4 x 6 5/8 in.
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

I ended my visit to the Getty Museum by saying Hello to one of my favorite paintings there, a self-portrait by young Rembrandt, laughing so contagiously.

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Exhibition installation view of "Painting with Fire: Paintings by Carlos Almaraz"
A selection of his iconic car crash paintings
LACMA, Los Angeles

Sunday turned out to be an even hotter day, so I escaped to LACMA, to revisit two blockbuster exhibitions there that I've seen already several times. Come on, would you say no to another glass of champagne? Sparkling with color, energy, and theatrical drama, Carlos Almaraz's car crashes on freeways, instead of scaring you, draw you closer to the canvas to enjoy his every wild brushstroke.

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Installation view of "Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage"

Another LACMA exhibition, with recreations of Marc Chagall set designs and costumes for several opera and ballet productions, makes you want to sing and dance along with the mannequins, looking so happy, so crazy…

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Exhibition installation in process at the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

And, yesterday, I decided to honor Labor Day with a labor of love. I drove to the Downtown Arts District to have a glimpse of the new Institute for Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. It's scheduled to open this weekend, but Director Elsa Longhauser walked me through the last minute preparations for its opening.

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Exhibition installation in process for Martín Ramírez: His Life in Pictures, Another Interpretation
at the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

This new, impressive space, designed by Kulapat Yantrasast of wHY architecture, is twice as big as the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which closed two years ago and has been reincarnated across town as ICA LA. The institute's inaugural exhibition tells the fascinating story of Mexican artist Martín Ramírez, who was, for the right or wrong reasons, diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and spent several decades in American mental hospitals. The art that he managed to create during this time is both heartbreaking and fascinating. You have to see it to believe it.

All photos are by Edward Goldman.