A Week Chock Full of Art

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September is the month when, after a summer lull, the art world kicks into high gear. And for me, last week turned out to be all art, all the time, virtually a 24/7 art explosion.

Monday's annual press luncheon at the Getty Center was a testament to the happier time that has descended at last on the institution. Now that an agreement with the Italian government over the disputed antiquities has been reached, people at the Getty can breathe easier. In exchange for forty artworks returned to Italy, the museum got the green light for many highly desirable loans from major Italian museums. And last night's opening of the small, exquisite exhibition devoted to the 16th century Italian artists, the Zuccaro brothers, showed the happy result of this new collaboration: in a proverbial 11th hour development, a few rare paintings from the Palazzo Barberini were flown in from Rome and added to the exhibition.

On Tuesday I went to LACMA for what promised to be an interesting evening introducing its new Curator of Photography, Charlotte Cotton. The witty invitation to this event had a provocative title: "Does size matter?" - a very relevant question in contemporary photography. But instead of the promised lively conversation, it turned out to be a rather monotonous reading of notes by two speakers, the curator herself and the young artist Jason Fulford. Neither of them proved to be a natural performer or inspiring speaker, though both demonstrated an impressive knowledge of arcane historical facts. Strangely enough, neither thought to mention the world's largest photograph, measuring three stories high and eleven stories wide, recently shown at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, or the exhibition of unforgettable, large-scale works by French photographer Luc Delahaye currently on view at the Getty. The audience was left with the impression that the new curator was not yet familiar with the city and not too eager to interact with the people either, considering that she was clearly not interested in having a Q&A at the end of the lecture. Though the small auditorium was full, oddly enough no one from the museum's curatorial staff showed up for her debut.

And now about the little engine that could. I had never heard about the Wende Museum until a few weeks ago, when a press packet arrived inviting me to see its unusual collection, which explores and preserves the history and culture of the Cold War. Oh, the good old days of the evil Soviet empire and its eastern European satellites. I knew that I had to go there, though I didn't expect too much. Boy, was I wrong. Hiding in a nondescript corner of Culver City, the Wende Museum – a German word which translates as "change' – is chock full of surprises, from Soviet-era paintings of happy peasants and other forms of kitsch propaganda, to piles of photographs, documents, and clunky, but nonetheless menacing devices used by the East German secret police to spy on its citizens. One would never guess that the whole operation is run by only five full-time employees. I was allowed into the vast museum storage, one of the best-organized facilities of its kind that I've seen in recent years. It was as if I stumbled upon the 21st century version of Ali Baba's cave, with several thousand embroidered Soviet flags, hundreds of military uniforms, and much much more. The ugly story of the Cold War never looked more fascinating...

And what do you think I did on the weekend? MoLAA, the rapidly expanding Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, asked me to be one of the judges for its 2007 Juried Art Competition. I think we made a good selection of works, but my favorite was a large color photograph by Tristán Reyes Alvarado from Puerto Rico. It is a portrait of an older woman, whose dress and heavy makeup is so overdone that it borders on parody, but she is so irrepressible, so eager to connect, that you cannot help but fall in love with her.

Taddeo and Federico Zuccaro: Artist-Brothers in Renaissance Rome
On view at the Getty through January 6, 2008

Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War
Politics of Culture, September 4, 2007

Banner image: The Wende Museum, Culver City; Main Gallery, detail, still from KCET special on July 17, 2005