Abroad, in Search of Art

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Immediately after coming home from a trip abroad, I like to check out what's happening on the art scene here in my own town, to see if it holds up against the great variety of art adventures I had while traveling. The first day back in LA, totally jet-lagged and exhausted from two weeks of stuffing myself full of art in Europe (oh, poor Edward...), I rushed to the Getty for the opening of the ambitious exhibition of three centuries of French bronze sculpture. It was full of fascinating objects, but my first impression of the exhibition was that the installation was slightly overcrowded – imagine a dozen larger-than-life generals in one room – I definitely need to see the exhibition again.

at090707a.jpgOn the 4th of July, I marched to the County Museum to see the show "12 Contemporary Artists from Korea" assembled by senior curator Lynn Zelevansky, her farewell to LACMA before starting a new job as Director of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (yet another seasoned museum professional leaving LA for a higher profile position).

at090707b.jpgThe exhibition starts off with a bang – the collision of two houses, one small, distinctly Korean, smashed against a much bigger New York brownstone – debris scattered across the gallery floor. Peering through the windows of these structures, as if they were large-scale dollhouses, one witnesses the total destruction in each room, chock full of household objects.

at90707d.jpgKnowing that many of the included artists left Korea for a life abroad, primarily in the United States, I couldn't help seeing this elaborate sculptural installation by internationally recognized artist Do Ho Suh as an eloquent metaphor for the turmoil that many artists experience upon plunging into a dramatically different cultural environment. I remember seeing another unforgettable work of his at the 2001 Venice Biennale, where thousands of tiny plastic soldiers were placed on the floor under solid sheets of glass, so one walked over them as if they were mere ants.

at090707c.jpgAfter such an impressive beginning, works by the other artists in LACMA's current exhibition are a bit of a letdown, with installations and videos similar to what you'd expect to encounter in a variety of international biennials. For the next couple of months, driving past the museum you will be jolted by the bright yellow, red and blue ribbons that Choi Jeong-Hwa wrapped around one of the pavilions, as if it were a gift box. Approaching the museum, you will see yet another outdoor installation of his – a downpour of thousands of brightly colored plastic kitchen wares suspended in air. Clearly, the artist intends to infuse ordinary materials with new meaning, but he succeeds only to a point. I do recall his more successful attempt at transforming a panoply of kitschy objects, when in 2007 he filled the REDCAT Gallery in downtown LA with an outrageous variety of tchotchkes, which simply intoxicated you with its giddy energy.

at090707e.jpgI want to end tonight by sharing with you a few discoveries I made during my recent trip to Holland. In Utrecht, less than an hour from Amsterdam, I was taken to the new Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art, which provided a wonderful counterpoint to so much classical art in numerous museums in this ancient city. Another great surprise was stumbling upon the National Museum of Musical Clocks and Street Organs, some of them a few hundred years old, all in perfect condition; many perform upon command.

at090707f.jpgBut I've saved the best for last: the Zuider Zee Museum – a short trip from Amsterdam. Its fashion exhibition "Gone with the Wind," is pure theater, mixing traditional and cutting-edge design into a spectacle that any museum would envy. If you think that I exaggerate, just look at the images on the Art Talk page of the KCRW website.

Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea
On view at LACMA through September 20

Banner image: "Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art