Alfred Jensen and Sam Francis

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There is consensus among critics that Alfred Jensen, born in 1902 and died in 1981, was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He was a contemporary and colleague of Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, though he never became as famous as they did. Only during the last two decades of his life did he arrive at what is considered to be his mature, unique style. He developed his singular vision of art based exclusively on scientific diagrams and ancient counting systems. Santa Monica Museum of Art presents the first comprehensive exhibition of Alfred Jensen's art on the West Coast. The exhibition can be seen until April 19.-

The nine gigantic paintings, many up to 25 and 30 feet long, are painted with rich primary colors applied directly and generously to the canvas. The artist was on a quest for special knowledge he tried to extract from Mayan astronomy, Egyptian numerology, ancient Arabic and Chinese counting systems, Newtonian physics and modern optics, to name a few. Many of his colossal paintings look the part - esoteric, scientific diagrams composed of words, numbers and arrows pointing every which way.-

I have to admit that looking at these colorful compositions, with their exotic mix of visual references, I failed to experience a sense of harmony. The only way I can perceive this overwhelmingly ambitious art is as a peculiar quilt of visual references attempting an impossible dream: the dream of discovering an artistic equivalent of the magic philosopher's stone that medieval alchemists obsessively searched for in their attempts to turn inexpensive metals into gold.-

Two weeks ago a maximum capacity crowd of art cognoscenti gathered in Santa Monica Museum to hear Dave Hickey, the best-known and most fashionable American art critic of the moment. Everyone was impressed, and how could one not be? In discussing Alfred Jensen's art, the extremely knowledgeable and entertaining critic made philosophical and artistic references to everything under the sun. The only thing missing was any reference to the actual paintings hanging in plain view in the main gallery where several hundred guests were sitting for the lecture.-

On Tuesday, April 8, at 6:30pm the well-known artist Allan Kaprow will talk in this museum about the art of his friend and colleague, Alfred Jensen. Maybe this time I'll break the code and will be able to get it, so, like others I'll start to enjoy the art of this visionary artist.

And talking about all things ambitious and gigantic, there is a spanking new gallery in Beverly Hills. It's the new branch of the Ace Gallery, which opened with an exhibition of Sam Francis' 1960s "Edge" paintings. In each one, a huge expanse of white is barely contained by a sliver of rainbow colors at the very edges of the canvas. The only problem is, to see so many of Francis' paintings from the same period in the same room, is to wish he had been a little less prolific. Otherwise, this exhibition in Ace Gallery's new palatial setting whets the appetite for things to come.

"Alfred Jensen: Concordance"
January 25- April 19, 2003
Santa Monica Museum of Art
Bergamot Station G1
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90404
(310) 586-6488

"Sam Francis Edge Paintings" (Inaugural Exhibition)
March 1 - May 31, 2003
Ace Gallery Beverly Hills
9430 Wilshire Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212
(310) 274-3030