Angels and Sinners in the Big Apple

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Under normal circumstances, going on a binge is not something one might feel especially proud of or want to confess. But let me come clean and admit that, while in New York last week, I sinned mightily and repeatedly, plunging myself, with eyes wide open, into a gilded world of luxury and privilege.

One would have to be a saint to resist the siren call of Image Not AvailableFra Angelico's paintings, exhibited currently at the Met. The angels and Madonnas of this 15th century Florentine artist exude such disarming sweetness, I swear I could hear their mellifluous voices behind the most beautiful shades of pink and blue. It's easy to imagine spending eternity enveloped in the golden light emanating from these icons.

Image Not AvailableJust a few blocks down from the Met, at the Frick Collection, I saw an equally spellbinding exhibition, from another 15th century artist, in this case German painter Hans Memling. The serenity of his various portraits and religious images is combined with unparalleled, poetic attention to the tiniest details, both of their surroundings and their exquisite wardrobes. Memling's art produces the sensation that time stands still and it's always made me think of Marcel Proust, with his genius in the capturing the tiniest details of things past.

So, can you blame me for wanting to escape the pious sermon of these two Renaissance masters? Image Not AvailableOff I ran to the Neue Galerie, another private mansion on 5th Avenue, where the most indulgent, erotically obsessed and tortured of artists, Egon Schiele, awaited me with open arms. This supernaturally gifted draftsman drew his anguished, nude self-portraits with nervous lines, reminiscent of barbed wire. Numerous portraits of his friends and patrons exude the same unique, almost unbearable intensity, which was a trademark of the cultural and intellectual life of Vienna at the turn of the last century.

While in New York, I kept running into my L.A. friends and, even more surprisingly, into a number of exhibitions of Los Angeles artists, which mounted into a kind of mini-festival of Los Angeles art in the Chelsea district. Image Not AvailableNew paintings by Lari Pittman at the Gladstone Gallery are hands down the best work he's done in at least a decade. His traditional predominantly somber palette is now brightened up with splashes of blue and yellow, and his usually mind-boggling, complex compositions of overlapping decorative elements feel somehow more relaxed and less dense, as if the artist has entered a happier period of his life and his art.

Equally satisfying was to see the new video installations of Bill Viola at the James Cohan Gallery. After the disappointment of his show at the Getty a few years ago, with its mimicking of Old Masters, I was glad to see the artist finding a new inspiration in his traditional theme of the poetic, often rapturous depiction of his fellow human beings literally going through fire and water to reach the other side.

At the Gagosian Gallery, Mike Kelley, the bad boy of the Los Angeles art scene, ruffles everyone's feathers with one of his riotous, operatic installations combining sculpture, video and music. Befuddled visitors follow the action from one scene to another making up their own narrative, through the carnival-like atmosphere, which would make Sweeney Todd feel at home.

Tune in next week for more of my guilty pleasures in the Big Apple.