I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Art has unique power to inspire, to heal and, sometimes, even to triumph over such daunting obstacles as Carmageddon. Against better judgment and in spite of all the warnings, I took a chance last Saturday and drove on the 405 Freeway, hoping that better angels would help me to navigate nightmarish traffic. And once again, the angels, God bless their souls, delivered big time. It was summertime, and the driving was easy — if I may borrow from Gershwin.
In what felt like no more than a blink of an eye, I found myself in the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach, feasting on the delectable art of Alexander Calder (1898-1976). Am I the only one feeling slightly guilty for having so much fun every time I encounter the playful and endlessly fascinating artistic games of this great sculptor? What is the secret that enabled Calder — throughout his long and prolific career — to retain the innocence of a child? This beautifully installed exhibition features 30 works by Calder himself in head-scratching juxtaposition with works by seven contemporary young sculptors, none of whom even closely approach the genius of the older master. It's simply impossible for anyone to compete with Calder's talent for creating complex tension between the various elements in his mobiles, and then effortlessly and magically resolving it in a manner reminiscent of the dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Ten more minutes of gliding along the highway, and I was in Laguna Beach Museum of Art, paying homage to Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), another great sculptor who has many imitators but no rivals. For many people, it still comes as a surprise that he was born in California. Toward the end of his long career, Noguchi paid homage to his birthplace by designing the exquisite park in nearby Costa Mesa and, inspired by the rugged beauty of the Californian desert, he called it California Scenario. Through models and photographs, the museum exhibition tells the story of the creation of this park.
But the real pleasure is awaiting you in the main gallery, devoted to Noguchi's paper and silk light sculptures, seemingly floating in the air. I've seen these so-called Akari sculptures many times, but never exhibited to better effect. In an adjoining gallery, I found elegantly installed metal sculptures created by the artist in collaboration with Los Angeles based Gemini G.E.L., a famous workshop for limited editions prints and sculptures.
In the museum's upstairs galleries, I enjoyed a small, focused exhibition of well-known Los Angeles artist, Lita Albuquerque, especially her Red Pigment Paintings, which she literally breathed into existence by blowing powdery red pigment across black canvas.
I would be remiss if, in conclusion of today's Art Talk, I didn't let you in on the great pleasure awaiting those of us adventurous enough to spend the whole day, basking in 24 hours of cinematic wonder of Christian Marclay's video, The Clock. LACMA invites visitors to come watch this celebrated video in its entirety, starting on Thursday, July 28, and to stay through the night into the following day. I look forward to high-fiving many of you there at LACMA at midnight.
Noguchi: California Legacy
Laguna Museum of Art
Through October 2, 2011
Lita Albuquerque: Emergence
Laguna Museum of Art (Upstairs Gallery)
Through October 2, 2011
Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy
Orange County Museum of Art
Through September 4, 2011
Christian Marclay's The Clock
LACMA, Art of the Americas Building, Level 2
Through July 31, 2011
To see images discussed in Art Talk, go to KCRW.com/ArtTalk.
Banner image: Isamu Noguchi, What is Sculpture? Akari from the Venice Biennale, Installation view; Courtesy Laguna Art Museum