Art, Sex and Videotape

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at080318a.jpgAs far as the Los Angeles art scene is concerned, last week was a winner. Consider this: in celebration of its tenth anniversary, the Getty Center held two special conferences. The first was focused on new acquisitions made by Weston Naef, Curator of Photographs, Lee Hendrix, Curator of Drawings, and Thomas Kren, Curator of Medieval Manuscripts. All three curators are old pros who have been with the Getty for decades and have virtually built these collections from the ground up. Each drew from a treasure trove of entertaining, poignant stories about their many triumphs and occasional defeats in the never-ending hunt for rare, beautiful artwork. The topic of the second conference was the role of superstar architects in the worldwide obsession with building new museums in a hopeful attempt to recreate what's known as the Bilbao effect, or, as I like to refer to it, Bilbao envy. Among the top-notch architects on the panel was Richard Meier, who in 1984, as the youngest recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, was chosen by the Getty board to build its new Getty Center in Brentwood. In spite of its few architectural shortcomings, the Center has become a popular tourist destination, and the Getty Museum itself continuously breaks new ground with challenging exhibitions, as is the case with the current excellent survey of California video from the last forty years.

at080318b.jpg Aside from three separate trips to the Getty Center last week, I went to the Hammer Museum for a lecture by the much-admired young Kenyan-born artist, Wangechi Mutu, who has lived in the United States since the 1990's. Her art, with its provocative and unapologetically exuberant exploration of female sexuality and issues of race, was the subject of numerous exhibitions in recent years and has made collectors fight for the chance to own it. On Friday, the day before its official opening, I walked with Wangechi Mutu through her exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Gallery. Besides her trademark collages and drawings, I saw her new, large-scale sculptural installation evoking a desolate mountain landscape, all the more impressive because of the humble nature of the material used by the artist – thousands of feet of ordinary brown packing tape.

at080318c.jpg It's been two weeks since I had the chance to talk to another highly accomplished young artist, Kara Walker. I met her at the Hammer Museum during the opening of the traveling exhibition of her art, which delighted me with its intricate, delicate touch but also shocked me with its raw sexuality verging on pornography. It's definitely not an exhibition you want to see with your in-laws. The panoramic installations of life-size silhouettes of animals, black slaves, and their white owners – all cut out of black paper – depict a mind-boggling variety of interactions addressing the painful history of racism in this country. A generous dollop of humor laced with sarcasm percolates through her art, making it especially effective.

at080318d.jpg It's just a coincidence, but there is yet another strong exhibition in town right now that deals with issues of race and female sexuality – the exhibition of sculptures and drawings by Alison Saar at LA Louver Gallery. A much acclaimed Los Angeles artist, Saar continues to explore the realm of the subconscious, presenting her female protagonists in a dreamlike state and infusing them with a primordial, mythological presence.

at080318e.jpg And last but not least, the excellent exhibition of early works by another prominent LA artist, Charles Arnoldi, at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Using a buzz saw, he attacks, cuts and slashes thick layers of plywood, but somehow he manages to balance this aggression with an application of bright, happy color associated with the sunny optimism of Southern California. So it shouldn't be a surprise that one of the best and most dramatic works in this exhibition comes from the private collection of Arnold Schwarzenegger, our larger-than-life governor.

Wangechi Mutu: Little Touched
On view at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
through May 3

Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love
On view at the Hammer Museum
through June 8

Alison Saar: Hither
On view at LA Louver
through April 5

Charles Arnoldi: Wood
On view at Pepperdine University's Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art
through March 30